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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - North West: Friday January 19, 2007
Tractor at Cargo studios
Tractor turn up the volume at Cargo Studios

Tractor - Rochdale rock

Inside Out reveals how Rochdale's Tractor became a cult band in the 1970s thanks to a demo tape sent to legendary Radio One disc jockey John Peel.

Peel's association with the band also led to the setting up of Cargo, one of the most influential studios of the 1970s.

Unknown to the band, John Peel had a secret passion for Rochdale after starting his first ever job there in a cotton mill.

Inside Out takes a trip to Rochdale to meet the band who were championed by John Peel throughout their career.

Read the Tractor web chat and Q & A

Rochdale connections

John Peel's father was a wealthy cotton broker who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.

So he sent him to work on the mill shop floor at Townhead Mill - it was the start of a life long love affair with Rochdale.

Townhead Mill
Rochdale's Townhead Mill where John Peel worked

"He loved it," says Peel's wife Sheila who reveals her husband's passion for the town for the first time.

As Peel's radio career took off, he received hundreds of tapes every week from young hopeful bands.

One of them was from The Way We Live - Tractor's original incarnation.

Legend has it that he was attracted to the tape because he saw a Rochdale postmark on the envelope.

John was so enthusiastic about the band, and their fusion of folk and rock that he wanted to sign them to his new record label Dandelion.

Tractor fact file

Formed 1971 in Rochdale from the remnants of a three piece band called The Way We Live.

The original members were Jim Milne (guitarist/vocalist) and Steve Clayton (drummer) plus their manager and sound engineer John Brierley.

The band's first album "A Candle for Judith", named after Steve's now wife, was released in January 1971.

A second album under the new name of Tractor was recorded in Rochdale.

In 1976, Tractor helped launch the Deeply Vale Festivals.

In 1998, Tractor released a CD of archive material, Tractor "Before, During and After the Dandelion Years".

Tractor played a Peel tribute concert with Doves and Badly Drawn Boy in December 2004

In 2006 the band released a CD called "John Peel Bought Us Studio Gear And a P.A."

The next morning an A&R man arrived on the band's doorstep in Rochdale and they signed a deal - it was the beginning a fruitful relationship with Peel.

There was just one thing Peel wanted to change - he didn't like their name and so they became Tractor.

The money that Peel gave the band allowed Tractor to do many things.

He gave them £2,000 - a huge sum of money in those days - to buy whatever equipment they needed.

Tractor went on to build a recording studio in the attic of Steve Clayton's parents flat in Heywood.

It was here in this tiny room that Tractor recorded some of their best music.

Tractor's debut album made it to Number 18 in the charts.

Their success led to them opening a music shop and PA hire company on Kennion Street in Rochdale and leasing space for a recording studio upstairs.

Cargo Studios

The studio became known as Cargo - one of the most influential studios of its kind in the late 1970's, with bands like Joy Division and The Fall recording there.

Jim Milne
Still going strong - Jim Milne, Tractor's guitarist and vocalist

Through it all they had one special champion - John Peel.

He never forgot the band and regularly mentioned his friends from Rochdale on his radio shows.

When Peel died, Tractor played at a tribute show to commemorate the legendary DJ.

Tractor continue to write and record their own songs in between their day jobs, although Cargo Studio has been closed for many years.

Jim Milne is now a headmaster at a Liverpool primary school whilst Steve Clayton works as a freelance artist.

They still remember John Peel fondly and know that without him, their musical dreams would not have been fulfilled.

Read the web chat and Q & A

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Making it... the essential guide

Mancunian mega stars Oasis showing some attitude live

Like Tractor, it's every musician's dream to get signed to a record deal and hit the big time.

But how do you get into the same league as big name bands?

The music business is notoriously competitive and unforgiving.

For every Oasis and Badly Drawn Boy, there's dozens of artists vying for the attention of industry executives.

Here's a few tips on how you can set out on the path to rock stardom and perhaps even become the next Joy Division or Tractor.

Getting on track

So you want to start a band?

Perhaps you've written a few songs and played some gigs, but making the leap from singing in the back room of your local pub to the big time needs more than just good luck and raw talent.

Top tips

Do - Form a band and write some songs. Start gigging, develop a list of your best songs and record them in a studio or at home on a good computer package.

Do - put yourself in the picture. Use websites like myspace and other online promotional tools to get your name out there.

Do watch out for sharks and rip-off merchants. Check the credentials of whoever you're working with.

Do make friends and influence people e.g. music journalists, management companies and A&R scouts.

Don't rush things - take it step by step. Have a goal and work towards it. Don't start gigging until you're really tight and well rehearsed.

Don't go in with false expectations - be realistic.

Source: BPI 'When Will I Be Famous'

First of all, be prepared for a huge amount of hard work and dedication.

You'll also need a game plan - an idea of the sort of music you want to make and how to promote it.

There's several different routes you can go down depending on your age and the type of music you're playing.

Young bands - one of the easiest ways for under 18s to get involved with music is through school.

Most schools have a school band, an after school club or music department where you can fine-tune your skills.

Alternatively, ask your music teacher for advice, and take singing or musical instrument lessons.

Find out about special rock summer schools that take place locally around North West England.

Advertise for like-minded pupils to form a band or duo on the school notice board.

When you're well rehearsed, promote your gigs in schools or community centres.

Back to college - there are many excellent music and performing arts courses at colleges and Universities throughout North West England, but be prepared to learn some music theory.

Check out the University of Salford, MANCAT and the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

There are also courses in event management, music technology and the business side of the industry if you want to work behind the scenes in studio production or promotion.

New bands - recruit like-minded individuals via school, college, ads in music shops and classifieds, or via Internet sites such as myspace.

Badly Drawn Boy
This Badly Drawn Boy went solo to achieve success

Write your own songs, rehearse till you're really tight, and start gigging to build a fan base.

Mature bands - you'll probably have been gigging for a number of years and have a decent back catalogue of songs.

Once you've established a local fan base, build your audience through myspace, internet marketing and mailing/texting lists of fans.

Start playing gigs in London and around the UK, become more selective about gigging at higher profile venues and events in your own town or city, and get your name out there.


Patience, tenacity, hard work and determination are important - keep on building your skills and song writing.

Be critical of your own performance, be original and get advice from people who know what they're talking about.

There's no magic formula but here are some basic tips:

Songwriting - don't be afraid to experiment and don't bore the listener - use a Dictaphone or computer kit to record basic ideas. Don't copy established bands - there's only one Oasis!

Gigging - don't gig before you're ready. Make every gig a special event - create a buzz. Be well rehearsed and well prepared. Plan a great introduction. Keep your set short and sweet (20-30 minutes) - make people want more. Get the audience involved - make them excited.

Publicity - publicise your gigs, new songs and music. Develop your own website, fanzine or online community (via myspace or others). Produce your own posters, flyers and promo. Use word of moth - build up a mailing list.

Press - once you're more experienced, turn heads with headlines in the local and national media. Send CDs, press releases and biogs to music papers and radio shows who specialise in breaking new artists and bands e.g. Radio One and NME for rock bands. Local papers can be useful too as can regional TV as long as you have a news 'hook'.

Image - take a long, hard look at your overall 'look' or style. Do you look like a rock star? Do you look cool? Develop a strong image - try something fresh and different to stand out from the crowd. Consult an image stylist or students on a fashion course.

Creating a buzz

So what's next? You've got a decent live set, you've impressed a couple of hundred fans, and you've fine-tuned your songwriting skills?

Talk business - once you've created a vibe, start contacting record labels and managers but get some good gigs and reviews in the press under your belt first.

Remember to do your homework - check that you're sending out the right type of music to the correct label. It's no use sending a new metal CD to a R'n'B label!

Find out the names of A&R people - invite them to gigs, and arrange meetings if they're interested.

Joy Division
Joy Division - a Manchester institution

CD heaven - when sending out CDs, keep it simple with three tracks not two hours of material. Include a biog and contact details.

Many scouts don't get past the first song so put your strongest first.

Follow up with a phone call to get feedback.

Never send out dodgy quality recordings - make the package look and sound as professional as possible.

Go online - the Internet provides a great opportunity to publish and distribute your own music - sites such as myspace are hugely valuable.

Get a manager - a good manager with excellent links to the music industry can be worth their weight in gold, but remember that most charge a commission of around 20%.

A final word of advice...

* Beware of rip-off merchants and poor deals - not every manager or record label will have your best interests at heart. Read the small print on anything you sign!

* Join the Musicians' Union, consult a music lawyer before you sign a deal and always check the credentials of whoever you're working with.

* Be focused - keep your feet on the ground. Read serious music magazines to keep up with the business.

Once you've built up a massive fan base, made friends with the music industry and signed that deal, you're ready to crack the world.

But remember there's no substitute for talent and hard work... and with a little luck, you might just get noticed!


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