Factory At The Russel Club

Factory Records has become legendary but their club, The Factory, was perhaps more important to the Mancunian post-punk scene.
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Tschichold aside, appropriation became almost an article of faith for Saville. In part, this postmodern creative approach was inspired by Kraftwerk, whose 1974 album Autobahn was the first record purchased by Saville with his own money. Having long admired the ‘found’ motorway sign on the cover, he now based the first Factory club poster on a found object of his own: an industrial safety sign displayed at Manchester Poly, warning workers to use hearing protection. ‘Practically speaking, the inspiration for the first poster came from a sign I saw every day on a workshop door at college,’ says Saville. ‘The charm of this sign came to my mind quite quickly, and I was keen to distance the identity and the event from the notions of pop and Sixties culture. I had reservations about the Factory name because of the Warhol connotations. So I became quite determined to use the sign, and to suggest the industrial context for Factory, and its place in the north-west. I had to resort to removing the sign from the door one evening.’

Despite receiving a fee of £20 for the striking yellow, black and white design numbered Fac 1 by Wilson, Saville delivered the poster only after the first two shows took place in May. Unlike the perplexing cowboys poster intended to promote The Durutti Column, none were fixed to walls in public places. ‘It probably was quite late,’ he allows. ‘Most of what I did usually appeared quite late.’

Following the opening run, the next Factory promotion at the Russell Club was a gig by Fast Product radicals Gang of Four on 14 July, followed a week later by Jamaican roots reggae band Culture. Joy Division returned to the club to support visiting American electronic duo Suicide on 28 July, while on 4 August punters were invited to ‘dance and dream’ to The Durutti Column, Cabaret Voltaire and Feathered Version, an evening advertised as ‘toasting and the new psychedelia’. Future music aside, reggae and dub remained a constant at the venue, as Alien Tint guitarist and Factory regular Martin Moscrop confirms. ‘The agreement was that Factory had to use their DJs, so in between all these bands you’d have a heavy dub sound system, and proper reggae DJs. Their sound system was better than the PA the bands used.’

Viewed purely as a commercial venture, The Factory was only partially successful, and failed to secure a deal for The Durutti Column. Meanwhile Magazine, whom Wilson might have managed in a parallel universe, released their panoramic first album Real Life through Virgin in June, sleeved in a monoprint by Linder. The following month Manchester gained another independent label, Object Music, founded by former Electric Circus DJ Steve Solamar as an outlet for his own band, Spherical Objects. The group made their live debut on 28May at the Band on theWall, a regular Manchester Musicians’ Collective gig, and after playing just two more shows recorded their debut album. The progress achieved by M24J and The Durutti Column was rather less decisive. In July the group performed two further live dates, with an appearance at Deeply Vale Festival followed by a slot at Leeds Roots Club, opening for Joy Division.

Shortly afterwards, vocalist Phil Rainford found himself ‘excluded’ from the group. Says Vini Reilly: ‘I threatened to walk out unless Tony sacked the singer we had at the time, because he was so bloody awful.’ The news was broken to Rainford by Wilson, who also selected his replacement, a budding actor named Colin Sharp. In truth, the Durutti project was deeply flawed, as Wilson would later admit. ‘That band was crap. We all knew it, but nobody dared to say anything. There was a kind of, “Oh well, it will all come good in time” mentality. Of course it didn’t. No direction, no harmony, no fucking idea – and yet there was Alan, Vini and me all completely blind to such obvious shortcomings.We thought they would conquer the world.’

‘The charm of this sign came to my mind quite quickly, and I was keen to distance the identity and the event from the notions of pop and Sixties culture."

Meanwhile The Factory at the Russell became an established port of call on the post-punk circuit. Following the patchy opening run, at the end of which Joy Division and Tiller Boys found themselves performing to a near-empty club, Factory promotions were run by Wilson and Erasmus in partnership with Alan Wise, lately a promoter at Rafters. ‘When we got kicked out of Rafters, Tony Wilson went to the Russell Club,’ elaboratesWise, then as now a jovial survivor. ‘He was doing the Fridays, and we took the Thursdays. I got on quite well with Don Tonay. He didn’t like their noisy music on Fridays, so he asked me to run it. So we were kind of compelled to be partners in a thing called Shop Floor Entertainments, trading as The Factory. Alan Erasmus and I did most of the work, and I did bookings with Tony Bagley. Tony Wilson just came in on Fridays. He was earning his living from Granada TV. Generally it was a genuinely exciting and pleasurable night, with very good stuff on and a great atmosphere. But it was a venue much more than a club. If we put a weak band on, nobody came.’

Unfortunately few Factory live recordings survive, although a Rabid package would visit the venue in August, resulting in the album Live at The Factory by a reconstituted Slaughter and the Dogs.Wise soon took over the lease on the venue, which continued to operate as The Factory until October 1979. While the club remained the strategic centre of a vibrant local scene for some time to come, Erasmus andWilson’s vision of it as a workshop for ‘the next music’ quickly gave way to the demands of orthodox commerce. ‘The booking policy was whatever the agents offered us,’ confirms Wise. ‘Whatever was trendy.We tended to do the modern, arty groups like The Human League and The Only Ones, although The Damned virtually had a residency. There were lots of groups around who seemed to be at a middle level, with artistic pretensions, who could draw a thousand people.’ Notable gigs at The Factory and Russell in the second half of 1978 included Magazine, The Fall, The Passage, Ultravox,Wire, Pere Ubu, Ludus and Penetration, while 1979 saw visits from Gang of Four, Crass, Stiff Little Fingers, The Cure, Cabaret Voltaire, Skids, Throbbing Gristle, The Human League, Mekons, Pink Military, The Raincoats, Simple Minds, The Cramps, Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, B-52s and Joy Division.

To this enviable list may be added a secret show by Iggy Pop, and a short-notice set by Public Image Limited, both linked to Granada television appearances arranged by Wilson. ‘It was a great meeting place,’ avers Chris Watson of Cabaret Voltaire, who returned to the club for a third time on 20 October 1978, this time performing with Joy Division and Tiller Boys. ‘You could go and actually share ideas. Not in any grand sense, but just hanging out with people. It was a good environment to be in.’

‘The Factory was a really easy place to be,’ confirms Lesley Gilbert. ‘Not disco, and not like the Electric Circus, which had always been a really heavy place to go.’ Not that Royce Road in Hulme counted as a cakewalk either. ‘At the time Hulme was a really rough part of town,’ recalls Ann Quigley, then a teenage school leaver busy planning a fanzine called Swamp Children. ‘The Russell was really seedy, but great though. Up to that point I’d been going out to discotheques in the centre of Manchester. There was the Electric Circus, the Ranch and the Oaks. These places put bands on, but at the Russell Club you just felt there was some sort of scene going on. Everyone went there and you’d clock faces, in the same way as the early days of punk.’

One such face belonged to Simon Topping, a thoughtful and somewhat reserved eighteen-year-old who had recently formed an experimental noise duo with friend Peter Terrell, taking the name A Certain Ratio from a favoured Brian Eno track, The True Wheel. Other early influences included Wire and the seminal Velvet Underground. By the time Topping’s group played with Joy Division at the Band on theWall on 4 September, fresh-faced Ratio had doubled in size to include bassist Jeremy Kerr and guitarist Martin Moscrop – but no drummer. ‘We were trying to be rhythmical, not trying to be weird,’ Moscrop insists. ‘It just came out the other end like that. Everyone was looking for alternatives. We were white boys who couldn’t play. Rob Gretton saw us play with Joy Division at the Manchester Musicians’ Collective and he told Tony Wilson about us. Tony put us on at the Factory to come and see us.’

‘I was quite old,’ smiles Jez Kerr. ‘I was nineteen. Pete and Simon were about seventeen, eighteen. Simon was the main instigator of the band, the main lyric writer, and they looked sort of good. Musically we couldn’t play at all, but we made a noise. The bass was basically keeping the rhythm. I remember playing a song at the Russell Club called Genotype/Phenotype, which we used to end our gigs with. It was a bit monotonous. There were all these Teddy Boys at the front and one of them leaned over to me and said, “Play something fast!” Punk was fast music, it was all about energy. We quite enjoyed annoying people, playing this dirgy song – it went on for ages as well. It was awful. I remember the barmaids at the Russell going, “Oh fucking hell, not them again”.’

"It was a genuinely exciting and pleasurable night, with very good stuff on and a great atmosphere. But it was a venue much more than a club. If we put a weak band on, nobody came."

Equally significant was a gig at The Factory in October, at which Cabaret Voltaire were supported by an unusual electronic duo from the Wirral called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Previously known as The Id and VCL XI, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys had performed their first gig as OMD at Liverpool club Eric’s a month before, backed by a Teac reel-to-reel tape machine namedWinston. Cautiously impressed, Roger Eagle suggested that the pair might usefully travel to Manchester to play at The Factory. ‘We weren’t made to feel unwelcome at Eric’s,’ allows McCluskey, ‘but we were always the outsiders, because we came from the other side of the river, and also because the music we were making was different, more electronic and German influenced than the guys in town. Hearing Autobahn on the radio was the most significant moment, and seeing Kraftwerk at the Liverpool Empire on 11 September 1975 was the first day of the rest of my life.’

The notable show on 20 October featuring Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and Tiller Boys gave rise to the second Factory artefact, a serif font poster designed by Peter Saville, printed in stark monochrome and numbered (nonsequentially) Fac 3. However, while for many the club served as a crucible and melting pot, at bottom it was a small provincial venue in a rough part of Manchester, from whichWilson and Erasmus now chose to step back. Running a regular club night proved less exciting than they had anticipated, and also less remunerative. Wilson complained: ‘There is no more painful experience than when you’ve got a club and you’ve got a band on, you’re paying forty quid for the club and £110 for the band, and there’s two people bought tickets. It’s so depressing.’ Equally dispiriting was the fact that an NME Book of Modern Music published that autumn chose to ignore The Factory entirely.

Playing to his strengths, Wilson continued to showcase new music through Granada, including the television debut of Joy Division, who performed Shadowplay for Granada Reports in September. Wilson also fronted a piece on independent labels, in which he chided Tosh Ryan of Rabid for licensing the Jilted John single to EMI. Ryan argued back, accusing Wilson of living in a past coloured by Spiral Scratch, and pointing out that, in order to survive, small indies had little option but to function as nurseries or talent scouts for majors, and manage or license their talent accordingly. Despite the fact that much of Rabid’s output left him very cold indeed,Wilson listened carefully. Over in rival city Liverpool, early Factory associate Roger Eagle now wished to reactivate his own label, Eric’s, dormant since the release of a so-so single by Big in Japan a year earlier. ‘Roger studied music and bands the way a gambler studies racing form,’ notes his former partner Pete Fulwell. Wilson having emerged as a sympathetic north-west player, with added media clout, Eagle suggested that they might usefully collaborate on an eight-track 12-inch sampler EP featuring two rising bands from each city. Among the groups discussed were The Durutti Column, Joy Division and Pink Military, a new group centred around former Big in Japan singer Jayne Casey.

By his own account, Wilson found the idea of a regional compilation album too prosaic. Far more appealing was the serendipitous notion of a non-standard double 7-inch package, heat-sealed in plastic. ‘I’d been tripping round at Chris Joyce’s house, who was our Durutti Column drummer. I picked up a Far East copy of Santana’s Abraxas, and in those days in the Far East they couldn’t afford cardboard, so they printed the sleeve on almost tissue paper, which was then sealed in plastic. So, off my head on hallucinogens, I was feeling this and thinking – wow!’

It is likely, too, that along with the LSD tabWilson had absorbed a little Fast Product packaging theory from Bob Last.Whether his decision to reject Eagle’s offer was also informed by petty territorial rivalries is harder to determine, and in any event the marked cultural difference between Liverpool and Manchester in 1978 would be more sensibly explored by PaulMorley. ‘Eric’s was one of the best music clubs of the period, so a few of us in Manchester would often make the journey in less than an hour, but the way the two cities’ music developed during the few years after punk was vastly different. You can tell by the names of the groups.

Liverpool names were eccentric, told stories and showed off: Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Big in Japan, Wah! Heat, Lori and the Chameleons, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Dalek I Love You… The Manchester names were more discreet and oblique: Magazine, The Fall, Joy Division, Ludus, Durutti Column, The Passage…The music, while it shared the same influences, and was inspired by the same English punk personalities, sheared off in different directions. Only the Bunnymen and Joy Division retained any kind of remote atmospheric contact.’ Morley notes also that the Liverpool scene started a little later. ‘Perhaps Liverpool was in some ways slow to get going because they didn’t have the Sex Pistols visit twice. The closest the Pistols got was Chester some time in the autumn of 1976. The big change in Liverpool happened when The Clash played Eric’s on 5 May 1977, and Joe Strummer spent hours talking with half of Liverpool.’

Applying praxis to Abraxas, Wilson took a supererogatory decision to set up his own independent label: Factory Records. ‘I realized that Tosh Ryan, Bob Last and the Stiff people had proved you could do it, it wasn’t all that difficult. I rang up Alan and we decided to do it ourselves. So we started off there, thinking we’d put a sampler out and see what happened. Peter Saville, the poster designer, was very enthusiastic, and Martin Hannett was beginning to drift away from Rabid. I just wanted to put together the optimum label for the time. There came a point in Manchester where there was no Rabid or New Hormones to put things out, and certainly none of the majors were going to do it. Groups like Ludus and Manicured Noise should have had music out straight away during vital times.’

Saville, the graduate poster designer, still chronically underemployed, admits to a different agenda. ‘Tony said, let’s do a record. Much like you and I saying, why don’t we go and have lunch in Shanghai? It seemed an unlikely and adventurous proposition. I’d done some posters, and they’d put a few nights on. I, selfishly, supported the idea because it meant a record cover. I didn’t have a clue how to do a record cover, but there would definitely be one to do, and it would escape the region and be a piece of work that went further afield. So I said I thought it was a great idea. Then Tony said the three of us would be partners in the project. Although the partnership was to some extent a charade, an altruistic gesture from Tony, I came away from that meeting feeling very elevated.’

This is an extract from ‘Shadowplayers – The Rise and Fall of Factory Records’ by James Nice (Aurum). To buy this book click below.

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