What is truth, said jesting Tony?
August 29, 2002 2:14 PM   Subscribe

What is truth, said jesting Tony? You may have already seen 24 Hour Party People, an openly self-serving, dishonest and very enjoyable account of the rise and fall of Manchester's Factory Records and its associated projects, such as the Hacienda. I tried to find more accurate, coherent and comprehensive accounts of the company's history. If you have the cash, you can always ring up Tony for some more mythology.
posted by maudlin (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Now developers are building flats on the former site of the Hacienda, and they've decided to keep the name. Some people aren't happy about it.
posted by rbrwr at 2:54 PM on August 29, 2002

I haven't yet seen 24 Hour Party People but I was there when everything happened. It must be weird (and a sign I'm old beyond my relatively few years) to see one of my best friends, Lindsey Reade (Tony Wilson's first wife), played by an actress...

Factory was run like a high-spirited conversation with assorted musician friends and yet nobody was hard done by. Tony was an idealist - a highly intelligent and educated guy with a great love for music and, above all, Manchester. I'm biased, of course. I ran my own Factory-inspired record label in Portugal, called Fundação Atlântica, and we even had a Top Ten Indie album in the UK charts: Durutti Column's (i.e. Vini Reilly's) "Friends in Portugal".

It was serious fun - lots of soul-searching and piss-taking; dancing and dreaming; drinking and planning. But, above all, it was pure and it was style. I know because I was lucky enough to be there and play a small part.

The list of great Factory bands is long. I'd single out A Certain Ratio as the most underrated. And the best single? Lindsey and Vini singing Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well".

Now I'll go and click on the links - in case I'm outraged and so that this wistful recollection will remain unsoured.

Thanks anyway, maudlin, for the memories. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:56 PM on August 29, 2002 [7 favorites]

Er, the Durutti Column record was actually called Amigos Em Portugal. My photograph and my handwriting on the cover, though. And the best song is named after my daughters: Sara e Tristana.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:59 PM on August 29, 2002 [1 favorite]

Wake up, America. You're dead! is an entertaining 1990 article from Melody Maker describing the provocations of Tony Wilson, comedian Keith Allen, and Happy Mondays manager Nathan McGough while trying to promote Factory Records at the New Music Seminar in New York.

Incidentally, Nathan McGough now manages these guys.
posted by liam at 3:01 PM on August 29, 2002

posted by gen at 3:03 PM on August 29, 2002

Nathan was the snappiest dresser in Manchester, Liam. He started the over-dressed (you know, overcoat, scarf, suit) fashion that was de rigueur in the very early 80's. He single-handledly introduced Bossa Nova (albeit in the jazz-rocky Tania Maria version; big mistake) to the Factory crowd.

Maudlin: I've looked at all the links and, having tried to make a Factory post more than once and failed, I honestly thing it couldn't be bettered. Perhaps a little more about the Haçienda and how important Ben Kelly was would have been nice. But it's not on the web, is it? He was probably the first designer to put into practice what McSweeneys later satirised as "I want an industrial kitchen".

Anyway, if you're not a Mancunian you sure come across as if you could be...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2002

He's still a snappy dresser, Miguel.
posted by liam at 3:16 PM on August 29, 2002

Though I think Peter Saville was a snappier dresser.
posted by liam at 3:21 PM on August 29, 2002 [1 favorite]

I've wandered through some of those historical accounts before, good stuff. I knew the movie was coming soon but did not know it had just been released here, now I need to track it down.

Best Factory album cover: New Order's Blue Monday
Oddly, the code along the side is the result of forcing an Apple II computer into graphics mode, then typing 'New Order Blue Monday'.

Peter Saville, along with Nigel Grierson and Vaughan Oliver, created some of the best cover art of all time.
posted by yonderboy at 3:29 PM on August 29, 2002

I was wondering if you'd show up on this thread, Miguel. I am so envious that You Were There. (I'm not a Manc, unfortunately, but I will very definitely take that as a compliment).

Google didn't turn up much great stuff on Ben Kelly besides a slim book of some floor plans and elevations. This site has lots of Factory memorabilia, including some nice stuff from the Hacienda itself.

(And that Peter Saville interview linked by liam includes some lovely, if tiny, album covers).
posted by maudlin at 3:33 PM on August 29, 2002

Care to comment, Miguel? It reads more like the Cooganish after-the-fact Tony Wilson (I saw the film when it came out at the start of the year, for the sake of reminding myself what I missed going to London then) than the man cares to present himself today.
posted by riviera at 3:34 PM on August 29, 2002

I only met Peter Saville once. He'd always take ages to come up with the covers; he'd delay releases for months. But they were always perfect. The Blue Monday and the Power, Corruptions and Lies covers were so expensive (something to do with their having every printable colour in the universe; in one case on the fold, practically unseen), Tony Wilson joked they lost money the more records they sold.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:37 PM on August 29, 2002

Yeah, Riviera, Tony's quite right. We had a disagreement about royalties. You see, Factory paid the artists 50% (that's fifty percent, something never done before or after) and Portuguese law only allowed us to pay 14% and export taxes took the rest.

Tony wrote me a long letter explaining Factory principles and calling me irresponsible. He was right. Of course I never made a penny (or even a free drink) from my label and we went bankrupt long before Factory. But we fell out - we were very good friends - and, twenty years later, I realize friendship, business and idealism don't mix. The record is a masterpiece, though. Vini came to Lisbon to record a single and ended up setting down a whole album in one, magical night.

I had no idea he'd written about it. Just shows how honest he is. But he's wrong about my not being at Vini's concerts. I convinced the promoters, plugged them and was there with all the other fans, the five or six times he played here.

Ah...it brings tears to my eyes, it really does.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:48 PM on August 29, 2002

Wait -- Portuguese law would allow you to pay the artists only 14%? Was this 14% of net or gross? Was this a specific law about recorded music, or was it part of a broader law?
posted by maudlin at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2002

Maudlin: gross. Now it's even less: 12%. As an author, I get 10%. (much less for book club deals, translations, etc.) That's average to quite good. It's the same in other European countries, as far as I know.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:10 PM on August 29, 2002

So you were studying saudade in England, in the North, in the Late 70s (Callaghan turns into Thatcher). Am I right in thinking that there's something grimly appropriate about that?

I know nothing of Manchester (other than what I read) but twenty years ago Factory represented to this confused teen part (along with the Enos and Fripps and Planks and Czukays and even Morleys, perhaps, and for scarier moments the Cabaret Voltaires and Throbbing Gristles and Residents) of a resistance to the stupidity of mainstream culture, almost an inversion of punk, facing The Establishment not with the messy rebellion that it expected but intelligence and classicism - that's the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of Saville's work, its classicism. Still by Joy Division may largely have sounded terrible, but it was (and still is) a gorgeous thing to own and hold, in its weight, the way that it opens, the card that it's made out of. What a tremendous act - where punk had said "anyone can do this", Factory added "...and make it more beautiful than the tawdry tat that you usually put up with". They explictly and implicitly referred to all the major art movements of the 20th Century, and Wilson knew what he was talking about.

Does Simon Fucking Cowell know who Marinetti was? Does he arse!

This has been a formless rant from someone who would be better off in bed. Thank you for listening.

(Obviously it would be a mistake to accuse the Happy Mondays of Classicism. Unless you know better...)
posted by Grangousier at 4:22 PM on August 29, 2002 [2 favorites]

Wilson knew what he was talking about

I very much enjoy watching Steve Coogan and he's a great actor (more than a comedian) but I still wonder whether he can play, as they stupidly bill him, Anthony W.Wilson. Tony, as you surmised, is a tremendously serious, honest and artistic person. He makes jokes and was much joked about, but he's a real Renaissance man, absolutely caught up in art and subversion. His (and thus Factory's) main inspiration was always the May 1968 Situationists, added to a very Manchester sense of fuck-the-expense beauty and style.

There's no hypocrisy; no Janus-faced bullshit; no real ambiguity at all. He wouldn't play well as comedy, in my opinion, except for being excessively earnest. Though playful and conscious of inherent contradictions (Factory Records was more luxurious than Sinatra's Reprise label - the one it resembled most), it was Tony's mini-tragedy to be working in a culture (Manchester's) which is based on deprecation, suspicion and general piss-taking.

The funny thing is, of course, for those lucky enough to know the Mancunian spirit, is that this is their deepest expression of affection and respect.

I wonder whether the rest of the world (the audience for this film) appreciates this.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:46 PM on August 29, 2002

There's better rabble-rousers than Tony Wilson. For Gargantua's dad, a Nigel Grierson album cover.

Classicist rebellion is all well and good, but it is easily adopted and repackaged by the mainstream. I remember when wearing a black suit went from being a stylish subversive act to just being stylish (same for Peter Saville's design). Having said that, the only continuation of punk, by definition, had to be an inversion of punk (nice phrase, btw). My personal inversion included Can, Orridge, Pogues, Replacements, and Gainsbourg. And especially Gilberto; for real saudade, Chega de Saudade (scroll down).
posted by liam at 11:48 PM on August 29, 2002

OMG. Miguel's the coolest person I (don't quite) know.
posted by Summer at 12:26 AM on August 30, 2002

Obviously it would be a mistake to accuse the Happy Mondays of Classicism. Unless you know better

I don't think you can accuse the Happy Mondays of anything involving thought. Actually I acuse them of starting the new laddism that lead to Loaded and Oasis. Bastards.
posted by Summer at 12:36 AM on August 30, 2002

Wow, that page has the original version of Aguas de Marco on it...


I was fifteen, you know - I didn't read Rabelais for three years (inspired by the now-long-dead theatrical troupe The Medieval Players' production, starring Mark Heap. That will mean something to about four of you) - and the first Cocteaux album wasn't for the same amount of time. Strangely, as I was thinking about the "classical-rebellion" thing, I was reminded of the Rema Rema E.P., a very early 4AD release.

4AD were a whole other, though not unrelated, kettle of fish. They brought us (apart from the nascent Marco Pirroni guitar sound) the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Bulgarian Women Singing Lustily, The Pixies, Throwing Muses and Pump Up the Volume by M/A/R/R/S and deserve a thread all to themselves.

The thing is everything is easily absorbed by the mainstream, that's what the mainstream is for, and punk lasted out no longer than anything else; within months of jungle breaching the waters of the mainstream, jungle-isms were turning up on BBC1 idents and programme trailers. Stuff that is beautiful and signifies status is, admittedly, even more attractive to the ravening vultures of popular culture. But the mainstream is what it eats, and if it's been forced to dine on intelligence, who knows what will happen...

(well, we all do, and it's absolutely nothing, business as usual, but when I was younger and less cynical it seemed an exciting strategy)

(and it ought to have been "ravening magpies", but there was too much purple in the post already, thank you very much, without that kind of assonance.)
posted by Grangousier at 2:24 AM on August 30, 2002

Oh good, always thought about a Factory post. I lived and studied design in Manchester from 1989 and worked at Dry201 from 91 to 94, I also by complete chance found myself working on the website for the film (which is why I've never felt comfortable about a self-promotional front page post).

The film is made completely in the spirit of Factory - 'give it a go and see what happens' - I think there's probably as much footage left out as included, Coogan is Coogan and yet he's also Wilson, there's a lot of crossover. Coogan grew up watching Wilson presenting the news on Granada TV and his accent and mannerisms are worryingly similar.

The shots of the Hacienda is the only film footage of a club I've ever seen to get it exactly right - it could have been original footage - the look, feel, atmosphere and details are exactly right. For the film the club was rebuilt in a warehouse in Ancoats, Manchester and local former attendees were invited. It's a huge regret to me that I missed the biggest 'flashback' ever to happen. If it hadn't looked 'right' the film would have been devalued.

For me, The Durutti Column were/are the best Factory band and the most underrated, as Wilson/Coogan mentions in the film, they're ripe for rediscovery, the original chill-out band - although of course they were much more. How many bands that came out of the punk scene could claim the greatest guitarist in the UK?

I don't think anybody has linked to the Factory image bank, it's nowhere near complete but then how could it be? everything was designed - when Dry201 opened all the glasses had the logo etched on them - by the end of the week there were none left.

Kelly and Saville have deservedly gained fame from their contributions but much of the factory design work was by the overlooked team of Johnson Panas. They never received the acclaim they deserved - probably because they never really wanted it and never moved to London. I've looked at regular intervals but there doesn't seem to be anything about them online (other than the 24hourPP official site), nor 8VO who (amongst other great work) designed some of the classic Hacienda birthday posters - in the unlikely event that anybody's selling number 7, I'll pay good money.
posted by niceness at 3:33 AM on August 30, 2002 [2 favorites]

Seeing Tony Wilson plugging Manchester around the time of Commonwealth Games, I realised how much respect I had for him refusing to give up on the city and follow the hordes down to London. Especially, as you say, when someone so obviously idealistic is surrounded by people who take the piss.

But yeah, with Factory in Manchester, and Creation in Glasgow, and even the bloody stuff up in Stourbridge, London was strangely behind the times in the late 80s. Actually, not strangely: Thatcher's yuppies turned the capital into a cultural desert. Which isn't really close to turning the rest of the country into an industrial desert, but it's something.
posted by riviera at 4:06 AM on August 30, 2002

Wilson has always been damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He had a huge part in creating the best record label, club and bands of recent times, helped redevelop his own city and influenced the UK and beyond - before the Hacienda there were no 'superclubs', before Dry there were no 'designer' bars, before Joy Division, before Blue Monday, before Happy Monday, etc - and all of it with genuine enthusiasm and integrity.

Then he told everybody about it and became 'arrogant and self-important' to those (journalists especially) who wouldn't have paid the slightest bit of notice if he hadn't been banging the drum.

He's a master in post-rationalisation but his contribution and achievements speak for themselves - Factory as a brand will now come and go for as long as people like music - the latest revival should be along just about any minute now.
posted by niceness at 4:33 AM on August 30, 2002

That's a true and inspired portrait of Factory, niceness. Now I can't wait to see the film! Cheers, mate!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2002

NPR did a short eight minute segment on Wilson and the movie, the RealAudio is here.
posted by yonderboy at 6:19 PM on August 30, 2002

A short interviewette with Peter Saville, in which he says:

I looked at the environment around me and it looked bloody awful, and I thought: 'Surely it can be better than this.' Unfortunately within this environment were the seeds of the horror that became 'lifestyle' - a superficial, synthetic culture. I have a piece of neon planned for the studio wall that will read 'Be careful what you wish for'.

Which I thought was relevant.
posted by Grangousier at 12:13 AM on September 22, 2002

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