Whilst some may acknowledge the large yet unassuming Northern town of Stockport as being the birthplace of Fred Perry, to some it’s often just the penultimate stop on the train from London before it arrives at its final destination, Manchester. Which has always been something that Stockport residents (Stopfordians) have been fine with, being more than happy to sit in the shade of its big metropolitan brother up the road safe in the knowledge that there’s plenty of cool stuff going on without any fuss or fanfare. That is until the incredibly well travelled DJ Luke Unabomber recently lifted the lid on Stockport by revealing on instagram that Stockport is actually ‘the new Berlin’. A tongue in cheek comment made with genuine sincerity, Luke was telling the rest of the world what many locals already knew, Stockport is really, really cool. Perhaps fittingly given its most famous tennis playing resident, Stockport has a long history when it comes to subcultures, though it feels like now the cat is finally out of the bag.
The Unknown Pleasures of Stockport
Words by Neil Summers
From selling boots to the Beatles, to a bar owned by Blossoms, Fred Perry’s hometown has some impressive musical credentials.
To give some context to the history of Stockport, as well as being seven miles away from Manchester it's also situated literally where the Mersey river begins before winding its way down to Liverpool. Which may explain why during the 1960s it was home to a shop known as the Toggery, which was owned by The Hollies’ manager (Graham Nash also worked there) and regularly visited by all the big Merseybeat bands of the day, including The Beatles who bought their boots there. Whilst musical venues such as the Manor Lounge, Tabernacle and the Sinking ship played host to these huge acts before putting on the likes of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Who towards the end of the decade. Things then moved up a notch for Stockport in the 1970s when the band 10cc decided to build a state-of-the-art recording facility in their hometown and built the legendary Strawberry Studios. As well as providing the launch pad for a string of their own number one hits, including the iconic ‘I’m Not in Love’ Strawberry was also to provide a welcome outpost for musicians who didn’t want to travel all the way to London to record their tracks.
The list of artists who used the studio is a ridiculously impressive one that stretches well into the 1990s. A favourite spot for Factory records producer Martin Hannett, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures was recorded here followed by New Order, the Happy Mondays and many more on the label all following suit. Whilst The Smiths, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans and Simply Red also dropped by to make musical history. Though not just limited to recording indie icons, everyone from The Ramones to Paul McCartney recorded there too and it’s also the place where Gary Barlow met Mark Owen, the former having won a day out there in a competition whilst the latter was working as a tape op. Truly the Abbey Road of the North, it’s testament to Stockport’s low profile attitude that many people South of Knutsford services have never heard of it. Other musical points of interest from Stockport’s past include journalist Paul Morley insisting that the karaoke machine was invented there way before the Japanese made it a thing. Whilst in 1997 artist Jeremy Deller enlisted the town’s William Fairey brass band to record a version of dance music classics entitled ‘Acid Brass’ that included a particularly mesmerising version of Voodoo Ray.
Bringing us back to modern-day Stockport, local band Blossoms have taken inspiration from 10cc and set up their own recording studio in the town as well as their own swanky cocktail bar ‘Bohemian Arts Club’. Whilst following on from his success with badly Drawn Boy and his Twisted Nerve label, fellow Stopfordian and DJ Andy Votel’s Stockport based record label ‘Finders Keepers’ is also making some serious waves. The record digger’s record diggers Andy and his partner Doug Shipton have been responsible for sourcing and rereleasing some of the best yet hardest to find tunes on the planet. Which is perhaps why artists such as the Wu Tang Clan, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Erykha Badu have been knocking on their door begging to use their samples and enlist their production skills.
Though perhaps the main reason for its comparison to the bohemian Berlin in this place that’s provided a home to everyone from Motorhead to Moloko, are the incredibly lively street parties that local record shop SK1 and neighbouring bar the Spin Off have been throwing. Situated in the old part of the town (rubbing shoulders with a Michelin starred restaurant, global magazine store and some very cool vintage shops) they have created a free party scene that features some of the best local DJs (both new and legendary) with crowd scenes reminiscent of those from the earliest and some might say best days of the rave scene. So, the next time you’re on a train to Manchester and see the sign for Stockport, hop off and head to the place where Fred Perry was born and his entrepreneurial energy continues to make exciting things happen.