Originally published November 2009
Peter Hook’s How Not To Run A Nightclub is a great knockabout history of the Haçienda. He tells it like he saw it (mostly through a haze of booze and drugs), charting the highs and the dark and dangerous lows of the infamous Manchester club’s 15 years of fame. It’s a roll call of Mancunian rogues, misfits and mavericks, by turns funny, sad, inspiring and downright scary.
Michael Winterbottom’s film about Tony Wilson and Factory records, 24 Hour Party People, may have played fast and loose with the facts, but there’s plenty in Hooky’s book that really is stranger than fiction: the New Order bassist pissing in a Hellmann’s mayonnaise bucket kept in the Haç’s kitchen rather than using the toilets (long queues and, when the gangs moved in, too much violence); a bin bag full of £40K in cash delivered to New Order manager and Hacienda co-owner Rob Gretton by a Salford gangster (who was also running the door at the club); the member of staff who gave the tax man the wrong books (the ones with all the cash-in-hand payments rather than the ‘official’ version).
How did such a bunch of incompetent dreamers keep the club going for so long? It’s a question that’s never fully answered in the book, and that’s hardly surprising. Because much like Factory records and New Order – who of course bankrolled the club as it haemorrhaged money – the Haçienda was a beautiful mistake; not so much a club as an art manifesto that went wrong.
Anyone who was going to clubs in Manchester from 1982 to 1997 will have stories about the Haçienda. You only had to go there once for it to leave its mark; it was that kind of place. And although fashioned out of New Order and most importantly Rob Gretton’s experience of early Eighties New York nightclubs, it was never a copy of anything.
The combination of Ben Kelly’s design and the eccentric way in which it was run (both good and bad) made sure that it was always out on its own, even when it became hugely fashionable as acid house swept Britain’s clubs in 1988.
I was a student in Manchester when the Haçienda became the most talked about club in the world. I moved to the city in 1986, a Factory records fan in love with the Peter Saville aesthetic and the eclectic, contradictory and often awkward music of the label. The Haçienda was like a Factory release in 3D. Kelly’s playful and uncompromising industrial design meant that it always felt like you were walking into a special place; to borrow from Le Corbusier, it was like a machine for dancing in. The black and white portrait of Tony Wilson smiling down on you as you paid added to the sense of occasion. The fact that it was at most half-full for the first few years that I went was a good thing; it made you appreciate the space even more.
I can vividly recall when everything changed and the influence of ecstasy and Ibiza took hold. It was the summer of ’88 and I was a regular at Wednesday’s Zumbar night, a ridiculously camp combination of catwalk-style fashion/dance routines and live PAs (I remember cheesy Eighties pop duo Dollar in particular. I seem to recall people throwing Sapporo cans at them. Which was quite something, as the Haçienda was the only place you could get this designer Japanese lager at the time). It was all presided over by a master of ceremonies with a dodgy moustache. It was great fun and there was always plenty of room at the bar.
Then Zumbar became Hot. I turned up with friends expecting Zumbar’s camp theatrics and was profoundly shocked. It was wall-to-wall acid house and I didn’t get it. I made my excuses and was on the bus home by midnight. Of course the following week I was back and it started to make more sense. Within a few weeks I was dancing on the podiums. And no, I wasn’t on ecstasy, just a few cans of strong lager.
Hooky’s book does a great job of capturing how quickly the euphoria of acid house went sour, and how success turned to disaster as the Haçienda began to creak under the weight of its popularity. By then I was a music journalist and still loved going to the club; it helped that I could now get on the guest list.
Of course things lurched from bad to worse from the early to mid-‘90s. By the time the Haçienda closed in 1997 the sadness at its demise was tempered by a huge sigh of relief. It was time to admit defeat and let Manchester clubland move on. Which of course it did.
Now that Hooky has told his side of this great, crazy story, let’s hope he can do the same.