24 Hour Party People: The Film and Manchester’s Punk & New Wave Scene.
The Sex Pistols play Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in July 1976. (Paul Welsh)
I recently watched the film ’24 Hour Party People’, which was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and produced in 2002.
It dealt with the music scene in Manchester from 1976 until 1992, focussing on Tony Wilson’s mercurial role in the Manchester music world and his setting up of Factory Records and, later, the Hacienda club.
I was impressed with how the film covered a broad and complicated period of Manchester’s musical history, but what I really enjoyed about it was the screenplay.
Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson was superb. From his opening lines as a TV presenter on Granada Reports, when he was strapped into a hang glider: “It’s the latest craze sweeping the Pennines, and I’d rather be sweeping the Pennines right now…” all the way through the film.
I was surprised when, after the hang gliding incident, Coogan as Wilson directly addresses the camera and references Icarus. I thought the direct-to-camera idea really worked, especially as Wilson had been a TV presenter. It somehow felt appropriate and was useful in narrating the story and speeding up the action.
I really enjoyed the use of real footage of the Sex Pistols playing Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.
During the gig, the film version of Wilson points out Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks and Magazine), telling viewers that the gig inspired the setting up of The Buzzcocks, and then, casually, “Howard later sleeps with my wife.”
Wilson points out other people in the audience: “Gingernut”, Mick Hucknall – later of Simply Red (but I saw him with his New Wave band, the Frantic Elevators in 1979), the future members of Joy Division/New Order and Martin Hannett – who later becomes a partner in Factory records and a brilliant record producer.
As a result of this gig, Wilson realized the music scene was about to change forever, and began featuring Punk and New Wave bands on his TV programme, So It Goes. As I mention in my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!, So It Goes also galvanized me in my early days of Punk.
It was one of the few places you could actually see Punk bands on TV.
A little later on, more excellent screenwriting. Wilson, sitting in his business partner, Alan Erasmus’s flat, asks where he got some great cannabis they’re smoking:
“My mate brought it back from his holidays.”
I enjoyed the scene when Wilson first visits what became the Factory Club in Hulme, a place I played a few times back in 1979, during my time in Liverpool New Wave bands. I liked the portrayal of the club owner by Peter Kay, and I also enjoyed seeing actors playing Vini Reilly of Durutti Column, and Joy Division gigging in the club.
One thing I thought was a bit, er, crass, was the scene where the film version of Howard Devoto is caught fucking Wilson’s wife in the Factory toilets (with the stall door wide open?).
Immediately after this the REAL Howard Devoto makes a cameo appearance fixing a blocked sink, and says to camera: “I definitely don’t remember this scene happening,” which is great as it allowed the concocted scene to telescope the message about Wilson’s marriage (mutual infidelity in an otherwise loving relationship) but also allowed Devoto to refute the historical accuracy of that particular incident in a way that reminded us what we were watching wasn’t real.
“Wilson” in the film then states that both Devoto and Wilson’s real former wife Lindsay wanted to make clear this scene never actually happened.
I liked the scenes in the recording studio where producer Martin Hannett was going to extreme lengths with Joy Division to get the sound he wanted, including putting the drum kit on the roof.
The film contained some interesting contemporary news references, for example to the gravediggers’ strike in Liverpool in 1978/1979. This strike, as part of the Winter of Discontent, also made a lasting impression on me, and I refer to it a couple of times in Bombed Out!.
Poorly done was the lead-up to Curtis’s suicide. It just suddenly happened, with no context, but the cinematography of the moment (a chicken dancing on TV as Curtis’s feet dangled in view) was superb.
Some of the film felt too disjointed, especially as it dwelt, documentary-style, on the death of Curtis after he’d died.
After the death of Curtis the film then focused on the rise of the next wave of bands, the opening of the Hacienda Club (in 1982, and which deserves an article in its own right for the damage it did to New Order’s bank balance), the Ryder brothers and the Happy Mondays, none of which was part of my interest for writing this article, although I did enjoy the rest of the film.
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