Tucked away in the industrial complex of The Cotton Factory you’ll find a new music space making a ton of noise – The Mule Spinner.
The Cotton Factory was once the Imperial Cotton Co. – during the late 19th to early 20th century, Hamilton’s textile production was one of the city’s largest industries (second, of course, to steel mills). The Cotton Factory is now home to 100+ artists and businesses, from creative studios to co-working spaces throughout the 20,000 square foot facility. The energy of the tenants from varying creative industries (photographers, designers, curators, textile artists, painters, woodworkers, and more) paired with the rich history of the building itself makes The Cotton Factory a compelling place to create and experience the arts in Hamilton. The property is also frequently used for television and movie productions.
Down the lane at 11 Landsdowne Ave, you will find The Mule Spinner – a music and entertainment space available for live performances, recording, filming, rehearsals, and events. This space is the brainchild of Glen Marshall and Bob Lanois, legendary local music producers in their own right.
A brief history…
Bob Lanois and his brother Daniel Lanois began with humble studio beginnings in Ancaster in their mother’s basement. Outgrowing that, they purchased the house that would become Grant Avenue Studio. This move required a ton of work on Bob’s part to transform the space into a recording studio over the course of a year and a half. It began as the ultimate DIY studio space.
“The fascinating part of it all – that was before the internet,” reflects Bob. “When I go there today and I see some of the things that I did, I say, ‘How could I have figured out how to do that?’ But I never gave it a second thought. It was a monumental effort, but it paid off. That’s basically where Dan got discovered by Brian Eno.” From there, “Brian introduced Dan to Peter Gabriel and U2, and the rest is kinda history, you know?” Tons of music was churned out of that labour of love.
“Looking back, a lot of stuff that went on in that little studio became important,” Bob reflects. “People got to know about us because of the kind of press we were getting.” One of those press-worthy productions being Brian Eno’s work with Daniel Lanois. “It became an international thing.”
“And oddly enough, I had recorded a record in my mother’s basement, The Cyborgs Revisited, with Edgar Breau’s band [Simply Saucer]. That record never saw the light of day for a long time, but then it got discovered years and years later when the band got back together. And that little record became, and still is, somewhat of an indie, international sensation. And there you go – those were local guys who became internationally known. It was the little studio that could, you know?”
Meanwhile Glen Marshall was, as he says, “just a young whippersnapper with a band playing in my garage in high school.” After learning about Bob and Grant Avenue, Glen reached out and didn’t take no for an answer until Bob met with him and came out to see his band Altogether Morris out in Caledonia. “We’ve been friends ever since,” recounts Bob.
Glen began to sit in on sessions at Grant Ave and caught the recording studio bug and began his recording career. This eventually lead him to starting Catherine North Studio with the late Dan Achen. Both Catherine North and Grant Avenue continue to produce fantastic music today. “It’s fun to think about these things you have contributed to; someone else is enjoying them and many more things have happened in that space since I’ve been there,” Glen reflects.
With all of their past accomplishments, it would be easy to keep reminiscing about the past, but for Glen and Bob, they’re always looking ahead. “I don’t overly romanticize the past. I appreciate it, but I don’t find myself longing for those moments. I always feel myself more focused forward,” reflects Glen. “So much more fun – going forward,” adds Bob.
Fast forward to The Mule Spinner!
Glen had been doing some work at The Cotton Factory, and he and Bob began by setting up shop in a smaller space they have dubbed The Bunker, which they use for recording and mixing. That’s where that legendary mixing board, once at Grant Ave, now resides, which Dan Lanois used on famous recordings for the likes of U2, Neil Young, and Emmylou Harris.
The Mule Spinner is a larger, 130-150 capacity space, adjacent to the Bunker. Once a diesel mechanic shop for 40 years, it has not lost its rustic, industrial sensibilities at all (but first it required a heavy duty cleaning job for a month and a half to get it in the state we see it in now!). Starting off with recording sessions, the possibilities became endless for what they could do with the room. “One thing about Glen and I,” says Bob, “we love playing host. We’re not shy about putting on an event and giving people a good time. And so we knew we could do something with that space.”
Recording will always be part of what they do, but putting on live shows was the clear next step. “I’ve always also been interested in live music, and capturing live music,” relates Glen. “I’ve done a lot of live recording, so it was a natural part of the conversation.” Apart from live music, the venue has been transformed in a number of different ways, from film and television shoots, to cocktail parties and pop up dinners. “We’re just having fun with it, and not getting too hung up on one use,” says Glen.
Music is always at the heart of things. The space has hosted shows from bigger acts like Daniel Lanois, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and The Trews, to a series of local shows. For the more seasoned performers it’s a chance for them to play a more intimate space and connect with fans. For local acts, we need more venues in Hamilton like this for them to play.
This Saturday, November 24th wraps up a weekly series of shows featuring mainly Hamilton-based musicians. The fall season concludes with a special guest – the return of Aestrid from Utrech, Netherlands, who Glen and Bob connected with by chance years ago while running the Brantford Arts Block. That meeting led to many collaborations from recording Aestrid’s album No Map Or Address (2014) in Brantford, to several performances over the past two years at The Mule Spinner. Glen describes the trio with admiration: “They’ve taken ‘the wall of sound’ to another level.”
Glen and Bob’s passion for both recording and live music come together beautifully at The Mule Spinner, where the pair can also record the exhilarating live performances as they happen. “When I see a band that is really cohesive live, the first thing I think of is how can we catch it,” describes Glen.
“You hope to capture what they’re doing well already. It’s very exciting,” adds Bob. “One of the nice things about being in the line of work we’re in is that we get to work with people who are doing whatever project they’re doing at the moment, and it turns out usually to be the most important one they’ve ever done. It doesn’t matter who it is, what stature you’ve got in the music world. When you’re recording a new record or a new song, you really hope it might be your best work. And we get to experience that, and we get to facilitate it. It’s a beautiful environment.”
Quotes are taken from my conversation with Glen Marshall and Bob Lanois on 93.3 CFMU and I have booked and promoted the fall series of Live At The Mule Spinner.
Originally posted November 21, 2018 on The Inlet.