Factory Records, Tony Wilson and 1970s-1980s Manchester New Wave Bands.
Above Photo: Factory Records’ Sandpaper Sleeve for The Return of the Durutti Column Album.
I recently watched an excellent documentary about Factory Records in Manchester, which was set up by Tony Wilson and a partner, Alan Erasmus, in 1978. The label signed and recorded music by Joy Division, The Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, Section 25, and even Liverpool band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, amongst many others.
Released in 2006, the documentary, Shadowplayers, dealt with Factory Records, the Factory Club and the Manchester music scene between 1978 and 1981, and contained some great anecdotes about the label, its owners, bands and records.
There were a number of crossovers which Wilson was able to employ to create a buzz and attract business to his label. He was a presenter on Granada Television and had previously presented a show called ‘So It Goes’, which showcased many Punk and New Wave bands.
Wilson and Erasmus also ran a club called The Factory, in Royce Road, Hulme, which hosted the label’s artists, as well as many other local and national bands. The club became an important focal point of the Manchester New Wave scene.
I played The Factory a few times with Pink Military, the Liverpool band I was in in 1979, and I loved it there. In my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!, I described it as feeling like a second home, after Eric’s Club in Liverpool.
The documentary pointed out the name of the club and the label had nothing to do with Warhol’s Arthouse ‘Factory’ in New York, but instead was inspired by a factory that had closed down in Manchester. Similarly, the logo for the label was appropriated from a notice to workmen to wear proper sound protection in Manchester Polytechnic that was spotted by artist Peter Saville, who was the label’s in-house art designer.
The club began as a few nights a week venue in the Russell Club, and bands such as Durutti Column, Section 25, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Magazine, Suicide, Iggy Pop, Stiff Little Fingers, A Certain ratio, Public Image, The Pop group, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, Madness and the Buzzcocks all played there.
Wilson said Factory records was initially set up as a breeder record label to nurture talent and then get the bands signed to major labels, which was the business model for many small labels back then, and in fact they got Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark signed to Virgin pretty rapidly.
Originally just Wilson and Erasmus, the Factory partners soon expanded to include artist Peter Saville (who gave the label’s artwork and the bands’ records a distinctive ‘look’), producer Martin Hannett, who gave the bands a distinctive sound and when Joy Division manager Rob Gretton decided to sign the band to Factory, instead of going to a big label in London, he also joined the Collective.
He signed Joy Division to Factory because of the creative and legal control he and the band were allowed to keep over their output. Factory bands were on a 50:50 profit split with the label, and the Factory allowed artists to own the rights to their work, which was largely unheard of back then, especially in big record companies.
In May 1979, Unknown Pleasures was released on Factory Records. Wilson called the deal he did for Unknown Pleasures, “the most generous deal ever done in the history of the music industry.”
Wilson was said to have made no money out of Unknown Pleasures, or indeed the Factory Club, Factory record label and the Hacineda, which he was also behind. He was more of a creative and cultural entrepreneur, for whom money was not a prime motivator.
Wilson came up with an interesting quote about musicians and bands back then: “Musicians know fuck all about music. They’re given the gift of writing it, but their attitude to it is bollocks.”
He exemplified this by saying Joy Division didn’t like Unknown Pleasures when they heard the final mix. Bass player Peter Hook said that initially he and Bernard Sumner, the guitarist, hated the album. “We were more used to standing in front of the amps, feeding off the rock and the power of it…whereas Martin Hannett had made it subtle.”
Back then there was a decent, organized Independent record distribution network which got singles and albums into shops around the country. The original pressing of Unknown Pleasures was only 10,000 copies, and they all sold quickly.
Other bands besides Joy Division received a lot of care and money from the Factory label, especially when it came to expensive artwork on single and album sleeves.
Inspired by Situationist art, Factory brought out a Durutti Column record in a sandpaper sleeve (the intent being to destroy your other record sleeves) – see headline photo.
Rob Gretton and Ian Curtis produce Section 25’s first single, Girls Don’t Count. The record was done in one day, but the single’s artwork took 12 months to produce, because the cover was made of delicate tracing paper, which had to be glued together by blind people from an Institute.
An album Factory produced for Section 25 (called ‘Always Now’) in 1981 had expensive marbled lining paper which was LICENSED to them, so for each album pressed the label had to pay a licence fee. The band said it as the most expensive album cover ever made.
Hook said the band A Certain Ratio resented the fact that Joy Division were being paid, so they too wanted Factory records to pay them. This pissed off Joy Division because now A Certain Ratio were being paid out of Joy Division’s income stream into the record label. “That was the downfall of Factory,” he said.
Joy Division Support the Buzzcocks.
I enjoyed hearing about this tour on the documentary because Joy Division felt like second class citizens driving around the country following the Buzzcocks’ tour bus, inside which, a miffed Hook said, the Buzzcocks and their roadies were “living it up like kings”, and whereas the Buzzcocks were living in hotels, Joy Division were stuck in run-down Bed & Breakfasts. (Clearly Peter Hook doesn’t like the Buzzcocks).
The Buzzcocks’ manager, Richard Boon, said the tour was great for Joy Division because it got them much better known around the country than “appearances at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead.”
This reference fascinated me because I used to walk past a pub called The Railway on West End Lane in West Hampstead every day for years, in the 1990s, never believing Joy Division would have played at a club in there, which they had, on 4 April 1980.
Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire play Plan K in Brussels, Belgium, 16 October 1979.
It was interesting to hear from Ian Curtis’s former (platonic or otherwise) lover, Annik Honore about this. Also an anecdote from Peter Hook.
Hook said Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, a big fan of the distinguished American writer William Burroughs, who was giving a reading of his work at this multimedia Art Event, shuffled up to Burroughs and asked him for a free book – to which Burroughs replied “FUCK OFF!”
It was an excellent documentary and well worth watching, if you get the chance.
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