An interview with Martin Hannett, 29th May 1989

Interview by Jon Savage Touch – Vagabond 1992


soonHow did you come across Joy Division?

Terry Mason used to come into the offices looking for a PA, and I went to see them one night supporting Slaughter at Salford Tech. They were very good. The PA broke down, and Steve and Hooky busked for about fifteen minutes. One of the things that drove me to drum machines was the appalling quality of drummers, but Steve was good, so immediately they had a red hot start. They were different from punk. It might have put me off if I’d seen in that Warsaw, Leaders of Men period. I’d never even played that record until I heard it on Substance last year.

So what was different about them?

There was lots of space in their sound initially, before Bernard started falling asleep over polyphonic synthesizers. There used to be a lot of room in the music, and they were a gift to a producer, cos they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t argue. The Factory Sampler was the first thing I did with them. I think I’d had the new AMS delay line for about two weeks. It was called ‘Digital’. It was heaven sent.

When did the technology go over from analog to digital?

When it became workable. The ideas were always there, but at the end of the sixties, a digital delay line was implemented using these things called shift registers, which were enormous, unreliable, and used too much electricity. When little bits of memory started to arrive, those clever guys at ATM stuck’em in a box.

When did all that stuff come on line?

One of the reasons I went to Advision was they had lots of delay lines, cos they were tied in with Feldon, the equipment distributors. When digital effects came in at the end of the seventies, there was a quantum leap in ambience control. You had many flavors as you could invent. You could use machines, and that’s been the biggest change in the last ten years , the enormous flood of digital effects. It started off with cheap digital delays, and now its cheap digital echoes. For £485 you can get the latest Quadraverb that does four digital things at once: delay, chorusing, reverb and equalization. They ‘re gifts to the imagination, really. You can do all of those difficult things without ever getting out of your chair.

Ultimately, what difference do they make? It’s still difficult to stimulate the sound of the echo chamber that Lee Hazlewood used. Their echo chamber was one of those forty foot aluminum grain silos with a loudspeaker in the top of it. There aren’t many programmes for aluminum grain silos.

So this technology worked for a group like Joy Division, who were about space anyway?

You could wack it into little attention-grabbing things, into the ambient environment, just in case interest was flagging in the music.

So you put a lot of this stuff on Unknown Pleasures?

That was half the classic Hannett patch. I didn’t have enough to do it on both left and right. I use basically the same patch these days, it’s a very controllable space. I can take it down from a cardboard tube to a cathedral.

You used syndrums as well, didn’t you?

Syndrums were just coming out then, and Steve bought one and had a good look at it. When the Simmons stuff arrived, he must have had one of those kits.

What did you do on the fourth track of the first side, where there’s that lift…

That’s a lift.

How did you see your job with Joy Division? Were you trying to make it dream-like, or simply more spacious?

Just trying to make it appealing, all round. To realize some its potential. The gig at Salford was very important. It was a very big room, they were badly equipped, and they were still working into this space, making sure they got into the corners. When I did the arrangements for recording, they were just reinforcing the basic ideas.

There wasn’t much guitar overload on the record.

No, that was just a bit of the problem. It gets to the point where it induces listener fatigue more than anything else. There are some fairly distorted guitars in there.

Didn’t you go on the board at Factory?

Yeah, initially it was a partnership, and we talked about how to incorporate, which is always just around the corner for a partnership, so I said, Hey Tony…and I ended up with twenty percent, initially, of the equity. We worked it out, and it worked out roughly the same amount of money as a four percent royalty rate. So there I was, and that’s the only reason I did it, and it turned out to be the most stupid thing I ever did in my life. When I wanted to turn it back from the twenty three percent of the equity that it had become, into a four percent royalty rate, I was told to go and screw myself. I can’t remember who the team were that were acting for Factory. They eventually managed to reduce the paper value of Factory to less than a hundred thousand pounds, which we all know is a fairly tale.

Do you think Factory put something back into the community by doing the Hacienda?

If. It was marginal, if at all. I mean, I’m not allowed to go into the Hacienda. Because it upsets me so much that I become violent and deranged. At the time, I wanted to spend a little money on R & D, for the purpose of making more records. I didn’t want it to become a vehicle for one bunch of fucking megastars, and a few people who manage to crawl up Tony’s arse at the bar in his club.

Were there a lot of drugs in Manchester in the late seventies?

A lot? I don’t think so, no. I didn’t get into a lot of drugs situation until about ’83.

So it was mainly speed and dope. Was there much smack around then?

I don’t know. I’ve always been a rather solitary smack abuser. I think there are loads of people doing it, but I don’t know many of them. It’s hard to have a social life if you’ve got a problem like that, though. Even people who get completely of their trolley smoking freebase look down on smack.

When did you start doing smack?

It must have been ’78 or ’79. Not a lot. Well…I suppose it got to be a lot cos you tolerance builds up. Just enough. As Anthony Burgess says, they took away our opium and gave us beer and football. What a pity. You forget there was a big opium culture in Britain, especially in the North West.

Did Joy Division becoming a big hit change everything? Did you start to get more commissions?

Not really, cos I’m based up here. I used to get courted by record companies, but it just went completely over my head. I never thought of doing anything I didn’t like you see.

Did the independents make any difference, or were they just baby versions of the same?

They just got absorbed, eventually they all got plastered with the same flavor wallpaper. Ten years, there is maybe an improvement in the looseness around record companies. People like 4AD I admire very much, good attitude, whereas Wilson I don’t understand at all. Fucking total mystery. A classical division? It’s an easier way to lose all your money than just about all the other things he’s tried. All those musicians’fees, for a start, and then the diminutives sales. I want him to have some money left when I drag him into the Court of Human Rights in 1993.

You’re not going to do that, are you?

He’s pinched my intellectual property. He made the company worth nothing, and gave me 23 percent of it.

Is that when that period ended for you, when you left Factory?

Yeah, I was left in that apartment, where you met me, not doing much, hopping over to Europe occasionally to make another flop.

I remember coming down with Susannah on the night Joy Division played their last concert. We walked out of the gig, didn’t know it was going to be the last. Why did Ian kill himself?

It was an accident wasn’t it. Thirty two barbs and half a bottle of scotch. I never saw the inquest. It totally did my head in, that. I was in the Townhouse with the Buzzcocks, and for some reason I wrapped the session up, rocketed back to the hotel, threw everything into the boot of my car, drove back to Manchester, got home by ten, was enjoying a coffee, and Tosh phoned and told me. That was the day after. Monday morning.

Was it totally unexpected?

Yes and no. He ‘d tried to do it two weeks earlier, tried to kill himself, ended up in hospital and released into the care of Tony and Lindsay, who dropped him off at his wife’s house the day he died. He thought everything was a mess, and he wanted to organize himself before he went to the states.

Joy Division were special, weren’t they. The interesting thing about Ian was that on-stage he was totally…

Possessed. It was me who said, ‘touched by the hand of god’, to a Dutch magazine. They like to remind me, you know, occasionally.

Where did it come from, was it just within him?

He was one of those channels for the Gestalt: the only one I bumped into in that period. A lightning conductor.

©Touch – Vagabond 1992


Full transcript of interview with Martin Hannett: Vagabond 1 ISBN 1 874104 00 X