From the recorded travails of Ian Curtis to the indelible sense of fun that the 'Madchester' movement ushered in, Darren Carle reappraises the Factory vaults
In 1991, Factory Records released Palatine, a four CD potted chronology of its recorded output up to that point. One year later, the legendary Mancunian label was bankrupt amid a growing recession and spiralling recording costs for the likes of New Order and The Happy Mondays. Seventeen years later, this slightly-more comprehensive box-set covers similar territory, spread again over four sides of shiny polycarbonate plastic.
Unsurprisingly, disc one is somewhat dominated by Joy Division, an early recruit to the Factory club nights in Manchester that pre-empted the label itself. There’s nothing here that even casual listeners won’t already be familiar with; She’s Lost Control, Transmission and ending with Love Will Tear Us Apart. A brief career to the point that New Order emerge phoenix-like before the close of play with Ceremony, a previously unreleased track from the Joy Division archives.
Video: Joy Division - Transmission
Factory stalwarts A Certain Ratio also punch in a few classics, particularly All Night Party, whilst the ridiculously named Crispy Ambulance offer a solitary Cure-meets-Gang Of Four cut in the shape of Deaf. As such, the cold, austere and eerie production with which Factory stylistically aligned itself, mainly thanks to producer Martin Hannett, pervades much of the disc.
There’s some diversity though. The short-lived Distractions proved that sharing a stage with Magazine and The Buzzcocks was not a guaranteed meal-ticket, but their soul Factory output, Time Goes By So Slow is worth a spin. The original cut of Electricity by OMD is an unexpected joy too. Though the band only stayed for one single, the influence of Peter Saville, who designed much of Factory’s record sleeves, remained with the band throughout their early career.
If disc one was a timid ‘how do’ from New Order, then disc two sees the revived proto-dance troupe crashing the party. Everything’s Gone Green, originally released as a single only, and credited with kick-starting the band’s computer-dance frippery, is a blistering opener, whilst, later, Temptation and the ubiquitous Blue Monday almost steal the show. Rarer cuts of mention come from Tunnelvision, a teenage quartet from Blackpool in obvious thrall to Joy Division and some New York-flavoured dance courtesy of 52nd Street, experimenting with the same cutting-edge synthesizers as a certain Bernard Sumner.
Video: New Order - Everything's Gone Green
Perhaps the biggest note of disc three, culled between 1983 and 1987, is the arrival midway of The Happy Mondays, who, with others, ushered in ‘Madchester’ along with the revival of The Hacienda, a fledgling club owned by Factory that would go on to became a cultural hub for acid house and rave. A short-lived fling with James sees their brilliant Hymn From A Village also included. Obscurer highlights include Section 25, sounding like a draft version of Ladytron with Looking from a Hilltop. Forgettable moments come courtesy of Marcel King with the out-of-place Reach For Love and a rather painful A Certain Ratio instrumental.
Between New Order, their offshoot Electronic and The Happy Mondays, nine of fifteen tracks are taken care of on disc four. The sublime Think About The Future, the seminal Step On, the joyous Getting Away With It, heck even New Order’s football anthem World In Motion sounds pretty good. Filling in the gaps nicely are baggy also-rans Northside, despite their rather cack-handed drug-references and Simple Minds chorus-pilfering.
Video: The Happy Mondays - Step On
Of the big names, there’s nothing much new to hear, though you can’t fault the quality. Disc one (the most interesting) and disc four (the most fun) capture snap-shots of Factory at the height of their powers, riding a crest of very different cultural waves. But the smaller acts are clearly rubbing off of their heavy-weight label mates, and as such there are plenty of nuggets to unearth.