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Factory Records Profile

Factory Records: The Basics :
  • What: Factory Records, legendary label responsible for the birth of the "Madchester" scene in the 1980s
  • Where: Manchester, UK (though now defunct)
  • Label Founders: Tony Wilson, Alan Erasmus, Peter Saville, Martin Hannett
  • Founded: 1979

The Early Years: Club Origins:

Factory Records began as a club in 1978, started by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus. They were joined by designer Peter Saville and Producer Martin Hannett to form Factory Records and released their first EP, A Factory Sampler, featuring acts that had played at their club, in 1979. A very small operation at first, the label was initially run from an office in Erasmus' apartment. Success, however, was just around the corner.

Joy Division and New Order:

The first album released by Factory was 'Unknown Pleasures' by melancholic Mancunian rock band Joy Division in 1979, at the same time that their manager Rob Gretto joined the label. The album received great critical acclaim, the band appeared on the front cover of the UK music mag the NME and recorded a session for influential BBC DJ John Peel. Wilson credits this success with turning the label into a “true business”. Plague by ill health and depression, singer Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980 just before the release of their 2nd album. The remaining members went on to enjoy huge success with Factory as New Order.

Other Factory Records Acts:

Joy Division and New Order are the two Factory Records acts that have had the longest lasting impact on music, but it wasn't all about them. Factory worked with other well known acts, including:

Factory didn't only put out records, however. The label was at the center of a music scene of their own making - the so called "Madchester" scene - named, of course, for Manchester, Factory Record's base. And at the center of that scene was a Factory Records run club, the famous (or infamous) Hacienda.

The Hacienda: Start to Finish:

In 1982 Gretto had the idea to open a Factory Records supported club in Manchester, and thus began The Hacienda. The club was pivotal in the evolving music scene in Manchester in the 80s, and many world famous DJ started their careers behind the decks there. Designed by Saville and Ben Kelly, the club was immediately popular, but due to a policy of too low entry and drink prices (and the fact that the large majority of customers were spending more money buy drugs from the bouncers than drinks from the bar), the club rarely made a profit. However, Hacienda outlived Factory, finally closing it's doors in 1997.

Tony Wilson:

Wilson, initially a TV presenter in Manchester, unquestionably was the driving force behind the label, and he loved his city as much as he loved his label. He was dubbed Mr Manchester for his work in the development of the city and towards the end of his life lobbied heavily for a devolved parliament for the North of England. After Factory's, demise he set up In The City, an annual music industry festival often held in Manchester that has been responsible for launching the careers of numerous bands. He died from a heart attack in 2007, leaving a hole in the cultural life of Manchester.

The Rest of Them:

Wilson tends to get all the credit for Factory, but the other partners were actually very crucial to the label. Seville designed all the labels early sleeves and had a long running relationship with Joy Division and later New Order. His designs were a big part of Factory's image, and his aesthetic fitted with Wilson Situationist leanings. Producer Hannett's work on the early Factory releases defined the post-punk sound and, according to bassist Hook, “he created the Joy Division sound”. Joy Division's manager Gretton insisted that the band sign with a Manchester label, which gave the label it's initially success.

Catalogue Numbers:

Unlike most record labels Factory had a eccentric system of catalogue numbers for it's releases. Rather than running in the normal chronological order different sets of number were used for each band, for example Happy Monday's releases usually had a catalogue number ending in a 2. Other “productions” by factory were also given numbers, FAC01 is a poster advertising a club night. FAC61 was the number given to a law suit brought against the label by former partner Hannett. FAC501, the final catalogue number, was given to Tony Wilson's coffin.

The End:

Financial trouble eventually brought Factory to a close. The Hacienda was swallowing money, the label was financing the recording of a Happy Mondays album in Barbados, New Order's second album costs were spiralling out of control, and the label faced bankruptcy. A potential rescue deal with London Records fell through and the company was declared bankrupt in November 1992. After Factory's demise, many of the acts moved to London records, often taking their back catalogue with them.

A semi-fictional account of the story of Factory Records was depicted in the film 24hr Party People in 2002.

“True Business” - Well, Maybe Not So Much....:

While Wilson credits Unknown Pleasures as the start of Factory as a “true business,” it is fair to say that the label was never run like any other company. Few of the acts had contracts, a fact that cost the label what would have been a life saving deal with London Records. When London realized that Factory owned none of the recordings that they had released as they'd never had contacts with the bands, they recinded their offer.

In addition to not having contracts, the labels finances were always on shaky ground - New Order's Blue Monday became the best selling 12” single in the UK, but due to high production costs the label lost money on every copy sold of the original die cast cut sleeve. Sending The Happy Mondays to Barbados to make a record and allowing recording costs for New Order's album to spin out of control into the hundreds of thousands of dollars range set the label up for almost certain failure.

Despite all of these questionable decisions, Factory remains a lauded label - why? The answer is probably down to a combination of really great music, the force of nature that was Tony Wilson and the label's knack for creating a story about itself.

Since Wilson's death, there have been rumors off and on about the re-launch of Factory, but even Wilson tried that himself in the mid-1990s to no great effect. Factory is as much a moment of time in music as a great label.

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Anthony Wilson, the music mogul behind some of Manchester's most successful bands, has died aged 57.

The Salford-born entrepreneur, who founded Factory records, the label behind New Order and the Happy Mondays, had been suffering from kidney cancer.

Wilson, who was also famous for setting up the Hacienda nightclub, underwent emergency surgery in January to remove a kidney.

He died on Friday evening (August 10th 2007)at the Christie Hospital surrounded by family.

A spokesman for the hospital said: "Tony Wilson died peacefully at the Christie Hospital at 6.05pm this evening with his family by his bedside.

"Tony was a very great supporter of the Christie and this is extremely sad news.

"We would like to extend our sympathy to Tony's family."

Doctors had recommended he take the drug Sutent after chemotherapy failed to beat the disease, but the NHS refused to fund the £3,500-a-month treatment.

However, members of the Happy Mondays and other acts he supported over the years stepped in and started a fund to help pay for it.

His vision and determination played a key role in helping to put Manchester on the map for its music and vibrant nightlife and his entrepreneurial skills inspired people everywhere.

Phil Saxe, who used to work at Factory Records with Wilson, said: "Part of me, part of Manchester, part of modern British music has died tonight.

"Tony was a genius, basically.

"He was a visionary in that he helped bands, who otherwise wouldn't have made it, who were a bit out of the ordinary.

"He helped them realise their dreams and through that probably realised himself to be Mr Manchester".

'An inspiration'

BBC journalist Kristan Deconinck sought advice from him in the early 1980s on how to launch an independent record label shortly after Wilson had started Factory records.

"He couldn't have been more helpful and more patient," Kristan said.

"He inspired me - and countless others - to have a go if you believed in something.

"That in itself is a great legacy, apart from the vision he had with his label, his shows, his attitude - his contribution to a new culture.

"When I later met him, I found him far more amenable than scurrilous rumours had led me to believe and my esteem for the guy never diminished."

'Soundtrack of my life'

Speaking before his death, Wilson reflected on life and death.

"I used to joke in my early 50s that I'd had such a fantastic life, I'd be happy to die," he said.

"And then suddenly, I find some other reasons for living and just like get excited again about life when it comes along. So that was slightly annoying. I think I was a lord of my own presumption for thinking I'd be happy to die".

Tributes to Anthony Wilson have been flooding in from across the globe - both from people who had worked with him and those who had enjoyed the entertainment he brought to the world.

Speaking on News 24, Radio 2 presenter Stuart Maconie said: "There was no more influential and important figure in music in the last 30 or 40 years.

"He was incredibly generous, giving, enthusiastic and supportive of bands around him.

"He wasn't a businessman. He just loved the music."

The BBC, which employed Wilson, paid its own tribute.

"There will never be anyone quite like Tony," a spokesman said. "He was a true free spirit and a passionate advocate of Manchester - the city, its people and, of course, its music."

Fan Lewis Hart, from Hyde, Greater Manchester, wrote: "A one off who was an ambassador for Manchester. A huge shock."

Another fan, Ross Burton, from Annapolis, Maryland, in the USA, summed up his many achievements with a poignant eulogy: "Thanks Tony for helping to bring me the soundtrack of my life. Rest in peace mate."

Obituary: Tony Wilson
Record label owner, broadcaster, journalist, pop impresario and nightclub founder - Anthony Wilson was famous for many things, but perhaps he was most famous for being a self-styled professional Mancunian.

Tony Wilson was widely regarded as the man who put Manchester on the map for its music and vibrant nightlife. He remained active on the city scene until his death on Friday aged 57.

He was born in Salford's Hope Hospital on 20 February 1950.

He attended De La Salle Christian Brothers' school, before going on to read English at the University of Cambridge in 1968.

In the 1970s he went to work for Granada Television in Manchester, where he fronted programmes including music show So It Goes and current affairs magazine World In Action.

He later went on to be long-time host of the early evening Granada Reports.

Wilson was a founder of Factory Records in the late 1970s, the label behind Joy Division, New Order and The Happy Mondays.


The Hacienda was one of the most famous clubs in the world

He continued to work in television even at the height of his work with Factory records.

In 1982, he set up The Hacienda nightclub, which became known as perhaps the most famous club in the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It became the heart of the "Madchester" scene, playing host to bands such as New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis.

Even Madonna played her first UK gig at the Whitworth Street club in February 1983.

The club was famous for its dance nights, particularly house music nights where DJs Mike Pickering, Sasha and Dave Haslam regularly played.

In the early 1990s the club was blighted by cash flow problems and it closed its doors in 1997.

Devolution call

The building was demolished in 2002 and apartments were built in its place.

The semi-fictional story of the club, the music and Wilson's life was documented in Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People.

His character was played by comedian Steve Coogan to critical acclaim.

Wilson later went on to set up the annual Manchester music conference, In The City, with long-term partner and former Miss England Yvette Livesey.

But it was not just in the music world that he made his mark - he was also a key player in local politics and supported a campaign for a regional assembly for the North West.

Emergency surgery

In 2004 he set up an unofficial coalition calling for regional devolution, called The Necessary Group.

More recently he presented radio shows Ground Rules and Talk of the Town on BBC Radio Manchester and Sunday Roast on Xfm Manchester.

He was the main presenter of the BBC's Politics Show North West.

Wilson fell ill in 2006, before undergoing emergency surgery to have a kidney removed in January 2007.

Doctors diagnosed him with cancer and he started a chemotherapy course at Manchester's Christie Hospital.

The chemotherapy failed to beat the disease and he was recommended to take the drug Sutent, which is not funded by the NHS in Manchester.

Members of the Happy Mondays and other acts he supported over the years had started a fund to help pay for his treatment.



“Being from another country, Tony Wilson was representing not only a record company “Factory Records” but a whole city. He was in my eyes Mr. Manchester. He signed many legendary bands including Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays etc..  I had the privilege to meet him couple of times when I visited Manchester. He was always a pleasure to be around him. It has been a real honor to cross briefly your amazing path. You are and will always be a true legend.

My Deepest Condolences to the Wilson family.

David Sultan 


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In The spotlight A. H. Wilson

I got the privilege to meet with A. H. Wilson before the opening party (January 21, 2004) in Manchester at the Fat Cat Bar (Very close to the Hacienda site). To keep the Factory spirit, I got the honor to receive an official Factory Catalogue Number for the website: