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.
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.
*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