Back in the Eighties, the great British nightclub was a depressing place. The décor consisted of chrome and mirrors, set off by a sticky, beer-sodden carpet. The drinks were both watered down and exorbitantly expensive. You had to wear a tie and proper shoes to get inside, where the music was horrible: naff chart hits played by an even naffer DJ.
But the nightclub that opened in a former yacht showroom on Whitworth Street West in Manchester on May 21, 1982, was different. It featured an iconic, post-industrial design. The drinks were cheap, kept that way by a management committee that regularly voted against price increases. There was no dress code. And the music played inside was an impossibly cool, mould-breaking mixture of indie rock and electronic dance music that would provide the spark for both the Acid House and Madchester musical movements.
It was called The Hacienda (taking its name from a Situationist [a school of thought that believed personality was sculpted by external factors] book’s demand that “The hacienda must be built!”) and after its rise, the great British nightclub would never be the same again.
Back in 1982, however, Manchester wasn’t sure what to make of its new nightlife attraction. It was owned and run by legendary Mancunian band New Order, their manager Rob Gretton and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, who had been inspired by New York nightclubs such as Danceteria and The Paradise Garage, determined to launch a similar creative haven for Manchester’s artistic community. Only, Manchester wasn’t quite ready for it.
“It was a culture shock for the people of Manchester,” says Mike Pickering, who booked The Hacienda’s gigs and club nights as well as DJing at the club’s renowned Nude night. “People were still into the raincoat-brigade-Joy Division-thing so when we came along they were like, ‘Trendy bastards!’ We might as well have come down from another planet.”
Such was the club’s commitment to its artistic ideals that the price of realising them soon spiraled out of control. Bankrolled by New Order and Joy Division’s record sales, the club was originally projected to cost £70,000, but the lavish design and fittings actually came in at closer to £500,000.
“We were in financial meltdown as soon as it opened,” chuckles former New Order bassist Peter Hook – a fact that wasn’t lost on opening night compere Bernard Manning, who advised the band to “Stick to your day jobs, cos you’re not cut out for clubs”.
“He’d sussed that we weren’t hard-nosed enough,” shrugs Hook. “We were always more interested in everybody having a good time than being regimented.”
Tales of financial mismanagement at the club were rife; from the shockingly expensive 25-year lease to the £30,000 sound system that blew 18 of its 20 speakers on the opening night. And Wilson’s insistence that the club should be open seven days a week meant it was empty far more often than it was full. But the policy also gave Pickering free rein over bookings, and ensured the club had more than its fair share of high-profile gigs. Everyone from Culture Club to The Smiths and Grandmaster Flash to The Stone Roses played. Pickering remembers having to rugby-tackle German industrialist Einstürzende Neubauten when he took a pneumatic drill to one of the club’s pillars (“He thought we were trying to stop his gig – we were actually trying to stop him frying, because all the electrical wiring was inside that pillar!”).
“When it was empty, it felt really empty,” remembers journalist John Robb, a regular gig-goer during The Hacienda’s early days. “It was cold, and you could hear water dripping off the roof. But there were other nights when it was packed out for amazing shows.”
One such show was Madonna’s first UK appearance, filmed for Channel 4’s music programme The Tube in 1984. But while the TV audiences at home were transfixed by her two-song set, those actually in the club were less than awestruck.
“She mimed, which went down like a lead balloon,” laughs Pickering. “There was all sorts of things being thrown at her.”
“Rob Gretton really liked her,” adds Hook, “So he asked her if she’d do [another set] for 50 quid. She told him to f*ck off…”
The Queen Of Pop might not have been impressed, but The Hacienda slowly built its own, fiercely loyal clientele. One regular was Chris Roberts, then a Stockport College student, now a successful property entrepreneur.
“At that time, all Manchester clubs operated a dress code, which meant no self-respecting indie kid could get in,” says Chris. “So when we heard New Order were opening a club with no dress code, we were really excited.”
Another devotee was Geoff Ellis, now boss of Scotland’s T In The Park Festival, but then a Manchester schoolboy who would attend the club three nights a week.
“Me and my mates became well known to the doormen,” he laughs, “Some nights it would only be us and them in there! But The Hacienda at its worst had a better atmosphere than any other club at its best. You’d walk through the door, hear This Charming Man by The Smiths playing, and just get this massive lift.”
A UNIQUE SPIRIT
In the mid-Eighties, however, Pickering moved away from gigs and guitars to embrace the new club sounds coming out of America. He became the first UK DJ to play house music, putting The Hacienda at the heart of the acid house explosion, which inspired The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Suddenly, it was busy every night – although not busy enough that it ever emerged from the mountain of debt it had built up.
Hook says the owners became so “anaesthetised” to the club’s state of financial chaos that, “even when we could have feathered our nest, we blew that as well. We weren’t upstairs counting the money, we were on the dance floor giving it away.”
But while it’s the club’s boom years that have passed into legend, many believe The Hacienda’s idealistic beginnings were just as important.
“The Hacienda wasn’t like working somewhere, clocking on and off,” says Pickering. “We lived and breathed that place. And anything creative to have come out of Manchester for the next 10 years came from meeting someone or getting the inspiration in that club.”
Even Hook – who estimates that he and his fellow directors lost £13m during The Hacienda’s 15-year existence, and blames New Order’s split on the constant pressure on them to keep the club afloat – says he would willingly relive those early years. The club was demolished in 2002 (a block of flats now sits on the site), but its unique spirit, Hook says, should still be celebrated.
“Tony and Rob always used to say, ‘You can’t buy class’ and they were right,” he says. “If we’d just moved to London and spent our money, we wouldn’t have anything to be proud of. We believed in ideals and people rather than money – and there will never be a place like it ever again.”
The Hacienda 30 exhibition is at the Manchester Photographic Gallery until 29 May; fac51thehacienda.com
(Image: Rex Features)