In the groove with Gus Garbage

DJ Taylor gets down and boogies with a Mancunian rock saga; From Joy Division to New Order: The Factory Story by Mick Middles, Virgin, pounds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
The story of Factory, arguably the most influential independent record label of the early 1980s, started 10 years earlier when a precocious young television journalist named Anthony H ("Tony'') Wilson returned to his native Manchester to take up a presenter's job on Granada Reports. Personable, telegenic and fixated on late-Sixties punk rock of the Lou Reed/Iggy Pop variety, Wilson soon persuaded his bosses to underwrite a late-night young persons' music show. So It Goes broke upon the TV screens of the north-west in early 1976.

Wilson's initial problem, as the programme's early critics obligingly pointed out, was a dearth of home- grown talent. The mid-Seventies, famously, were the years of "progressive rock'' - dry ice, castrati vocals and men with beards crouching over synthesizers - when the snappiest compliment you could apply to a record was that it was "well produced''. Happily by mid-1976 the times had begun to change - and begun to change smack in the middle of Manchester, where a couple of students named Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto had contrived to stage the first Sex Pistols concert outside London. At a return gig a month later, Shelley and Devoto's band, Buzzcocks, were the support art. For the first time since the Merseybeat boom, Manchester was a groovy scene.

In Wilson the Manchester scene found its Svengali. Supposedly enflamed by a puzzled accountant ("everyone else I know in the music business makes a fortune, Mr Wilson...") he began in a small way, hosting a Friday night "experience'' in an indescribably sleazy venue called the Russell Club. Factory Records, following shortly afterwards, featured an anorexic guitar genius named Vini Reilly, and a gang of Salford desperadoes with a tortured- sounding singer trading under the unpromising soubriquet of Joy Division.

The rest, perhaps, you know. Within a year Joy Division were the most critically admired band in England. Within two years, the tortured-sounding singer, Ian Curtis, having hanged himself just prior to the release of their second album Closer, they were a rock legend with an intensely lucrative back catalogue to exploit.

Amazingly, as the long-time Factory observer Mick Middles demonstrates, Wilson's luck held. Joy Division metamorphosed into New Order: "Blue Monday'', an hypnotic dirge from the early Eighties, became one of the decade's best-selling singles. In the meantime Wilson had bought a deserted yacht marina and converted it into a style palace called the Hacienda. Not long after this he turned up the bunch of drug-crazed Manchester hooligans whom history remembers as the Happy Mondays. It couldn't last. High interest rates and the property slump sent the value of the Factory portfolio tumbling. The Moss Side drug gangs had the Hacienda closed by the police. Sent to Barbados to make an album, the Happy Mondays went out of their heads on white powder and ran up a pounds 2m recording bill. By 1992 the receivers were in, the groups were being asset-stripped by major labels and Factory directors were left to contemplate the cost of a decade's profligacy.

Most of the enduring features of English pop are lavishly revealed in The Factory Story: its mercurial "businessmen'', high ideals, low cunning, empassioned guitarists with names like Gus Garbage, its fiscal absurdities. But it must be said that Mick Middles, who writes entertainingly and has the chronic pop obsessive's take on all this bygone marginalia, has put his name to the worst edited book I have read in years. Check out "decrepid'', "portentious'', "miniscule'', "comprised of'', "mooted'' (for "muted").

Middles himself appears not to know the meaning of the words "ubiquitous'' and "infamous'' and enjoys a particularly ghastly was/is stylistic flourish. Thus: X (the Vomit Club/guitarist Sid Spunker) was, and indeed still is...(a cocaine dealer's paradise/ unable to play three chords) etc. But for all these disfiguring drawbacks, this is still a hugely enjoyable rock chronicle, full of bleak insights into the fleeting subterranean world of late-Seventies Manchester and more revealing on the subject of why and how people play rock 'n' roll than many a more elevated tome.