Various Artists: Factory Records: Communications 1978-92 [Box set] (Rhino)
Box sets can be tricky beasts. Rather like ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations they tend to be made up very largely of stuff that has been released before. However, unlike ‘Greatest Hits’-type packages, they generally serve as a cherry on the top for collectors of the work therein, rather than serving as an introduction. Quite often the enticement may also be fantastic sleevenotes, and these are reportedly written by Paul Morley, who is in his element doing anything Manchester and Factory, I should imagine…I say imagine, because the 4CD review copy does not come with these, so what might have served as a major incentive for this reviewer isn’t there.
So let’s focus on the music and the legend. It’s strange to think that it is now more than thirty years since Factory was set up, in part by the legendary maverick TV presenter Tony Wilson, who was always seen as being the public face of the label. The times of this label ran from post-punk (even if it wasn’t called that then) through the rise of indie as an alternative to the eighties mainstream and to the acid house and rave era which meeting Factory head-on produced Madchester. The three most legendary bands on the label : Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays are well-represented here (four, seven and seven tracks apiece). The label’s only number single Englandneworder’s ‘World In Motion’ isn’t here – but perhaps it’s the other things that Factory produced that make this box set notable.
Durutti Column must surely get their due one day -never a big seller but represented across all four discs, which run chronologically, by the way. A Certain Ratio’s mutant funk laid the grounds for what would happen twenty-five years later with the DFA label. New Order’s various side projects are represented – Peter Hook’s Revenge, Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert’s The Other Two (with their track ‘Tasty Fish’ -I swear to this day that this track reminds me of Saint Etienne), and of course Electronic. Electronic brought together Bernard Sumner with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Their first single ‘Getting Away With It’ also featured Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys (which is rather like having your cake, eating it and making trifle out of it as well). Tony Wilson didn’t sign the Stone Roses (as to whether any label could have coped with both those bands on the roster is debatable), and passed on The Smiths because he famously told Morrissey ‘Go away and write your novel, Stephen.’ Northside were signed to Factory, and they have probably been saved from being the most ridiculed band in 1990s indie by virtue of Menswe@r a few years later.
If the label wasn’t always having major hits, they were certainly able to recognise future massive sellers, and both James and OMD made their debuts here. For me, the real joy has been discovering the reggae band Xodus whose song ‘English Black Boys’ I had never heard before, but surely belongs as a cousin of its’ times to Steel Pulse’s ‘Ku Klux Klan.’ The only band not represented are ESG due to ‘licensing’ (though their music is available through Soul Jazz in the UK, so get thee to thy playlist, if you feel the need to be completist).
The myths and legends surrounding the label are many – New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ remains the biggest selling 12″ single of all ime, but due to the artwork, they lost five pence per copy (which adds up over two and a million copies). The Happy Mondays deciding to record their final album for Factory …Yes Please in Barbados and blowing the money on crack. Not having proper contracts with the bands, which was a wonderful and laudable ideal, and no help whatsoever when the recievers had to be called in that sad day in November 1992.
Yet Wilson was a visionary and for that he should be saluted. As should many of the bands included here. You can snipe about what should have been here until the cows come home -but just take a leaf out of this reviewer’s book and accept what is.
Factory Records: Communications 1978-92 [Box set] is out now on Rhino
A visual sample of some of the delights contained…
The Other Two -‘Tasty Fish.’
New Order -‘Everything’s Gone Green’
Durutti Column ‘Sketch For Summer’
A Certain Ratio -‘Shack Up’
Cath Carroll -‘Moves Like You’