Obituary: Rob Gretton

ROB GRETTON, the manager of Joy Division and New Order, was an important catalyst in the Manchester music scene from the mid-Seventies onwards.

From his early days as a DJ at Rafters nightclub to his involvement as a major shareholder in Factory Records and subsequently the Hacienda club, Gretton's benevolent presence and sharp wit made him as important to his charges as Brian Epstein was to the Beatles. In the space of 20 years with Gretton, Joy Division and subsequently New Order went from alternative local heroes to international act, with over 25 British hit singles along the way. They also influenced a myriad other bands from U2 to Primal Scream via Happy Mondays and today's big beat acts such as the Chemical Brothers and Fat Boy Slim.

Gretton was born in Wythenshawe, a suburb of Manchester, in 1953 and from his early twenties was heavily involved in the Mancunian wing of British punk (The Fall, Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs). In 1977, he saw a group called Warsaw play Rafters. "Warsaw was just different," he later recalled. "I thought they were the best band I'd ever seen."

At the time Gretton was the manager of the local act the Panik who pinched Warsaw's drummer Steve Brotherdale. They also had their eyes on the manic singer Ian Curtis but he wouldn't leave his bassist Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner. In fact, having recruited Stephen Morris on drums, Warsaw made some headway. In April 1978, they appeared at Rafters again, in a battle of the bands organised by Stiff and Chiswick Records. Warsaw, by then renamed Joy Division, were drawn last and, though they didn't win the judges over, they impressed a local television presenter Tony Wilson. Gretton also wangled an introduction to Wilson.

Having dumped the Panik, Gretton took over Joy Division's management but instantly ran into problems because of a restrictive deal the group had signed with RCA. The contract offered no advance and minimal royalties and Gretton's solicitor looked over the agreement. When RCA refused to improve the terms, the band offered to buy back the master tapes from the record company. Gretton's bluff worked and Joy Division were released from the contract; he was determined not to jump into bed with a huge corporation too soon.

Tony Wilson, who was managing the Durutti Column with the actor Alan Erasmus, had started a club night called the Factory and Joy Division played there in June 1978. This club night evolved into a record label, with the release in January 1979 of A Factory Sample, a double EP featuring John Dowie, Cabaret Voltaire, The Durutti Column and Joy Division. By then, Joy Division had made its London debut and impressed journalists with their intense performance.

A John Peel session followed and Warner Brothers offered the band a deal through its subsidiary Radar. Joy Division seemed to be following in the footsteps of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, who had already moved from Factory to Virgin, until Gretton intervened.

Tony Wilson explained in Dreams Never End (1995), Claude Flowers' book on New Order and Joy Division:

There was a general acceptance that small labels being a nursery for the majors was okay. And suddenly Rob Gretton turns to me one night and says: "Hmm. Tell you what, obviously we'll go to Warner Brothers and Radar soon and sign up but, before going, why don't we do the first album with you on Factory?" I said: "That's an idea. Are you sure?" I thought it was kind of funny. I figured Rob was doing it as an experiment, but he was doing it to see if it would work. Which indeed it did. And of course, Joy Division later became successful. It then set the reverse mode which is you don't want to sell to the majors.

With the experimental producer Martin Hannett at the helm, Joy Division completed the album Unknown Pleasures (1979), which was released to great critical acclaim and steady sales. The group supported the Buzzcocks on tour but the single "Transmission" didn't become the radio hit they had anticipated. They did make inroads into continental Europe and America, building fan loyalty with a limited edition free flexi-disc, another example of Factory's erratic business approach.

Ian Curtis's private life was becoming increasingly complicated and this, coupled with his epilepsy and the pressures of the band, led him to commit suicide, on 18 May 1980, just before an American tour. "Love Will Tear Us Apart", the melancholic anthem he left behind, entered the UK Top Twenty the following month. Shellshocked, the three remaining members and the manager took stock while the album Closer climbed up the charts. Gretton's determination steadied the nerves of Hook, Sumner and Morris. "We just wanted to take it easy, to work out what we were going to do," explained Gretton. "I remember A Certain Ratio were a little surprised when we showed up to play as their support."

Gretton suggested a new name for the band which turned out to be as controversial as Joy Division (named after the prostitute wing of a concentration camp). He was supposedly reading a Situationist book entitled Leaving the Twentieth Century. "A passage about a new order of architecture stuck in my mind. At the time, I thought it was a very neutral name," he declared, maybe to further incense the media who had often decried the Nazi connotations of Joy Division. The mischievous Gretton sometimes changed the story, claiming he'd seen a News At Ten report or a newspaper article saying that the Khmer Rouge had been renamed the New Order of Kampuchean Liberation.

Gretton invited Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Morris's girlfriend, to join the band full-time on keyboards and guitar. New Order's first shows as a four-piece, in early 1981, proved emotional affairs, but the sound more than lived up to expectations. As the manager famously remarked: "From now on, it's gonna be like the Pink Floyd."

After Movement, their debut album as New Order, the band and Factory parted company with Martin Hannett. Hannett sold his share in the label to the others for pounds 40,000. The sleeve and poster designer Peter Saville thus held a minority 6 per cent share while Gretton and Alan Erasmus each had 31 per cent, Wilson having the upper hand with 32 per cent.

Most Factory artists had no contract with the label but received a 50 per cent royalty rate. Slowly but surely, New Order became the cash cows financing fanciful plans like Factory designer stationery and the setting- up of the Hacienda in 1982 as the Mancunian answer to New York's Danceteria. Madonna appeared there and the "Madchester" phenomenon, launching the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, spread from the nightclub, but it was always a costly vanity venture.

The hypnotic "Blue Monday", created with the New York producer Arthur Baker in 1983, should have helped New Order's finances but, in typical Factory fashion, the 12in single had such an expensive sleeve design that 2p was lost on every copy sold. Given the 600,000 units shifted in the UK alone, the loss proved considerable, although the track confirmed the band's status and their shift to a more danceable sound.

In the late Eighties, following the success of the single "True Faith" and the No 1 album Technique, New Order took a well-deserved break. Hook launched Revenge, while Sumner joined the ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in Electronic and Morris and Gilbert became the Other Two. These side- projects distracted the musicians and manager who should have been trying to sort out their business affairs and stop Factory squandering money.

In June 1990, "World In Motion" became a British No 1 single and the World Cup anthem, as the footballer John Barnes and the comedian Keith Allen rapped with England New Order, as they were renamed for the occasion. Soon after, a take-over of Factory by London Records was mooted and, rather than feed the whole operation and guarantee debts, the group jumped ship and signed directly to London. In November 1992, Factory Communications Limited went into receivership, leaving many creditors unpaid.

New Order had a narrow escape and, the following year, returned to the Top Five with "Regret" and the album Republic. They made up for lost earnings by fully exploiting their back catalogue whose rights had reverted back to them.

Following another four-year hiatus, the group reunited last year to headline the Reading Festival and appeared at the Manchester Evening News Arena and at Alexandra Palace. More recently, Gretton had launched his own label Rob's Records (on which Sub Sub scored a No 3 hit with "Ain't No Love" in 1993).

Rob Gretton's gambling instincts remained legendary throughout the industry. He famously bet each member of New Order pounds 250 that "Fine Time" would make the Top Ten in December 1988. The single peaked at 11. The following year, another bet on a No 5 chart position for "Round And Round" led to Tony Wilson's resignation as Factory chairman when the track only reached No 21.

Pierre Perrone

Robert Leo Gretton, music manager: born Manchester 15 January 1953; (one son, one daughter by Lesley Gilbert); died Manchester 15 May 1999.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions