Use Hearing Protection: The Early Years Of Factory Records – An Essential Visit!

Following on from Audrey Golden’s excellent piece on Factory through the exhibition, Nigel Carr attended the press day on Wednesday and interviewed Archive Manager and lead curator Jan Hicks and consultant curator, Mat Bancroft. Use hearing Protection tells the story of Factory Records’ formative years from 1978 to 1982, and how their innovative work in music, technology and design gave Manchester an authentic voice and distinctive identity. Founded by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus, the label played an influential part in the city’s transformation from an industrial powerhouse to a beacon of art and culture. 

It was with some trepidation that I ventured into Manchester with photographer Paul Husband to preview the exhibition at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum. Having lived through the period and seen Joy Division on numerous occasions, I knew a little about how it should look and feel. Would it be just another trip down memory lane? Would it live up to expectation?

It’s important to emphasise that this is not just a cynical display of randomly placed material from the time. It is a carefully curated, educational visit into the past through the sounds and landscapes of a city in decline. In the late ’70’s, through the dilapidated architecture, derelict bomb sites and abandoned mills – buildings in danger of falling down, there was a bleak, austere feeling, much of which seeped its way into the sounds and culture of the day. If all you think of when you conjure up a vision of Manchester is the glitzy, polished buildings of Spinningfields and the boutique shops on King Street then this retrospective will open your eyes.

We are taken on a journey though the sites and sounds of the time, including archive material from the very first punk gigs in Manchester, through the formation of Factory Records, its influence on the city in a myriad of different ways, up to the dawn of the country’s first super club – The Haçienda. The story stops quite naturally in 1982 after the release of the first New Order album, Movement.

If you are a seasoned punk, a Factory fan, or just interested in finding more about one of the most influential periods in Manchester’s history, then this exhibition is for you. Curated by Jon Savage and Mat Bancroft in conjunction with Archive Manager Jan Hicks, Use Hearing Protection opened this morning at the museum on Liverpool Road and runs until the 3rd of January.

I interviewed Mat and Jan about how the exhibition came together, what visitors could expect to see, and what they hoped people would gain from visiting.

Interview with Jan Hicks – Archives Manager at Manchester Science and Industry Museum and Lead Curator.

There was a version of the exhibition in London Is that right?

Nigel & Jan - Use Hearing ProtectionThere is an ambition to take it to New York and potentially Paris as well. The Manchester exhibition is about four times bigger than that was at Chelsea space in London. That was a single room with some contextual material in the corridor. The main room was the 1-50 artefacts, with a couple of cases in the middle, more ephemeral documents, and flyers, surrounding material.

The exhibition here, we wanted to tell a more Manchester story, so we bring in a lot of context about what Manchester was like, physically as a landscape, and economically in terms of the fact that our traditional industries were declining. So we talk about Factory as a forward looking organisation who drew on Manchester industrial heritage but didn’t get bogged down in nostalgia for it, and for example, they used local printers. They used a local sandpaper manufacturer, so the sleeve for Return Of The Durutti Column, which was inspired by the Situationist’s texts, that was a local Stockport firm who manufactured it.

Why was it important that that was the case? Surely it would have been easier to go to B&Q – or a similar hardware store of the time?

Tony (Wilson) loved the heritage of Manchester. He made a film of Trafford Park and was interested in Manchester’s history as a place of revolution and as a place of non-conformity, and that was kind of a launching point for him for what he wanted to do with Factory. Factory as a project for him was educating people and enabling people as well, so he wanted to do things that were clever, abstract, and futuristic. He wanted to encourage people as well, so if someone came to him with an idea and he could see they had a passion about it, very often he was a facilitator for them. Liz Naylor, as an example, was writing for City Fun magazine, and she’d written an article that ended up being turned into a film by Charles Salem. Out of that, Tony then commissioned her to make another film, which didn’t actually get made, It was supposed to involve ACR (A Certain Ratio) kidnapping Ian Curtis. It sadly didn’t get made, so if Tony found somebody that he thought had passion, and had a really good idea, then he was facilitator and wanted Factory to be known for that.

Posters - Use Hearing Protection

He will forever be known as giving people the opportunity to develop their own flair and interest to propel themselves forward.

Yes.

In terms of the exhibition, there was one at Manchester Art Gallery in 2017?

That was for the Manchester International Festival – True Faith. It was Joy Division and New Order and it had sections in it that looked at how fans responded to both bands and how they created art out of the inspiration they got from them. There were art pieces in there and while Jon (Savage) and Mat (Bancroft) who curated that exhibition for Manchester Art Gallery, (They had already curated the exhibition at the Chelsea Space). They’d used some of the exhibits that we have here for True Faith, and then came back to us when they were developing the Chelsea Space exhibition.

As part of that conversation we were talking about how weird it ws that such a Mancunian label was having an exhibition launch in London. We talked at that point about ideal the museum would be, both in terms of the architecture, of the building and the fact that its very evocative of the redundant and dilapidated buildings in the city that were being repurposed. So you had TJ Davidson’s at the back of Knott Mill, at the back of Deansgate Station, where Joy Division and later New Order rehearsed, and a lot of the venues were in old disused buildings.

Even Rafters upstairs on Oxford Road!

Yes, and so we had the conversation about how great it would be to bring the exhibition up to Manchester and then I started to think about – ‘people are going to think it’s weird it that it’s at a science and industry museum’.

Posters 2- Use Hearing Protection

But not in another way because it’s Factory – and here we are in a disused warehouse, so it has the perfect connection.

Yes, and it was to do with me as well, making it known to people that the future looking aspect of Factory extended to them being really early adopters of digital and electronic technology, through Martin Hannett’s involvement. I wanted to tell that story of going onto the studio with Martina and talking about Joy Division having that raw, punk live sound. Then going into the studio with Martin and all his gadgets, and his idea of what Joy Division should sound like, and making it sound echoey and cavernous.  Telling that story about how the technology did that because I want people to be surprised in this exhibition.

Isn’t it important also to get across the fact that the Science & Industry Museum is not just about history, it’s as much about the future? You have a section on Graphene for example which I find fascinating, and modern computer technology, quantum computers, and that the museum is also looking forward.

Yes, we’re a science communication organisation as well as well as a museum.

What do you expect people to get out of the exhibits that are here and tell us a little about the special exhibits you have that may have not been on view before?

What I want people to get out of the exhibition is that I know that people who are passionate about Factory are going to come, so I have tried include surprising things that they might not have picked up on before. We’ve had the privilege of having Tony Wilson’s and Rob Gretton’s archives on loan, which haven’t been publicly accessible for a long time. We have been able to dig into them and find surprising little stories, that I think will delight people!

Central Space 1-50 - Use Hearing Protection

Like the notebook which has John Peel’s number next to that of the local printers!

Yes, things like that, and the letters that Rob used to write before he joined Factory family, when he was just Joy Division’s manager. The letters he used to write to Tony Wilson and to other people at Granada trying to get the band on. He had a proper strategy for making Joy Division famous and that’s all in his notebooks. He wrote lots of letters to Tony saying ‘Can they come on So It Goes’ ‘here’s some badges, ‘here’s a demo’.

Did he not go up to Tony Wilson and called him a rude word because he hadn’t had them on his show?

He did call him a rude word, he did, yeh, and they nearly got on to So It Goes but unfortunately Iggy Pop did a very bad swear during series two, and series three was going to feature Joy Division. We’ve got a document with a ‘potential bands who are going to be on series three’ and Joy Division were on there. They didn’t get to go and as kind of a sorry, Tony then had them on the What’s On segment of Granada Reports on a Friday evening, which was their first TV appearance.

We’ve got those kind of quirky and intimate stories for the passionate fans, but we also recognise that this is a family oriented museum. We’re going to get people coming in who maybe don’t know much about Factory – will be aware of Factory, because if you know anything about Manchester you know Factory was in Manchester. So I’ve tried to put in information about who the five partners were, with a bit of a sketch on each of them, and why they were important to Factory. But then also set that context of the fact that landscape wise, environment-wise, Manchester was in decline, and that that had an influence on many of the bands sounded on the label.

There is a Manchester ‘sound’…

There is, but  also those joyous stories of Factory being at the heart of that decision that ‘yeh, the traditional stuff is winding down now, but we’ve got Granada TV in the city’, ‘we’ve got Rabid records in the city’, ‘we’ve got all of this potential space that we can repurpose’. It was the beginning of the regeneration of Manchester, so we want people to understand that, because if you walk round Manchester now, it can be really hard. As somebody who grew up in Manchester in this era, it looks so different.

Punk - Use Hearing Protection

You look at Spinningfields now, it’s nothing like looking down Little Peter Street and Tony’s (Davidson) old place!

No, so we want that for people who are new to the story. Then the central space where the 1 to 50 exhibits are (The numbering system of Factory Record’s catalogue which goes from Peter’s first poster, FAC1 to the first New Order album Movement which was FAC50), has been designed by Ben Kelly (The Haçienda’s designer) and he has done something really clever.

It’s an old warehouse; we have iron columns supporting the building which are in a very regular grid structure, and Ben came to us and said, “Factory was not a grid organisation, they were off-grid”. So he has tilted the shape of the gallery, so you get this lovely sightline, down it. He’s designed the space, because we also know with Factory in Manchester, the more famous thing is The Haçienda; It’s more talked about, but it’s out of the time frame of this, but we know people will expect to see something, so he designed the central space to look a little bit like The Haçienda.

We have the similar lighting in there and pigeon blue on the walls, so it’s a really beautiful space. Then in the middle, I wanted to tell some more detailed stories in that space so I chose six items from FAC 1 to 50, to tell these more detailed stories. Because I am a woman, and I’m a music fan and a Factory fan, I’m aware that for a lot of people the concept of Factory is that it was very male oriented. Five males starting it and a lot of the fans were men and a lot of the bands were men. I wanted to tell a story, that there were women involved.

Tracey Donnelly came into the story a little bit after this exhibition, but right at the start there was Lindsay Reade and Linder who designed a lot of the sleeves. She’d worked with Malcom Garrett at the Poly with Peter Saville, and she worked on the Orgasm Addict sleeve design with Malcom. She then started to work with Tony doing flyers for Factory at The Russell club, so we have got her in the case. We’ve got Lesley Gilbert who was the office and production manager. She was the person who kept things going and running smoothly, while the figureheads were out promoting the company,  Lesley was keeping everything going.

Fac 1 - 50 - Use Hearing protection

She was at Palatine Road at Alan’s (Erasmus) place?

She was, yes. And we’ve got the story of Gillian joining New Order which for me personally, I was nine or ten at the time, and to see a girl in a band, not being the singer, playing a really technical instrument; that was so amazing for me, I loved Gillian.

Then we end that case with Ann Quigley who was at Art College in Stockport with Gillian and they  together worked on a fanzine with a couple of guys from a Certain Ratio. Ann went on to form the band Swamp Children, again, with Martin and Peter from ACR. Because she was an artist as well, she did a lot of paintings that ended up being the sleeve art for ACR’s singles and albums.

So it wasn’t all Peter Savile and she was part of the original Factory. One of the problems in the early days, you could argue, was that a lot of the bands looked quite similar through Peter Saville’s design. There was a Factory look?

Yes, there was.

So to have her doing those sleeve covers was refreshing; it was different?

Yes, and then you get a similar thing by the time Bruce Mitchell joined The Durutti Column and they put LC out. There was Jackie Williams doing similar things with that band. So the artworks on the sleeve for LC are watercolour paintings that Jackie did, so it took it in a different direction.

I think it’s important to appreciate that this exhibition isn’t just a load of record sleeves. This is a journey through the formation of Factory right up to 1981 when Movement came out. It’s not just an exhibition of covers; it’s a story from the beginning of the Factory label up until that point. And why does it finish there, in 1981?

It finishes at that point because The Haçienda follows. It’s the next number in the catalogue, and both Jon, Mat and myself felt that that story is much bigger and needs to be told in a different way.

We didn’t want it to be a kind of bolt on at the end, just because we thought people would expect to see it, but also because this first four of five year period in the Factory story, although it is talked about, it hasn’t been spoken about in the same level of detail as The Haçienda and Dry Bar and Madchester has. It’s completely different, and for me the joy of discovery, having been so young at the time, to see all the things that then led to the stuff that was relevant to me as a teenager and into my twenties. it’s just been brilliant to tell those stories and to bring them out. Other people will be in a similar situation to me.

~

The exhibition was delayed because of COVID so rather than starting in July 2020 it was moved to 2021 while the organisers could expand the structure space so that visitor could socially distance.

Jan explained that it has actually improved the exhibition. Some can be closed-in and cluttered, but the Factory exhibition feels open and airy, so the exhibits really have the space the breathe.

~

Interview With Consultant Curator Mat Bancroft

What is your connection with this Mat?

Nigel & Mat Bancroft - Use Hearing protectionAround 2018 a couple of people approached me and Jon Savage about doing something to mark what would have been the anniversary of the formation of Factory Records. We were aiming for January 2019 to do all of this. We both worked on the True Faith exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery and that is why we were approached.

I though that it was hard to do an exhibition about the whole of Factory because it runs for so long. It’s a five year project. With three eras of Factory covering the whole period, that’s why we’ve ended up with what we have.

We looked at the period prior to The Haçienda for a couple of reasons: I think it’s the most interesting period, creatively; I think it’s the purest period of what Factory were trying to do. At no point during this period is money a problem. It’s not a motivating factor. It becomes a weight at times because The Haçienda swallows it up and as they get bigger and bigger, those things happen.

Also I though it was amazing that the five partners were doing this for the first time. Martin had been a record producer and Rob a band manager with The Panik and Slaughter & The Dogs, but I don’t think they had done it at the level did at Factory. I think when Martin got Joy Division, he raised his game and he produced in a different when than he had done with Buzzcocks. Peter Saville had never deigned a poster before, and Rob hit the ground running as a manager of Joy Division; he had a great vision for them. Tony Wilson was a great frontman; Alan Erasmus was a great band manager and workhorse. They all just did it immediately and from the word go the work is great. They don’t build up through this period. You don’t look at FAC1 to 12 they’re sort of getting there! From 1 it’s outstanding.

Peter’s first poster sets the aesthetic up immediately. It’s industrial, it’s European, it doesn’t look like a punk poster. There is nothing collage or montage about it and immediately, you’re brought into this world. Originally, those early ones were done by Peter but the standard if the work is so good. It was the right people coming together at the right time.

Band on The Wall - Use Hearing Protection

In Joy Division, they almost had a muse to play with, didn’t they?

I think so, definitely.

The way Martin produced the band, with the dry drumbeats and double tracking – he took a rock band and turned it into, (what would become to be known as) a post-punk band?

It meant that that record has far greater longevity and impact than it would have done had it ended up sounding like a punk or new wave record. It wouldn’t have the legs that it has. Because they were a little bit older, they were distilling all their ideas and all of their thoughts about the world through these bands, through these younger, prettier people, so the situationist influence – Tony Wilson could deliver that through The Durutti column.

Rob’s view of being DIY, of not doing interviews, not doing things for money, he had the perfect band for that in Joy Division.

Both Peter and Tony understood that pop culture was important to people and it’s a source of education and that idea that most people, certainly in the UK get a parallel education from a state education. I think they get a real education from record sleeves, and the importance of pop culture messages particularly from the music but also through film and literature.

Rotten - Use Hearing Protection

In terms of the space that was created here with Ben, he was involved in designing The Haçienda and he’s designed this space. There was a conscious effort to make it feel like it did in the day?

Having Ben involved gives it immediate credibility,  because he is a really good architect and interior designer. Immediately, when he sees the space, he makes it all slightly off kilter with things being off-grid and not following the perfect format. He has a natural eye and, he was involved in Factory before The Haçienda. His final university final project is the sleeve for Love Will Tear Us Apart or the influence for that. He’s working on the first OMD album cover. His influence is quite important also for Peter in the thigs that he was picking up from Ben Kelly.

I think it’s that thing of another guy, who is slightly older. I think what they have created here is a really interesting space that needed and introduction for people who didn’t know anything about Factory. It needed a lead in to tell you who the main protagonists are, and what the influences were on Factory, and that main central space which is the core of it which is the 1 to 50, and the expanded stories, and the gig space at the end it all tells a story.

That’s why the design really works. It’s broken down really naturally; really nicely, and kind of obviously into this journey for you, so by the time you come out through this mock Haçienda you’ve hopefully understood what happened through this period and that the Haçienda is coming. That’s the next step for Factory. Hopefully for those who don’t know anything at all to go and discover more, because this is not the end of the story.

What do you hope people will take away from this exhibition?

Each different group can find something new, warm, and pleasant within the exhibition. If you were there at the time and you went to see these bands , whether you are from Manchester or from the local area and you got involved in Factory at the time, in some way by being a participant in it all, then I think you will see things you’ve never seen for a long time. Maybe records you’ve not heard for a long time. There are items from people directly involved, Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton, very generous loans from people involved like Malcolm Garrett. So you see a kind of past, you see your past and hopefully it’s exciting.

You get to see a visual representation of Manchester during that period (which doesn’t exist anymore) and so you’re seeing that change. For Factory aficionados, they’ll see things they’ve never seen and for people who know nothing about it, they are going to learn in quite a natural way.

I think for younger people living in the city, who are aware of Factory, primarily through The Haçienda, New Order and Joy Division, and the Happy Mondays to some extent. I think they will find out that Factory was a really intelligent project. It was a really clever way of bringing pop culture forward, educating people, and the sense that during that period, that the city was going through a change from a once powerful powerhouse to a city that was needing a new direction. What Factory proposed was that the new commerce of Manchester could be art, creativity median culture and I think that’s exactly what happened.

Gig Room - Use Hearing Protection

There was nothing like that era, an explosion?

Yeh, I think Factory set a template with Joy Division that other bands could follow, even if they weren’t on Factory, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, Then Oasis and Doves. They’re all part of what Factory established as a network, as a way of the city being important and most notably, which may be of interest to young people who see the city very differently to the way I will and you will, is understanding that the city that they live in that kind of modern regeneration, was started in 1978-1982.

It’s not to say that Manchester wouldn’t have regenerated without Factory – Liverpool did and Nottingham has done. However it’s very possible that they all saw what was going on in Manchester and took that template forward, but it would not have happened in this way without Factory.

I think when they established a physical presence in the city with The Haçienda, that is really the start, and it takes quite a while. That is the start of the regeneration. When people see that they go on do their own thing in the city, such as repurposed lofts. When the guys within Factory and the bands, when they go overseas, when they go to America, when they go to Europe, they see what’s happening in those cities and bring that to Manchester.

Hacienda Space - Use Hearing Protection

I think that sometimes this is misunderstood about Factory. Because it’s of and from Manchester it’s not necessarily being parochial and ‘northern’, It’s European and international. it’s basically saying ‘look, Manchester’s a great city, why don’t we take a bit of these great things that are going on?’.

Factory had all the right tools and people in place to do it.  Those people coming together at that time is like the Beatles. Why did these four end up in the same band? It’s perfect, and they were all equally important, all having their role to play. Without one of them, it might not have all worked,

It’s suggested in the exhibition that where the young people are living now is kind of all down to this. It happened because of the vision these various people had!

~

Factory Exhibition – Use Hearing Protection.

  • DATE: 19 June 2021 – 3 January 2022
  • PRICE: £8 adults, £6 concessions. Under 12s go free when attending with an adult.
  • LOCATION: Temporary Exhibition Gallery, Level 1, New Warehouse

Use Hearing Protection Website

Words/Interview by Nigel Carr. More writing by Nigel on Louder Than War can be found in his Author’s archive. You can find Nigel on Twitter and Facebook Listen to Nigel’s show on Radio Alty – Wednesdays 9-11 pm!

Photos by the talented Paul Husband© – Use of these photos without permission is breach of copyright. This is Paul’s Website This is his Facebook and Twitter.

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