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The Smiths and Blur producer Stephen Street talks Hackney, Morrissey and guitar music’s ‘last hurrah’

PUBLISHED: 19:20 15 August 2017 | UPDATED: 09:06 16 August 2017

Stephen Street (L) and two of the biggest artists he's worked with: Morrissey (top right) and Blur, whose singer Damon Albarn is pictured in 2009. Pictures: PA Archive

Stephen Street (L) and two of the biggest artists he's worked with: Morrissey (top right) and Blur, whose singer Damon Albarn is pictured in 2009. Pictures: PA Archive

Archant

The legendary producer who was behind the desk when some of the greatest pop albums of the last 35 years were recorded used to shop in Ridley Road Market.

Blur's Damon Albarn performs in concert at Hyde Park in 2009. Stephen Street produced four and a half albums for the band between 1991 and 1997. Picture: Johnny Green/PA ArchiveBlur's Damon Albarn performs in concert at Hyde Park in 2009. Stephen Street produced four and a half albums for the band between 1991 and 1997. Picture: Johnny Green/PA Archive

Today you might expect a music producer to come from Hackney – it sounds right. But in 1960 when Stephen Street was born at Dalston’s German Hospital, it was a very different place.

Street, 57, has produced records for The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur and New Order as well as a host of other guitar acts.

He lived in Middleton Road until his family moved to Upton Park when he was young. But he would always come back at weekends to visit his grandparents, who lived in Downs Park Road and the Lewis Trust buildings in Dalston Lane.

“In the ’60s and ’70s it was pretty run down and bleak, not like it is now,” he recalls. “It was not the nicest place in the world. There were lovely old buildings but they were run down. Now when I come back – there’s a couple of studios near the City – it’s completely different. I mean, Hoxton, who’d have thought that?”

Street got his first job in the music industry as an engineer at Island Records in Hammersmith, where he learnt from Sly and Robbie. Within a year he’d got his big break.

"It was not the nicest place in the world. Now when I come back – there’s a couple of studios near the City – it’s completely different. I mean, Hoxton, who’d have thought that?"

Stephen Street on Hackney

“Someone said ‘there’s a band coming in at the weekend, are you around?’. It was The Smiths – I’d seen them on Top of the Pops doing This Charming Man weeks earlier and we were all aware of them so I said ‘yes, absolutely’.

“It was for Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. They sounded so tight, they always did.

“I was in at the deep end. It’s pretty well noted Morrissey is a challenging character but I’m very proud of all the things I did with The Smiths.”

Street engineered Meat is Murder and The Queen is Dead before co-producing the band’s final album – and his favourite – Strangeways, Here We Come, which is 30 this year. Following their break-up in 1987 he co-wrote and produced Morrissey’s debut album Viva Hate, which included singles Everyday is Like Sunday and Suedehead.

“I’m very proud of the tracks we wrote,” he said. “It was nice to be a part of the story that pushed him onto the next chapter of his career. But I thought The Smiths would get back together within 18 months.”

Morrissey, pictured in 1994. Stephen Street produced his early solo work and the entirety of The Smiths' Strangeways, Here We Come, as well as engineering two of their earlier albums. Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA ArchiveMorrissey, pictured in 1994. Stephen Street produced his early solo work and the entirety of The Smiths' Strangeways, Here We Come, as well as engineering two of their earlier albums. Picture: Fiona Hanson/PA Archive

Street didn’t work on Morrissey’s second record but would love to work with The Smiths again if they ever reform – though he can’t see that happening. “Morrissey and Johnny Marr seem to be worlds apart at the moment,” he said.

He hasn’t spoken to Morrissey for “four or five years”, since they met-up during the re-mastering of Viva Hate. Street was surprised to see him endorsing Brexit and Nigel Farage in recent interviews.

“I must admit I’m a little bit shocked by some of the things he’s said,” Street continued. “It could be for shock value – he did like a headline or two. It could be down to the fact he doesn’t spend much time in this country and he’s a bit out of touch with the general feeling.”

In 1990, Street encountered another band that excited him. After hearing Blur’s debut single She’s So High he got in touch with their manager to see if they’d like to work with him. Initially they knocked him back, but they soon came back and Street produced some of the band’s debut Leisure, including There’s No Other Way.

He found working with Blur “a little bit easier than The Smiths”.

“Mancs tend to be a little bit wary of Londoners,” he said. “But that period in the ’90s was very similar to 10 years previously. You could tell there was something in the air, and that Blur were a group of people who had something special. They were a great pop band who could do anything they wanted.”

Street produced the next four Blur albums, ending with the American breakthrough record Blur, and was back on board for their 2015 return The Magic Whip.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “If someone said to me I could work with someone one more time it would have been Blur, that was the dream. And it would be Blur again now!”

During what he calls guitar music’s “last hurrah” in the mid 2000s, Street produced records for The Kaiser Chiefs, The Ordinary Boys and Babyshambles.

“Since then things have really fallen away. There was a time when you’d be working on a record and be really excited wondering where it was going to get to in the charts. Now no one even thinks about the charts, because no one’s going to buy it anyway.

"It’s pretty well noted Morrissey is a challenging character but I’m very proud of all the things I did with The Smiths"

Stephen Street

“People have their heads buried in their computer screens on Garageband or making loops, rather than sitting down with a guitar in their lap. There are always some good bands but in this country it doesn’t seem to be in vogue.”

Street has gone to Europe to find inspiration, working with a couple of German bands – Beat Steaks and Razz. He’s also produced tracks on the new album by Chelmsford’s Rat Boy though, which came out last week. “He reminds me of a young Damon,” he said. No pressure.

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