Watch Now – Factory Records from Joy Division to Happy Mondays

by Asha


The rise and fall of the most influential and successful independent record label in British rock music history – we at future artsts owe a great deal to this cultural force, still influencing manchester today – enjoy the doc.. we did!


I wasn’t supposed to direct this film. It was to be made by one of the BBC’s own – Dione Newton – but it was delayed, due to Tony Wilson’s announcement that he had cancer and was undergoing treatment. Dione was already pregnant, and now the dates didn’t work for her. Mark Cooper – head of Music Entertainment – asked me to step in. So for me it was all a bit Factory-ish from the outset: a matter of accident rather than design.

The initial idea was to structure the film around two interviews with Tony Wilson, the first to be done immediately, and a second to be done much later – when we’d interviewed everyone else who was willing and available to talk. But like most plans for documentaries, this wasn’t to be.

Despite his obvious frailty, Wilson went on the offensive immediately. Meeting at a restaurant with myself and Jane Maugham – Assistant Producer on the film – the night before shooting, he checked our credentials at the table by calling friends who might have seen other films we’d made (my recent film about Gilbert and George for the BBC’s ‘Imagine’ series and Jane’s film about The Fall). “Were they any good, because I’m sitting with the makers right now?” Apparently they were. Tony liked to think of himself as tough. As he said: “I’m a c***t”. He wasn’t.

I interviewed him the next day in the vast industrial space that is Sankeys Soap factory – a splendid survivor of Manchester’s industrial past, and the space that doubled as Factory’s plush offices in the movie ’24 Hour Party People’. He joyously recounted both the highs and lows of the company’s fifteen year reign in Manchester – an account liberally peppered with spiky analysis, obscenities, self deprecation and child-like enthusiasm – so that a second interview seemed unnecessary. We never saw him again. News of his death came on the very day we were putting the end credits on a film he never saw. The Factory story is full of such coincidences.


‘Factory as a ‘social experiment’, as a cultural force, as a manifestation of Tony Wilson’s ego: the kind of talk that Peter Hook calls “arty bullshit”.’


Wilson always believed that, when faced with historical fact versus legend, that one should always print the legend. Hence his fondness for ’24 Hour Party People’ – a Carry On version of the Factory story, in which he appears as an affable clown and which has a 70/30 myth-to-truth ratio at best.

Our challenge was that our cast comprised the real 24-hour party people, and that the job of the documentary is to deliver the reality and facts of a situation. Luckily for us, the so-called truth behind the Factory myth turned out to be more interesting, outrageous and – in some cases – downright unbelievable than the legend. Interviewing Shaun Ryder proves yet again what James Dean-obsessed method actors and Andy Warhol knew viscerally – that there’s no place to hide in front of a camera. His pauses are the gold.

If it’s words you’re after, Paul Ryder’s alarming honesty is every director’s wet dream, as is Stephen Morris’ sense of humour and delivery in the face of obvious absurdity and madness. And there’s no mistaking the kind of brilliant conclusions that come so easily to characters like Peter Saville and Paul Morley – real players unafraid of viewing Factory’s achievements in a pretentious-sounding kind of way: Factory as a ‘social experiment’, as a cultural force, as a manifestation of Tony Wilson’s ego. The kind of talk the label’s bands often laugh about: the kind of talk that Peter Hook calls “arty bullshit”.

I can’t do a good job unless the film I’m making becomes personal in some way, and initially I had no obvious investment in it. But being only two years younger than Tony Wilson, I soon realised that I felt more a part of Factory ethos than I’d previously thought. I’m crap with money, seldom learn from my mistakes, I’m an old hippy, have a weakness for illegal substances and think it’s possible to change the world – all of these things are major qualifications for being a bona fide member of Britain’s most important independent music label.

Factory’s story plays like a very old, familiar drama, but with a brilliant new musical score and a fabulously wayward cast. Its star player has, sadly, died and there is no understudy able to fill his shoes. But I’m forgetting … they hate this kind of crap up in Manchester.

Director, Chris Rodley

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