FAC 51 The Haçienda.
At the junction of Whitworth Street, Manchester.
You work with me not someone else
Written by Sarah Feeney for the modernist magazine issue #31 JUNCTION
which was also guest-edited by Sarah Feeney.
The following commentary occurred in 1989 and was recorded onto a cassette tape in Ben Kelly’s London studio. It has been transcribed in its ‘real-time’ format, 1989, to keep the commentary perspective of The Haçienda being a current space – alive, thriving, creating culture and evolving.
“Peter Saville was the connection. We had worked together on a few album covers, and Factory wanted to open a club. Eventually, they found suitable premises. I got a phone call from a chap called Howard Jones asking if I would go and look at it. I think Rob Gretton turned up … somebody else … Tony Wilson probably. They took me around the building, which was previously a yacht showroom, and asked me if I wanted the job. I said, of course, I want the bloody job!
“I think they thought I would just ‘do colours’. But it was obvious to me that the project was a lot bigger and had more potential. It became apparent that some people already involved were getting in the way and had to go. So go they did, and I asked an ex-student Sandra (Douglas), to be involved and work on the project with me as my assistant.
“I knew the nature of the clients, their previous approach to record sleeves; it was a really different design approach to the mainstream music business. Peter Saville had really set some kind of standard there. A fantastic opportunity to do something different and original. That was a really big factor for us. I knew there would never be any problem with what we presented to them.
“The brief was kind of vague, but the place itself suggested an opportunity to move people around an enormous space. We got interested in the idea of a journey through the whole building, a sequence of events, finding your own way around various junctions and different routes.
“We were attracted to the idea that the place was anonymous from the street, so we kept its street front minimal. A sense of intrigue. There’s a little granite plaque set into the wall with my and Sandra’s thumbprints set into the mortar to the side of it. There are industrial elements: a roller shutter. You go through the entrance, a small box, and then through two doors with FAC 51 set in them. Little clues and identities as to where you are. Then you come into a bigger space, get rid of your coat, and there are big arches – another layer of things you must pass through. A whole sequence of events until you get into the main space. They all heighten the experience of moving slowly through until you get into it, and suddenly – wham! – it’s all there in front of you.
“Those big monolithic slabs – you have a massive, vertical space. If you’re just stood there, it could be a bit, not threatening, but those slabs help inform you about its height and the vertical aspect of the space. They don’t have to be there but are all part of the conversation with the building shell, the new components, and the people who inhabit the place. They inform you about the space. A device.
“The archway that goes over the staircase – the kind of curved thing with the ruined look? At one point, that was going to be an archway onto the dance floor. Like a kind of ceremonial archway.”
“All the component bits, like the bollards and the cat's eyes on the floor, were our ways of filtering people on and off the dance floor. They could have been anything, but we just decided they would be objects you could buy rather than being specially made.”
“I suppose we were interested in industrial materials and components. The big steel uprights that support the balcony, we simply clad around them – perforated steel and wood panels and some were left as they were. The big existing columns that hold up the main roof support have got stripes on them – that kind of language came from motorways, car parks, industrial protective things – machinery.
“There are bright colours – red, yellow – but the envelope needed an overall background colour. This colour was the most difficult thing of all to choose because there was so much surface area. At some point, we all made a decision to go with something pale. All the clubs we went to then were dark and dingy pits, and we never intended The Haçienda to be like that. I seem to remember looking at a Bryan Ferry album cover, and it had this metallic blue, and suddenly, that was it! Having searched and searched and going crazy trying to find something, that was it.
“I suppose it’s post-rationalising, but I’m attracted to the notion of something you call a ‘ready-made’. My point of reference is Marcel Duchamp and a toilet urinal in an art gallery. The bollards come off the production line, and they’re usually on the side of a road or a motorway, but now they’re in a nightclub with a telegraph pole. It all goes to build up some kind of language and a play-off and contrast between found objects, treated objects, fabricated, built and applied things so that you get some dialogue or a sense of a narrative to the whole.
“We all thought it would be called FAC 51, the catalogue number. Of course, Tony comes along and says, “Let’s call it The Haçienda” from the manifesto by the Situationists: Leaving the 20th Century – the quote ‘The Haçienda must be built’. I think everybody hated it so much at the beginning. They’re saying it doesn’t exist, but now that we’ve built it, here it is?
“But it all adds to the intrigue. The little innuendoes, the clues and the hints are all part and parcel of the Factory ethos and the intrigue it’s generated. It’s important to talk about the mythology of the whole thing. Since Joy Division and Ian Curtis, people have built and grown all these reference points. They’re all part and parcel of it. If they weren’t there, it wouldn’t have generated such interest.
“I think in the back of Factory’s collective head was that Peter Saville would design it. Or stage-manage it, or art-direct it. But it was so outside of his abilities and control and whatever else that we just took it and ran with it instead. He had no involvement whatsoever other than to come to our studio one day to see what we did – and used his favourite word to say he thought it was ‘groovy’.
“But he’s really happy with it, you know. But when it comes down to it, he’s not an architect. But he’s set a certain aesthetic with Factory Records, and we were all sympathetic to that.
“On a serious level, one of the nicest compliments we could ever be paid is by the people who are our clients at The Haçienda.
“They tell us they have no desire – in the foreseeable future – to change it at any time because they feel it’s timeless. And that is music to our ears.”
The Hacienda closed in 1997 and was demolished in 2002.
Ben Kelly gave his permission to publish his commentary in Junction but was keen to conclude the story with a new anecdote about a recent chance meeting between himself, Michael Bracewell and Bryan Ferry – his album The Bride Stripped Bare having been the inspiration for The Hacienda’s main colour: pigeon blue.
Nearly 40 years later, Ben finds himself in the obscure and sleepy town of Basel, Switzerland – in Les Trois Rois Hotel, one of Europe’s most expensive, exclusive, swanky hotels. ‘Art-object’ Bryan Ferry’s there – of course he is, and why wouldn’t he be? Accompanying Bryan was Michael Bracewell, who offered to introduce Ben to Bryan.
Ben took his chance. Finally, he could let Bryan Ferry know what an extraordinarily essential role he’d unwittingly played in the design of the legendary cultural phenomenon that was The Haçienda.
Bryan listened patiently as Ben recounted in infinite detail how his album caused everything to fall into place: the cover's elusive metallic blue, the Marcel Duchamp reference, Bryan’s art school teacher, mentor and fellow Duchamp fan Richard Hamilton, the historical link between art schools and popular music, the walls, the angst, the pivotal moment, the inspiration, the solution, THE COLOUR!!!
When Ben Kelly was done, Bryan Ferry gave him one of his wry and knowing smiles and, by way of response, simply said: “Well,” before concluding, in his usual louche and seductive tones, “I’m very pleased to have been of help.” And with great humble understatement, the circle was closed.
I, myself, no longer live in the UK these days. More often than not, I am to be found in … yes, Basel, Switzerland. And in the same way that Basel concluded Ben’s side of the story with Bryan, it also concludes mine with Ben — it is where I had sat for all those hours transcribing his commentary from 1989. Ben and Bryan were probably in Les Trois Rois at the very same time.
Factory Records: still casting an eerie shadow of coincidence and connection all these years later.