The beginning of August marks a couple of anniversaries with parallels I can relate to this year’s Shiiine On gathering. Firstly, it will be 26 years since the Cities In The Park Festival held at Heaton Park in Manchester, an event that was stirred in my memory banks when I saw the era defining collection of Factory Records bands that had been assembled together for Shiiine 2017 (something I can’t recall ever seeing collectively since Cities In The Park).
Bands and artists from the labels inception such as Hooky and A Certain Ratio on to the Madchester legends Happy Monday’s through to the final chapter with bands signed before the labels untimely demise such as Scotland’s The Wendy’s and north Manchester’s finest Space Monkeys all of whom will be representing the different phases of the Factory legacy in Minehead.
More significantly the beginning of this month will also mark 10 years since the passing of one of music’s biggest characters and innovators, the figurehead and spokesman for Factory Records – Mr Manchester Anthony Howard Wilson, who still to this day leaves behind a gaping hole in the fabric of our thing.
Tony Wilson was the maverick who could evoke extreme feelings and opinions of him by others in equal measures. To my parents and folk alike he was the irritating, smug, arrogant, aloof news reporter on Granada Reports. Myself and youth of a similar ilk however would watch knowingly that he was part of the coolest record label around and home to my favourite bands and a vast amount of my expanding record collection.
More so over time he would become more synonymous and familiar in my mind as the black and white portrait hanging on the back wall behind the window I handed over my entrance money through to gain entry to my weekend paradise of The Hacienda and the golden days of the HOT or Nude nights I lived for. Someone I would occasionally catch a glance of in his loose-fitting suit walking the periphery between the off limits alcoves and the sweat drenched euphoria of The Hacienda dance floor as joy and ecstasy unfolded all around.
Cities In The Park was held over a two days; Day 1 (which I didn’t attend) was an eclectic mix of local bands old and new (Buzzcocks, Paris Angels and New Fads), established chart acts (OMD) and headlined by The Wonder stuff a band which I had loved (and still do, and will be getting reacquainted with in November) but had been well and truly elbowed to one side on the record shelf space by the sounds of beats BPM’s and a Roland 303 that had been my obsession of the for the last 12 months.
Day 2 was the one for me, the Factory Records and special guests day was billed as a tribute to Martin Hannett, the genius producer who had moulded Factory’s early sound and identity. Cynics sneered and saw it as a Wilson vanity project and a way of celebrating himself. Anybody present wouldn’t have cared either way as they knew it was all about the music and being part of something special.
The day kicked off with early mid-afternoon sets by new Factory signings The Wendy’s and Factory stalwart Vinni Reily’s The Durruti Column. They were followed by the first biggie, Peter Hook’s new (and to be honest, slightly confusing) post New Order outfit Revenge which I never really got apart from the trademark low slung bass riffs. Bands in leather keks was something that never really seemed to sit right with me regardless of who was donning them!
A Certain Ratio were captivating with their unique blend of sounds and influences, (the band I am most looking forward to seeing again at Shiiine this year). They are Manchester’s true innovators and have a rich back catalogue that needs to be heard. Denise Johnson’s sublime vocals have appeared some of our generations most cutting edge and greatest ever records, including those of ACR.
De La Soul came up next and managed to do what most others hadn’t – by making rap music work live. The daisy age rappers album ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ had been a big record and destroyed a lot of the gangster and violence preconceptions about rap that was off putting and out of sync with the 3rd Summer of Love vibe.
The most anticipated set of the day was Factory super group Electronic’s first ever live British gig. The Don of guitar Johnny Marr and New Order’s Bernard Summer had teamed up as an ultra-duo and thrown a bit of a curveball to the expectations by making an album of sophisticated technology laden songs and absolute classics pop singles in the shape of ‘Get The Message’ and ‘Getting Away With It’. They performed on the night alongside the Pet Shop Boys who had contributed to Electronic records and made cameos during the set.
The prominent memory of Electronic that night which may seem fickle compared to the music was Johnny Marr’s striking ice white trouser and jacket attire, a game changing image of a Paninaro who had just stepped from a coffee shop on a Milanese piazza straight on to the stage, sporting a curious looking button badge patch on the arm of the jacket, which I not long after found out after a bit of research was called Stone Island and cost more wedge than my months wages. Some were born to lead and Johnny was one.
If Elland Road was a tricky away fixture for the Mondays then Cities In The Park was the open goal home coming. A triumphant celebratory ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills set was played opening with ‘Kinky Afro’ in the heavy on stage pyro smoke and dense marijuana fug which now hung in the warm air and resembled a ravers version of Apocalypse Now. A friends and family ‘WFL’ 20 minute marathon finished the night and crowned them the kings of Madchester, never missing an opportunity to play the landmark gigs others maybe could of, but didn’t.
November will be one of those rare occasions over one festival when you will be able to see most of the pivotal legendary Factory Records play together one more time.
I spoke to Tony Wilson once at a small music festival in Northwich, he was curious to know what I did at weekends and told him I went to his club or others out of town which was a lot of hassle but nothing else of interest was going on, he replied “That’s why I have brought my bands here, I’m doing it for the provincial kids because no one fucking else will”