The town of Rochdale is a modest industrial community nestled in the foothills of the Pennines, a town which has seen better times in the past and whose prosperity was in large part due to the textile and associated engineering industries which blossomed in Lancashire at the time of the industrial revolution. It was in this sleepy setting and at the end of a decade known as the sixties that our story has its roots.
Enter Brierley, Clayton, Milne and Batsch, at the time schoolboy friends. John Brierley, lemonade drinker and electronic wizard, was assembling various recording machines 'out of bits and pieces of old washing machines' (quote: John Peel) in his bedroom when the idea took him to enroll the help of schoolboy musos the Way We Live to test the setup he had lashed together. A setup which was to evolve into Rochdale's Cargo Recording studios - but we jump ahead of our story.
The Way We Live was a beat group, started in 1966 by Jim Milne and Steve Clayton together with Michael Batsch on bass guitar and Alan Burgess on vocals. The line-up later became Jim, Steve and Michael (Slim) Batsch only and finally Slim left and Jim and Steve concentrated on recordings with John Brierley. Alan Burgess still retained some interest as a friend of the band and, in fact, took the sleeve photos for the first Tractor album.
How to describe Jim and Steve? Their first album sleeve tackled the job rather well,
'Jim Milne is the musical and physical giant, his is the only voice you hear, he plays guitar and wrote all the numbers and collaborated with Steve Clayton on the musical arrangements. Steve Clayton is the quiet poet, he is small in every respect except talent. He also paints and writes short stories.'
In no great expectation of greater things, Jim and Steve being undecided on future careers, a list of record companies was prepared and copies of the demo tape sent to each one. Steve had dropped out of the formal education system seeing its approach as too rigid, whilst Jim had gone perhaps to the other extreme and enrolled at Chester College of Education in a teacher training course in physical education.
In fact it was something of a surprise when, after a demo tape had been sent to John Peel's Dandelion Records they were offered a five album deal almost immediately possibly due to the fact that John Peel loved their demo tapes and the Rochdale postmark on the package as John Peel had worked in a cotton mill in Rochdale in 1959 and said that was one of the most enjoyable periods of his life.