The Rise And Fall of Factory Records: Madonna Gets The Hump

Madonna pelted with bread rolls at the Hacienda, a funky version of Love Will Tear Us Apart and an exceedingly grumpy Tony Wilson. Just a few of the ingredients in 1984 that eventually led to the creation of legendary record label Factory Records.
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Fac 104 was a television programme rather than a record, broadcast live on Friday, 27 January 1984, comprising an entire edition of Channel 4 music show The Tube broadcast live from The Haçienda. While the climax of this packed event took the form of a fac-tastic medley performed by the Factory Allstars, the show also included a lively spot by Madonna, who lip-synched Holiday on the dancefloor flanked by two dancers, one of them her brother, Christopher Ciccone. ‘We know raves are sometimes held at the club and are surprised that the audience is so straight,’ he later reminisced. ‘They were all wearing regular clothes, and not hip at all. Usually during Holiday the crowd gets in the mood and starts dancing. But not this time. They just stand still and watch, faces impassive. Then, suddenly, they start booing and throwing things at us. I’m hit with a crumpled up napkin, Madonna with a roll, Erika with something else. We’re stunned. It’s obvious that this isn’t about music, it’s about us…With cash in hand, we bolt.’

‘Madonna was absolutely horrible,’ laughs Mike Pickering. ‘We were introduced in the dressing room, and someone made the mistake of saying I was a friend of Mark Kamins, who she’d recently left for Jellybean Benitez. Love Tempo had done well in New York, but when Quando Quango was mentioned, she just said, “Oh, that dross.” So I gave it to her, jogged her memory about her PA on the roof at Danceteria, and supporting Ratio. She was really bitchy and I think that transmitted to the audience. A few things got thrown from the balcony during her playback – cans, anything people could get their hands on. You can actually see bits of it in the footage. She left early. Peter Hook says that Madonna ended up sitting on the doorstep of my two-up, two-down on Chorlton Green, but I was still back at the club. So I don’t know if that happened.’

It did not. The disgruntled Ciccone party immediately returned to London by train, crossing to France on the ferry the following morning, where in Paris they were turned away from achingly fashionable nightspot Les Bains Douches. For the future pop icon it was not a happy period. ‘Madonna was deemed a “priority artist” by Warners at the time,’ recalls Tube producer Malcolm Gerrie. ‘We even had to stump up her transport costs.’

"They just stand still and watch, faces impassive. Then, suddenly, they start booing and throwing things at us. I’m hit with a crumpled up napkin, Madonna with a roll, Erika with something else. We’re stunned."

Tony Wilson also found Fac 104 disconcerting. Having joined ZTT Records at the invitation of producer Trevor Horn, former NME writer Paul Morley had now reinvented himself as a provocative industry player, joining Wilson at the Gay Traitor bar on The Tube just as Frankie Goes to Hollywood topped the chart with subversive gay sex anthem Relax. ‘They were our boy band in the way that A Certain Ratio were Factory’s boy band,’ observes Morley. ‘Although our boy band was, for better or worse, more successful. We had a hit with a northern group, but they were from Liverpool, and for Tony the whole thing seemed too crude and commercial and blatant. Tony never mentioned Frankie or ZTT to me. We did The Tube together, live, when Relax had just got to number one. Tony wouldn’t mention it at all.’

Wilson instead tried to talk up Stockholm Monsters, The Wake and 52nd Street, at the same time sheepishly admitting that ‘the best collection of young bands in the country’ all remained ‘stuck’ while on Factory. Informed by presenter Tony Fletcher that Factory had been ‘really successful’ and ‘ended up building The Haçienda’, Wilson could only manage an embarrassed smirk before turning his gaze towards the floor. The disagreeable reality was that turnover at Fac 51 was down on 1983, resulting in a trading loss of £49,858 over the second year of opening. As for Factory itself, few watching The Tube that Friday evening recognized any of the artists namechecked by Wilson.

Thankfully the roster was plugged more effectively when the Factory Allstars performed a rousing ten-minute medley of Cool As Ice, Shack Up, Confusion and Love Will Tear Us Apart. Crowding the Haçienda stage alongside Bernard Sumner, Donald Johnson, Mike Pickering and Vini Reilly were members of Section 25, 52nd Street, Stockholm Monsters and The Wake, with surprise highlights including Derrick Johnson’s rap during Confusion, and a funky version of Love Will Tear Us Apart sung by Caesar of The Wake. Sumner had cried off singing the song at short notice, although with New Order still reluctant to include any Joy Division material in their live sets Caesar’s nervous rendition was rapturously received.

As Fac 104 went to air, Martin Hannett settled Fac 61, the damaging and corrosive High Court action begun in March 1982 and now finally concluded in January 1984. Following prolonged negotiations through opposing lawyers, Hannett accepted a one-off payment of £25,000, having already stepped down as a director the previous June. Lacking sufficient funds to fight on, and too often distracted by drugs, the producer formerly known as Zero would later deride this settlement as inadequate. ‘Unfortunately my business hat was not firmly fixed to my producing head. To cut a long story short, I left Factory with a derisory percentage of the earnings from the sale of these records in comparison with the producer’s fees I would have received from even the most avaricious major label. They eventually managed to reduce the paper value of Factory to less than £100,000, which we all know is a fairy tale.’

"The Haçienda upsets me so much that I become violent and deranged. A vehicle for one bunch of fucking megastars, and a few people who manage to crawl up Tony’s arse at the bar."

In fact, losses occasioned by The Haçienda meant that this low valuation was probably accurate. Offering a rare public comment, Alan Erasmus was dismissive. ‘He should have got better lawyers. He took us to court, it’s his lawyers who agreed those amounts. We wanted to give him a better deal, with points that he would have still been collecting on. He refused to accept the deal we offered him, which was a very good deal.’

The twin perils of drugs and litigation drained Hannett of spirit as well as money. ‘If you’re a masonry drill, you eventually become slightly blunted. I found it necessary to go away, after my fight with Factory. I went back to my eight-track in my bedroom for a year… The Haçienda upsets me so much that I become violent and deranged. A vehicle for one bunch of fucking megastars, and a few people who manage to crawl up Tony’s arse at the bar.’

Whatever the truth, it was abundantly clear that Factory was underperforming badly in terms of sales. With Frankie’s Relax topping the national chart for five long weeks, and The Smiths heading the indie list for nine with What Difference Does It Make?, the first offering from Factory in 1984 was a jazz single by Kalima, the aspirant sophisticates formerly known as Swamp Children. Based on a smooth Sarah Vaughan standard, The Smiling Hour featured dance troupe Jazz Defektors on backing vocals, together with four fifths of A Certain Ratio, allowing the guesting members to explore their fusion chops while the main band took a sabbatical. That cliquey Kalima would be a hard sell was clear from the outset, yet since Factory still declined to indulge in normal promotion the point was academic.

In February Wilson conducted a lengthy interview with Chris Bohn, bemoaning the swing towards a ‘Pauline Kael Raiders of the Lost Ark box office ethic – crafted schlock as art’, which rendered Factory an unattractive proposition to artists more attracted by the fake shine of music industry money, or Morley and ZTT. ‘The processes of making a hit record have reverted back to form. Back to hype and plugging. I’m not being moralistic about it. In fact other members of the Cartel plug their records. But it’s my optimism about the nature of people that a resurgence must come where the force of public taste will mean that they’ll listen to stuff other than what they’re spoonfed by the system.’

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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