"New Order would have been better off if they’d given ten pounds to everyone who ever came to The Haçienda, sent them home, and not bothered with the club at all." – Peter Hook
Despite the fact that it was probably doomed to fail from the get-go, The Haçienda never failed in attracting attention. It went from becoming a weird new comer to a major attraction to a financial disaster over an extraordinary 15 year period. Even though it no longer exists, it still lives on as a cultural icon for many who were there, and even some who have only experienced it second hand.
Manchester, England – 1979
The story of The Haçienda begins alongside that of Factory Records. In 1978 Factory was pretty much solely run, managed and owned by Anthony Wilson. As always, the label was sort of stumbling along, but contained within it were the seeds which would later help to make Manchester a cultural and musical hub.
Early in ’79, Wilson was joined by band manager Rob Gretton. Gretton was a great Manchester City fan and believed in the same way as Wilson that the city was on the brink of producing something great. Bringing with him bands such as Joy Division really helped in getting the Factory label off the ground. After the death of lead singer Ian Curtis in 1980, the labels main act regrouped under the name of New Order and together with Gretton and Wilson were ready for something new.
Many hours of discussions which were really supposed to be about musical direction and management turned to talk of how the city didn’t have anywhere which really appealed to their tastes. Together they dreamed up The Haçienda. They wanted something different. Something that would wake up the bands and fans, give them something new and unlike anything else that was out there. The other people involved with the label took some persuading, being skeptical about the idea and not wanting to spend money they didn’t have anyway. But not a lot could stand in the way of Wilson.
It took until late 1981 before any firm steps were taken. Gretton and co. believed they had found the perfect venue. An old yacht showroom on Whitworth Street West. The building was in a mostly derelict part of town and overlooked a crumbling and rusting gasworks. The interior contained nothing but steel supports and industrial girders and pillars. Well, at least it would be something different from the swish carpets and pseudo-fancy furniture popular in many clubs at the time.
Ben Kelly was charged with designing the interior of the club. In the end, he decided to leave it pretty much as it was - all high ceilings and industrial markings. The clubs design was to become one of its most talked about and well remembered features. Another aspect that was focused on extensively was the design of the posters and flyers for the opening night. The end results were stark and exiting, totally changing the way clubs advertised and now finding themselves being collector’s items.
It took its name from a little known book written in the 1950's called The Situationalist International Handbook. The book contained the idea for a ‘Haçienda’ which it envisioned as a co-operative, idyllic community. Exactly what Wilson wished to build. As everything related to Factory Records – not just the albums - had a catalogue number, so The Haçienda was given one as well. FAC51. A marble stone was placed in the brick wall next to the massive doors, 'FAC 51 THE HAÇIENDA', it read. And with that it announced itself.
May 21st, 1982
This was opening night for the club, a first in everyway for pretty much everyone involved. The main idea of the place
was to provide a platform for young, unknown bands to showcase their music. The kind of music that Factory Records dealt with and wanted to promote. At first the club was for members only, but as time wore on and no money was being made they decided to open it up to anyone who was willing to pay. Yet in those early days the club could be almost empty every night it was open, which was 5 or 6 times a week.
Luckily, New Order were in the midst of their biggest success story – Blue Monday. Money from sales was poured into the club, compensating for their nightly loses. Despite the fact that the club kept making no money, Wilson and New Order managed to keep the place open by diverting funds from pretty much everything else they were doing.
Everyone who entered through the huge steel doors and looked around them at the vast interior was taken with the clean, hard functionality of its steel and black and yellow safety stripes. But one of the problems was that in reality it wasn’t that functional. For the influential bands it played host to in the yearly years such as The Smiths, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Echo and the Bunnymen, and a then unknown Madonna it provided terrible acoustics, poor access to the stage and bad line-of-sight. Its in-house DJ’s faired better in terms of sound but were stuck in a little box room tucked to one side of the stage.
Although the club seemed like a good idea in theory, it was simply not working out for anyone and looked to be headed for an early grave.
Desperate times call for desperate measures
Despite having hosted some names that were becoming well known and gradually filling up as word spread and the club become more popular, by the time 1986 came round it was clear that live music was not taking them anywhere. At this stage, their busiest night was Fridays 'Nude'. Started and DJ’d by Mike Pickering, it presented club-goers with danceable house sounds before anyone else in the city had picked up on them. He was determined to move the club from post-punk to electro-funk and put The Haçienda at the top of the dance wave he felt rising around the globe.
In January of ’86 Paul Mason arrived from Rock City in Nottingham, and together with Paul Cons became the pivotal people in turning The Haçienda around. Frantic meetings took place between them and the Wilson/Gretton team. New Order was convinced into handing over more money to keep it alive until their new ideas took off. They advocated a shift toward more 'club nights', because at the time, hiring a DJ was a lot less expensive than booking a band.
On one of their first club nights, 500 people turned up. It doesn’t sound like much, and it wasn’t in the context of later, but it was a far higher number than the club had ever pulled in before. In light of the relative success, each night of the week was given a different theme, ranging from hip-hop to funk to house. The shape and size of the club that had ruined live music previously now proved to be the perfect place for deep bass and electronic noise. By the end of 1987 the club had become famous for its atmosphere, DJs and round the block queues. For a brief, break-though moment the club was making money each night.
The rise of the ravers
Although Ben Kelly claimed his design was being compromised, the DJ box was moved to a balcony like structure which over looked the entire dance floor. Bondage movies, old films and cartoons were spliced together and projected on to the walls. The new beats of techno and house reverberated off the steel structure. The era of the superstar DJ had arrived, Madchester had arrived. And so had the drugs.
The arrival of ecstasy on the scene marked a new era, everything that had simply been a fun night out before now turned into a life changing experience. Wednesday nights became 'Hot' night – a sort of mini Ibiza mixed with the Summer of Love vibe. A huge swimming pool was constructed next to the dance floor. The audience fed off the beats and the DJ’s fed of the recognition of the audience they had never had previously. Throughout Manchester the word was spreading and The Haçienda , as well as some other clubs that had followed in its footsteps, could boast sell out crowds 4 nights a week. The club had become an instrumental part in creating the rave scene that followed, and many types of clubbing as we know it today.
"I've glimpsed it since in other clubs, looking out of the DJ box and seeing steam rising, seeing the bodies pressed together, moving together on the dance floor. The DJs weren’t in control; it was like trying to tame a thousand maniacs. The nights were unpredictable, hard to handle. One night a girl came into the DJ box, took all her clothes off, lay on the floor and started pulling at my trousers. I resisted her charms; no-one ever cleaned the floor, I reasoned. What was she thinking of?" - Dave Haslam
However in 1989 ecstasy made its first fatal mark on the scene when a girl had a stroke and died on The Haçienda’s safety marked floor. By the first year of the 90’s clubs all around Manchester were having trouble with drugs. Dealers and gangs began to fight over control of the door, and thus the supply.
By now The Haçienda had built up both a wide audience and a faithful group of followers. The Stone Roses, Jon Da Silva, The Happy Mondays and the Gallagher brothers could all be found hanging out at its bar. Yet the increasing market for drugs brought violence to their new found community and it wasn’t long before weapons had become a serious problem. The nights were no longer fuelled by alcohol, but by drugs. And since the club did not sell the drugs themselves they once again found themselves loosing money, despite the crowds.
The police began to close in and tried to shut the club down in late 1990. Although their attempts were resisted, Tony Wilson announced the closure of the club in January of the next year. The bad publicity and logistical problems of running the place had proved too much, and a serious reassessment was needed. Three months later the club reopened, accompanied by a belated attempt to cash in on the brand with t-shirts and the like being sold in a small shop.
Finally, after staving if off for years, Factory Records declared bankruptcy in 1992. The club struggled on, still sucking funds out of a reluctant New Order as well as the meagre money from some still successful nights. Paul Cons started the monthly gay nights. Called 'Flesh', they became another massive draw during the mid 90’s. But new clubs had opened, ones that had learnt many lessons from The Haçienda. They no longer held so much sway, and soon the best nights out could be had elsewhere. In June of 1997 Tony Wilson announced the final closure of the club.
Standing abandoned for 18 months, the walls became a home to graffiti calling for the return of the club to its former glory. But it seemed no one could bring back that same feeling, even if they had the money. The building went up for auction in December 2000 and was brought by a large company with their sights on housing or offices. The company wished to demolish basically all of the building, however they not only met from the expected opposition of fans and people like Tony Wilson. The Manchester Civic Society also opposed its demolition, stating its importance in national pop culture as the main reason. As always, the company won out in the end. The building was razed and bits of it were auctioned off for charity. One could get hold of an authentic piece of Haçienda brickwork for just £5. The famous safety stripe supports sold for about £100. The site is now home to a luxury apartment building with the name of, you guessed it – The Haçienda.
“The point of clubbing had been proved. In a room full of loud music, a bunch of good people with a lot of love and a bit of luck can create a great community. It can be done.” - Dave Haslam
If you want to see a great, enjoyable - although not totally true - account of the rise and fall of The Haçienda and Factory Records go watch 24 Hour Party People.
- The Haçienda, New Order, Joy Division, Tony Wilson, Ludus, Damon Gough, and other Pop and Rock Music from Manchester. Found online at: http://www.manchester2002-uk.com/celebs/popmusic5.html
- Manchester After Dark - History Of The Haçienda. Found online at: http://www.manchester.com/ad/html/interviews/tonyw1.php
- The Haçienda, Manchester - The world's greatest nightclub by Dave Haslam. Found online at: http://www.unitedmanchester.com/music/Haçienda.htm