As FAC51 The Haçienda entered its first full year of operation, eight months on from the May opening, it closed for its first ever night on the first Monday of the year, marking an end to the seven day, open daily strategy. Yet the live scene at the club was flourishing as the vigour and dedication of booker Mike Pickering saw major gigs each week from many breakthrough and local acts, some set to become internationally famous throughout the decade.
Looking back it’s hard not to see a golden age of event gigs but frustratingly as ever, The Haçienda was ahead of its time booking artists before they became well known and though attracting decent crowds (numbers of 500 or so were common at most gigs), the spoils of the Haçienda’s effort was left to other Manc promoters to book the acts at The Poly or similar venues, six months down the line to crowds of over a thousand. With a policy of headlining Manchester bands announced early on in the year, this saw a remarkable run of James, Section 25, The Chameleons, the return of New Order and the Smiths making their debut at the club supporting 52nd Street in the first of three gigs at the club in 1983 on their rose to prominence as NME darlings and one of the year’s biggest acts.
On their their third appearance in November 1983, with “This Charming Man” high in the charts, they performed on Top Of The Pops earlier in day before jumping the train back north for a flower strewn, sold out gig that has since passed into history as one of their best ever. Notably the two later Smiths gigs of the year and the two New Order gigs were the only gigs to sell out at The Hacienda in its opening 18 months.
A mixture of older legends and then up and coming chart acts on the live circuit also performed at FAC51 including John Cale, Jah Wobble, The Undertones, The Fall twice in the year, Fun Boy 3, Divine, The Eurythmics and OMD who first released “Electricity” with Factory before signing to Virgin and returned with a hugely impressive lighting rig. Other memorable moments included the electricity going off during the Undertones “Teenage Kicks” and Feargal Sharkey conducting a singalong with the crowd, the Cocteau Twins Liz Frazer crying at soundcheck at the sound system, Nic Cave punching a pint glass thrown at the stage into a million shattered pieces and a certain horde called Happy Mondays becoming victorious at a rigged battle of the bands gig. We’ll be hearing from that lot later.
As The Haçienda began its much celebrated Birthday Party tradition with the first some 364 days later on Friday 20th December, not to be confused with Nic Cave’s The Birthday Party who had also returned for their second gig at the club in February, The Haçienda also turned its Ben Kelly designed interior into a theatre in with “Tales From The Newgate Calendar” in May.
Yet other, more substantial stylistic changes were afoot with some Haçienda management, Wilson, Gretton and Pickering in particular, became worried that the club was turning out far away from their vision of a New York style discotheque and dance venue. With this in mindy, they looked to shake up the DJing at the club, bringing in Greg Wilson, John Tracy and Andrew as residents alongside Hewan Clarke from August, a move that was to define later years at the club and put The Haçienda right at the forefront of developing DJ culture.
Yet if the sound system was perceived as a problem, more damaging was the chronic mismanagement of the club with consistent losses of around 10 grand a week, those losses being stemmed by Factory and New Order. Problems with the opening, the debts and deal to the brewery, endemic theft and a laissez faire, anything goes attitude to all aspects of club running made The Haçienda a money pit for the partners and management, despite it achieving their artistic ambitions for the venue.
As the year came to a close, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, capped their most successful year playing at the club (Sat 19th November). Gretton in his sense of largesse and generosity, treating visiting bands how he wished to be treated, decided that the club had to compete with the hospitality of the New York club Paradise Garage and decked out not only backstage with an array of fruit and flowers but front of house as well. The following Thursday The Smiths appearance was to pass into history and as its second Christmas passed over FAC51, the year was only marred by the departure of Howard “Ginger” Jones as general manager, having confessed to Gretton he was at a loss as how to turn round the financial problems of the club.