Punk and New Wave Bands Who Recorded at Cargo Recording Studios, Rochdale.
Above Photo: Atmospheric shot of the Cargo Studios in Rochdale.
I recently came across a great website about the Cargo Recording Studios in Rochdale, made famous by the roll call of Punk and New Wave bands who recorded there, such as Joy Division, New Order, the Gang of Four, the Fall as well as highly rated bands like the Mekons, Ludus and Durutti Column.
There’s an enormously long list of bands who recorded there on the Cargo website (see link below), many of whom are also name-checked in my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!
Liverpool bands such as Echo and Bunnymen , the Teardrop explodes, Pink Military, Nightmares in Wax, OMD, Dead or Alive, Ex Post Facto, Modern Eon, Holly Johnson, Cook da Books, White and Torch and many others recorded there, and Chris is writing a book with former Cargo owner, John Brierley, about the studios.
Chris said about the Liverpool band connections: “Cargo was basically Pete Fulwell and Zoo bands’ studio of choice. John also produced the wild swans 12 inch with Pete de Fretias – for £50! – too.”
The book will be another valuable writing contribution, chronicling the musical and cultural significance of the North West music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
There are some fantastic photos on the Cargo website for anyone who was ever in a recording studio back then, which I have used to illustrate this article (with permission). They reminded me of my own time in recording studios, which I recount in my 1970s-1980s Liverpool band, Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!
The website also contains an excellent summary of the history of Cargo, written by John Brierley, some of which I have edited and reproduced below.
The Cargo website is worth a visit and can be found here: http://www.cargostudios.co.uk/
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CARGO
By John Brierley
In ‘76 I was working as a staff cameraman at Granada TV in Manchester, and built a mobile sound recording truck. I bought an ex ambulance fitted it out with a mixing desk and started recording bands at weekends around the Manchester area. As a cameraman at Granada I worked with Tony Wilson and in autumn 1977 he fronted a show on TV called “So it Goes” the second series of which included bands recorded live on stage. Tony knew of my mobile and Granada hired it to record the shows and I ended up recording bands such as Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, the Buzzcocks, the Jam, and the Tom Robinson Band.
I decided at the end of 1977 to leave Granada and with the money from the TV shows, I built a sixteen track studio. That became Cargo Recording Studios.
From the start I wanted Cargo to produce a different sound from any other studio. I wanted it to have a unique live sound to capture the energy that bands were used to getting on stage. I thought this would fit well with the uprising of New Wave, Punk and Heavy Metal against the disco sound that was prevalent at that time.
The studio, a converted warehouse on Kenion Street, a back street in Rochdale, had a concrete floor, though it was carpeted, and brick walls with just a bare minimum of sound insulation. The mixing desk was a Soundcraft 24 into 16/8. The recorder was a Cadey 16 track with, unusually, valves on the record side which meant you could hammer the tape without getting distortion. This helped to contribute to the unique “Cargo” sound because of its clean, but very powerful sound.
In the first three months only a handful of local bands had been in and things were looking bleak, but then the Gang of Four came in from Leeds, and that was the turning point.
They found in Cargo a studio that could handle their type of music capturing the energy as if they were playing live. The Gang of Four released their Damaged Goods single and from then it just took off, it seemed like every indie band in the UK wanted to record at Cargo.
Tony Wilson was at that time starting Factory records and one of the first bands he brought in was Joy Division to record “Digital” and “Glass”.
Tony came to see me before bringing them in and asked if I would like paying on the day or to take a risk and go on future royalties because Factory didn’t have a lot of readies. After listening to an earlier cassette of them I told Tony that I thought they were a half decent band but didn’t think they’d ever sell any records so I took the daily rate and of course missed out on the subsequent royalties for Joy Division/New Order.
So much wiser in hindsight.
Later they also recorded probably the best known track to come from the studio, the brilliant “Atmosphere” for many people an all-time favourite Joy Division track.
However it did open my mind to accept any band with whatever different music they may have which is just as well as one of the next to come in was the Fall and Mark E Smith.
Despite having heard stories of Mark being difficult to work with I got on with him really well, he was good to work with. The Fall used to record almost everything in one take, including vocals. They recorded several albums and singles at Cargo.
Factory producer Martin Hannett spent a great deal of time in Cargo recording Joy Division, OMD, Durutti Column, Section 25 & Nico amongst others. Bands were coming from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, many from Scotland and Wales, Newcastle and Birmingham and the Midlands. Bands came up from London and even some from Germany and France.
At its peak the studio was recording day & night for 3 months non-stop. One band would be leaving as another was arriving: it was organised chaos and resulted in a very smelly studio.
On his radio show John Peel used to play any track that said “Recorded at Cargo” on the sleeve, often without listening to it first, just simply on the studios reputation for good indie music.
He used to call it the “Legendary Cargo Studios”
Part of the philosophy behind the studio was to make it financially available to bands who were just starting out, but that meant that the rates were lower than maybe they should have been and unfortunately not having any financial backers the studio only just about paid its way.
This meant there wasn’t the finance to upgrade to 24 tracks with all the extra cost of a new desk and 24 track recorder. After having success with their indie singles/albums from Cargo, bands would then sign to a major label and move on to 24 track London studios. Many major record companies believed you couldn’t possibly put a single or album out that had been recorded in a 16 track studio in Rochdale, but in taking the band to a more lavish studio often with some top notch producer much of the feel and energy was lost.
Great sound but totally lifeless.
4 track & even 8 track recorders were by this time cheap and many bands were now recording backing tracks in their garage/ bedroom/ attic/front room, one or two were good most were appalling.
Sampling was coming in and groups would turn up with everything on a synth just to overdub the vocals and I could see that I was fast becoming just a fader pusher. I carried on for another year but the by then the fun had gone out of it and I decided to call it a day.
Cargo Studios is still operational but today it is purely a digital mixing studio with just a couple of mics for overdubbing.
I wouldn’t go back to running a commercial studio again. During the time 1978-1985 Cargo had become the main indie studio in the UK with such amazing and diverse music from some of the most talented musicians.
Only in the last few years have I realised just what an effect the studio and the music that was produced there has had on the music scene. Many of the bands are still around and much of the music is too.
It was good to be part of it.