In the 70’s I worked at Granada Television in Quay Street Manchester. In my late teens, working in TV in was very cool (I presume it still is) and certainly my colleagues and me were used to being around the big names, famous people from films, the theatre, the music industry. Seeing Sir Lawrence Olivier coming out of the studio after filming , while we were on the way to the Festival Café to have our lunch with actors from dramas such as Coronation Street, Hard Times, Family at War, presenters from World in Action, University Challenge, comedians and musicians from every genre abounded. For us young assistant film editors, the coolest person at that time by far was Tony Wilson. On reflection I think it was given that we knew he was something special, he held this amazing energy, even when he walked down the corridors of Granada he strode with a purpose.
Now, a year later than intended, as we all know 2020 had other plans! I couldn’t wait to visit a special exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum telling the story of Factory Records’ formative years from 1978 to 1982 and I was certainly not disappointed!
Use Hearing Protection: The Early Years of Factory Records, at the Science and Industry Museum, reveals the lesser-known stories of one of Manchester’s most influential record labels and celebrates its place at the heart of the city and the UK’s music and creative industries and how their innovative work in music, technology and design gave Manchester an authentic voice and distinctive identity. Founded by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus, the label played an influential part in the city’s transformation from an industrial powerhouse to a beacon of art and culture.
The exhibition celebrates Manchester’s place at the heart of Britain’s music and creative industries and shines a light on the little-revealed early period of the label and trace new outlines of its famous history; exploring how contemporary post-industrial Manchester allowed the label to spearhead innovation in the fields of music, technology and design, giving the city an authentic voice and distinctive identity.
Visitors are guided through the lesser-known story of the pre-Haçienda years, uncovering the history of the label and how it earned its status as a catalyst for innovation. The first 50 numbered Factory artefacts on display, include the iconic FAC 1 poster, designed by Peter Saville, as well as items relating to Joy Division, New Order and The Durutti Column. A series of amplified stories shed light on individuals who played an important but lesser-acknowledged role in Factory’s early years.
I was particularly struck to learn about five key women involved in the Factory story at the start, namely , Lindsay Reade, Lesley Gilbert, Gillian Gilbert, Ann Quigley and artist, Linder. More information about how these and how other women were instrumental in the formation of Factory Records cane be found in the Museum’s recent blog written by Archives Manager and Use Hearing Protection lead curator Jan Hicks.
Celebrating the women of Factory Records
Jan Hicks tells Quayslife: “This is an unmissable exhibition for anyone eager to explore the origins of this influential label and its long-lasting legacy. The early years of Factory Records did so much to influence the city and the UK’s contemporary creative industries, and this exhibition explores why its unique development could only have happened in Manchester at this time and involving this group of people.
“It’s a story that the Science and Industry Museum is uniquely placed to tell. Factory Records was hugely influenced by Manchester’s industrial heritage, which we sit at the heart of, and was progressive in its use of digital and electronic technologies, which are again core focuses of the stories we tell here at the museum.
“This is a hugely exciting exhibition. Having been originally planned to take place last year, I’m delighted we’re finally able to bring the experience to our visitors. We’ve taken the additional time to expand the objects and stories available, giving audiences access to a rich collection of Factory artefacts, first-hand accounts and immersive experiences that transports them back to an era where Manchester’s contemporary identity was formed.”
Seldom-seen archive materials and objects give visitors an exclusive insight into the Factory Records story, a highlight being Ian Curtis’s Vox Phantom guitar, played live and featured in the official Love Will Tear Us Apart video, which is on public display for the first time in over 30 years.
It was interesting to discover previously untold stories about one of Britain’s most important independent record labels and I was surprised to see original letters and contracts from the then Head of Music at Granada Television offering the heady sums of £5 and £24.25.
Visitors have the opportunity to visit the ‘Gig Room’ where the music will transport audiences back in time, through large-scale projections of early live performances by bands on the Factory Records label.
I visited the exhibition around noon on a Friday in August, it was fabulous to see couples in the darkness of the ‘Gig Room’ sitting at small tables, apart from the fact that no alcohol was being imbibed it could have been midnight on a Friday night!
Audiences are immersed in music at every turn, through interactive experiences that offer the opportunity to get hands-on with technologies of the time that have gone on to change the face of popular music, including a mixing desk and synthesiser (visitors will need to bring their own headphones to enjoy these experiences).
The geography of the city and its suburbs inspired Factory’s visual agenda, and its iconic aesthetic has been reflected throughout the exhibition’s design. I particularly enjoyed crowd sourced photographs from the People’s Archive showing how the city lived and how music brought people together .
Ben Kelly, who collaborated on record sleeve designs with Peter Saville for early Factory releases before going on to design the Haçienda, led on the exhibition’s creative direction in collaboration with Manchester-based company Modern Designers, who have brought the vision to life.
Use Hearing Protection: The early years of Factory Records has been developed by the Science and Industry Museum in association with consultant curators, Jon Savage and Mat Bancroft, and partner Warner Music UK. It reinterprets and expands on the original Use Hearing Protection: FAC 1 – 50 / 40 exhibition held at Chelsea Space in London in 2019 and displays a number of items from Jon Savage’s personal collection of Joy Division artefacts (acquired by the museum in 2019), as well as objects loaned from the estates of both Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton, the former manager of Joy Division and New Order.
As I left the exhibition , and ‘The Gig Room’ with the sounds of 70’s Manchester and Vox Phantom ringing in my ears, a huge poster reminded me to leave quietly.
I am sure that even if I had not left quietly, it would not have mattered as the Museum was buzzing with visitors of all ages. The Science and Industry Museum’s ‘Top Secret’ exhibition, which I reviewed some weeks ago is still a crowd drawer, the figure for visitors to that exhibition had reached over 40,000 and continues to grow weekly.
Use Hearing Protection: the early years of Factory Records is a temporary exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester. It is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and will run until Monday 3 January 2022. Tickets are priced at £8 for adults and £6 for concessions, with under-12s going free.