Hacienda – a personal history (February 2003)


The following history of the Hacienda was orginally written exclusively for in 2003.

The Hacienda closed in June 1997 after which it stayed empty for eighteen months before it was demolished. Bits of the demolished club were then auctioned off. Bricks were 5 pounds each; the sale raised thousands of pounds for charity. Now on the site on Whitworth Street there’s a block of flats mocking us with its use of the Hacienda name.

But before we get too deep into the Hacienda’s history perhaps it’s worth remembering that there have been dozens of other great clubs and venues that have contributed to the city’s peerless nightlife scene. Time, though, is merciless. Other great venues in Manchester’s recent club history have suffered a similar fate to the Hacienda’s; on the site of the Gallery on Peter Street there’s a particularly depressing example of a Bar 38; the site of the Reno in Moss Side is wasteground; the Boardwalk is an empty building.

Despite all this, interest in the Hacienda has never been greater. In the late 1980s, the Hacienda was unique. Without the club there would have been no ‘Cream’ in Liverpool, and perhaps no Ministry of Sound. Visits to the Hacienda inspired DJs like Sasha, the Chemical Brothers, Laurent Garnier, and Justin Robertson.

The recent release of the film (and DVD) ‘Twenty Four Hour Party People’ is keeping interest in the Hacienda alive, even though it tells an idiosyncratic version of the history, mostly based around the story of Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan). You’d have to talk to some of the longest serving staff members; Leroy Richardson, Andrew Berry, Angela Matthews or Suzanne Robinson. And the regulars; everyone has a different version of what went on at the club. You’d have to collect all those individual memories to make the complete picture, like getting back those auctioned bricks from their thousand different homes.

Financed by Factory Records and New Order, the Hacienda was open for fifteen years. Most nights it opened money was lost. Peter Hook once claimed that New Order would have been better off if they’d given ten pounds to everyone who ever came to the Hacienda, sent them home, and not bothered with the club at all.

There were at least a couple of years when it all came together, though; the end of the 1980s, the Madchester years, the birth of the rave era. I DJ-ed at the Hacienda nearly five hundred times, mostly back in the 1980s, and we had some amazing nights there, but back then, although we knew things were good, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that over a dozen years later there would be a film about those years; it was just a matter of getting out there and enjoying the weekend. Cameras were rare in the club, although there had been one character, Malcolm, who had a company called Ikon. He filmed New Order, Mantronix, Grandmaster Flash, the Smiths and all the other acts who ever played there but then he disappeared into the Pennines and no-one has heard from him since.

In the absence of any major archive or much TV footage, the makers of ‘Twenty Four Hour Party People’ built a stunning replica of the building in a warehouse in Ancoats and opened the doors to a thousand clubbers one Friday night in March 2001 for one of the most talked-about nights out in Manchester for years. Mike Pickering, Graeme Park, Jon Da Silva and I DJed, and the night exploded. It was a farewell party, a celebration, a reunion. Within a couple of days the replica version had been taken down, demolished like the original building, but the film-makers had got some great footage and we’d had a ball.

‘Twenty Four Hour Party People’ is concerned with much more than the Hacienda, though; it follows the fortunes of Factory label. Spurred on by punk, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus put on gigs, hosting ‘Factory’ nights at the Russell Club in Hulme in June 1978, which led to the formation of Factory Records later in the same year.

Now the music industry seems awash with hot shots and marketing graduates but back then Factory and the Hacienda was run with endearing, exasperating, punk amateurism. Soon Rob Gretton was on board; a Manchester City fan managing groups, including Joy Division, the most important band of 1979. In May 1980, though, Joy Division came to a premature end when singer Ian Curtis killed himself on the eve of an Amerian tour. Following this tragedy, the band re-grouped, and became New Order.

Rob Gretton instigated a joint venture between New Order and Factory Records, looking for a site for a club of their own. Others involved in the record company took some persuading. There’s an episode in the film when Martin Hannett – New Order’s producer (and co-director of Factory) – throws a massive strop; he wanted wanted to spend any spare cash on recording technology.

Late in 1981 Gretton and friends took a lease on an old yacht showroom on Whitworth Street West in a semi-derelict part of town overlooked by a rusting gas works. Making full use of the warehouse layout – the industrial girders, iron pillars, and high ceiling – Ben Kelly set about designing the Hacienda, a very different place to most clubs in Britain with their sticky carpets and potted plants. The ‘Architectural Review called Ben Kelly’s Hacienda a “pioneering interior”.

Open from May 21st 1982, the Hacienda was a members-only club, open sometimes five or six nights a week. Bills weren’t getting paid and no money being made. Fortunately for the whole enterprise, New Order had commercial success with Blue Monday; the single spent 34 weeks in the charts in 1983 and became the biggest selling 12″ record of the era. The band were persuaded to part with proceeds from their record sales to support the club’s high losses.

For all its aesthetic glory, the Hacienda was cursed with bad acoustics and poor sightlines. The first resident DJ, Hewan Clarke, was hidden away in a little boxroom to one side of the stage. He lobbied for the DJ box to be moved from the bunker and a wooden structure on the balcony was eventually built, overlooking the dancefloor. Ben Kelly claimed his design was being compromised, but it was the perfect move, pre-empting the shift to club nights and the rise of the superstar DJs.

But in those early years the club would often be empty. I’d sometimes be there, a paying customer, possibly the only one. I’d sit at one of the balcony tables watching the videos projected onto a big screen and listening to the sound of Hewan’s electro selections echo round the hall. Claude Bessy was the video jock; he’d splice together bondage videos, old black and white films and weird psychedelia. An amazing character, although he’s not in the film.

On one occasion the club hosted an installation by David Mach; thousands of vinyl copies of New Order’s ‘Confusion’ single were glued together in huge piles round the dancefloor pillars. This is not in the film either, although at the time it was impressive. To me, at least, and probably around two dozen other people, although they never made a film about us; the twenty four arty people.

The smaller clubs were more fun; the Venue, Berlin, the Playpen, the Man Alive. The busiest club night at the Hacienda up to 1985 was their ‘No Funk’ night on a Tuesday. On Saturday nights in 1984 the big tune was Lulu’s ‘Shout’ (you can’t believe this can you?).

When Mike Pickering instigated ‘Nude’ night on a Friday it all changed. He had the perfect playlist to lead the club from post-punk to electro funk. He’d play stuf like Whistle ‘Please Love Me’, and the SOS Band ‘Just be Good to Me’. There were no rules. He was playing house before anyone else. Paul Mason arrived in January 1986 from Rock City in Nottingham and, with Paul Cons, instituted a new regime. These two men were pivotal in the story (though they were unrepresented in ‘Twenty Four Hour Party People’); they were responsible for the day day day running of the club and the promotion and marketing. In this era there were chaotic board meetings when New Order would be cajoled into pledging more money, and Wilson and Gretton would air more differences of opinion (the tension, enmity, between the two men is one of the best things in the film), but Mason, building on the success of ‘Nude’, accelerated a switch into club nights.

Although there were some memorable gigs at the club – ‘The Tube’ filmed Madonna there in 1984, and the likes of the Birthday Party and the Smiths had played there too – but by 1986 live music was clearly not making the Hacienda any money. I’ve always believed that starting some club nights was a last resort; at that time having DJs playing was so much cheaper than booking bands.

I was invited to launch a Thursday ‘Temperance Club’ in May 1986. The first night five hundred people came in, which was pitiful in the context of what went on later, but it was enough, at the time, for me to be given Saturday nights as well. By the end of 1986 my DJing was deemed a success and I was given a pay rise; £110, for two nights work. I wasn’t looking to make money out of this DJing lark; I might even have done it for nowt, if they’d asked. There was no plan. No-one got round a table to mastermind the perfect strategy to ensure we were playing the right records to win ourselves a place in music history. We were DJs who understood the people in the queue, and we played what we liked. On Thursdays I played hip hop, New Order, the Smiths, the Stooges, and Public Enemy. Saturdays were more funky, then housey. Mike Pickering had already been joined by DJ Graeme Park and ‘Nude’ was already legendary.

By the end of 1987 the famous Hacienda queues were there from Wednesday through to Saturday, each night having its own identity. At 9pm the queue would be round the building. Ironically considering what as to happen in the club within a year or so, it was a friendly crowd. There was more violence at Manchester’s mainstream nights where lager louts would battle it out with broken bottles at closing time. a life changing experience

A conclusive change came in 1988. Ecstasy use changed clubs forever; a night at the Hacienda went from being a great night out, to an intense, life changing experience. The new sounds of house and techno seemed to survive the club’s poor acoustics; cluttered music sounded a mess bouncing off the walls of the club, but thudding beats, piano lines, and minimalist bleeps rocked the room. The music sounded even better on drugs. 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 dancefloor. 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 alll 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?

The most intense night was Wednesdays, ‘Hot’, launched in the second half of 1988, the quintessential Summer of Love experience piloted by DJs Mike Pickering and Jon Da Silva. It was like a mini-midweek Ibiza, with a swimming pool next to the dancefloor, and airhorns and thunderstorms and pianos filling the air. DJs weren’t quite anonymous, but they certainly weren’t the stars. The audience was just so crazed, devoted; nothing would have been achieved without them.

Whereas music in clubs is now pigeon-holed and segregated, in those first years of acid house, the dancefloor was open minded. In retrospect DJs have tried to convince us of their purist underground credentials, that wasn’t really the case. In the acid house era you would have heard house, and techno, but also hip hop records like ‘Know How’ by Young MC, New Order, Euro disco tracks by Italian production teams.

For a couple of years, the Hacienda could boast sell-out crowds four nights a week, but there was massive energy throughout Manchester at the time; clubs like the Thunderdome and Konspiracy were also attracting big, discerning crowds.

Downsides to all this activity were becoming apparent, though. In July 1989 Claire Leighton took an E given to her by her boyfriend, collapsed in the club and died thirty-six hours later. By the middle of 1990 there were problems on the door of all the best clubs in Manchester; the scene was being wrecked by drug dealers.

I finished the Temperance club in October 1990; in attempts to control the crowd coming in, the doormen had started requesting student ID, which is always a bad sign. Unbeknownst to me, Liam and Noel Gallagher had just started hanging out in the club. Noel was a roadie with the Inspiral Carpets, Liam was a devoted fan of the Stone Roses. It was a wonderful community. The older generation would hang out too. Mark E Smith of the Fall would be there, nursing a pint, grumbling about hairdressers and students in the club. Happy Mondays and their mates would be underneath the balcony, surrounded by the thinnest girls in the club.

The Hacienda was a great community but escalating drug use meant the club became a major market for drugs, and violence ensued as gangs battled for control of the door (and, thus, the supply). There were less welcome visitors to the DJ box. At the end of one night a lad drew a gun on me and demanded my records. Jon Da Silva has since told me that my choice of records sucked, but thinking about it, at least the gunmen was threatening to shoot me because he liked the records I was playing, rather than shoot me because he hated them. So I must have been doing something right.

During 1990, the management fended off attempts by the police to have the club shut down, but in January 1991 they closed the club voluntarily. The violence was increasing and the disastrous publicity was scaring away customers. Tony Wilson usually stays opimistic, talking things up, but these were bad times, and when he announced the closure anxiety was etched on his face.

The closure was temporary, and three months later the club re-opened. In later years, there were some great nights in the club, but the Hacienda no longer had the monopoly on good ideas and big crowds. There was a belated attempt to exploit the brand, and t-shirts were printed and sold (another job for Fiona Allen; she ran the shop).

In 1992 Factory Records went bankrupt, struggling with unsuccessful new signings, the faltering career of Happy Mondays and the reluctance of New Order to make another LP for the label; the financial problems compounded by the high borrowings incurred on a new HQ on Charles Street. At the Hacienda there was recurrent violence and Mike Pickering finally severed his connections with the club just after the 11th birthday after he’d had a knife pulled on him, and guest DJ for the occasion, David Morales, had a glass thrown at him. New clubs arrived in the city; Paradise Factory, Sankey’s Soap in 1994.

Through the mid-1990s, Paul Cons ran the huge monthly gay ‘Flesh’ nights and Graeme Park kept the flag flying on Saturdays with his choice selection of American-style garage (ably assisted by Tom Wainwright who was another unsung hero), but most of the city’s successul nights were elsewhere; ‘Bugged Out’ at Sankey’s Soap, ‘Life’at Bowlers, ‘Yellow’ at the Boardwalk, ‘One Tree Island’ at Jabez Clegg, and ‘Headfunk’ at Time. In Liverpool, ‘Cream’ learned important lessons; trying not to make enemies of the police, getting the merchandising right. The world had certainly caught up with the Hacienda.

After five years at other clubs, I returned on Saturdays in 1996. Elliot Eastwick had graduated to the DJ box, and we had six months when it looked as if the club was riding another wave, with more lives to change, but then one Monday, after one very busy Saturday at the end of June 1997 we got a call telling us they club was closing. In the film there’s a final night when Wilson appears in the DJ box exhorting the crowd to loot the offices; this never happened. When the end came it was an accident. Thanks to the film, though, we did get one final, great night, in the fake Hacienda in that warehouse in Ancoats.

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.