DVD review: Martin Hannett – He Wasn’t Just The Fifth Member Of Joy Division





Ozit  [Released 10.05.14]

Described as a’ rough cut reportage style documentary based on an original idea by Anthony Ryan Carter’ a.k.a. Tosh Ryan who occupies an insightful centre-piece  to film, this fly on the wall style doc is a labour of love that just about stays on the right side of being objective.

‘He Wasn’t Just The Fifth Member of Joy Division’ does what it says on the tin, and more, as it delves into the life and times of promoter, producer, musician and sound pioneer Martin Hannett.

Those already familiar with the fly on the wall documentary style of Chris & Tom Hewitt (check out their Deeply Vale and Bickershaw Festival DVD’s on Ozit records) will know what to expect from this exhaustive 3 hour 45 minutes analysis and appreciation of producer and electronics wunderkind Martin Hannett.

Martin Hannett has been credited as the ‘creator of the Manchester sound’, best known for his drum sound, his early synths work and his unique, emotive and eerie sound that he brought to bear on a wide range of bands from The Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke to Joy Divison, New Order, Durutti Column, Magazine etc and even U2

‘He wasn’t Just The Fifth member of Joy Division’ is the kind of painstaking documentary that traces Martin Hannett’s rise from band rehearsals at a Co-op shop to his role in the Music Force co-operative, his initial partnership in Factory Records and his first forays into production – ‘his mission statement was, ‘the first rule is there are no rules’ – and eventually his unexpected cult celebrity status which ironically led to U2 steering clear of the legend.

Deep into the film, he’s portrayed as a kind of Mancunian Phil Spector kind of figure, with unusual working practices – including lying under the mixing desk – and even stranger methods of getting the sound he wanted.

This is a niche film that demands your patience, but after a minimalist and laboured start (perhaps wholly in keeping with its subject matter), the film kicks in half way through, by which time we start getting a handle of the subject.

As in the best biographies, it’s almost as if the persona comes to life through the mix of old VHS snippets, location shots and talking heads – including studio personnel, family, friends, his then partner Susanne O’Hara and wife Wendy Hannett, and various relevant band members etc. Through a mix of anecdotes, lucid memories and sheer wonder, they all paint a picture of a restless innovative, sometimes irritable soul who in the words of Bernard Sumner used to ‘create a climate of expectation’, while Peter Hook thought his talent was to be found in: ‘looking like you know what you are doing’

In retrospect Hook is sanguine about how Hannett transformed New Order into his own vision, noting that the band might otherwise have wracked up the tempo like other punk outfits of the time.

Described as ‘5% sound and 95% aesthetic’, Martin Hannett’s talent came with significant baggage. He was the kind of guy who pursued the sounds he heard in his head, but who in the words of the late Tony Wilson was; ‘finding sounds he couldn’t get again’. This is a view with which  Graham Fellows concurs, as he calls Hannett a ‘mad professor type’ and ‘a bit of a boffin’ who twiddled a knob and would then surprised by what he had just done, would say:  ‘ooh that sounds nice’.

The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly is more generous with his praise saying ‘he tried anything and everything’, but concludes that he had: ‘a clear vision of what Durutti Column should be’ and further points to Martin’s ability to nail a ‘defined sound’.

Ultimately the film always comes back to Tosh Ryan who originally wanted to get the heart of the mercurial producer who has been dubbed ‘the creator of the Manchester sound’.

His film was eventually taken on by Chris and Tom Hewitt as a low budget project that is big on meticulous detail. Refreshingly, the co-directors let their subjects do the talking while asking informed questions without dominating the conversation.

They also clearly believe in giving you more for your pound and you’d probably be advised to put the kettle on  before embarking on an bio-pic that leaves no stone unturned in it’s pursuit of Hannett’s oeuvre. And while the first half of the film could certainly have done with a judicious use of an editor’s snip, they do get to the heart of their subject, albeit in a roundabout way.

It’s not until just after the two hour mark that we actually see some of Hannett’s famous recording techniques. There’s also a reference to the legendary organic qualities of a lift shaft that he used while recording John Cooper Clarke which serves to highlight his use of space, echo and dynamics.

Just over the half way mark there’s a revealing snippet, presumably from Granada TV, as a young looking Tony Wilson hovers over Hannett at his mixing desk who briefly shares his craft with us.

Victor Brox  recalls Martin as a being funny guy, quick with a one liner, while his former band leader Spider Mike King – Hannett played bass in his band when they opened for Hawkwind at the Liverpool Stadium -  adds ironic reflections . Paul Adshead marvels at Hannett’s craziness in the studio, although on balance it all seemed to work.  .

Former Greasy Bear and Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias member, turned author and academic CP Lee also recalls meeting Hannett on the roof of UMIST Uni. Then again it was hardly likely to be anywhere normal given the subject matter of the film.

It is the method in his madness that this film ultimately seeks to uncover and by the time of an exhaustive trawl through a roll call of the great and good of the North West music scene – The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses contribute little more to what has been said before – you have a good grasp of how and why Hannett’s haunting sound came together.

Ironically after such a lengthy exposition of his life and times, the film finishes almost hurriedly, skating over the fact a lot of Factory acts decided to pass on using Hannett’s skills to produce them. Perhaps it was the fact he was partly shunned by the very music scene he helped to create that contributed to his sad demise.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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