Manchester is famous for many things, not least its football teams, Coronation Street, and, dare we say it, rain. But it’s also known for its music, setting countless iconic bands on their road to success and inspiring the creation of Factory Records and the so-called Madchester scene of the late 80s/early 90s.
So, with thousands of students having arrived in Manchester for university, and in honour of Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records, an exhibition celebrating the lesser-known stories of one of the city’s most influential record labels, the Science and Industry Museum has compiled a music lover’s guide to landmarks in the region, with connections to some of the most famous musical icons. From Joy Division and The Smiths to Oasis and Elbow, there are pieces of music history hidden across the region.
86 Palatine Road
Located in leafy Didsbury, it would be easy to walk past 86 Palatine Road without giving it a second glance. But this unassuming detached house, which has been split into flats, was where Factory Records was founded in 1978. In fact, it was in one of the top floor apartments where Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus set up the label. They would go on to release a myriad of albums, including Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, and become one of the most influential independent record labels of the time, playing a major part in the city’s transformation from an industrial powerhouse to a beacon of art and culture by reclaiming its past and leading a new wave of creative industries. Although music lovers can’t go inside, there is a blue plaque commemorating the important role the apartment played in musical history.
Located: 86 Palatine Road, West Didsbury
The most (in)famous of all Manchester music scene landmarks has to be The Haçienda. Opened on May 21, 1982, the nightclub and music venue was the brainchild of Rob Gretton and largely financed by Factory Records and the band New Order, along with label boss Tony Wilson.
Everyone from The Smiths to Madonna (who appeared there for her first UK performance), played at The Haçienda and it is known for being instrumental in the careers of many of the UK’s biggest bands, including Oasis and The Happy Mondays. But it was during the Madchester years that the venue rose to fame before becoming world-renowned during the Acid House years.
The nightclub was demolished in 2002 after years of problems and replaced by modern flats. A plaque is all that remains of the legendary ravers’ paradise.
Location: 15 Whitworth Street West
Epping Walk Bridge
To some, this is just another bridge. But to Joy Division fans, this is an important piece of the band’s history. Found in Hulme, the bridge is where one of the most famous photos of Joy Division was taken by photographer Kevin Cummins.
Location: Hulme, M15 6DU
The Free Trade Hall
Now home to a Radisson Hotel, this is one of the most significant buildings in Manchester’s music history thanks to playing host to the ‘gig that changed the world’ in its upstairs venue, The Lesser Free Trade Hall, when the Sex Pistols played to a crowd of about 40 people in 1976.
While the gig itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, it was special nonetheless. Many of those who attended were inspired to go on to form some of Manchester’s biggest bands, including The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall, and Buzzcocks.
Location: Peter Street, M2 5QR
FAC 251 Factory Manchester
A nightclub and live venue, FAC 251 Factory Manchester is based in the former Factory Records headquarters at 118 Princess Street. The name comes from the fact that the label employed a unique cataloguing system that gave a number not just to its musical releases, but to artwork and other objects.
Location: 118 Princess St, Manchester M1 7EN
A must-visit for any Smiths fan is Salford Lads Club. Famous for appearing on the inner sleeve of The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead LP, it’s the perfect excuse to recreate your own version of one of The Smiths’ most iconic photos.
Location: St Ignatius Walk, Salford, M5 3RX
Southern Cemetery Gates
Another one for diehard fans of The Smiths, the Southern Cemetery Gates at Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton were the inspiration for their song Cemetery Gates from The Queen Is Dead album. Singing about taking a stroll through the cemetery, it focuses on Morrissey’s fascination with death.
Location: Southern Cemetery Gates, Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton
One of Britain’s legendary music venues and practice spaces, The Boardwalk is known as the place where Oasis made their live debut, but it also hosted other Madchester icons such as The Charlatans and The Stone Roses. Although the club closed in 1999 and was converted into apartments, there is a blue plaque on the building paying homage to the venue’s importance.
Location: Little Peter Street, M15 4PS
Sifters Record Shop
For any Oasis fan, it’s worth paying a visit to Sifters Record Shop on Fog Lane in Burnage. It’s where Liam and Noel Gallagher used to buy their music when they were growing up, and it’s mentioned in the song Shakermaker in the line ‘Mr Sifter sold me songs when I was just 16’.
Location: 177 Fog Lane, M20 6FJ
The Temple of Convenience
This bar and former Victorian public toilet in the centre of Manchester is referenced in one of Elbow’s most famous songs, Grounds for Divorce. ‘There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall’ is talking about a hole in the road of the street where singer Guy Garvey used to live.
Location: 100 Great Bridgewater Street, M1 5JW
About Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records
Use Hearing Protection has been developed by the Science and Industry Museum in association with consultant curators, Jon Savage and Mat Bancroft, and partner Warner Music UK. It reinterprets and expands on the original Use Hearing Protection: FAC 1 – 50 / 40 exhibition held at Chelsea Space in London in 2019 and displays a number of items from Jon Savage’s personal collection of Joy Division artefacts (acquired by the museum in 2019), as well as objects loaned from the estates of both Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton, the latter being the former manager of Joy Division and New Order.
Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records at the Science and Industry Museum is supported by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. It is located on the first floor of the museum. Tickets are available now and are priced at £8 for adults and £6 for concessions, with under-12s going free.
For more information or to book tickets, visit the website.
Click here to read Northern Soul’s interview with Jan Hicks, archive manager at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum.
You can read our review of Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records here.