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INTERVIEW: Steve Harrison

Ahead of the release of his new book ‘Here Are The Young Men’ and his forthcoming In Conversation talk at Shiiine On Weekender, we chat to Steve Harrison, founder of Omega Records and the Dead Dead Good label, amongst much much more…

The book ‘Here Come The Young Men’, it is obviously a story that very much needs telling, what triggered the urge & desire to write the book now after a quite a long period away from the music business?

I have been asked on a number of occasions about writing a book over the years. I guess my story is quite unique in so much as it started in retail to record label, to management to publishing. We were the early 360 Degree business model but we were not aware at the time.

To me it felt natural and not imposed on me due to the economics that later forced that model. It all started with a box of Northern Soul records and a dream. Very romantic but very true and very accurate. It ended up as a multi-million pound organisation, job creation and a hub in Cheshire that attracted a number of would be suitors… including the likes of Richard Branson no less. It’s not a kiss and tell, but it will address some myths and assumptions and some let’s say stories that might have suited agenda’s at given points in time. Nothing however controversial, as I’m aware of ‘sexing up’ or adapting stories to suit purpose sometimes happens. It’s a common marketing principal.

I have been told that it has been said that I was ‘sacked’ as a Manager and that I had been made ‘bankrupt’. I have never been sacked in my life. I have never been made bankrupt in my life.

Nonsense.

Why now…? Possibly an age thing and I’m loving seeing the likes of Peter Hook and Mark Burgess who play at Shiiine actually enjoying such a grand and purple patch just now. Their work ethic is outstanding and I think they are all enjoying life. I’ll talk about the culture of music and the way that growing old within the music industry with grace is now acceptable. It’s nice to see the creative process continue.

I nearly died a few years ago following a problem following major heart surgery. Whilst it was not an epiphany moment (I’ve always been at one with the Lord and my decisions in life) then it was a time to contemplate and reflect as a Grandpa especially.

When the book project was first mooted along with the beginning of the social media interaction, it became quite apparent how the Omega Records and Dead Dead Good associated music was still very fondly remembered, almost with a reverence & cult appeal, did this surprise you?

Yes and No. Yes because I’d like to think of myself as a reasonable and humble person whilst some considered it all about them, I always considered it about the collective ‘us’. It was just me at the helm. The one with the initial plan and the balls to put his money and vision on the line.

I also like to think that I’m very much a capable and enthusiastic businessman, who has since had a number of other successful ventures.

I have always invested in people, and time and my idea of the early fanzines and keeping in touch with the people that looked after us needing to be looked after themselves. I still do the same with clients such as England Goalkeeper Jack Butland, Manchester City and England’s Melissa Lawley and the WBA Striker Jay Rodriguez. They all remain very grounded.

No because what Omega meant to the people… to our community.

Omega and DDG become an epicentre for fans from across the globe and certainly those music fans with the individual store communities. Even back in the day at the first tint shop in Winsford; when we were probably the leading specialist of Paisley Underground in the UK. The Church album ‘Heyday’ was released on USA import we had customers from as far as Winchester turn up! Hard to believe but true.

Omega meant so much, to so many people, without Omega then nothing would have been realised. The putting together of the label, the putting together of bands, the taking phone-calls, the risks, the bank-loans, learning on the job with great passion, pleasure and integrity.

I had the best job in the world. The community, the people involved were outstanding.

This year’s Shiiine On Weekender features heavily a lot of bands, artistes friends, who have all played a part in your musical story & I imagine will feature in the book. I am talking Hooky – The Chameleons – Oceanic of those I know ?

The Train Set are a band that I knew as a youngster at the 1st Omega. Adam the drummer was in a band with me called News From Nowhere… very Joy Division ‘esque without the quality! He is Dad to the girls in the Orielles. Shed 7, Ocean Colour Scene, System 7, Mark Morris and Bluetones, The Darling Buds will all have reference in the book. I am a huge fan of the Godfathers, I’m aware of the music of some of the new(er) bands such as Psyence and Time for Action, Deja Vega… I continue to discover new music every day.

Any bands that slipped through the net so to speak management or record label wise you can tell us about?

My initiation into helping bands as opposed to playing in bands was a band called The Treatment Organisation. I helped them get a deal with the Darling Buds label. I suppose I was a surrogate Manager whilst getting my first shop off the ground. Treatment virtually lived in Omega Records. Sadly the album was recorded but never released… a story in there.

There will be the story of three rather huge acts that I effectively turned down due to a kind of misplaced loyalty elsewhere.

Yo La Tengo was a band that I was absolutely desperate to sign to DDG, but it still happens nowadays in football and by way of example. I was equally desperate to sign Bassala Sambou the former Coventry and now Everton Striker… you can’t win ‘em all.

Thankfully I back more winners than losers and get most of the talent that I look to sign.
I made all my decisions based on integrity and there was a huge one that will have to wait for the book… a dance record that was significantly bigger than even Oceanic and Dario G. Funny story and very me… no regrets… the manager was a twat… you move on, but what a whopper!

I’ve always slept at night.

The Omega record shops & Dead Dead Good record label legacy has borne out some very exciting projects in film the arts & further music careers by a number of ex employees, what can you tell us about some of these?

I’ll elaborate in the book. I’m very proud that Mark Gill of That Uncertain Feeling and The Rain Band is now an Oscar and BAFTA nominated Film Director – ‘England is Mine’ – the Morrissey Biopic and ‘The Voorman Problem’. Mark remains one of my closest friends.

Craig Cash and the late Caroline Aherne were great friends and supporters of Dead Dead Good. Craig worked close with DDG ‘early doors’!!!. Their collective legacy remains and continues. Exceptional talent.

Mike Christie one of three at the 1st ever Omega Records Christmas Party has just made the film ‘Decades’ about New Order. He made the ‘Hansa Studios by the Wall’ documentary on Sky. He has also made the new film about Suede. Mike has previously been responsible for work with Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Little Britain across the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky. Mike is an awesome talent.

David Standen of the band Mantaray was the Producer of the film about The Libertines. His story in HATYM will be wonderful and expansive… he is Essex LARGE.

As a lifelong fan of Joy Division and being a prominent figure in North West music and the business, what was your relationship like with Tony Wilson and the rest of the Factory hierarchy – Rob Gretton Alan Erasmus etc..

Tony was a great friend and I have some wonderful stories, and I was in touch with him right up until the day prior to his passing. I loved him to bits. Everybody now says they loved Tony and I’m aware of people who certainly didn’t at the time… but everybody loves the memory of those who have passed eh? He was immense and inspirational and so bloody clever and completely uncontrollable with art always surpassing economics. We first met in Cannes in the south of France… a right pair of northern ponces as Wilson would say. We had wonderful times. Rob I knew less well, but he was kind, generous, funny and manic. I actually got to know Rob through Hooky and through going to the ‘Gardners Arms’ in Rusholme before City games with a mutual friend Chris Griffiths. Chris worked with the Roses and later the Manic Street Preachers. Big Blues. I don’t know Alan.

I met Peter Saville during the Monaco project. Peter did the artwork along with Sam Taylor-Wood.

Ian Curtis lived next door to my Aunty in Macclesfield. Phil Saxe remains a pal, he was sort of A&R. Brue Mitchell of the Durruti Column is a pal and nice man. I met the nephew of Hooky’s first wife last month at an Aston Martin Owners Club meeting! Factory was my inspiration and Tony was a great friend. Small world innit!

 

You touched on peter Hook in an earlier question, an association professionally & personally in a friendship that goes back a long way – Something I am only became aware of through the Monaco connection and the brilliant debut album. We love what Peter is doing with his band The Light at Shiiine On & so do the Shiiine crowd – Hat trick ball for Hooky this time around as well!!

My association with Peter goes way back when I guess, as I saw Warsaw, Joy Division as a fan, but it was only Ian that I ever spoke to because he lived next door to my Aunty in Macclesfield. I first met Peter in passing at Dry Bar when I think Martin Blunt was doing an interview, and Hooky was there in the background, and I simply shook his hand. I remember Martin being a little awestruck. I saw the final Joy Division gig and some of the early New Order gigs. We also did panels together at In The City. The formal introduction in respect of me managing Peter was as a result of Peter’s then wife Caroline Aherne. I had known Caroline for a number of years.

When I made the decision to finish in management then Peter was particularly difficult as he was a ‘hero’ as such. But what I did was take care of business for all my artists, in Peter’s case I secured a second album deal before any decision was made. I am particularly proud of ‘Music for Pleasure’. It is outstanding, and David Potts is a perfect writing partner for Pete. The band itself was put together from DDG artists.

We remain really close friends, and Peter was very supportive and very kind during the period after my surgery. He made me laugh so much when I was in so much pain…

Rebecca and all the kids and my lot are great friends and we don’t get to see them often enough. Jude and Rebecca always point out that we should go on stage together like a couple of old men babbling on with no script, such is the intensity and fun when we are together. I love em’ to bits.

As for the gig… who knows. Pete keeps everybody on their toes. I missed last week Technique and Republic date at Clitheroe as I had a football client starting an important game. On Saturday night I had family stuff on and missed the Albert Hall show. Bit of a bugger.

I’m not sure, but if I was I’d have to kill you first anyway.

The Stone Roses – your association goes back a very very long way, what can you tell us about this & the story behind it?

I knew Ian and John through the scooter scene when we were teenagers and before Omega. We used to go to a Northern/Mod night at Mersey Square in Stockport, and back then all the scooter clubs were very tight knit, as there were not a lot of them. Clubs from places like Salford, St Helens, Manchester (Central), Birkenhead, Stockport, Preston, Crewe, Warrington. Ian and John used to ride on occasion with my club Midnight Runners. We were always a bit left of centre in our taste, and not textbook Soul Boys or Mod. The Roses came as a welcome surprise to me when I saw them support The Playn Jayne at the Hacienda.

We then all discovered the new psyche scene involving bands like the Rain Parade and the rest is history.

Omega sold tickets at the shops for the International in Withington and Longsight, and the owners there ended up managing them… wow. Talk about right place and the right time… and the wrong managers!

I saw lots of early gigs and got them their debut in London amongst others. They changed everything. Some great stories.

We’re you aware or conscious of what impact the Omega records shops had on youth culture in there surrounding areas, by that I mean making new music – tickets and transport accessible via the shops & providing opportunities for teenagers like myself and many others in small towns to participate in landmark events like the Roses at – Spike Island – the Mondays ‘Rave On’ tour – the first Charlatans gigs – early Inspirals gigs & much more.

It was truly a seminal era. One should not underestimate its impact in the UK.
Rock n Roll in the 1950’s,
Mod/Soul/RnB in the early 1960’s.
Psychedelia/Progressive in the late 1960’s.
Punk in the 1970’s.
And then Madchester/Acid House.

I didn’t go to Spike Island as The Charlatans were rehearsing at Manchester International One that evening… It was silly really not to attend. The after-show party ended up at The International as it happens. I did go to Blackpool.. Inspired.

Amazing times and Omega was there to educate, to promote as the trouser widths got forever wider!

I didn’t really watch the Monday’s that often but I thought ‘Bummed’ was genius.

I can only imagine being in the first throes of music management in 1989 and the subsequent following couple of years must have felt like being in the eye of a hurricane?

It was an amazing period in time and immensely enjoyable. The best thing was the amazing sense of community that was inspired through the record stores and the label.

We always did our best and did right by our artists and our staff… our people. Most were very much part of the spirit.

I think Paul Basset of 5.30/Orange Deluxe said of DDG; ‘Dead Dead Good are one of the only truly independent labels in the country and occasionally, when I’m losing sleep, I think that’s something worth believing in’.

Lovely words.

Finally The Charlatans ‘Some Friendly’ The first number one album you were involved as a manager of the band and a record label owner – Is there a particular memory of it happening you could share?.

You know what, no. I cannot remember. I distinctly remember everything surrounding “Tellin’ Stories” getting to Number One, which I’ll share in the book, but not the actual day of the Number One of ‘Some Friendly’.

In many ways “Some Friendly” was simply an extension of “Indian Rope” and utilising all the infrastructure of the Omega Records/DDG set-up. Studios, Producer, Artwork, Video Production, ‘Looking for the Orange One’… it wasn’t until the next album that ‘Beggars Banquet’ really took over. The big single wasn’t even on the album… madness really.

What I do remember was it opening the doors to the world, and in the USA in particular I dedicated a huge amount of time; moving my young family there and leaving Omega and DDG to take care of itself for a significant period… again. I trusted in my people… my good people.

 

Steve will be performing his talk ‘Here Are The Young Men’ at the Wekeender on Saturday 17th November.

Final packages are on sale HERE