Writing History- The Factory Records Catalogue

FAC 03 Poster, now on display in our store window

 

 

 

WRITING HISTORY

 

In reflection of installing our curated window display in our 8 Berwick Street store, on display until the end of July, which centres around our FAC 03 poster.

Our story as Underground began in 1981 Manchester. We started as a rare trainer store, endeavouring to cater to the demand of the city’s subcultural youth. At this point, it was a bubbling hotpot of culture: punk, post-punk, madchester, acidhouse, rave, ska, 2Tone- and we worked tirelessly to deliver them the same shoes their idols wore that were difficult to find.

Prior to this, up until the late seventies, the rest of civilisation perceived Manchester as just another dreary, unremarkable, working-class city in the north of England. Nobody could have predicted the explosion of music, culture and art that, for some years, placed Manchester as the cultural capital of the world. Nobody, you would believe, except for Tony Wilson.

 

In the late seventies, Tony Wilson was a local celebrity of sorts in Manchester.  A TV presenter on Granada Television, his programme So It Goes became infamous for being one of the first mainstream broadcasts to pick up on the ever-escalating punk movement. One of the more famous episodes was the Sex Pistols’ TV debut. Arguments of his telepathy or that he was a proprietor of a secret crystal ball could be made fairly at this point.

It was this programme in fact that first brought Joy Division’s Ian Curtis to Tony’s attention. Preceding this, the Sex Pistols allowed for the two to unknowingly cross paths at The Electric Circus in 1976 when the Anarchy Tour rolled into Manchester. Attending- a fabled audience of forty-two people, some eventually maturing into the likes of Mick Hucknall, Buzzocks, and Joy Division. In a 1976 issue of Sounds, Pete Silverton described the phenomenon, the lowering of the aspirational bar the Sex Pistols had affected: ‘The sentiments were echoed by most[ly] every kid I spoke to- they were certainly all in he process of forming bands’. But it was not until May ’77 at a club called Rafters in London that the two essentially met, an encounter elaborated upon in a previous article of ours.  Mark Johnson in his book An Ideal for Living described how Ian angrily confronted Tony with ‘You bastard! You put Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols and Magazine on the telly, what about us then’. Pretty hostile first impressions, but again, Tony, psychically or not, knew when to take a chance.

It was around then that Tony and four others had founded Factory Records and the club that preceded their later venture, the Haçienda. Joy Division went on to be headliners of the fourth Friday night of the Factory Club, and many times more from that point. That was just the start of a sadly short but awe-inspiring relationship together, but this story of Tony’s clairvoyance was sparked by a poster close to Underground’s heart.

 

Peter Saville, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus outside Factory Records.

Peter Saville, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus outside Factory Records.

Designed by the legendary Peter Saville, (whose futuristic work pair perfectly with Tony’s remarkable grasp of time), this is a genuine example of one of 250 copies of Factory Record’s second poster release, known as ‘FAC 3’. Made for a show at the Factory Club where Joy Division would star on the bill only four months after their first show there, this poster has been with Underground since our very inception.

The name ‘FAC 3’ refers to a catalogue number, and not one given in the usual manner, with the past already written and hindsight a tool. By some bizarre, incredible foresight, Tony Wilson commenced cataloguing and numbering everything he thought significant to Factory Records. This poster being the third item he branded as significant.

The catalogue itself was almost as iconic as Factory Records. Numbers, not necessarily in chronological order, were allocated to albums, posters, and even places. Items ending ‘2’ often denoted Happy Monday releases, and ‘3’ for Joy Division or New Order. Prominent releases went from FAC to FACT, and given prominent numbers. Joy Division’s Closer was numbered ‘FACT 25’, and the Haçienda club was FAC 51 for example. The catalogue includes hundreds of items, and things were allocated codes long after Tony Wilson’s death.

But how did he know? This man saw glitter where most saw rubbish; he saw significance and decades ahead in everything that surrounded him. He pegged Manchester for the buzzing, creative mecca our company grew up in, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays and Oasis in tow.

One interesting note I chanced across today was from Dr. Jennifer Bickerdike’s book of essays, Joy Devotion: The Importance of Ian Curtis and Fan Culture. Mark Brodie-Way writes in his essay, City Limits that Wilson ‘was writing the legend of the Factory and Manchester as he went along’. So whether you believe in Tony Wilson having either super-human divination powers, or that he was an expert manufacturer and story-teller, it would be hard to write off as anything less than a legend. So much of a legend in fact that his coffin received its own catalogue number, ‘FAC 501’.

 

Our window is available to view until the end of this month at: 8 Berwick Street, London, W1F0PH.

Jennifer’s book Joy Devotion is available to buy at our online shop here.