Steve Harrison was at the very heart of the Madchester scene, managing one of thee great bands of the era, The Charlatans, helping them and other bands achieve worldwide success. Starting up his own music shop, going onto seeing bands he managed play at the biggest venues in the world, to seeing band members sadly lose their lives, Steve has seen and done it all. With all this and so much more in his memory tank Steve has decided now is the time to release his stunning book Here Are The Young Men…Life In Music, scheduled to be released by Unbound Books next year. Matt Mead catches us with Steve for this exclusive interview for Louder Than War.
A book of insider stories drawn from the music scene of the North West in the days of punk, Madchester and acid house.
The music scene of North-West England from the late seventies through the nineties is the stuff of legend: written about, argued over, praised and disparaged, it still exerts a powerful influence on anyone who writes, thinks about or plays music. At the heart of it all was someone few outside the North-West have ever heard of – Steve Harrison. Steve started and built Omega Records, the record shops all the local bands shopped in, and went on to run the labels Dead Dead Good and Transworld, managing The Charlatans, Alfie, Peter Hook, Monaco and many others. He saw it all: the great clubs (the Wigan Casino, the Electric Circus, Eric’s, the Boardwalk, the Hacienda); the great bands (Joy Division, The Fall, The Chameleons, The Stone Roses, Oasis) and the great characters (Tony Wilson, Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash, Ian Brown, Noel Gallagher are/were his good mates; Ian Curtis was a neighbour of his family, Bernard Sumner, Morrissey, Tim Burgess, Johnny Marr were customers). It’s a book about the business of music (deals, t-shirt and ticket touts, bootleggers, payola, gangsters, fraud, the labels, touring, promoters) but also the joy and the madness of taking raw talent and creativity and turning them into something bought and loved by millions. It’s about the rewards and perils of fame.
But most of all it is a collection of great stories. Steve has seen it all and met everyone. Within the book are brand new, never-before-heard stories gathered from 40 years front line experience with walk-on appearances by the Rolling Stones, Madonna, U2, Robbie Williams, Liam Gallagher, Van Morrison, Mark E. Smith, Coldplay, Roger Daltrey, Joe Strummer, Paul Weller, Elliott Smith, Doves, Flaming Lips, Noddy Holder, the Manic Street Preachers, Ian McCulloch, Will Sargent, Julian Cope, Badlly Drawn Boy, Ice T, Stormzy, Ricky Hatton, Ally McCoist, Tom Hollander, Martin Freeman, Mark Gill, Richard Branson, Lucian Grainge, Peter Grant, Alan McGee, Coxsone Dodd, Martin Mills, Seymour Stein, Simon Moran, Mark Radcliffe, Mark Riley, John Peel, Casino DJ’s Brian Rae and Dave Evison and many, many more.
If you love music and the people who make it, you’ll love Here are the Young Men.
The book is written in collaboration with novelist and Times journalist Mark Hodkinson and will have a foreword by Peter Hook.
Interview with Steve Harrison
LTW: Can you tell me a bit about your upbringing?
Steve: I’m one of two. I have a younger sister. We are from Mancunian/Cheshire stock, and the family settled in the Northwich area. Dad got a job as an apprentice engineer at Foden the truck-builders. Dad worked on the shop-floor and ended up as a departmental foreman until the business sadly closed-down having employed over 3000 people at one point.
I went to Sir John Deanes Grammar School for Boys in Northwich. My sister went to the Northwich Grammar School for Girls, which was famed for Jennifer Saunders. Our parents were very proud of us going to Grammar School.
What was the first music you can remember hearing?
There wasn’t a whole lot of music around our house, but I can recall being given a batch of records from a local pub jukebox where my Mum’s cousin was landlady. There was I Can Hear Music by the Beach Boys, a Link Wray single, the song Apache and I think Telstar. I distinctly remember the Capitol Records centre on the Beach Boys record.
Who were your first musical influences?
Marc Bolan and David Bowie.
When and how did you first start to get involved with the music business side of things?
I played in bands, from the punk era, and I was particularly inspired by Joy Division.
I always wanted a record shop. I worked at a clothing manufacturer until I had saved enough money, and with this, some help from Mum and Dad, the Government Enterprise Allowance Scheme and a friendly Bank manager called Stephen Hodgkinson I opened a record shop in Winsford in Cheshire, having first sold Northern Soul records at a few all-nighters in the north-west. This was 1982. My first helpers were Mike Christie; now a film director and John McGee who is a tour rep for Kings of Leon.
I always surrounded myself with good people.
Were The Charlatans the very first band you got involved with?
No. I helped a band called Treatment Organisation get a record deal with a label called Native; they had previously signed the Darling Buds.
Treatment was along the lines of 23 Skidoo/ 400 Blows/Portion Control/Test Department/ A Certain Ratio. Keo Martin from the band still plays nowadays and does a bit with ACR. I also supported other local bands and musicians such as tTe Train Set, the drummer Adam (Halford) and I previously played in News from Nowhere. Adam is Dad to the girls in The Orielles. I helped a friend/customer along called Pat Smith who was in a band called Silent Passion. He remains in the music industry and at one stage booked shows at the Sydney Opera House.
The Dead Dead Good label was a big part of the Madchester scene. Was it an exciting period for you personally? Or was it a challenge for you as a manager of one of the biggest bands of the time, The Charlatans?
It was an amazing period. My Omega Records stores (then in Northwich, Crewe and Altrincham… later Wigan, Winsford and Macclesfield) sold tickets for the likes of the Boardwalk and the International and we were very involved at the Warrington venue Legends where an Omega staff member Russ Pearson was DJ.
It wasn’t so much a challenge as an opportunity. I had already decided to establish a label with the idea to release records without UK deals associated with the Paisley Underground scene.
I was also talking to an English band called The Prisoners and looking to acquire the rights for the band’s albums for re-issue. Through this line of enquiry; I met Martin Blunt from Making Time. Martin ended up forming The Charlatans with Jonathan Brookes and Robert Collins. Effectively I was asked by Martin to join him putting this band together, and with no early interest that meant we ended up signing The Charlatans to the label, then Katherine E.
The immediate ‘indie’ and ‘dance’ success meant that the master plan was put on hold. So DDG would not become a UK home for the likes of Miracle Legion, The Rain Parade, Husker Du, The Replacements, Green on Red, The Church, The Three O’clock, Lets Active etc.
However; I did later attempt to attract USA artists such as Yo La Tengo to the label.
People might not know much of the other bands that were signed to the label. Can you go over some of the other bands that signed to your label?
- Rig – a band from Stockport loosely associated with the whole Madchester scene…
- That Uncertain Feeling – a band from Urmston who got themselves an NME Single of the Week and made an album called ‘500/600’ with Suede producer Ed Buller. Managed by Craig Cash, and lead by Mark Gill who later formed the Rain Band with Richard Nancollis. More recently Mark was BAFTA and OSCAR nominated film Director who made ‘England is Mine’
- Sussed – Northwich based band made an album called ‘All Hail the Young Assassins’. Singer Richard Nancollis went on to form The Rain Band.
- Mark Burgess and Yves Altana – The Chameleons front-man and Yves from Wonky Alice. A wonderful and glorious album called ‘Paradyning’… the most beautiful and expensive LP sleeve.
- Mantaray – Essex based Mod/Power Pop trio, made two albums ‘Some Pop’ and a follow-up ‘The Reds and the Blues’ which was licenced to Fontana.
- The Chameleons – we re-issued all the first three Chameleons albums ‘Script’, ‘Basically’ and ‘Bellows’ as well as the ‘Tony Fletcher’ EP and put together a compilation album called ‘Return of the Roughnecks’ with full co-operation of all the members including new Reg Smithies artwork.
- Orange Deluxe – A band from London formed from the ashes of the 5.30. Two DDG albums ‘Necking’ and ‘Vodka, Doughnuts and Dole’.
- Kerosene – Manchester band who we licenced to Seymour Stein and Sire Records.
- Venus Beads – Stoke based band who were firm favourites of Steve Lamacq and the likes of Bob Mould of Husker Du and they ended up supporting Sugar.
- Digital Orgasm – a techno group from Belgium who had huge hits here, and then was licensed to Def America. Effectively the 1st European techno act in the USA.
- Oceanic – we sold millions by this band. ‘Rave’ personified, and discovered by Cream founder James Barton who introduced it to DDG.
- Rhythm Eternity – signed as the band were customers at our Crewe Store. The first techno act to get a John Peel Show Radio Session. Ended up selling millions under the name Dario G.
- Transworld Records – we released over 75 independent dance records.
- SHM managed Peter Hook, Monaco (Polydor) The Charlatans (Beggars Banquet/MCA), The Rain Band (Island), Alfie (Parlophone), Alfa 9 (Blow Up), and Relish via consultancy of EMI Records
What are 5 of your all time highlights as manager of The Charlatans?
- Indian Rope Single.
- Gig at London Islington Powerhouse.
- Putting on difficult and unorthodox shows such as Stoke Trentham Gardens, London Royal Albert Hall, New York Limelight, Los Angeles Jon Anson Ford Amphitheatre and ALWAYS playing a Northern Soul intro set!
- Holding it all together following Rob Collins death, and managing to play Knebworth supporting Oasis and still managing to conclude the deals with MCA and Warner Chappell.
- Manchester Nynex Arena – the first show.
Fast forward and you are about to release a book all about your time with DDG etc… what can readers expect to see when they purchase the book?
A straight-forward and honest account of my life so far with a particular emphasis on the music industry.
It will be informative, educational and real. There will be no sensationalism, no reinventing stories to suit agenda, it will be the way it was and indeed remains in my world. Mostly, good stuff, some real funny stuff, some flying by the seat of your pants stuff, and some tragic and lots of emotional stuff.
Against all this there will be a backdrop of me growing-up, and the things that inspire me, from record shops, football, youth culture, casual culture, scooters and cars, punk rock, to business of music, travel, deal making, (not) deal making, and working with talent and moreover the people who helped realise and optimise the talent. The rich, the famous, the deluded, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of life. From the humble Saturday assistant in the record shop to the person appearing for England Football Team last night. There is one consistent… it’s about people, and the stories associated from the catalyst which was Omega Records.
Will there be any surprises that you’re releasing in cooperation with the book?
Kim Peters who was my best-man and season ticket holder with me at Manchester City designed the first Omega Records logo. Designed the first DDG sleeve. Made the first DDG video and lots, lots more has got his pencils out again and come up with three beautiful pieces of artwork.
Peter Hook is writing a forward for the book.
I’m looking forward to speaking more on the Q&A circuit, and there will be a book launch night in Manchester based around the same.
What are you up to these days Steve?
I always believe about its what about what you are doing and not what about what you have done… albeit it that any kind of book about life is by definition reflective.
So this week I’ve been watching seven of my clients play international football; Jack Butland for England, Tom Edwards for England U20s, Melissa Lawley for England Lionesses, Claudia Walker for England Lionesses U23s, Jake Dunwoody for Northern Ireland U21s, Joe Adams for Wales U19s and Marie Hourihan for the Republic of Ireland.
The mantra continues and it’s a case of Here Are The Young Women too!
I work in sports management as a Director at a firm of lawyers. I still do a bit in music and film with the likes of Mark Gill amongst others. I’m an events speaker and open to opportunity as and when. Essentially I’m a management consultant without all the wanky corporate shit.
We have family homes in Manchester, Cheshire and Cornwall. Life is good and I’ve been happily married for over thirty years to Jude. We have a wonderful grandchild and a second on the way. I remain a Manchester City season ticket holder and I still drive fancy motorcars across mainland Europe which is an immense passion along with wine.
Thanks for the interest. Keep On Keepin’ On.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.