Although Manchester in the early and mid eighties was for many, myself included, all about Joy Division, The Fall, post punk, raincoats and stereotypes, for some of us it was also about dancing.

The HaÇienda was only a short walk from the Hulme crescents where we lived. Membership was £5.25 a year. It took us a while to work out why such an odd sum, until someone pointed out it was the decimal equivalent of five guineas. Factory – nothing if not pretentious.

It was usually free for members in the week, and in the early years, you often had the place to yourself. John Tracy was the DJ on a Tuesday night, proudly announcing “No Funk” on the flyers. By that it was meant as an antidote to the likes of syrupy sounds of Shalamar et al who would regularly get played on a Saturday night in an attempt to draw in the crowds who otherwise would have gone to Rotters on Oxford Street. The financial ineptitude that later made the HaÇienda as famous as its music meant that these Saturday nights were the only thing that kept the place going for a while, but we avoided them like the plague.

No funk notwithstanding, the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Afrika Bambaataa were dance floor favourites for us, all infused with a deep funk sensibility, and eventually, the mash up of industrial hardcore, hip hop beats and weird disparate rhythms meant that when Fats Comet emerged in 1984, I fell in love with everything they put out.

Fats Comet/Tackhead were the inter-changeable collective of drummer Keith LeBlanc, bass guitarist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip McDonald and producer and On-U sound founder Adrian Sherwood, who had met the three Americans in New York. The trio had an amazing pedigree, having been the house band for Sugar Hill Records, playing on “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” amongst others, though to what extent was never fully established in the mire of legal wrangling that heralded the label’s demise.

Back in London, they embarked on a project that was to produce some of the most ground-breaking dance music of the decade. The more truly funky cuts came out as Fats Comet, whilst the more edgy tracks were released by Tackhead, but they were all cut from the same cloth. When they were played in the HaÇienda, which even then wasn’t that often, the sound literally went up to the rafters, filling the cavernous space, but bizarrely never the dance floor. Dave Haslam was always a huge fan, and could always be relied on to slip some in of a night, but even then they felt slightly out of place with what else was being produced at the time, and many people just couldn’t work out how to dance to them. I got to know and befriended some people just because they danced to On-U Sound records. Even now, if you listened to them cold, without knowing anything about them, you’d be hard pressed to say when and where they came from, which is as much a testimony to them as anything else.

They’ve never got the recognition they deserve. Without them, and without Adrian Sherwood – and let’s face it, quite how an East End barrow boy became the single biggest importer of dub reggae in the UK, and then one of the world’s premier record producers is another story in itself – British dance music would not be the same today. The likes of the Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin and Underworld all stand on the shoulders of Adrian Sherwood.

I never tire of listening to these records. They are as evocative of their era as the jangly C86 bands that we also loved, and never felt anything incongruous about liking at the same time.

No funk? Bollocks.

1. Hey Mr DJ

An ever present sample in the On-U catalogue, sampled from who knows where.

2. Rockchester (Fats Comet, 1986)

Starting backwards with the final outing for the great Mr Comet, and his biggest commercial success – No 6 in the indie charts.

3. Half Cut For Confidence (Gary Clail and Tackhead, 1985)

Getting Gary Clail to come down off a roof and toast over the Tackhead rhythm section seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time. Turned out it was.

4. Mind At The End Of The Tether (Tackhead, 1985)

Surely their finest hour. The epitome of all that On-U Sound worked towards. Would regularly clear the dance floor of the HaÇienda except for about a dozen people who knew it well enough, and had worked out how to dance to it.

5. Stormy Weather (Fats Comet, 1984)

For me and many others, our first introduction to the work of Fats Comet. Due to the dearth of information available to us at the time, we assumed he was a real person, Mr and Mrs Comet’s lad. Originally written in 1933, it was a staple at the Cotton Club. A truly original cover version.

6. Dee Jay’s Dream (Fats Comet, 1985)

Everybody wants to be a DJ…

7. Don’t Forget That Beat (Doug Wimbish, 1985)

Doug Wimbish getting the credit for this one, only featuring Fats Comet this time. A wholly infectious dance track. Take a beat, run with it. Keep running.

8. Be My (Powerstation) (St Ché, 1986)

Well who the hell was St Ché? We had no idea at the time. Still don’t really. Nevertheless, it turned up in the On-U Sounds’ section of the racks in Piccadilly Records. It had Adrian Sherwood’s name on it, so you bought it. On-U Sounds were the only record label that ever had its own section in Piccadilly Records. A cut-up version of what became “Heaven On Earth” on Keith LeBlanc’s “Major Malfunction” album. Hypnotic, eerie, brilliant.

9. Is There A Way Out? (Tackhead, 1985)

The B-side of “Mind At The End Of The Tether,” but really a double A-side – it’s that good. Essentially DJ Cheese scratching and cutting up Kurtis Blow’s 1982 track “Tough” while the Tackhead trio do their stuff. DJ Cheese, born Robert Cheese (who knew?), was to become the first winner of the DMC World DJ Championships in 1986.

10. Sharp As A Needle (The Barmy Army, 1988)

Adrian Sherwood and John Peel were united by a love of both dub and football. It was no surprise that Sherwood came up with this one, and Peel lapped it up, especially as it honoured his beloved Liverpool FC.

11. Hard Left (Gary Clail, 1986)

Violence In The Streets. Still stands up today as an anthem against austerity, isolationism and bigotry, as well as one of the best bass lines ever.

12. Bop Bop, (Fats Comet, 1984)

The big, the big, the big sound. Quintessential Fats Comet. Deep funk.

13. No Sell Out (Malcolm X, 1983)

Unique in this list, as it’s the only track not produced by Adrian Sherwood. Generally acknowledged as the first ever record built entirely out of samples, it was the brain child of Keith LeBlanc, though credited to Malcolm X himself and made with the cooperation of his family, who received a percentage of the profits. Did they make much?

14. What’s My Mission Now? (Tackhead, 1985)

Now what? As infectious as all the rest, whilst taking a pop at the militaristic neocons before we knew what to call them.

15. Major Malfunction (Keith Le Blanc, 1986)

The title track of Keith LeBlanc’s album. Using the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster as a backdrop for his drum loops, like with “No Sell Out” he presaged the ubiquitous use of samples. Compulsory and compulsive listening.

16. Eat The Beat (DJ Cheese ft Fats Comet, 1986)

One for the completists. This is a version of “Is There A Way Out?” that was released with DJ Cheese getting top billing. He goes to town on the decks, pulling his source material to pieces. An object lesson of what to do with two turntables and a microphone.

mp3 : Fats Comet – Hey Mr DJ
mp3 : Fats Comet – Rockchester
mp3 : Gary Clail & Tackhead – Half Cut For Confidence
mp3 : Tackhead – Mind At The End Of A Tether
mp3 : Fats Comet – Stormy Weather
mp3 : Fats Comet – Dee Jay’s Dream
mp3 : Doug Wimbish – Don’t Forget That Beat
mp3 : St Che – Be My (Powerstation)
mp3 : Tackhead – Is There A Way Out?
mp3 : The Barmy Army – Sharp As A Needle
mp3 : Gary Clail – Hard Left
mp3 : Fats Comet – Bop, Bop
mp3 : Malcolm X – No Sell Out
mp3 : Tackhead – What’s My Mission Now?
mp3 : Keith Le Blanc – Major Malfunction
mp3 : DJ Cheese (feat Fats Comet) – Eat The Beat



  1. I have always loved Tackhead, but did not know the body of work from other members of the collective – great article and tracks!

  2. Amazing stuff! Listening to this (and Trevor Jackson’s recent comp) makes you realise just how far ahead of everything else On-U were. Great selection CC.

  3. I’d be interested to know what you thought of the most recent Tackhead offering, the covers album ‘For The Love Of Money’. Some interesting stuff on there, I think.

  4. Brilliant. And coincidentally I’ve this month been listening again to my Clail/Tackhead stuff for the first time in years.

  5. I loved it in the late 80s in Edinburgh, played loud at the was it Backroom – but you need to add the Mark Stewart stuff too which has Sherwood producing – Fatal Attraction, As the veneer of democracy starts to fade, and Jerusalem for starts

  6. Okay — I never heard ONE of these songs and they’re all great. Wonderful collection and terrific post. I’ve only read about the Hacienda, mostly in connection with Factory. Seems I’ve got a lot of catching up to do…
    Great stuff — thank you!

  7. Mind altering-ly good stuff here!! Fats Comet/Tackhead/Sherwood were and always would be the alternative to the alternative and thats what made them so impressively good!

  8. This is up there with the very best of the Imaginary Compilation series. I listened to a lot of Fats Comet/Tackhead/Sherwood stuff at the time, but actually own very little of it. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting these tunes and discovering some I’d missed. Compliments to the compiler!

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