Featured Movie – 24 Hour Party People

It’s a pity you didn’t sign the Smiths. But you were right about Mick Hucknall. His music’s rubbish. And he’s a ginger.
—God, to Tony Wilson

In 2002, a British comedy/drama called 24 Hour Party People was released. The movie is about the music scene in Manchester, UK between 1976 and the early ’90’s. Its focus is largely on a bloke named Tony Wilson who was a local TV and radio presenter and his reaction to and impact on what became known as the “Madchester” scene.

Let me say up front that this is a pretty entertaining film, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of that scene and its bands. What makes it so entertaining is its realistic depiction of what it might have been like for a bunch of scruffy, working-class guys to carve careers out of a few tunes and a dream.

And while I don’t know much about Wilson or what he was really like (died in 2007), much credit must be given to Steve Coogan, who effectively portrays Wilson as the casual-but-arrogant celebrity-about town.

I won’t summarize the entire plot but I will say that it basically begins at a now-defunct emporium called the Manchester Free Trade Hall (died 1996.) There, in 1976, a new punk band called the Sex Pistols plays to 42 people, one of whom is Wilson, several of whom are members of what would become Joy Divison.*

Wilson starts an organization called Factory Records and, being a socialist, gives the bands all rights to their own material. In short order, he features Joy Division on his TV program and then signs them to Factory.

The New Musical Express referred to Joy Division as the “missing link between Elvis and Siouxsie and the Banshees.” Late producer Martin Hannett (portrayed here by a decidedly un-Gollum Andy Sirkis), is given much credit for his sensitive production of their sound.

Spotify link

I wondered if the film would deal with singer Ian Curtis’** suicide, not to mention his epileptic fits. It does, I think, effectively. At the end of the day all these guys were mates and so it clearly affected everyone deeply. New Order formed out of Joy Division and bands like the Smiths and The Fall erupted, all contributing to the scene that became known as Madchester. (Noel Gallaher worked as a roadie for the band Inspiral Carpets.)

That effectively happened with the simultaneous occurrence of three things – the opening of Wilson’s barn-size Hacienda club; the emergence of DJs; and the prevalence of the new drug ecstasy.

“House music” took over and bands like the Stone Roses and especially Happy Mondays led groups of wild-ass party people in all-night raves. Unfortunately in many ways Wilson – while a great scenemaker – wasn’t much of a businessman. (Despite having signed contracts in his own blood.)

He and his partners soon came to realize that people were spending more on drugs than they were on buying his booze. And after a while, it definitely attracted the wrong element. And his deals with the bands?

Well, all I can is see the movie. Musical scenes (Studio 54 in the ’70’s; San Francisco in the ’60’s; Seattle in the ’90’s) like this erupt from time to time, seemingly spontaneously, burn brightly then die out like a (champagne) supernova. But they’re fun while they last.

Spotify link

*Joy Divisions were purportedly the name of brothels within concentration camps in Nazi Germany where women were forced into prostitution.

**There’s also a 2007 movie about Curtis called Control. Haven’t seen that one

18 thoughts on “Featured Movie – 24 Hour Party People

  1. Spooky – I am just about to watch Control on dvd with my husband. I watched it last shortly after its release and then did a Macclesfield trip 🙂

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  2. Apparently there were 42 people at the Sex Pistols gig, but lots of people have claimed to be there. But apparently it’s likely that Morrissey, and members of Joy Division, The Fall, and Magazine/The Buzzcocks were all there.

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    1. Yeah, I forgot to mention that the Tony Wilson character breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience. He mentions several people who formed bands, can’t remember them all. Sex Pistols may not have recorded much but their influence was outsized.

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      1. from http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2006/05/11/110506_sex_pistols_gig_feature.shtml

        “We know that Morrissey was there, who went on to form the Smiths. We know that the lads who went on to form the Buzzcocks were there because they organised the gig. We know that two lads from Lower Broughton were there who went out the next day and bought guitars at Mazel Radio which used to be on Piccadilly Station Approach, they formed a band called Joy Division; We know that Mark E Smith was there who went on to form The Fall; we know that Paul Morley was there who went on to become a writer and wrote about the scene for the NME etc.

        “There was ANOTHER gig six weeks later there that was actually full, and that’s where the Hacienda came from, that’s where Factory Records came from. So it’s a very easy thing to put your finger on and say: yeah, that’s where everything kind of changed. As a result, it’s become such an attractive thing that lot’s of people have said: I was there.. and maybe they weren’t.”

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      1. Don’t know how well Partridge would travel, Jim, but perhaps worth seeking some highlights on youtube. There are some marvellous music jokes.
        Hotel porter: So what’s your favourite Beatles album?
        Partridge: (flummoxed) Oh, er, I’d have to say ‘The Best of The Beatles’.
        Later in the same scene:
        Partridge: (outraged) You don’t know Wings? They’re only the band The Beatles could have bercome!

        I’m writing all that from memory so it’s probably well butchered!

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