The Hacienda is rebuilt in the UAE
Almost two decades after Factory Communications went out of business, the story of a small, independent record label from northern England remains a rich narrative seam for both music historians and nostalgia-soaked fans.
It is a ripping yarn, an anarchic tale of a post-punk record company that gave the artists it signed complete and unrivalled creative freedom over the material they produced. Beginning in 1978, Factory released a few (the emphasis here is on a few) great records which sold in something approaching significant numbers, despite the label's steadfast refusal to promote or market its own talent.
Somewhere along the line, the imprint also launched its own nightclub, The Haçienda, which first became famous as a hub of great music, then infamous when it was overrun by drug dealers and armed gangsters.
The late Anthony H Wilson, Factory's founder, once summed up his label's enduring appeal by saying "we didn't make money, we made history". And it did, through the recordings of first Joy Division, then New Order and finally, for a brief period, the Happy Mondays, the title of whose Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches album sums up all that was good and bad about the label.
It wasn't just about the music either. Factory defined the aesthetic of Manchester through the slick, expensive artwork that clothed its records, helping to reinvent the decaying, neglected city of its birth as a gleaming, forward-looking metropolis of the present.
Regrettably, it all ended in tears and loathing in 1992 when Factory sank under the weight of huge debts after the recording of albums by both the Happy Mondays and New Order ran spectacularly over budget. The club would stay open for another five years before it fell victim to the same cocktail of mismanagement and crippling financial liabilities.
Nevertheless, the bright lights of the Factory era remain undimmed. Over the intervening period, the story has been retold in a handful of films, countless books, tribute nights and back-catalogue re-releases. Twenty years on, the business surrounding Factory is arguably more productive and profitable than the label ever was.
Indeed, last Friday afternoon in Manchester, Peter Hook, New Order's former bass player turned author, ventured to the city's Trafford Centre shopping mall, to sign copies of the paperback release of his memoir The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club.
Hook's book opens with the line "what a [expletive deleted] mess we made of it" before detailing at length the fun and folly of losing vast quantities of cash over 15 years as the part-owner of the most famous club in Europe. Game to the last, Hook is now the proprietor of another nightspot based in Factory's old headquarters in Manchester.
Around the same time on a different continent, Andy Williams was journeying from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to DJ at a one-off club night called Reçession - Celebrating the Factory Era at Left Bank in the Souk Qaryat Al Beri.
Williams is a former member of K-Klass, a dance music act who decided to make records after a particularly good night out at The Haçienda many years ago. The outfit enjoyed a moment of fame in the early Nineties, when their single Rhythm is a Mystery became first a club classic, then a proper hit that peaked at number three in the UK charts.
There were other singles and hits, and a couple of albums, before the band concentrated on carving out a successful sideline polishing up other people's work. Appropriately enough, they would later remix two New Order singles - Ruined in a Day and World - from those aforementioned over-budget Factory recordings.
Williams has been resident in Dubai for the past two years, working for an entertainment company as well as occasionally DJing a Haçienda revival night in the emirate. When he came to Abu Dhabi I asked why there was still such an appetite for all things associated with Manchester's moment.
"[Factory] created something unique," he said. "They made mistakes but some of the music that came out of Manchester was incredible - it was one of the most important scenes in the world.
"It was such a change from what had come before. It was like a rebellion, like a new version of punk with a different form of music."
We discussed those heady days when The Haçienda was packed to the rafters every weekend. Did he think it was possible to recreate the feel of that scene on another continent, in another era?
"I played at the club years ago and in some small way we do hope to replicate that time again here," he said.
"At a venue like Left Bank only a handful of people would have gone to The Haçienda first time around and it might be nice for them to appreciate some of the music now - and anyway, it's great to hear the old records again."
Williams' set was full of the feel-good dance anthems that made The Haçienda famous and the night was busy enough to suggest there may be room for a more regular Factory night in the capital.
Oddly, most of those enjoying the sound of nostalgia looked too young to remember what all the fuss was about all those years ago, even if the lavish surroundings of the Left Bank - bedecked for one night only with Reçession's black and yellow Factory-influenced branding - were no match for the industrial playground that was The Haçienda.
The night was made possible by the promoter Darrell Jacques of Decadent, an entertainment and events company based in the capital.
A displaced Mancunian, he told me his family had previously owned a dog called Pippa, who had in turn once belonged to the mother of Lindsay Reade, Anthony Wilson's first wife - another story to add to the long list of yarns associated with Manchester's mythic past. By a quirk of timing, Reade launched her own memoir Mr Manchester and The Factory Girl at Hook's nightclub last week. I can't confirm whether she makes any reference to the curious incident of the dog in the book.
So, why did Jacques want to bring a Haçienda night to Abu Dhabi? "Factory was about nothing else but the music and engaging people, and that's the spirit we want to capture," he told me. "They didn't make any money, but they made great music and they never let anything else cloud their view."
True to that spirit, Reçession was a free-entry event last Friday. The business of turning a profit from Factory will have to wait for a little while in the Emirates, even if the cash registers are forever ringing in Manchester.
Published: October 22, 2010 04:00 AM