I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
My debut poetry pamphlet is available at wildpressedbooks.com/david-keyworth.html
Face the FACS
Did Factory Records opt for yellow for their publicity and design because it was the colour used in Granada TV's copy scripts? It is a question posed next to one of the exhibits telling the story of Factory Records' formative years from 1978 to 1982.
Ian Curtis's Vox Phantom guitar at Use Hearing Protection. Courtesy of MSI.
Tony Wilson's regular job was as a Granada TV presenter, including news and his new music programme, So it Goes. He was one of the Factory Records founders, along with Alan Erasmus.
The central part of the well-presented exhibition is made up of archive items displayed in glass cases. Some are not particularly revelatory, while others give illuminating glimpses into the small struggles and building blocks in the Factory story.
A handwritten letter by Joy Division singer Ian Curtis calls the production of their album Closer (1980) by Martin Hannett a 'disaster'. It contains other accusations which point to a febrile state of mind: "Everyone else are (sic) a sneaky, japing load of tossers."
Other letters are written in a more formal style. There is correspondence by Rob Gretton - who managed Joy Division and New Order - with TV producers and another is written to introduce New Order's keyboardist Gillian Gilbert to the Musicians Union.
Given the science museum setting, there is not a lot which brings to life the recording techniques pioneered by Martin Hannett and other Factory innovators. Indeed, the technology was arguably better covered in Stockport Museums Strawberry Studios exhibition, three years ago.
COVID-19 perhaps put a stop to more interactive items although I did have fun with the Play Me Mixing Desk - fading in and out the instruments played on Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Fac 1-50 room in Use Hearing Protection. Courtesy of MSI. .
There is now a kind of gloomy urban-decay chic associated with post-industrial Manchester. It is seen in the multi-screen video Ultimate Discovery by Owen D Davey which uses clips from the North West Film Archive, set to Electricity by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD).
The urban decline was a reality but the room of photographs from the British Culture Archive proves that there was laughter amidst the rubble, including at the Northern Carnival Against Racism.
One image, by Thomas Blower, shows boys gleefully leaping off a wall onto a battered mattress as if they were training for the Olympics.
Use Hearing Protection ends with a tribute to the Factory nights at the Russell Club, Hulme. There are videos and tributes on the screen to bands including Swamp Children, Section 25, Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio.
For better or worse, I doubt that the 'Gig Room' recreated the experience of those Russell Club nights, which must have had been a cocktail of spilled alcohol - and other stimulants - and angry strangers and screeching feedback from the speakers and microphones, mixed in with some memorable performances in a jostling venue.
You exit the exhibition past a row of Hacienda (FAC 51) bollards - a glimpse of what Factory would go on to do before it declared bankruptcy in 1992.
Leave Use Hearing protection via The Hacienda. Courtesy of MSI.
The story of Factory Records has now been covered in books, documentaries and films and previous exhibitions - such as the one mentioned above, at Stockport Museum and True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery, in 2017, which focused on the art of Joy Division and New Order. It was hard therefore for Manchester Science and Industry Museum to bring something fresh to the party.
The best outcome would be if younger visitors felt inspired to create something new. To paraphrase Ivan Chtcheglov's essay, displayed in the exhibition, which so inspired Tony Wilson: The hacienda must be re-built.
One tangible legacy is a new cultural space called The Factory - including The Factory Academy. It is a new base for Manchester International Festival (MIF), situated at the former home to Granada TV and next to the Science and Industry Museum itself.