Jon Savage began his career as a music journalist at the dawn of punk, and he is best known for writing authoritatively on bands like the Sex Pistols, Kinks, and Nirvana. But he was also, in 1992, the author of a short paperback published by Factory Records, The Hacienda Must be Built, that surveyed the Manchester music scene of the 1980s.
This interview, conducted in the year 2000 with DJ History’s Bill Brewster, focuses on the rise and fall of the legendary nightclub, which was co-owned by Factory and New Order and helped give birth to acid house.
What was your involvement in the Haçienda?
I was involved not in the inner circle, but fairly close to the center, of the Factory family, at that point. I worked in Granada with Tony Wilson, I knew Martin Hannett well, I knew Rob Gretton. It was my social scene, so I was part of that group, if you like. The big problem in Manchester after the Russell Club closed, or became unavailable, is that there was nowhere for us to go. If you look at where Joy Division and then New Order played, there was the New Osborne club, and they played the Ritz. Have you heard about the Beach Club? Everyone’s forgotten it, but New Order played their first unannounced gig there. It’s basically where everyone went from that group, and it was in a club called Oozits which was in Shude Hill. It lasted for about a year, and it was partly run by Richard Boon and Susannah O’Hara, who was Martin Hannett’s girlfriend.
When the Haçienda was being started, it really was the reason they always say, which is that there was nowhere to go. I started DJing there fairly soon after it opened. There was no set pattern to it, and I’d DJ fairly early in the evening because I wasn’t staying up late. I wasn’t taking those kinds of drugs. I’d be on with Mike Pickering and Hewan Clarke. And often in the booth, I would also be in there with Claude Bessy, the VJ. He’d been the editor of Slash, the prime LA punk fanzine. Also, at that point there were quite a lot of gigs. I remember DJing for when Sisters of Mercy played there, Birthday Party, New Order, and there was also a Final Academy thing with William Burroughs.
What stuff did you play?
I didn’t take my cues from Hewan because I knew what I wanted to play, but listening to Hewan was certainly an education because of course he came from the Nile Club and that whole Moss Side area. The record that Mike was always raving about was Peech Boys’s “Don’t Make Me Wait.” I wasn’t in it for a career, I couldn’t give a toss. I just liked playing music.
It didn’t really matter what you played to some extent because there was never anybody in there. It was a huge empty place for a long time. A disaster. So we just amused ourselves. I used to play Brother D and the Collective Effort, “The Message,” “Torch” by S Cell, “Everything’s Gone Green,” “ET Boogie” by the Extra Ts, “I Love A Man In Uniform,” “Yashar," Was (Not Was) “Wheel Me Out,” “Hip Hop, Be Bop,” “Money’s Too Tight To Mention,” “Stop the War” by Raw Sex, “Planet Rock,” “Busting Out,” “Flight,” “Shoot the Pump.”
The people we used to get asked for were – I remember getting in a snit one night because these kids used to come and asked for Killing Joke and Culture Club. I got so pissed off with them one night, I played “I’m Sick Of You” by Iggy Pop three times in a row. It’s a six-minute record, so that’s 20 minutes of sheer unpleasantness.
It must’ve hemorrhaged money.
Probably, but I was never privy to any of that. I was a bit starry-eyed at the time and less critical than I would be now about Factory. That was my social circle, that was my scene, and if they’re stupid enough to want to keep it open, then me and my friends would go there.
There’d always be good crowds for gigs. Whenever the thing was doing really badly, New Order would play a gig there. You can see how many times New Order played, so, you know there were financial crises. Whatever one thinks of them now, the Birthday Party were pretty hot at the time, and Sisters of Mercy. I thought they were ghastly, but they pulled the punters in.
I have a problem with nightclubs, in that the expectation is almost always better than the reality.
Did Paul Mason coming in help turn it into a business?
I don’t know really. My experience of the Haç is really based on that first year. I left Manchester on New Year 1983.
What was your impression the first time you went there?
I’m not the best person to ask because I have a problem with nightclubs, in that the expectation is almost always better than the reality. My experience of nightclubs is you get all dolled up, all vibed up, then you walk in the door and there’s this crashing sense of boredom. However, it was a romper room, and it certainly a lot bloody better than going to Oozits or Rotters or Rafters. It was certainly an interesting environment. The sound was always completely shit.
On all sorts of levels, it was a bit of a disaster, but that’s only with retrospect. At the time, I went in, got a bit bored, then started to perk up and have a nice time. I don’t remember many drugs being around, apart from smoke. I don’t remember much coke. It was very much the ACR period, with everybody dressing up in shorts, ’40s clothes, taking tentative dips into Latin and New York music. Which is very different from what it became. I just remember it being like a private club for about 50 people, when I think about it. And on the few nights when they had bands, all these other people would come in.
Did you go during the house era?
I didn’t go, certainly not during the peak period of the Mondays.
If Tony was raving about the house stuff, why did he never sign things like A Guy Called Gerald?
Because he’s a dick. I told him myself. “Why didn’t you get Mike Pickering to start a label? Why didn’t you put out ‘Voodoo Ray,’ which was the best record ever to come out of Manchester?” If you look at the whole history of Factory, they all thought they were businessmen, and they weren’t. It’s the ultimate tragedy of Factory.
Where does the Haçienda sit as a club these days?
If you want my honest opinion, it was great for a while. Gone. It’s over. So what? You know, it was just a fucking nightclub. I don’t want to be deflating about all of this, but I’m very bored of the Manchester ’88-’89 mythology. How many more times do we have to hear about the fucking Happy Mondays and Stone Roses? We’ve heard it about a hundred times, now can we leave it and think about something else? Why don’t we hear about A Guy Called Gerald? “Voodoo Ray” trashes everything that Stone Roses and Happy Mondays produced.
The rave scene is just everybody being fucking lads now. In the early days, it was interesting and creative, and the sound was just absolutely fantastic. But Jesus, how boring is it now? God, I sound like an old fart here, but I really do think that. Tony is a classic example of this. Tony comes from a similar background to me. His grandparents weren’t posh, but his parents did well, and he went grammar school and university. I didn’t go to grammar school, but I went to the same university as Tony did, which was Cambridge. And there he is trying to be a mixture of Shaun Ryder, Jim Ramsbottom and Harold Lever, and it’s just not working. He’s an arsey middle-class guy. Hello? This is what I’m saying about all of this bad faith. I never bought into the Happy Mondays thing at all. I thought they made good records, but I thought they were better when they were remixed. I loathed, absolutely loathed, the public persona at the time. I just hated all the drugs stuff because I thought it was irresponsible.
Well to him, it’s probably good for selling records.
Well, in that case, don’t be surprised when drug gangs close the Haçienda. Don’t moan about it. It’s partly your fault. If you’re going to have a drug-based culture, then you are going to get that. And Tony has a history of being very careless with everybody.