It’s a cold, rainy, borderline stormy Wednesday night in Manchester in early November.
Outside HOME in Tony Wilson Place, less than 200 metres from where the Hacienda nightclub once stood, notable figures from the history of the club have assembled on the red carpet to meet the press prior to an exclusive premiere screening of The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain, a new hour-long BBC documentary on the subject. It transpires that 8,000 people applied for tickets and Northern Soul was lucky enough to be there – and speak exclusively to the guests.
Northern Soul: What do you think [Hacienda/Factory head honcho] Tony Wilson would say if he were here tonight?
Peter Hook: In Tony Wilson Place? Oh, he’d be pissing himself, without a shadow of a doubt. I mean, it’s one of those weird things. I do hope him and [Factory co-conspirator] Rob Gretton are sat up there, just looking down and going, ‘yeah, fucking hell, we did it’. And they did do it, it has to be said.
NS: Are there still parts of the Hacienda story that haven’t been told?
PH: Yeah. When Matt [Drury] was doing this documentary he was fighting against the sheer wealth of material. He had to find a way of navigating down it, because it’s got loads of bends. I mean, he was almost petrified by the time I got there to see it in the edit suite, because he didn’t know if he’d done the right thing.
Now, as it turns out, he has done the right thing. He’s been very fair. He’s also played down certain bad aspects of it, which I was quite grateful for, because we usually tend to play them up, and probably for the wrong reasons. No, he’s done a great job and I do think it will have the effect that, when somebody watches it, they’ll want to know more. So my book is available…I should have brought some with me, shouldn’t I?
NS: Before the Hacienda, where would you go out clubbing in Manchester?
PH I used to go to Rotters, the Ritz, the Tropicana. But I mean, in Manchester there was nowhere that you could go. You could go to punk gigs, but there was nowhere you could go to have a drink or relax because clubs and pubs wouldn’t let you in. The only places we could go were The Ranch and Foo Foo Lammar’s. They’d let you in there. But going on the bus was like taking your life in your hands. People would spit at you in the street because you were wearing a dog collar. Maybe they just didn’t like dogs, I don’t know.
NS: How did that compare to New York clubs you saw with New Order in the early 80s?
PH: We were amazed by the inclusivity there. Everybody, no matter how outlandish they were or how crazy they were or if they were fucking naked, they were welcomed into the club. It was really refreshing. That was Danceteria, Hurrah, Tier 3, all the big old New York clubs. We were like ‘woah, this is not like Manchester’ and literally almost as one we all said ‘oh God, if we only had somewhere like this back home’.
The thing is, yeah, maybe we made a lot of mistakes, but we created a place in people’s hearts that I think will stay there forever. That’s the great thing. It’s wonderful. So yeah [affects fighting-back-tears voice], I don’t worry about the money any more.
Northern Soul: What was the original design brief for the Hacienda?
Ben Kelly: There wasn’t one. I got a phone call one day saying ‘can you come to Manchester? Factory have found these premises’. I must have known through [regular Factory design] Peter Saville that this nightclub project was on the go and I think Peter’d had a look at it. They thought he might do it and he said ‘no, I couldn’t possibly do it, but I know a man who can’.
So I came to Manchester and they drove me down to the site, which was this dirty, empty ex-yachting showroom. They took me for a walk around the premises and said ‘do you want the job?’. Nobody’s ever said that to me on a job. You usually have to pitch for it or whatever. So I said ‘of course I want the fucking job’.
NS: Were you a clubber yourself?
BK: No. Well, I don’t think clubbing existed then did it? I went to plenty of music gigs in venues and stuff in London and I had designed a number of album covers and single sleeves before that. I had many friends who were in the music business. In fact, two of my closest friends were in the band 10cc, who had Strawberry Studios. Kevin Godley, the drummer, was one of them.
Factory had never commissioned a nightclub before and I’d never designed one before. So you could say there’s a huge amount of naivety going on there, but I think that naivety was a strength and not a weakness, because neither of the parties were carrying any baggage about what it had to be. For me, it was like a giant blank canvas on which to put a huge great picture or make a giant piece of sculpture.
I was interested in using industrial materials and hardware. I was always influenced by, and obsessed with, the artist Marcel Duchamp. It’s about attitude and it’s about things being out of context, the idea of the readymade and the found object. Those things came from the art world. I had the freedom to do that on a huge scale because it was so cavernous and cathedral-like.
NS: What might Tony Wilson say if he were here tonight?
BK: ‘Hello darling!’
Northern Soul: Are there still parts of the Hacienda story that don’t get told?
Kath McDermott: Yeah. We were both involved in Flesh and I think that story has been a little bit overlooked in the past. It was very important, not just for Hacienda but also for Manchester. It helped create ‘Gaychester’. The fact that Manchester is one of the key gay cities in the world, that would have been unimaginable when we started. It definitely had an impact.
NS: The Hacienda story can often be very male-dominated.
KM: It is, and the narrative has been one-dimensional, I would say. It’s been quite white and heterosexual, so it’s great that these stories are coming through, because some of the most amazing people that were involved didn’t fit that demographic – like Hewan Clarke the first resident DJ there, absolute legend, still DJing now.
Also, DJ Paulette and myself were playing there. It’s great that people realise that there were actually a lot of women DJs in Manchester at that point – which was usual, but it didn’t seem that unusual to us, certainly not in the gay clubs. There was quite a lot of openness in the gay clubs for women to come through on the decks.
NS: What were your own formative clubbing experiences?
Paul Cons: Well, they started off in the Hacienda to be honest. I was a student in Manchester when it opened. Basically I was in a fashion show there around 1984 and I got to know the manager. Then I put on an event during the miners strike for lesbians and gays supporting miners and I got offered a job at the Hacienda doing flyering. It was just one of those things, really. I was in the right place at the right time and once I got in there I sort of worked my way up.
KM: Zumbar, Hot – all of those nights, Paul was at the helm of those.
NS: Do you miss The Hacienda now? Do you get a pang when you pass the site where it stood?
KM: I’m really glad that they knocked it down. Architecturally I think it was a real shame that it went, because it was a beautiful building, but in terms of the Hacienda…
PC: It’d be so sad if it was still going, limping along, or trying to. I think the fact that it went when it did means that we can actually enjoy what it was.
What would Tony Wilson say if he were here tonight?
PC: Oh my God. He’d be swanning around.
KM: I think he would feel vindicated that his vision came right and 40 years later it’s still one of the most talked about clubs in the world. I don’t know what he’d have to say about this, about standing in Tony Wilson Place opposite Pizza Express. But the fact that his gamble and his legacy have won through, against the odds, despite the stack of money that was lost, I think he’d love that.
By Andy Murray, with special thanks to Sean Connors
Main image: credit BBC
The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain will be on BBC Two on November 5, 2022 and available on BBC iPlayer thereafter: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001dsm0