the manchester record label broadcasting live from a disused tv studio
Aiming to reflect and reaffirm Manchester as the epicentre for new music, Low Four is a recording studio, a venue, a record label and, most excitingly, a television station, all rolled into one.
For anyone who grew up in the north west of England, the word “Granada” instantly conjures up the soothing familiarity of the region’s nightly news reports. It’s the comforting sight of Lucy Meacock, unflappable and good humoured; and the deep baritone of Tony Morris; a man for whom shuffling papers is a task to be taken as seriously as life. Before that it was the tireless presence of Tony Wilson -- the Manchester music mogul who, in his strikingly radical coverage of the area’s music scene, played a considerable role in making the city the internationally renowned centre for pop culture it became.
Granada Reports ceased to broadcast from its original Quay Street location in 2013, moving to its current position, two miles down the road at MediaCity -- a plush, mixed-use development in the neighbouring town of Salford (very important difference). It’s old studios -- once home to performances from Joy Division, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, and Patti Smith -- were left behind, the bones to be picked over by whatever luxury property developer could sweet-talk the local authorities quickest. The ending seemed inevitable. That is until Allied London and the entrepreneurial team behind Manchester-based record label Low Four stepped in.
Operating out of the disused former studios, Low Four is a recording studio, a venue, a record label and, most excitingly, a television station, all rolled into one. Launched with a performance from Manchester band Everything Everything in May of 2016, the aim is to reflect and reaffirm the city as the epicentre for new music -- archiving live performances from both emerging local artists and established international touring acts too.
“Around ten years ago, I was working at [regional television station] Channel M,” explains the label’s Dan Parrott. “When that went under, I carried on doing freelance video-based stuff, which had lots of connections to Manchester music. Then I put up a tiny little record label and did various different bits and bobs before meeting [local producer] Brendan Williams. That lead us to where the studio is now.”
Brendan stumbled upon the space when Katie Popperwell, a cultural consultant for Allied London [the property developers who acquired the old Granada Studios in 2013], suggested he take a look. “Brendan was like, what is this place?” Dan laughs. “She said, ‘It’s just an old room,’ but it actually turned out to be this amazing recording studio. And when you look online, there’s really nothing about it.”
It transpired the space was completed in 1962 as part of the original Granada Studios. The live-room, resurrected by Low Four today, was initially connected to a control station above and was where The Beatles rehearsed for their first ever TV appearance. In its heyday, it was used to record theme tunes and soundtracks for classic dramas such as Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead Revisited and Sherlock Holmes. The pair couldn’t believe their luck.
Working out a deal to lease the studio rent free (in return for the cultural capital in would bring), Dan and Brendan quickly set about restoring the space to its original use. Recent recordings there have included Brendan’s work on albums for Manchester artists GoGo Penguin and Dutch Uncles, as well as his own own project, Makemake (whose new single Lucretia and the Sky, premieres exclusively below); while the viewing balcony has gifted the pair with the opportunity to showcase the region’s brightest new acts on an internet provided music channel, lowfour.tv.
“We’ve built a live-cut TV style studio on a shoestring that wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago,” Dan says of the channel’s host-lead, old-school broadcasts. “We’ll do a couple of takes and then pretty much what you see on the uploads is what we get at the time. The sound is mixed on the day and it’s all a bit more real and honest. Eventually, we want to do more complex and ambitious shows, add in interviews, stuff like that. I guess more like 90s TV, but without the 90s bands.”
Low Four remains, of course, at the mercy of Allied London, who currently view the initiative as a mark of cool in their bid for the area to become “a platform for creativity, innovation and experimentation” (“You could look at it super cynically or you can just use it,” Dan admits). The pair’s plan is to improve their infrastructure for as long as is possible, hoping to produce more ambitious, frequent and diverse programming under the umbrella of Allied London's ALL Studios, which will provide space for TV, film and music production.
“Often similar projects are just there to cynically serve the sales of mobile phones or shoes,” Dan says. “But we’re completely free from lifestyle brand sponsors. Ultimately it’s all about using this old school studio and slightly old school programme format, but with new and interesting and relevant bands. More than anything, we just want to keep the Manchester music scene at the heart of what we do. Fingers crossed we get to stay have some fun.”
Lucretia and the Sky by Makemake is out now, via Low Four.