Tag Archives: joy division

Paint A Vulgar Picture

“This unique documentary tells the incredible story of a revolution which rose up from within the walls and dancefloor of a former warehouse in central Manchester” so trumpeted the blurb issued by the BBC publicising last month’s documentary, The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain. Rather than striking a chord, this one struck a nerve. How on earth can any Factory records/Hacienda retrospective described as “unique”? The story has been told and re-told so many times that it’s almost beyond parody now. Documentaries, feature films, exhibitions, books, Hacienda fucking Classical… a never-ending stream of self-mythologising, misty-eyed bollocks. 

Back in the days when the Hacienda existed only as a mere nightclub, Manchester could perhaps justifiably claim to have been a forward-thinking city. Liverpool, with its Beatles tourist industry in full bloom, was mockingly derided for its whoring of past cultural touchstones. Fast forward 30 years and I’d argue that the plunder and pillage of Manchester’s musical history is a far more depressing spectacle than the Cavern club welcoming coach loads of Japanese tourists. 

I find it hard to believe that Tony Wilson, Factory supremo and driving force behind the Hacienda’s creation, would be in any way engaged with the tedious nostalgia-fest that has now become it’s legacy. The Situationist International movement, a key influence on Wilson’s original vision for Factory, aimed to disrupt homogeneity within the arts and popular culture. As a central figure in bringing both punk rock and rave culture to the masses, I can’t imagine he’d be interested in relentlessly mining events played out decades previously to supplement his pension. 

Peter Hook, on the other hand, clearly possesses no such qualms. Having moved on from forging Ian Curtis’ signature and profiteering from gullible record collectors, he’s reduced to performing karaoke versions of Joy Division’s back catalogue (sometimes, I kid you not, with a Stars In Their Eyes-style Curtis impersonator in tow) and flogging, quite literally, any old crap he can lay his hands on adorned with black and yellow chevrons. T-shirts, hoodies, lanyards, mugs, key rings, tote bags… they’re all there on his website

I honestly think it’s time that all concerned moved on. As a nation we are genuinely obsessed with nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with this in small doses as it can be fun to reminisce and history is there to be learnt from. If a country’s whole identity is based on events from decades previous it risks losing perspective and a sense of direction. Take a simple thing like Remembrance Sunday, once upon a time this used to be the British Legion selling poppies for a week prior to a respectfully observed minute’s silence. These days it’s turned into an event lasting a full fortnight during which all manner of weird behaviour and tasteless paraphernalia is encouraged.

Rather than wallowing in the past, I’d prefer to see more coverage dedicated to Manchester’s present. I don’t want to hear Noel Gallagher pontificating about dance music, I want airtime given to Aitch or Bugzy Malone. I want to see a documentary on the inexorable rise of Sacha Lord from nightclub owner to the fringes of mainstream politics. Let’s see an investigation into Gary Neville’s burgeoning property empire or a deep dive on the regeneration of East Manchester and the deal between Abu Dhabi and Manchester Council. As for the Hacienda, I think we’ve heard enough for this lifetime, thanks.

Copyright Red News – December 2022


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


Any mention of ‘intellectual football writing’ brings to mind the worst excesses of publications like When Saturday Comes and The Blizzard. Mags that promise a deeper, sophisticated level of analysis beyond the understanding of mere mortals – although in practice deliver content that appeals only to confirmed oddballs and masochists. I’m sure that 10,000 word thesis on the political background to the proposed re-structuring of the Bulgarian league was fun to write, it’s just that most people couldn’t really care less.

With this in mind, it’s fair to say that ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – A Cultural Analysis of Manchester United’ by Søren Frank (Bloomsbury, £20) is a book that has the potential to irritate anyone with an aversion to overly academic sports writing. The author, a United fan since he was exposed to English football on TV as a child in the late 70’s, is an Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Southern Denmark whose previous published works include heavyweight studies of the likes of Günter Grass and Salman Rushdie.

Frank is a very clever bloke then, and as you might imagine coming from a classical scholar, at times the book is not exactly what could be described as ‘an easy read’. In terms of cerebral United analysis, we’re as far from MUTV phone-in territory as you can possibly get, indeed there are several passages in the text that might prompt Lou Macari’s brain to collapse.

The opening chapter sets the tone for what lies ahead – alongside mentions of Danny Welbeck, Gary Neville and Nobby Stiles, you also have references to Albert Camus, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Frank’s prose takes some getting used to, but if you can get past the weighty introduction that attempts to explain the book’s form and composition, this is a truly original piece of work that’s unique in comparison to other written accounts of United history.

The author recounts the United story by basing individual chapters around key dates in the club’s timeline. Highlights include excellent accounts of the formation of Newton Heath FC, Sir Matt’s arrival at OT and the disingenuous manner in which Louis Edwards hoovered up shares to gain sole control of the club during the 60’s. George Best is compared to Jackson Pollock and the ‘sad happiness’ of the 5-3 home defeat to West Brom in 1978 is re-appraised as a cultural touchstone comparable with Joy Division playing the Russell Club.

What’s especially impressive is how well researched the book is, with other key United texts (‘Strange Kind of Glory’, ‘Betrayal of a Legend’ etc) referenced throughout. Frank is clearly a serious, time-served United fan who knows his football and this isn’t the case of an academic lowering himself in an attempt to muscle in on the mainstream sports book market. It’s unashamedly highbrow stuff at times – and won’t appeal to everyone – but there’s lots to be enjoyed here.

Copyright Red News – August 2013