The most important music gig in history only had 24 spectators, but it changed music forever.
On July 4, 1973, the Sex Pistols played in Manchester for the first time. In that reduced audience were Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, members of The Buzzcocks, as well as Peter Hook and Bernard Summer, who then formed a band called Warsaw which later on became Joy Division. Mark E. Smith was inspired by Johnny Rotten’s voice to start The Fall. Then there was the president of the New York Dolls fan club, sat in the corner like a proper young man, though most called him Morrissey.
This small dirty venue hosted for a brief moment all the people who would change music one way or another. Among all the future rock stars, there was a visionary man whose hunger for cash led him to start one the most iconic bands in the Manchester scene. His name was Tony Wilson.
Tony was a journalist who then hosted the only music show in all of Manchester. He might’ve been a businessman, but he possessed a good ear, since his programming included bands such as The Clask, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and The Cure, which then took him to becoming a producer for Joy Division. Watch him do his thing while listening to “Shadowplay”.
What happened next was a turn of events that resulted in a shift in music and Manchester’s history. Once Tony realized the band’s potential and the burgeoning New Wave movement, he opened a club in the suburbs for the bands on his show to play gigs. This became the mythical The Factory, which then led the path towards Factory Records. These were the first steps taken in a revolution of music and drugs.
This brief narration makes evident which bands introduced these vices to the UK: Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and A Certain Ratio.
Tony liked to say that A Certain Ratio was his band. After all, he’d signed them up when they were unknown and helped them record several tracks. In their sound we hear the basic elements of the Madchester: faster tempo, chords that made people want to dance, and more joy than Joy Division. And yet this band remained in the shadows of Ian Curtis’ band.
Joy Division’s popularity was on the rise as was Curtis’ disease. We know what happened next: Ian committed suicide moments before going on tour to the USA, which would’ve consolidated them in the worldwide music scene. When it all seemed lost, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris decided to keep the project going under a different name, New Order.
Usually no band can survive the death of their frontman but they proved to be an exception when, soon after releasing “Blue Monday,” it became the best selling electronic music single in history. Tony Wilson’s dream of being the producer of one of England’s greatest bands came true.
With the paycheck from the album he opened The Hacienda, a home for the emerging electronic and New Wave music. It became New Order’s home venue. One night the crowd would dance to Sumner’s voice and then be electrified with The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays. The Madchester era was not just about the music; it was also about the decadence and excess of drugs.
Madchester had the best drugs, coolest outfits, hottest women, and the most amazing music. Happy Monday’s substance of choice was ecstasy, and the video for their song Wrote For Luck (W.T.F.) gives a glimpse of the wild nights at The Hacienda.
Legend says that a friend of the band was the first to bring the drug from Amsterdam. According to Dave Haslam, a DJ at the venue: “Ecstasy use changed clubs forever; a night at the Hacienda went from being a great night out, to an intense, life changing experience.” Rave culture was born during these gigs.
Sex Pistols, Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays built the Manchester music scene and consequently brought the drugs to town. Other artists related to the Madchester scene were The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, James, A Guy Called Gerald, and Northside.
So, how did the story end? You can see the whole story in the film 24 Hour Party People, which is a must for every music fan.
Translated by María Suárez