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The Ghosts of 'Madchester'

What we need is a big big cooking pot
Big enough to cook every wonderful
Beautiful, trustworthy, lovely idea we've got.

--Happy Mondays, "Harmony," from the LP Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches

ONCE UPON A TIME (APRIL 1980, in fact), in Manchester, England, a 30-year-old music impresario -- and, in his long-standing straight gig, host of witty on-location segments for a Granada television news-omnibus program -- was interrupted during a location shoot and informed that the 23-year-old lead singer of the post-punk phenomenon the impresario had been managing, promoting, recording and marketing to an ever more global English-speaking audience had just been discovered dangling from the end of a rope in the kitchen of his house. So much, then, for a milestone in any promising young Brit musician's career: Joy Division's first American tour was to have started the very next day.

Meanwhile, eight time zones away, in a pad on Sweetzer Avenue south of Beverly in West Hollywood, a 30-year-old Manchester-raised music impresario with a background in print journalism -- notorious locally as the founder, booker, promoter and manager of the Masque, Hollywood's first, best and now-defunctest five-bands-at-a-burst floating punk-rock venue -- was just about out the front door with the balance of the deposit for the next week's big show at Myron's Ballroom on Grand Avenue, when the phone rang. "Fuck me, what now?" (or some such Mancunian self-deprecation). What indeed. The gist of it being the suicide of that same downtown engagement's headliner. In other words, no more Ian Curtis. No more Joy Division. And by way of collateral damage: no more gig.

But not, as it may have seemed at the time, the end of the world for Tony Wilson, Brendan Mullen or the dead bloke's band mates. The remnants of Joy Division would re-form as New Order Ceremony and, as such, make a much splashier splash than they had in any of their earlier incarnations. For his part, Mullen would continue in his efforts to keep L.A. moshing and lurching and moving and grooving, for 10 years in his capacity as a booker at Hollywood's Club Lingerie and the Variety Arts Center, and today as a club DJ and chronicler -- most recently in the book Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs -- of the L.A. music scene he helped shape.

As for TV presenter and professional music fan Tony Wilson, he carried on with the label (Factory Records) that had brought Joy Division (and A Certain Ratio, and Durutti Column, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, et cetera) to the world, releasing dance hit after dance hit by New Order and putting up with the self-destructive shenanigans of acid-house sensation Happy Mondays. Concurrently, in a glorious mishandling of the profits from these projects, Wilson financed and built and ran the Hacienda Club, whence today's Ecstasy-driven rave culture emerged. Since the label, and the Hacienda, folded in 1992, Wilson has bravely kept up appearances -- televised, on the Granada network, for the past 10 years, and last year as the protagonist (portrayed by comedian Steve Coogan, yet another Manc) in film director Michael Winterbottom's electrifying, post-postmodern evocation of the era, 24 Hour Party People (opens Friday; see Brendan Bernhard's review, this issue), and this year in the "novelization" of Frank Cottrell Bryce's screenplay for same.

And now, at last, they meet, these sons of England's North, as well they might have 22 years ago had not Ian Curtis so tragically mucked things up. Join them as they return, in memory, to the big big cooking pot that was "Madchester," to the days before and while and after it swung, conjuring more than a few ghosts along the way -- not least of all themselves, as they were, back when.

–Ron Stringer


Native sons: BRENDAN MULLEN talks to Tony Wilson about Joy Division, Factory Records, Happy Mondays, the Hacienda Club and more.
New dawn fades: JOHN PAYNE remembers Joy Division.
Love will tear us apart: TONY WILSON on the death of Ian Curtis.


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