It’s been three decades since ‘the most important nightclub ever in the world’ opened its doors.
As the film ’24 Hour Party People’ accurately portrays, the first couple of years of business showed the Hacienda to be something of a headache. An expensive folly by Anthony H Wilson and co, financed by the profits of Factory Records superstars, New Order.
The early days were weird. A cavernous empty, cold room with nowhere comfy to sit and a s*** sound system – coupled with the most atrocious acoustics ever imposed on a human ear. From my memories of that time, the Hacienda wasn’t a comfortable place to be in.
For some reason I was usually amongst the first people in there. Always arriving unfashionably early. Travelling down from Oldham in my second hand Opel Manta. The scene in the movie where Steve Coogan, as Anthony Wilson, is the sole person on the dancefloor at a Vini Reilly performance is so accurate and resonates with me personally. That’s amongst my earliest memories of the Hacienda.
Occasionally, a more established band would draw a healthy crowd, but generally there appeared to be no real consistency. We all wondered how long it could survive.
I did get to experience some amazing gigs at the Hac: The Fall, New Order, The Residents, Spiritualized. My band Inspiral Carpets got to play there just as we were starting to crack the Top 40. September 1990. It was a manic gig. Caught on film by the Hacienda’s in-house film makers ‘Ikon’. The film was never made available to the public.
Time would be kind to the Hacienda. And then cruel again. The arrival of House music from Detroit and Chicago in the mid to late 80s pretty much changed everything.
In what seemed like a matter of weeks, sometime in 1988/89 The place became a tribal gathering ground for devoted disciples from every part of the British Isles. And beyond.
From the perspective of the DJ booth, nothing can ever equal the memories I have of those nights. Although I didn’t personally even subscribe to some of the new ‘dance’ music of the time, I’d deeply love to experience those moments again.
As a club DJ now, it’s often what I strive to replicate. All modern DJs do. It’s some kind of primal thing. When the needle hits that groove, or the ‘play’ switch starts a compact disc spinning, or the MP3 clicks into life – give me that Hacienda vibe anytime.
I knew what I was witnessing back then was something very unique. A moment in time which was guaranteed to be short lived. A moment though, that the next generation would know about. And the one after that.
I remember being away on tour in Europe with the Inspiral Carpets when the news came through that it was all finally over for Factory Records. They went out of business in 1992. Watching the struggles of Factory to survive had been like watching a close friend die a slow death. We were gutted for everyone at Factory, and for those in the Factory bands.
We waited to see what would come of the Hacienda. Somehow the Hacienda outlived Factory Records by a few years.
It ended spectacularly (and cruelly) after months of shootings and deaths. “It’s closed again”. “It’s opened again”.
As with the demise of Factory, it made for a sad chapter in Manchester’s history and it closed forever in the summer of 1997.
I, like a lot of people, spent some time after the closure hoping that the building would be saved. Maybe a museum. Maybe another club?
Not a chance. In this day of endemic property development and sexy, must-have, high rise inner city pads, ‘11-13 Whitworth Street West’ was quickly demolished and another aesthetically impressive block of flats stuck up. They called it The Hacienda.
I took the opportunity one rainy night in 2002 to crawl under the demolition site gates to claim my own piece of music history. Covered in mud, I scurried round and found my own piece of the Hacienda. Three bricks still cemented together and painted with the recognisable pale blue paint which graced the inner walls of arguably the most famous nightclub ever.
I sometimes touch the blue-ness and try to feel those vibes again. Call me weird.
I’m not a materialistic kind of person but that chunk of masonry remains one of my prized possessions.