Mark Reeder is a musician and record producer who grew up in Manchester before moving to Berlin at the age of twenty. His career has spanned more than three decades, and he has been involved with, and been the influence for, many now famous artists, spread over a wide cross section of contemporary musical genres. His new album, ‘Mauerstadt’, features his work with New Order, The KVB, Queen of Hearts, MFU, Maja Pierro, Ekkoes, and The Inspiral Carpets. On the 29th June he was in Manchester at Granada Studios with New Order, and that’s where I caught up with him for a half an hour chat for the Ripman Show on Fab Radio International. It soon became clear that half an hour wasn’t long enough, so I’m sharing part one with Sounds readers this month.
Mark and I both grew up in the same area of Manchester, and although we didn’t meet then we did have something in common, having both been in the same band—at different times—with Mark Standley, founder member of V2. During my school days for probably a month I was the lead singer, but couldn’t sing, whereas Mark confessed that his band didn’t even have a lead singer.
“Our band was called Joe Stalin’s Red Star Radio Band. We didn’t have a lead singer. All we did was practice in Barry Stopford’s mam’s front room, and always ended up with Barry playing guitar solos for 20 minutes and stuff like that, out of frustration.”
As Mark spent his teens working in Virgin Records in Piccadilly I wanted to know if that had formed his musical side. “That came from being a small child and being dragged round the music shops by a cousin. On Saturday afternoons he had to look after me, so he’d take me with him and we’d usually end up in John Dalton Street in Rare Records; they had telephone boxes where they’d push you inside, close the door and choose a record, so I got kind of indoctrinated by all these late 60s and early 70s hippy records, basically. It was underground rock music, all these kind of weird things like Blodwyn Pig and Juicy Lucy, and of course this was the first time I’d heard Jimi Hendrix.”
In the late 60s, Mark’s cousin was a huge influence on his musical tastes, introducing him to progressive rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. “My cousin wanted a stereo so we went to some guy’s house—he had a stereogram. It was huge, with a drinks cabinet in the middle and a record player. He played, ‘Switched On’ by Walter Carlos. I’d never heard anything like this in my life— it was a revelation. I played violin at school so had been introduced to classical music there, but never heard a record like this—it didn’t sound like anything my cousin had ever played, and we sat transfixed by this record. It was in stereo. I was intrigued by what I thought was called a ‘simplifier’ but was a synthesiser. I was fascinated by this other worldly sound. My cousin bought a record by Tonto’s Exploding Headband, all made on synthesisers. If I heard a record with a synthesiser I had to buy it”
This love of synths and stereo records was possibly what led Mark to working at Virgin Records. I asked him if he enjoyed working there. “I loved working in Virgin; I loved being in Virgin. I went there when it first opened, Virgin Records and Tapes, it said outside” I remember the booths in Virgin Records, where people could go and listen to records. Mark told me, “When we first started they had headphones, but they kept breaking or people kept nicking them so Andy, the manager, decided to build this construction whereby the loudspeakers were in kind of headrest parts, covered in vile green bri-nylon carpet that cost like threepence from some outlet somewhere. The whole shop was decked out in this horrible green carpet. You could sit on this bench trying to listen to the music that we played. People couldn’t actually hear anything, but you could hear the record next door—total rubbish.”
My first taste of music outside of Bowie and Lou reed was Faust—the ‘Faust Tapes’.There was something about it; I didn’t like it at all, but I still wanted to listen to it, it was weird. Mark agreed, “It was weird; I was really into that kind of weird German ‘Krautrock’. I was into that stuff from the beginning, ‘71/72—bands like the Cosmic Jokers, Klaus Schülze. I went to Berlin after leaving Virgin.” I wondered why Mark chose Berlin and he continued, “I’d been to Germany after getting a passport in ‘76, just to see what it was like, no plan, hitch hiked around and ended up there, realising it was the home of Krautrock. I went with a friend the first time, and we bought records in German record shops. I went a few times and people were negative about Berlin, but Bowie had recorded part of ‘Low’ in Berlin, in about ‘77 then ‘Heroes’ in Berlin, and Iggy made ‘Lust for Life’, so it intrigued me—there must be something about the place, but no one could tell me anything about Berlin at all. All we knew was the war ended there; I didn’t know any Germans or know anyone who did. But having been to Germany I knew I liked Germans, I never worried about communication problems—it wasn’t a barrier.”
I asked Mark if he classed himself at the time as a musician. “No, never, I still don’t. When I see other people with their wonderful virtuosity I know I’m not in that league at all.”
If not a musician, then would he class himself as a producer? “I am a music producer and I play on all the records, all the remixes, but I don’t like playing live music. I have done it, but hate having a practice. If someone said, ‘can you play Go Tell it on the Mountain,’ I wouldn’t know where to begin; I can play what I want, what I need, so don’t consider myself a musician—that’s for other people to say.”
When I worked at A1 Music I sold a Shergold guitar to Mark’s friend, Barney from Joy Division—his band used to rehearse downstairs from us at TJ Davidson’s—-things got robbed as bands stole from each other all the time. I read some things about how wonderful it was at that time and I thought Manchester wasn’t really wonderful. Mark agreed, “Manchester was very depressing in those days, one of the things that drove me out of the country was this lack of vision. It seemed that since being a small child, everyone was on strike, and the threat of Margaret Thatcher didn’t appeal to me at all. I didn’t want to be in a country where she was in power. The feeling of the city drove me out.” The Margaret Thatcher era heralded the dawn of punk and Mark remembered that well. “Having worked in Virgin and being there from the beginning of punk, Buzzcocks, and V2 records, that was the beginning of a fantastic new musical genre taking over the city. Every single shop in the city wouldn’t sell punk rock—WH Smith and HMV banned it so our shop became a microcosm for this music and it was the only place in the northwest that sold this music. That was really exciting but when you got things like Plastic Bertrand doing things like, ‘ Ça Plan Pour Moi’, that was it—it was over; there was only one really interesting band in Manchester and they weren’t really punk rock. I didn’t want to stay. When they tried to sell Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as new wave punk music, it lost its sheen, its allure, and I decided I’d go and find other music somewhere else”
It seemed a brave step for a twenty year old to just go off, but Mark confessed, there was no real plan. “I just thought I’d go away for a while. At that point I’d been playing bass with Mick Hucknall in a punk band called The Frantic Elevators, and I said to Mick, I’ve decided I’m gonna leave, and he thought I was just going on holiday for two weeks, but I was determined to stay away for a while.” Still thinking it’s a brave step to head off to Berlin I asked Mark if he had a job in Germany.
I had no idea when I first arrived; I just thought I’d be there for a week. I worked hard at Virgin, on my own—I worked 16-20 hours a day in the shop. In the evenings I had to do the books and stocktaking, then I’d go out to a gig and it would all start again next day. It was hard and tiring. I kept asking head office to get more staff, and they suggested I ask my mates. They would do it for one day but the shop was full, madness. There was no lunch break. Virgin in their wisdom sent a box of Swan Vesta matches—it was a box of speed. They said it was to help me through the week! I hadn’t wanted this, I wanted someone to help me, but instead I got addicted to speed! It was really hard working 20 hours a day; my mother said, ‘that job at Virgin Records is not doing you well, you’re looking terrible, you look like death’, and I thought hmm, I might have to stop doing this job. Back then the average wage for a well-paid job was about £40—I was on £95 a week—loads of overtime, ridiculous amounts of money. I didn’t have to buy records and I’d go to the army shop for clothes so I decided to go to Berlin and spend the money on records. When I got to Berlin I had enough money to tide me over for quite a while. I moved into a house that was about to be torn down. The guy who picked me up at the East/West border to take me to Berlin said I could stay in the flat upstairs till the wrecking crew came. I spent six months in a palatial flat—white marble bathroom, gold bits on the ceiling, balcony. I still had no idea what to do, but I was in awe of Berlin. It was a fascinating place. The next day I went to call my mam to tell her I’d arrived OK and I went to a bar on corner and the person serving was a 6’6″ transvestite, and I realised at that moment that I was in Berlin.”
Mark Reeder made Berlin his home in 1978 and has had a successful career in music—he worked for Factory Records as their representative in Germany, promoting the label’s bands, Joy Division and A Certain Ratio. He also worked as a sound engineer for bands like the all-girl avant garde group Malaria! and punk band, DieToten Hosen. Mark is the founder and owner of the German electronic dance music labels MFS and Flesh. He has never regretted his decision to leave Manchester for Berlin.
Part two of my interview with Mark Reeder will be in a future edition of Sounds magazine. The new album is, ‘Mauerstadt’