Tuesday, January 05, 2021

"Such a wonderful success, and yet an abject failure"

"If you can remember the '60s, you weren't there" - or so the saying goes. You might imagine the same would be true of the Hacienda - yet Daniel Dylan Wray somehow managed to round up enough people with memories of the legendary Manchester club to be able to assemble a decent oral history for Vice. Even more remarkably, one of them was Bez.

Another - Factory Records partner and famed graphic designer Peter Saville - talks effusively about how, largely with money generated from records sales following Ian Curtis' death, architect/designer Ben Kelly transformed a vacant former boat showroom into "the only nightclub space that I've ever been in that looked better in daylight". He also acknowledges, however, that the Hacienda's vastly over-budget design and decor initially baffled and bemused local youths, revealing to the Factory crew that "there was a sort of middle-class intellectual conceit around the idea of the celebration of industrial culture". (A fetishisation that, incidentally, continues today - see Working Men's Club...)

From the outset, the club adopted an unusually inclusive policy as regards clientele and music. DJ Dave Haslam describes it as "a very enabling experience" and a place characterised by "passionate, endearing amateurism". Conventional management strategies and even turning a profit were never much of a consideration - instead, the Hacienda was what Saville calls "a socio-cultural benevolence to the young people of Manchester".

Nevertheless, it initially struggled to attract big crowds, barely scraping by until everything changed with the explosion of acid house and pills and the birth of Madchester. Those halcyon days couldn't last, of course. There followed guns and violence, with the club at the centre of turf tribalism - not helped by Tony Wilson actively inviting a gang from Salford to run the door... Yet even then DJ Paulette recounts a different, unfamiliar story - of the "really lovely, non-aggressive environment" of the pioneering LGBT club night Flesh.

You might have expected the interviewees to have shot 24 Hour Party People down for its representation of the place, especially as the set was constructed through internet research rather than paying for Kelly's help. Yet Kelly himself says he was "absolutely gobsmacked" at an "amazing job", and Bez too describes it as "uncanny". Perhaps most telling, though, is the anecdote from the venue's former bar manager Leroy Richardson: "I was on set for the film, and stood near the bar as I normally would have been, and Bernard from New Order came up to me and asked for a drink. I had to explain to him I wasn't working there." The Hacienda may be no more, but it clearly lives on on celluloid.

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