Hit Factories by Karl Whitney – Book Review
by Killian Laher
Irish writer Karl Whitney now bases himself in Sunderland, and a couple of years ago embarked on a journey around England, Scotland and taking in Belfast in attempt to unlock the musical roots of various cities. Avoiding London and sticking to what could be termed as ‘provincial cities’, it’s a fascinating journey through the musical heartlands of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and so on. It covers what makes each place unique, the chapters on each city are all quite different, and is part musical and part cultural/geographic travelogue.
Far from being an indie-centric tome, the chapter on Manchester covers not only Joy Division/New Order, Happy Mondays, Oasis etc but also dips back into the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and 10 CC. On the other hand, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Beatles cast a long shadow over Liverpool. The chapter on Glasgow is particularly detailed, covering the Blue Nile, Postcard Records, Jesus and Mary Chain, Creation and Teenage Fanclub, while politics and recent history is inescapable in the chapter on Belfast, yet it’s not suffocated by them. The chapter on Leeds, maybe a less renowned musical hotbed, is particularly illuminating, showcasing its important role in the rise of post-punk and the development of Soft Cell.
There will be something for most tastes here and the book clearly answers the question of how a sense of place influences the music. Reading it leaves you feeling sure that, for example, Joy Division could not have happened in Birmingham. If there is a criticism it’s that this is a somewhat thankless task in trying to cover so much musical and geographic ground within the confines of a 300 odd page volume. Each one of these cities could potentially make a pretty decent book on their own. But if it’s an inspiration for a music-based city break you need, then look no further than Karl Whitney’s fine book. It’s published today (27th June).