image by gilesdraws
Today is the thirty-first birthday of the Haçienda.
You probably already know the story of the Hac. It’s the club that Tony Wilson once described as “a great place for Morrissey to come and throw gladioli around.” It’s the club that Factory Records opened, depending on whom you asked, on a whim, to ogle girls, to create a scene where there wasn’t one, to give Manchester a place to go without having to dress up, or to find some way of spending New Order’s money. There are probably as many reasons I haven’t listed as ones I have, but I like to think of it as praxis – they opened the club, and then later on, they found out why.
First, it was a gig venue for Factory Records bands and anyone else the core group of founders liked enough to play there. Then it became something more, a nightlife of its own; it attracted people who weren’t into what was happening at the other bars and venues. It generated DJ culture, rave culture, the acid house scene; it introduced ecstasy to the streets of Manchester; it exploded in popularity and became a legend, and all the while, it chucked unimaginable sums of money down the drain. (Unfortunately, people like Rob Gretton had to imagine those sums quite regularly.)
There are all sorts of stories about the Hac. For instance, Stephen Morris, New Order drummer and Haçienda founding member, famously had to pay to get into his own club on opening night. DJ Sasha was a fan who simply asked to get up and do a set, queued people up twice-deep around the block, and never left. At the height of the acid groove, people like Gerald Simpson and Graham Massey would record twenty-minute long instrumental tapes, run them down to the club, bang on the door to the DJ booth, and the tapes would be instantly accepted and played in full. There was a portable pool. There was a stage perfectly placed for girl-watching (from Rob Gretton’s favourite spot in the upstairs lighting booth), if not for acoustics.
Pete Hook said of the Haçienda, “It’s got to stay. It’s the only place in Manchester that will let me in with my jackboots on.”
Bernard Sumner said of the Haçienda, when Tony Wilson told him that if there were a button to press that would make it so that the whole thing had never happened, he couldn’t push it, “Where’s the fucking button?”
Greg Wilson, legendary Hac DJ, said of the Haçienda, “To have truly ‘been to’ a club like The Haçienda… you would have had to have been there at a certain point in time, when they were pushing back the musical boundaries and providing a unique experience for those who attended. Only a rare breed of clubs fall into this category, and only at a time of change, for it’s the changes that deepen the experience, the knowing that you’re part of something that is only happening in this building, now. Real changes only come along once in a while and many people never get the chance to be there at the cusp of a youth revolution.”
The Haçienda is legendary. It’s surrounded by myth and hearsay, people who swear they were there and people who actually were, people who had to deal with every behind-the-scenes aspect of the club, people who remember nothing but the rhythm. So much has been written about the Hac that there’s no reason to write another post, but more than that – in the end, it’s better not to know everything. Tony Wilson always said that, given the choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend, so maybe it’s better to wonder and investigate and invent. Keeps the mystery alive. Keeps the spirit of it all alive.
I did make you a mixtape, though.