Use Hearing Protection via The Hacienda at The Science and Industry Museum, courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
How a Science Museum ended up with the history of Factory Records
Factory Records is a local and global music story. The label has been the subject of much of Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum’s (SIM) recent collection development and acquisitions program, and last year SIM put on an exhibition dedicated to the historical record label whose impact in music still resonates today. The exhibition, titled “
Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records“, traced the independent label’s beginnings, fostering talent from a post-industrial towns in the north of England and single-handedly ushering in the post-punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s, paving the way for New Wave. We go behind the scenes with SIM’s Archives Manager Jan Hicks on the curation of this exhibition and discuss the past, present and future of the museum’s Factory Records archive collections.
How long has SIM been collecting Factory Records’ artifacts and documents?
We started in 1998, when we were offered a collection from Rob Gretton – Joy Division’s manager, who later joined Factory, – indirectly through his office manager Jon Drape, who used to work at the Hacienda. That was our first collection that related to the music and creative industries generally, including some artworks for the record sleeves and bits of correspondence.
As people got to know about SIM’s collection, we had smaller donations like membership cards to the Hacienda, and after our oral history project Connecting With People’s Histories – for which we recorded people who worked in the creative industries in Manchester such as Peter Saville and Andy Spinoza – people gave us archival material related to the Sankey’s Soap nightclub and some Hacienda fanzines.
More recently, we worked with Jon Savage who was co-curating an exhibition for the Manchester International Festival in 2017, True Faith. He and curators Fiona Corridan and Mat Bancroft came to the museum and looked through our collections. As a result, Jon offered one of his collections relating to Joy Division. We have Jon’s journalism, his research papers around Joy Division, correspondence with Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton, a collection of posters John designed for Tony and Factory, and a few early copies of City Fun magazine.
In Use Hearing Protection SIM also exhibited some items from Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton’s private archives, on loan at the museum. Which were the most interesting to you?
For me one of the most interesting parts of Rob Gretton’s archive is his notebooks. He wrote everything down. As Joy Division’s manager, it was clear he had a game plan for them as a band. He wanted them to be successful and had a strategy for how he was going to do that. In Rob’s archive, there’s a poster for Joy Division’s first gig at Band on the wall, which is a really significant live venue in Manchester that started out as a jazz club. It’s a beautiful simple poster, a white piece of paper with bold black text on it, and there’s a little sketch for it in one of Rob’s notebooks. There is also the name of the local printer that he used, which enabled us to tell a story around how there were traditional industries in the city that were declining, and how Factory were an outlet to give them a new audience and purpose to carry on.
Use Hearing Protection at the Science and Industry Museum, gallery view. Photo courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson’s correspondence was also very interesting.
Before Rob joined Factory, he was managing Joy Division and trying to get their name out there, so he would write regularly to Tony. In Tony’s archive there are letters from Rob asking Tony to put his band on What’s On and sending him tapes and badges. One of my favourite lines from Tony’s reply says, “I agree, Joy Division are the most interesting band that I’ve heard in the last six months”. Tony is saying they’re great, but there’s also a bit of bite to it and this humour that shows the developing working and friendship relationship that you can catch from the letters. These are my favourite things from the collections, because they’re more personal and bring out the personalities involved.
Use Hearing Protection at the Science and Industry Museum, gallery view. Photo courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
Another remarkable piece is Jon Savage’s transcripts for the Joy Division film script.
Most people know the famous film Control, a slightly fictionalised biopic of Ian Curtis’ life, but there is also a documentary called Joy Division, directed by Grant Gee. Jon was the script associate and did a lot of the interviews, speaking to the members of Joy Division – now New Order – but also music journalist Mary Harron and writer Bob Dickinson.
The transcripts are fascinating; stories around what it was like at the time to be part of that scene. I don’t want to big it up too much, but I believe that Factory Records is our equivalent of Beatlemania. Maybe not to the same extent, but we have a similar level of passion for Factory Records that draws people to the city.
Joy Division, directed by Grant Gee, documentary poster 2007
SIM is committed to expanding the Factory Records related material. How are you planning to do that?
Expanding a collection for us works by developing networks, and the fact that we had that initial conversation with Jon around True Faith led towards acquiring his collection and working together on Use Hearing Protection.
I recently met Graeme Park – DJ at the Hacienda and instrumental in the acid house scene in Manchester – and we have started a conversation around the material that he has, which potentially could lead to acquisitions from his collection. Graeme is a lecturer on film and sound at Wrexham Glyndwr University in North Wales, and we’re now also talking about how the museum could partner with the University to share with students the collections we have.
The archive leads not only to collecting but also establishing ourselves as a place for research to happen, which is important because we view the museum’s archive collections as research rather than just display collections. One of the ideas I want to explore is to have an academic symposium where we get researchers talking about what engages them in the research process around this material, plus practitioners in the industry or those who have experience to come and talk, fostering cross-pollination and boundary-crossing conversation.
ACR – Durutti Column – Blurt – Rafters concert poster. Poster to promote A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column show at Rafters, Manchester, August 21st, supported by Blurt, 1980
© Jon Savage. Collection/Owner: Benedict and Laura Gretton. Image courtesy of Jon Savage / Lent by Benedict Gretton, Laura Gretton and Lesley Gilbert
Kim Philby Reappears poster. Poster designed by Jon Savage advertising Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Section 25 for show at New Osbourne Club – Fac for City Funds.
Poster designed by Jon Savage advertising Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Section 25 for show at New Osbourne Club – Fac for City Funds.
© Jon Savage. Photo courtesy of Jon Savage
Night Shifts to the Factory
Photomontage flyer designed by Linder for The Factory night
© Linder Sterling. Photo courtesy of the artist Linder
The overall Factory Records archive is still scattered around various people: are you trying to centralise it or at least to connect these pieces?
Yes, we are trying to connect these people and to work out what has survived. It has been difficult to collect because we don’t have vast resources for acquisitions. Those in the music and creative industries are savvy; they know the historical value of their work, so collecting quite often comes with a price tag. It might be the case that we are offered something at the museum, but can’t meet that price, so it is important to have a network, making sure these pieces stay in Manchester for everybody in the city to access instead of being sold abroad. What we want to do in Manchester is to make sure our heritage is here and accessible; knowing others who collect and might have different budgets is crucial so we can pass people on to other collections and further research.
Do you see yourselves making your Factory Records archive a magnet for everything Factory-related so more pricey acquisitions remain close to you?
Yes. One of the things we talk about between institutions is that SIM has got a very specific advantage over academic special collections and public archives such as public libraries: we have really good exhibition spaces.
For us it’s not just about the collecting, it’s about accessibility; the ability to display and tell interesting and surprising stories about music in Manchester. One of the things that I wanted to do with Use Hearing Protection was to promote that idea of Factory being a really forward-looking, futuristic organisation who were trying to do something different; acknowledging the historical and industrial past of the city, using that heritage to kick-start something new. This is fundamental to what we do, to not just be mired in its heritage, but to use it to move forward as a cultural city.
Use Hearing Protection at the Science and Industry Museum. Photo courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
Was having Jon Savage and Mat Bancroft as consultant curators important to you in curating this exhibition? What was your personal input for the Manchester exhibition?
Yes! They started the process. The first version of Use Hearing Protection was a small art-led exhibition at the Chelsea Space Gallery in London. Their approach was to have that core of 1 to 50 artifacts from the catalogue with smaller contextual objects on display. There wasn’t really a narrative at that stage, but the core to work from was really valuable.
I brought in more contextual information about what Manchester was like at the time, touching on the psychogeography of the city, the economic situation and social and cultural aspects happening at the time. My expertise links these objects together in a narrative that flows, enabling people to navigate the space and come away feeling that they have been told a story.
For me, working with John and Matt was creatively inspirational because they came from outside the museum, the creative process was a really positive one. We also worked with Ben Kelly – the Hacienda’s designer – on the design of the exhibition space, and people have very much appreciated the feel of Factory that you get from his designs.
What is the importance of collaborating with private collectors for this kind of exhibition? Is it harder to connect and get to know who owns what?
I was lucky because Mat and Jon had done a lot of the legwork with the Chelsea Space exhibition, so there were already connections.
Use Hearing Protection has created an opportunity to engage with other people. We are now getting people coming to us about their collections for beyond the period that the exhibition tells, letting us know they’ve got material and asking to get in touch with them for future exhibitions.
The pandemic also played into our hands, as a couple of the things we managed to add to the exhibition came from our initial publicising of it, before it got delayed. For example Ian Curtis’ guitar wouldn’t have been in the exhibition had we opened in the summer 2020. At the time, Natalie Curtis, who owned it, didn’t want to lend the guitar for understandable reasons. It was coincidental that she decided to sell it, and it really did play into our hands that we were delayed. As a result of those initial pieces of press, we were contacted by the person who bought Ian Curtis’ guitar at auction in October 2020. They wanted the guitar to be accessible to others, not hidden away, so they got in touch with us knowing we were doing this exhibition, and asked if we wanted to have the guitar on display… of course we did!
Similarly, Brian Nicholson, who worked for Factory Ikon, let us know that he had a poster for one of the events now in the FAC 1-50 catalogue, Mat had found just a tiny sticker publicising it, so we’ve been able to add Brian’s huge poster to the exhibition!
Durutti Column/Situationists promotional poster for The Factory, 1978
First piece of publicity material commissioned by Anthony Wilson. This black and white poster was produced on the landing of a block of flats in Mersey Mansions and posted around the City as an abstract promotion for The Factory.
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum. Science Museum Group Collection. Photo courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
Durutti Column concert poster. Poster to promote Durutti Column show at Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester, December 14
Poster to promote Durutti Column show at Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester, December 14 1979.
© Jon Savage. Photo courtesy of the Science and Industry Museum
Poster designed by Jon Savage and Tony Wilson for Factory gigs
© Jon Savage / Oliver Wilson / Isabel Wilson. Courtesy of Jon Savage, Oliver Wilson and Isabel Wilson. Photo courtesy of Jon Savage, Oliver Wilson and Isabel Wilson
What can we expect from your collaboration with the upcoming cultural hub The Factory?
It’s going to be physical: our boundary with their site is currently a literal wall! There are going to be points where that wall is broken down and will be opened both ways. We haven’t got anything firmly in place, but we are in constant communication, and are considering the opportunity of curating exhibitions which might split across sites. It’s also an opportunity to engage with different audiences collaboratively. Drawing on each other’s areas of expertise to do something that reaches lots of people.
Do you think that having this music archive within your walls could be a possible extra connection between SIM and The Factory?
The Factory are very interested in how we can program things together, the idea we are looking at is to work on an exhibition that has the Hacienda at the heart with stories coming off it.
There are lots of stories to tell around the bands that were on the label because the Hacienda was a venue and vehicle to get their music out there. All the stories about the Madchester scene, the Happy Mondays, the acid house scene…The Hacienda really allowed different genres across the city. Without that we wouldn’t have had record labels like Twisted Nerve, which had a lot of local bands on, and was an early vehicle for Badly Drawn Boy who became a big star beyond Manchester. Other local bands like Doves and Elbow are loosely connected to Factory as well… so we want to put the Hacienda at the heart, but also tell these other stories about what was going on at the time outside of the Factory too.
One of the things that I wanted to do with Use Hearing Protection was to promote that idea of Factory being a really forward-looking, futuristic organization who were trying to do something different.
Acknowledging the historical and industrial past of the city, using that heritage to kick-start something new, and for us as a museum is fundamental to what we do. What we want to do when we get these massive collections together is to find those new stories that help Manchester to move forward as a cultural city, to not just be mired in its heritage, but to use it to move forward.
Suggested reads and resources
Find out more about the early years of Factory Records in the Science and Industry Museum’s series of blog posts dedicated to Use Hearing Protection
The Women of Factory Records by Jan Hicks: a deepening article about women’s role in Factory, by the exhibition curator. Factory Records Catalogue: the ongoing project to develop the Master Discography of Factory Records including Factory Communications Limited and all its UK and international subsidiary labels. Cerysmathic.Factory : a news resource, collating articles around specific aspects of Factory.