It was 30 years ago that I launched my specialist weekly dance night on Friday August 19th 1983 at The Haçienda in Manchester, then very much a club struggling to find its identity. It was a case of too much space and not enough people during those difficult early years of its existence (having opened in May 1982), and, as I’ve said previously, had it not been for New Order’s success (the band were co-directors of The Haçienda) it would never have survived – Peter Hook’s book ‘The Haçienda – How Not To Run A Club’ is testament to the follies of a group of idealists who somehow, despite their near suicidal naivety, managed to (eventually) shape the Manchester nightspot into one of the world’s most legendary clubs:
Having appeared on Channel 4’s ‘The Tube’ 6 months earlier demonstrating mixing, I’d noticed an increasing amount of people from the alternative / indie side of the tracks, showing their faces at Legend on my Wednesday nights, which attracted a mainly black audience. Tony Wilson, a local celebrity given his day job as presenter on local news / magazine programme ‘Granada Reports’, was there on a couple of occasions, standing near the bar taking in the atmosphere and energy of the night. Also checking out Legend were Rob Gretton, New Order’s manager, and Mike Pickering, the promotions manager / booker at The Haçienda and saxophonist in Quando Quango (label mates of New Order on Factory Records). Some of the members of a couple of other Factory bands, A Certain Ratio and 52nd Street, were Legend regulars, and may have been instrumental in making Tony, Rob and Mike aware of what was happening there on a Wednesday, and perhaps bringing them along in the first place, but I think The Tube appearance was the catalyst in really gearing their attention to what I was doing at Legend, which was right at the peak of its powers.
As a supplement to Legend, then the hub of the scene (along with my Tuesdays at Wigan Pier) I’d run my own weekend nights in Manchester for the previous 12 months, first at The Exit, and then at Bertie’s, again catering to a specialist audience of largely black kids. The deal with both of these clubs was that I’d receive a percentage of the door take, and given that the nights were well attended, this became a lucrative aspect of my work, sometimes bringing in more money than the Pier and Legend, which I regarded as my main gigs (I’d managed to negotiate a sliding scale wage for each of these nights, based on numbers through the door, up to a maximum £75 for 450 people, which was the official capacity of Legend). This was at a time when £20 was regarded as the going rate for a good DJ. Further to this, I was able to command £100+ for All-Dayer appearances throughout the North and Midlands, and given that there was, on average, at least a couple of All-Dayer bookings per month, I was doing very well for a DJ in those days.
I’d been a professional DJ all my working life, originally being paid £6 per night when I started out in 1975 before I left school, aged 15. To earn a decent weekly wage you needed to work 5 or 6 nights a week, otherwise it was a secondary occupation to a more stable day job. I happily took the 5/6 (and sometimes 7) nights per week option and, after a period learning my craft, I eventually saw my earnings rise to £10, £15 and then £20 during my time at the Golden Guinea in New Brighton, where I’d made myself indispensable. You weren’t going to get rich as a club DJ back then, but you could make a good living if ability, opportunity and luck aligned, and this moment arrived when I was offered the residency at the then uber-impressive Wigan Pier in 1980, a club that was way ahead of the British curve when it came to sound and lighting. I worked 4 nights per week at the Pier, at what then felt like a mammoth £42.50 per night – I was in DJ heaven, working at an amazing venue, and being paid twice as much as I could earn pretty much anywhere else. Later down the line the Pier management, realising that they were paying way above the going rate, tried to get me to drop my fee to £30, resulting in my decision to take the plunge and concentrate purely on specialist black music nights, quitting the residency, but keeping the Tuesday in Wigan and the Wednesday at the company’s Manchester club, Legend, whilst negotiating the sliding scale arrangement I mentioned above (£42.50 being my base rate, £75 the ceiling). This was a decision that, fortunately, turned out to be a fruitful one for me when Legend hit capacity and the Pier (a much bigger venue) saw a significant increase in attendances. Added to the door percentages I was picking up at my main additional nights, held at The Exit in Manchester and the Stars Bar in Huddersfield, this meant that I was soon earning substantially more than the £212.50 I’d been picking up for the 4 night residency, plus my Wednesday at Legend.
In July ’83, after 3 months spent building an increasingly successful Saturday night, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to learn that Bertie’s had been sold and was about to close for a refit, after which I was told there’d no longer be room for my night as it was to re-open as a gay club. It had been a real coup to get a city centre venue in which I could promote a black music night on a Saturday, enough to dislodge me from The Exit, where I’d previously held a really strong weekly Friday session. 2 weekend nights in Manchester, in addition to my Wednesday, would have been overkill, so when Bertie’s came up it was a case of either or, and The Exit had to be sacrificed. With Bertie’s going belly up I found myself without a weekend night in Manchester, whilst I was also taking a fair sized financial hit, losing around a third of my weekly earnings. I wasn’t going to starve or anything, given my income from Legend, the Pier and the All-Dayers, but I now had a mortgage, and had bought a new car on the never never, so my outgoings, coupled with a small fortune spent on import vinyl, meant that, without the All-Dayer bookings, I’d be struggling to make ends meet. Finding another weekend night in Manchester was an absolute priority.
Before I had time to properly start looking, I was approached by Mike Pickering, who wanted to know if I was interested in taking on the Friday at The Haçienda. As odd as it may seem now, this was a real curveball of an offer, for the club came with the baggage of being regarded as a student / indie venue – taking on such a night, geared towards the type of kids who came to Legend, was a great risk, for this was a totally alien environment to them, and, as a members club, my audience, with their specialist tastes, would need to mix in with the existing post-Punk inspired Haçienda crowd, many of whom had little affinity to the black scene and its music (and some of whom weren’t shy of expressing their displeasure at the ‘dance shit’ I played there). The Observer Colour Supplement piece from a few months later highlights this collision of cultures brought about during my short stint there (it also illuminates the role of Broken Glass, the Manchester breakdance crew, in giving the club a new found credibility with the black audience, something which would reap dividends, but not until later down the line).
A meeting was arranged with Mike at a pub on the canal. It was a nice summer day, so we sat outside, with Rob Gretton joining us. Apart from the Friday, they wanted me to play for an hour on the Saturday, the club’s only busy night. They thought this would help acclimatize their members to the stuff I played, and serve to get some of them to come along on the Friday as well. I can’t remember if I asked, or if they offered, but I shook hands on £100 per night, which, whilst being a great deal for me personally, also convinced me how serious they were about wanting to make the Friday work – the main strategy they had in mind was to give the Friday a boost from time to time with live appearances by the type of acts making the Electro-Funk tracks that dominated my playlist (Newtrament, Whodini and Run-DMC would subsequently be booked, although Run-DMC would unfortunately have to cancel).
I made my Saturday debut on August 13th, playing, as arranged, for an hour, before kicking-off the ‘Funk night’ (as they billed it) the following weekend. With hindsight, the Friday shouldn’t have been launched for at least a month, allowing ample time for promotion. As it was, we rushed ahead, the only promotion being via my weekly newsletter, plus a mention in the regular gig-guide ads that The Haçienda placed in the NME and Melody Maker, which were hardly the type of publications black music enthusiasts would have read back then (Blues & Soul and Black Echoes the magazines of choice). The Friday’s got off to a poor start for a variety of reasons, but my main concern was the membership situation at the club (this cost £5.25 per annum, which was quite a wedge for the Legend crowd, many of whom were unemployed, to fork out in one go), however, Mike had told me that they’d find a way around this so that Legend customers would be able to get in on the night without becoming members. As has been said with regards to the running of The Haçienda in its early years ‘the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing’, and when my crowd arrived at the club the people on the door told them they had to be members otherwise they couldn’t come in. This was a disaster, especially when I realised that a coach-load of 50 of Huddersfield’s finest were amongst those who were turned away. They had to content themselves around the corner at Rotters, which was definitely not their scene. There was no way the Huddersfield crew were going to take the risk of organizing a coach to The Haçienda again. The few black kids that somehow got in were heavily outnumbered by Hacienda regulars, many of whom didn’t seem to understand that this was a Funk night. I was constantly asked to play some ‘decent music’, and that was by the polite ones, others were somewhat more blunt, calling me a ‘crap DJ’, which was hardly the response I’d hoped for!
It was certainly a case of trying to squeeze a round peg into a square hole, and this was pretty much the story of my brief 4 month tenure. Another major drawback was that the club had already booked in a number of unrelated live gigs on the Friday, which meant that continuity was affected as the Funk Night was cancelled for these events. We managed some memorable one-offs, the Newtrament and Whodini gigs, plus the final of the ‘Break Dancin’ & Body Popping Championship Of The North’, which I’d organised via my venues, and was the first competition of its type, but Fridays were generally a bleak affair. The Haçienda had a capacity of 1650, so, as you can imagine, even with a few hundred people turning out the club seemed empty and devoid of atmosphere. Then, of course, I had to contend with the club’s infamous original DJ booth, which I blogged about in 2 separate posts last year:
Following the Haçienda Revue tour in early December, and knowing that most of the Fridays had already been booked for gigs in the run-up to the New Year, I decided enough was enough. By this point I’d already secretly made up my mind to retire from DJ work at the end of ’83 in order to concentrate on production, and managing Broken Glass, so given that, apart from those one-offs I mentioned, I wasn’t enjoying working at The Haçienda, it felt like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. City Life would later report;
“Greg Wilson’s faith in New York’s mind hammering electro-beat was confirmed with both growing crowds and colour supplement coverage. Though interestingly, the sound flopped in the vast chasms of The Haçienda. Is this why he is retiring from DJing to concentrate on record production?”
They were right in a way, for if things had taken off for me at The Haçienda it would have represented a new phase in my career, a fresh challenge, but it wasn’t meant to be, so life took on a different course.
Looking back, it was clear to see that my role at the club was in planting seeds for its future growth, introducing the Legend audience – in particular Broken Glass, who were held in almost reverential regard at the time, helping bring The Haçienda much needed kudos within black circles. Things may have not gone as well as I’d hoped during my time there, but it had set the ball rolling, and Mike Pickering would take up the baton, beginning to DJ at the club himself (alongside Martin Prendergast), and continuing the dance direction that I’d helped instigate on the Friday nights I was there. Eventually he’d have great success with Nude Night, which became a Friday institution at The Haçienda, the black crowd out in full force.
Then, of course, Acid House happened, and the rest is history, but, as I experienced first-hand, all this grew from small acorns, so by the time of the Rave explosion The Haçienda was the right club at the right time, and I was happy to have played a supporting role in its gradual rise to prominence.
The Haçienda Wikipedia: