MUDKISS FANZINE

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WHO KILLED MARTIN HANNETT? (The Story of Factory Records' - Musical Magician by Colin Sharp - REVIEW BY DEN BROWNE

Its a pity this excellent memoir has been saddled with a rather misleading title, tho' I suspect its the doing of the publisher rather than the author. The story doesn't need "sexing up" with a bogus Kurt Cobain type mystery. The answer to the title of the book is very simple. Martin Hannett didn't look after himself, alienated anyone who might have helped him, & drank & drugged himself way past the point where he could handle it. The chapter which tries to recreate a version of his death is one of the few times the book doesn't ring true, with its over-symbolic cascade of Factory memorabilia falling on to the expiring Martin Hannett.


Colin Sharp (CS) was a close friend of Martin Hannett (MH) & this is the perspective the book is written from, not musical historian or Paul Morley-type theorizing. Sure, its easy to quibble about how exactly conversations - let alone thoughts - can be recalled/recreated many years later. The main thing, tho', is that Colin Sharp was right there when these events went down & altho' some parts work better than others, the whole story feels very authentic, with well-drawn characters & perceptive evocation of detail. Scenes of MH living the high life or desperate winter drug searches are equally well told.

MH's reputation is based mostly on his earlier productions. When you listen to the Buzzcocks' "Boredom" - as I am right now - you feel like forgiving MH anything. Or listen to the development between the thrashy noise of early Warsaw/Joy Division & the extraordinary sounds on "Closer" & "Unknown Pleasures".  His relationship with Joy Division illustrates MH's glory days & the beginnings of his decline. When he was on top of things, he could live up to his view of himself as a kind of punk Phil Spector - but this could easily tip over into abrasive arrogance. MH's description of Joy Division as "1 genius & 3 Manchester United supporters" had me laughing out loud, but its hardly the stuff of ongoing creative relationships. Indeed, Peter Hook & Bernard Sumner are morose & grudging in what recognition they are prepared to give MH, feeling that he was increasingly (& deliberately) more difficult to work with as Factory's sales & reputation grew. You can be a crazed genius as long as the hits are coming in, but its a hard act to sustain.

Just as New Order lament to this day to anyone who'll listen about how all their hard work & hard cash were swallowed up by the bottomless pit of the Hacienda, so MH became disillusioned with the path Factory took. having been one of the founders of the label with Tony Wilson, Alan Erasmus & Peter Saville, MH felt (not unreasonably) that there should be ongoing investments in studios & recording equipment (MH might have been out of it most of the time, but never lost his obsession for cutting edge audio hardware), and never bought into Tony Wilson's grand vision. This led to further personal & professional isolation, & ultimately MH's freefall years. Increasingly the drugs that had been MH's inspiration (mainly smack & speed) became an ever-increasing handicap, demanding a gramme of coke before he'd even consider starting a session. He was drinking way too much too. Originally drugs had freed & inspired him to explore the limits of sound, imagination & equipment. The success of these efforts seemed to validate him. But its a subtle & dangerous line to cross- great work has been done while wrecked, but when MH (or anyone else) starts to go on from that point to believing that he can't work unless he's out of it, or even more out of it ... it does indeed lead to "A Lonely Place". 

Colin Sharp starts out sharing MH's habits & enthusiasms, but where MH felt it was too late to stop (& probably didn't want to, anyway), he quietly lets his own story unfold in the background. There's an excellent chapter on his audition/recording with Durutti Column, where you can practically taste the sulphate backdrop. CS survives a nightmare drugbuddy 1st marriage, moves from music to acting, and survives to recount a well-told & perceptive story.

Like one of the other reviewers, I'm not too sure about CS' claims for MH's ongoing influence & significance. Sure, everyone wants to name-drop Joy Division now (the Killers?) & "Control" will add to the process - and of course, MH did specialize in the loud/quiet, fast/slow dynamics so beloved of the grunge scene. Equally, he was unable to adapt to the seismic shifts of the music scene in the late 80's, & ended up in nightmarish dead-ends like trying to produce the Only Ones or Nico. But listening to the material of his that MH himself liked best, such as John Cooper Clarke/Invisible Girls, its more evocative of a very particular time, place & space - and I think thats the best way to remember him: the man who made the Factory sound. - Den Browne (RIP Colin Sharp)