Whitney acknowledges that much of this culture is a relic now packaged as money-spinning cultural heritage — you can’t move for guided music tours in some cities. But Hit Factories is still a fine document of a golden era for music in the UK’s regions.
“You can only begin to remember what’s already gone”, Whitney states. Writing about music and places does seem to demand distance and nostalgia, and certainly the author walks in the footsteps of the past, rather than exploring current music scenes – the “Bristol Sound” that he writes about in the last chapter is not the sound of Bristol today. Whitney reflects on the “importance of local scenes to the development of musical acts”, an idea a few writers have already investigated city by city, including, for example, the Joy Division / New Order musician-turned-writer Peter Hook on Manchester, and Paul Du Noyer on Liverpool. But Hit Factories succeeds as an interesting, sharp, swift overview of the UK’s pop music history.
There still hasn’t been a better London music book written since Jon Savage’s classic 1993 tome, England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, rigorously chronicled how punk’s seismic shock wave emanated from its streets and suburbs.
In joining the dots between Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Coventry, Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, Karl Whitney has penned an extremely important addition to modern music writing. Whether these hit factories will be open for business in our brave new post-Brexit world remains to be seen
“What does a city sound like?” asks Karl Whitney, at the start of this 11-city travelogue through the UK’s musical past. “What set of influences or circumstances led to the 60s beat-pop of Liverpool, post-punk in Manchester, the electronic synth-pop of Sheffield, Bristol’s trip-hop scene, and Coventry’s punk-era revival of Jamaican ska?” These are big questions, and though he never quite comes up with comprehensive answers, he has a knack of convincingly folding British music into a bigger industrial history...Given the sheer scale of what Whitney is trying to convey, it is perhaps inevitable that his writing is uneven, and often arbitrary in its choices. In some places, he meets musicians and scenesters who impart their memories and insights, but in other cities he doesn’t. He is too haughty about heavy metal and hard rock; the connections between this kind of British music and the culture and sheer noise of industry are fascinating.