Sweeping From The Factory Floor: The Label's Final Years
, December 3rd, 2012 07:29
Twenty years after the Factory Records empire collapsed, Stuart Huggett sifts through the wreckage of the label's final releases
On Monday 23rd November 1992, Factory Records – the Manchester home to New Order and Happy Mondays and owners of the Haçienda club – went into administration with debts of over £2m.
The downfall of the company and the shattering of founder Anthony H Wilson's civic dream has been picked over many times, most scrupulously in James Nice's weighty biography Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records and most imaginatively in Michael Winterbottom's cinema fantasy 24 Hour Party People.
The lurid details of Factory's demise, its chaotic mix of bad money, bad drugs and gang problems, have tended to overshadow the music the label issued during its decline and fall. After toasting their first No.1 single in the summer of 1990, when World Cup fever and the peaking Madchester wave pushed New Order's football anthem 'World in Motion' up the charts, Factory was on a downward curve. Here we trawl through those final transmissions.
Kalima – 'Shine'
(single, Jul 1990)
Jazz-dance group Kalima had been recording for Factory since 1982, initially as moody funk outfit Swamp Children, and Feeling Fine was their fourth LP for the label. The band were closely associated with Factory's more lauded post punk innovators A Certain Ratio: soprano saxophonist Tony Quigley divided his time between the two groups, and he, his vocalist sister Ann and guitarist John Kirkham formed Kalima's core.
In retrospect, Feeling Fine is the last, late hurrah of Factory's ties to Manchester's jazz-dance scene, before the label's clubbing honeymoon really took hold, and there's little reason to recommend it above predecessors like 1986's transitional Night Time Shadows (James Nice's LTM Recordings has reissued the lot as part of its admirable rescuing of Factory's archives).
Excellent spin-off single 'Shine' is another matter, its two lengthy remixes (one by Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge, the other by Kalima's producer Tim Oliver) turning Feeling Fine's lithe original into a record that straddled both jazz and club cultures with ease. Kalima's bold farewell to the label, the 12" slots neatly alongside A Certain Ratio's creative resurgence on the same year's ACR: MCR album for A&M.
Indambinigi – 'Zimba'
(single, Aug 1990)
The last of many one-off curios in the Factory catalogue, Indambinigi's sole 12" is also one of its most often overlooked singles. 'Zimba' was swiftly buried by history, not helped by Factory's inability to spell the band's name consistently on its sleeve, labels or official discographies.
The record was a studio collaboration between engineer Steve Lima and 60s star Karl Denver, who'd come into the Factory orbit via his guest spot on Happy Mondays' dreamlike medley 'Lazyitis'. Denver's first standalone release for Factory was 'Wimoweh 89', a pretty perfunctory house re-recording of his 1961 hit, the yodelling vocals jarring with the 808 programming supplied by Haçienda DJs Mike Pickering and Graeme Park.
'Zimba' and its flipside 'Shengali' were far more successful attempts to marry Denver's reinterpretation of African tunes with contemporary club sounds, but they weren't to be repeated. Lima continues to work as a producer, while Denver turned his attentions to country music before passing away in 1998.
Steve Martland – Glad Day
(EP, Oct 1990)
The Factory Classical imprint was founded in 1989 and by the label's demise had issued 14 albums, including works dedicated to Mozart, Monteverdi, Handel and Satie.
Factory's simple, self-important belief was that, having successfully packaged popular music as high art, it could also pitch 'high art' classical music to a popular audience. They failed, but kept faith with the classical programme and, in particular, Liverpudlian composer Steve Martland, who recorded three albums for the label.
Martland's ironically titled Glad Day EP was the Factory's only direct attempt at a release that would straddle the classical/pop divide. Teaming up with lyricist Stevan Keane and Communards vocalist Sarah Jane Morris, the EP married Martland's full-bodied, brassy arrangements to portraits of a country crushed by the Thatcher government ("Private practice, public waste / Nothing left to celebrate / Festival of Britain / Farewell to the welfare state").
Final song 'The World is in Heaven' takes a more celebratory long-view, accompanied by a crossover '7" Dance version', whose dated stabs come straight from The Art Of Noise's sample library.
Vini Reilly – 'The Together Mix'
(single, Feb 1991)
Vini Reilly's Durutti Column were the longest serving of all Factory's artists, appearing on the label's debut 1978 release A Factory Sample and continuing their association with Tony Wilson onto his short-lived resurrection label Factory Too.
On Obey the Time, Durutti Column's last LP for the original Factory, Reilly all but dispenses with the services of longtime creative partner, drummer Bruce Mitchell. Recording the majority of the album at home, Reilly's signature filigree guitar vibrates over layers of programmed beats and light keyboards that bear a tangential relationship to then-current house sounds.
'The Together Mix' (a remix of Obey the Time's 'Contra-Indications', credited to Vini Reilly alone) was another attempt to capitalise on the club music being broken at the Haçienda. The 'Together' of the title were production duo and Haçienda regulars Suddi Raval and Jonathon Donaghy, whose archetypal rave anthem 'Hardcore Uproar' had been a hit the previous summer. Together's relaxed expansion of 'Contra-Indications' shares much common ground with another of that year's club hits, DNA's remix of Suzanne Vega's 'Tom's Diner'.
A painting reproduced on the record's insert is dedicated "For John and Emma". Tragically, Jonathan Donaghy and the picture's creator, his partner Emma McManus (vocalist on 'The Together Mix'), had died in a car accident in Ibiza, before the record was finished.
Cath Carroll – England Made Me
(album, Jun 1991)
Cath Carroll's debut album followed a long immersion in the independent scene: she'd performed in Gay Animals with Liz Naylor (the pair would co-edit Manchester zine City Fun), collaborated on several singles by Julian Henry's The Hit Parade and fronted Factory-signed C86 trio Miaow. England Made Me was hyped as a major release for the label (HMV's optimistic press ads reckoned it "should prove to be the shot in the arm and the rocket up the backside that the Nineties has been waiting for") but it proved to be an expensive, stylish flop.
Beyond its parochial title, England Made Me was a rootless album. Assisted by Chakk's Sim Lister and Mark Brydon (later of Moloko), it combined recordings from their Fon studios with a strong Latin American influence from sessions in São Paulo. Standout track 'Train You're On' (recycled from the previous year's Beast EP) skewed the international blend further by adding cutting guitar from Carroll's husband Santiago Durango and his Big Black colleague Steve Albini, but neither this low key reunion, nor the lush single remix of 'Moves Like You', helped the album break through.
England Made Me remains one of the last gems in the Factory catalogue and Carroll has continued to record for LTM and Mark Robinson's Teen-Beat (Perfect Teeth, a 1993 album by Robinson's band Unrest, was one huge Carroll tribute).
Northside – Chicken Rhythms
(album, Jun 1991)
Faced with Central Station Design's original sleeve to Northside's only LP Chicken Rhythms, featuring the band's grinning faces plastered crudely onto the heads of cartoon animals, it's pretty clear that Factory's once unshakable visual sense had gone out the window. That's before you turn it over and find tracks titled 'Funky Munky' and 'Yeah Man'. It was embarrassing to take it to the shop counter. No wonder the LTM reissue switched it.
Chicken Rhythms' dismal artwork wasn't fair on Northside, however. Although Madchester also-rans, the group had a charmingly naive take on baggy, and their run of singles (LSD love-letter 'Shall We Take a Trip', the wondrous 'My Rising Star' and the Yellowman-quoting sign-off 'Take 5', that finally took them to Top of the Pops) were as good as those by the early Blur. Or maybe The Dylans.
I last saw Northside supporting Peter Hook's Revenge at the Marquee, not long after Factory went under (a gig drily promoted with the tagline "Fac it, Haçienda it"). At the end of a sour performance, singer Dermo threw his half-empty beer can into the half-empty crowd, where it hit the floor unimpeded, foaming and hissing. You had to feel for them, fucked over before they'd even begun.
'Take 5', performed on Top Of The Pops
The Wendys – I Instruct
(EP, Sep 1991)
Edinburgh's The Wendys were a pretty straightforward band, lacking the pop suss of Northside but with a strong, adventurous guitarist in Ian White. A couple of smart, melodic singles – the drawn-out 'The Sun's Going to Shine for Me Soon' and luminous 'Pulling My Fingers Off' – proved to be the exception among the rushed, choppy funk of their Gobbledygook album, released in an off-putting sleeve by artist David Knopov.
Housed in an uninspiring, drab green and brown jacket, their final release for label, the I Instruct EP paired two new recordings taped by veteran producer Jimmy Miller with a couple of live tracks. Its downbeat, lyrically grim opener 'Enjoy The Things You Fear' was never going to win new converts or find radio play, but an eight-minute version of 'The Sun's Going to Shine for Me Soon' was a hypnotic reminder of The Wendys' occasional strengths. Presumably intended as a stop-gap release, it would take until the end of the decade for the band released a follow up (1999's Sixfoot Wingspan)
It's indicative of The Wendys' poor reception that, over twenty years on, I Instruct still turns up in record shop bargain bins. I found a 12" copy for 10p in one store back in the spring.
'Enjoy The Things You Fear'
The Other Two – 'Tasty Fish'
(single, Oct 1991)
Revenge – Gun World Porn
(EP, Jan 1992)
Electronic – 'Disappointed'
(single, Jun 1992)
After 1989's Technique, New Order had fractured into splinter groups, coming together in the public eye only for 'World in Motion' (although, by the time Factory went under, they were working on the album that would emerge as Republic on London Records). Bernard Sumner formed Electronic with Johnny Marr, Peter Hook put together Revenge, and partners Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert resigned themselves to being The Other Two.
'Tasty Fish', The Other Two's sole Factory release, was a gorgeous pop confection that foregrounded Gilbert's otherwise underused vocals. It fell outside the Top 40, but Pascal Gabriel's high gloss mix was just ahead of the frothing perfection that Saint Etienne would capitalise on. As with New Order, The Other Two's album (circulated on test pressings before Factory's fall) would eventually appear on London.
Peter Hook's rockist trio Revenge scored the first release outside of New Order by mere weeks, their 'Seven Reasons' single just beating Electronic's debut 'Getting Away with It' into the racks. 'Seven Reasons' uplifting keyboards and cor anglais could hold its head high among New Order's catalogue, but Revenge's subsequent album One True Passion floundered under clumsy electro-rock arrangements, its poor reviews exacerbated by some terrible titles ('Surf Nazi', 'Fag Hag') and a fetish imagery sleeve ("Sexist crap" was my Dad's terse verdict when I brought it home from Woolworths).
Proving that Hook's fondness for awful titles hadn't exhausted itself, Revenge's fourth and final single, the Gun World Porn EP, was the band's worst. Opener 'DeadBeat', mixed by Gary Clail, found the biker pose worn thin, and the record contained only flashes of Hook's melodic abilities. By now, David Potts had replaced guitarist Dave Hicks in the band, a partnership that would eventually reap dividends when he and Hook returned as Monaco.
By the summer of '92, Electronic had scored three hit singles and a No.2 self-titled album on Factory. Like their debut three years before, 'Disappointed' was a standalone single that teamed Sumner and Marr with Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, here as lead vocalist. Arguably their finest single to date, the swirling, euphoric 'Disappointed' was another deserved Top 10 hit.
Having loaned both Tennant and Chris Lowe (on Electronic's sublime 'The Patience of a Saint') to Factory, it seemed only fair that Pet Shop Boys' label Parlophone should release 'Disappointed', although this was the first big hint to casual fans that maybe all was not financially well in the Factory camp. Factory's logo appeared, dwarfed by Parlophone's, in the artwork. It wouldn't feature in the UK Top 10 again.
'Disappointed', performed on Top Of The Pops
The Adventure Babies – Laugh
(album, Jun 1992)
It could've been John Robb's Sensurround, it could've been Galway's Toasted Heretic, it could even, with the optimistic benefit of hindsight, have been Oasis or Pulp, but ultimately the much maligned Adventure Babies held the dubious honour of being Factory's last signing. The deal was done onstage at Manchester's Factory-backed Cities In The Park festival in the summer of '91, before the band had built up any kind of fanbase.
The title track of the group's cute, sometimes cloying, EP Camper Van won over a handful of Radio One listeners, but, typically, it was left off debut LP Laugh. Gentle, melodic and with an air of melancholy, The Adventure Babies' folky arrangements and multiple harmonies marked them out as The Beautiful South for kids, the sort of band a major could arguably have made far better use of.
Laugh failed to sell, hampered by another terrible sleeve, its photographic high-jinks suggesting that the best days of Central Station Design – the small studio whose artwork had defined Madchester – were behind them. The band may have felt differently: when the reunited Madness released their comeback live Madstock album with a similar cover, lawsuits were threatened. Or the Factory debts were starting to hit home.
The Adventure Babies' follow up single 'Barking Mad' stiffed, having already featured on Camper Van and Laugh. A third single, Laugh's title track, failed to make it beyond promo stage during Factory's downfall.
Happy Mondays – 'Sunshine and Love'
(single, Nov 1992)
Few bands have risen so high and fallen so low as Happy Mondays. Once they'd broken through with the Madchester Rave On EP late in '89 (leading to a justifiably famed Top of the Pops debut with The Stone Roses, and naming a movement), their imperial phase stretched out for a year and half, as Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches and its singles soundtracked a cultural phenomenon.
Success found the Mondays readily scuppering their career, with boorish behaviour like guest editing Penthouse, numerous tabloid outrages and a sickeningly homophobic interview given to NME's Steven Wells all nails in the coffin. 'Judge Fudge', their last of their triumphant Paul Oakenfold/Steve Osborne productions, was a decent single, but its comparatively poor chart performance proved that love for the Mondays was evaporating.
The debauched tales surrounding the recording of Yes Please! are better remembered than the album itself, but Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth found a strong new angle on Happy Mondays' sound, pushing the percussion to the fore, and Shaun Ryder's lyrics were as inspired as ever. Ruthless Rap Assassins' Kermit guested on the vibrant 'Cut 'Em Loose Bruce', laying the foundations for his and Ryder's Black Grape.
'Sunshine & Love' was the second single extracted from the album, boosted by remixes from Justin Robertson's Lionrock, an M-People mix of '24 Hour Party People' and a wider release for the Monday's clomping cover of 'Staying Alive' (taken from their prophetic Tyburn Tree hanging in Malcolm McLaren's The Ghosts of Oxford Street film).
With the band's wider appeal at a low, none of these could help a weak choice of single sell and on its November release 'Sunshine and Love' couldn't climb higher than a dismal No.62. It was the end for Factory – administrators Leonard Curtis were called in that month – but not for Happy Mondays. Reunited, they're currently on a major European tour.