A New Blue Monday – the Continuing Misadventures of Madchester and the Hacienda

So it appears that New Order’s legendarily low-slung  and grumpy bassist Peter Hook has written a book. I must admit I was pretty astonished when I heard the news as I’d never had Hooky down as the literary type, although I was less surprised when I heard what the book was about (of which, more below)….

Hooky’s authorial outpourings are just the latest installment in this year’s exciting episode of the continuing saga of the 80’s and 90’s Manchester music scene; a long-running and often quarrelsome saga that refuses to go away, despite the fact that many of its protagonists have long since produced their best material and should probably have sloped off into quiet rock legend retirement quite some time ago.

So far this year, we’ve had the latest set of  rumours of a Stone Roses reformation (please god, never! I’d rather remember them at their incandescent early best than as the meandering stoner rawkers they had become by the end), rumours which appear to have been finally and firmly squashed by the recent news that Ian Brown – who did, after all, get custody of the talent when the Roses split – is to form a supergroup with the equally legendary Smiths/Electronic/Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr. In fact, the Roses have been positively blooming this year (sorry…), what with the 20th anniversary special edition re-release of their truly classic and nigh-on perfect self-titled debut album getting rave reviews in the music press all over again, and guitarist John Squire’s solo art exhibition receiving column inches galore (admittedly, mainly only after it was noticed that one of the installations stated in no uncertain terms that he would play no part in any Roses reformation).

On the down side, there was the slighty pointless and critically panned performance by the increasingly dubious and disappointing  Happy Mondays at this year’s V Festival; a performance which makes one wonder why they still bother – are they really that broke? And saddest of all – to this commentator anyway – New Order veterans Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris’s new band Bad Lieutenant have been receiving lukewarm at best reviews for their debut album Never Cry Another Tear. I’m not surprised Hooky ended up writing a book….

Published today, The Haçienda: How Not To Run A Club is Hooky’s account of the money-draining chaos and drug-fuelled disorder that was Manchester’s most iconic nightspot. Ever. The Haç opened in 1982, the brainchild of Factory Records’ Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, and was funded mostly by New Order.  Wilson’s famous ego soon took over, with the result that the club rapidly gained a reputation for complete craziness – in fact it was his ‘ironic’ idea to book Bernard Manning (yes, Bernard fucking Manning…) to compere the opening night. Manning, for all his many sins, saw straight through Wilson, Gretton and co, telling them that they should “fucking stick to your day jobs lads, you’re not cut out for clubs”. He had a fucking point.

Despite its well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest clubs of the acid house era, the Haç never made any money and, in later years, had serious security problems involving heavy drugs and several gangland shootings in the club. Any money (mostly money earned by New Order) invested in the club seemed to disappear into a mysterious black hole; in fact, Bernard Sumner once described the Haç’s funding process as basically recklessly throwing money at it “like a man with ten arms”. Hooky had long been unhappy with the amount of the band’s money that was being sucked up by the club (in fact, he still is), but the whole thing was totally out of control. Theft and pilfering among the staff were also rife, and the generally careless attitude to money is exemplified by the story of how an indoor firework once set an entire New Year’s Eve’s-worth of takings alight!

Despite all this negativity, the Haçienda most definitely deserves its notorious and legendary place in the annals of British music culture, and some of the less disturbing (and sillier) stories associated with it amply demonstrate the fabulous excess and complete chaos of one of the last great periods in youth culture; a period which remains hugely defining and influential even now – twenty seven years after the club opened and twelve years after it lost its license and finally closed its doors.

Tales of the Gallagher brothers working in the club as cleaners and Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street turning up at the 1987 Christmas party abound, as well as the story that Richard Branson nearly bought the place when its finances were at an all time low. Then there’s the night that Madonna (who played her first British gig at the Haç) told Rob Gretton to “fuck off” when he offered her fifty quid to play another set – and later that same night, Gretton is alleged to have informed Morrissey that “the trouble with you… is that you’ve never had the guts to kill yourself like Ian [Curtis]. You’re fucking jealous” (meow!). Or the infamous night, sometime in 1985, when the Jesus and Mary Chain played a notorious thirteen minute set during which they faced an absolutely constant, continuous barrage of thrown pint glasses.

And then there’s my favourite story of all, which involves a small (and probably heavily psychedelically scarred) furry animal and the infamous Factory Records obsession with giving everything that didn’t move – and a fair few things that did – a catalogue number. Yep, the Haç employed its own pest control in the shape of a cat, name unknown, but catalogued as FAC 191*…

Personally, I never made it to the Haç, but the music of Madchester was a huge part of my teenage years. In fact, I credit the Stone Roses with changing my life. Twenty years on, I can still clearly remember the first time I heard Fool’s Gold, and the reaction it provoked in me. I soon realised that there was a whole world of amazing music out there, outside of and very different to the chart crap I had previously been listening to.  This was powerful stuff for an impressionable thirteen year old mind.

Even now, if you forced me to sit down and write a list of my ten favourite bands of all time (an almost impossible task…), I can guarantee that the Roses and New Order would be on that list. And, as grumpy as Hooky will always be about the Haç, it will always be an icon of that lost era. Without Madchester, without Factory Records, without New Order, without Tony Wilson, without the Haçienda, without all these, much of my music collection would not exist – and I would not have had so much of the pleasure and enjoyment I associate with the music of Manchester.

* This obsession with FAC numbers got a little bit silly in the end. The Haç itself was FAC 51, and various other random things including parties and a lawsuit also had their own FAC numbers. The last one ever allocated was in 2007  – FAC 501 is the catalogue number of the late Tony Wilson’s coffin. No, seriously….

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