The Haçienda: John Macklin interview

Brighton Racecourse hosts two nights of clubbing nostalgia this weekend, headlined by The Human League (Friday 8th September. UPDATE: Cancelled due to high winds) and Mike Pickering and Graeme Park’s Haçienda Classical concert (Saturday 9th).

Founded by Factory Records and bankrolled by the label’s most successful act New Order, Manchester’s original Haçienda closed in 1997 but the legend of its status as a crucible of UK clubbing has continued to grow. Haçienda DJs Pickering and Park and their orchestral Haçienda Classical shows have helped sustain the myth, alongside TV documentaries, movies (Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People), compilation albums and books (such as New Order founder and Haçienda Classical guest Peter Hook’s The Haçienda: How Not To Run A Club). Originally part of architect Ben Kelly’s groundbreaking interior design, the club’s diagonal black and yellow colour scheme has become iconic.

Earlier this year, we interviewed designer John Macklin for a feature on Factory’s Classical label (published on The Quietus). Macklin, who was Factory’s in-house designer in its later years, answered our questions at length, covering subjects outside the scope of The Quietus piece, including his work for the Haçienda. While we’re warming up for this Saturday’s Haçienda Classical event, here are some of his memories.

What was your design background prior to working with Factory and the Haçienda?

I had very little experience before I started at Factory. I’d completed an engineering degree at UMIST in 1985 but wanted to do something in design so I enrolled on a foundation course and quickly became interested in graphic design, printmaking and typography. Through a tutor at college I met Johnson/Panas, a local design partnership doing, among many other things, sleeves for Factory and publicity for the Haçienda. I went there on a two-week placement, dropped out of college and stayed for six months. As a former student in Manchester in the early 1980s, I was familiar with the Haçienda as a venue to see bands and with New Order because of ‘Blue Monday’ but it was through Trevor Johnson and Tony Panas that I learned about Factory and designers like Peter Saville (also a Factory partner) and Ben Kelly. It was a revelation.

Early in 1991, I was in London for a job interview, another button-pushing role. Peter Saville had recently been on the cover of Blueprint magazine for an article about him becoming a partner at (design consultancy) Pentagram. After a mercifully brief interview, I wandered around aimlessly and called Pentagram each time I saw a telephone box. I didn’t know until later that Saville’s working day began when most people’s finished. We met the following day, he liked my work and a couple of months later called me in Manchester and told me I should go to see (Factory owner) Tony Wilson who would give me a job.

In hindsight, I expect some people would have killed for that but I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I knew almost nothing about the music, hadn’t been to the Haçienda for years and wasn’t particularly bothered about doing record sleeves but I was immensely proud to be there. It was an environment where interesting things were happening and design was rooted in its culture. Factory appeared to be more than some good and bad records and a famous nightclub. I think it was Tony who described it as a ‘social experiment’. The idea of that inspired people and undoubtedly had an influence on the city that Manchester is now.

What were your first commissions for Factory and the Haçienda?

When I started, the Haçienda was temporarily closed due to the gangs, drugs and guns situation. For the re-opening night, I produced the ticket as a swatch of Ben Kelly’s new colour scheme. Ticket forgery was a local sport. The tickets were printed in about nine specially-mixed colours which was very expensive to produce but within days there were fakes in circulation.

Martin Hannett (producer and another former Factory partner) had just died and it was decided that there would be a compilation album (‘Martin’) of his influential work with numerous bands (including Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and U2). The proceeds of its sales would go to his widow. It was my first week at Factory. How do you design a record sleeve for that? Peter introduced me to Trevor Key who did the cover photograph. He’d done Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’, the first ‘proper’ album that I bought, not least because of its memorable sleeve. ‘Martin’ didn’t sell many copies and Tony casually said later that we should have put a picture of Bono on the front.

I also did (Factory box-set retrospective) ‘Palatine’ which haunted me for a long time afterwards. In better times, it might have been a careful, thorough documentary, worthy of its subject, but it was overtaken by an urgent need to generate some cash and only landed on my desk to save money. I was already out of my depth, but everything that made Factory’s products so admired, desirable and collectable was abandoned with this desperate, incongruous, cynical product. When ‘Palatine’ didn’t sell I felt helpless and partly responsible. Some of us hadn’t been paid for months and were living off our credit cards. Most graphic design has a short lifespan and often you wish it didn’t, but in the case of ‘Palatine’ it’s the other way round.

After Factory went into administration (November 1992), you continued designing for the Haçienda. When did you stop work there, and what did you move onto afterwards?

Graham Newman had joined me at Factory after he graduated from London College of Printing. After Factory, we were transferred to the Haçienda where I remained for a few months, gradually handing over responsibility for design to Graham. The Haçienda continually re-invented itself through publicity for individual events, each with its own graphic identity. It was an opportunity to explore ideas about design but the culture didn’t interest me.

I did the branding and publicity for Tony’s In The City conference (1992) and contributed to the branding of (Wilson’s next record label) Factory Too. I worked on the sleeve of its first album (Durutti Column’s ‘Sex And Death’) using a font made from Tony’s handwriting, and was initially part of the team which turned that into a music CD-ROM. I thought CD-ROMs were pointless and completely failed to see a digital revolution on the horizon. By now, Saville had left Pentagram and moved to California. I needed a break from the music industry and sought other work.

Main image:
Haçienda 10th birthday flyer (1992) by John Macklin (johnmacklin.com) and Graham Newman (fracturedfilm.com)

Read our preview for the full Brighton Racecourse Live weekend here.

Brighton Racecourse, Saturday 9th September 2017

Features 2 weeks old

Stuart Huggett

Stuart Huggett grew up in Hastings, publishing fanzines and writing blogs about the town’s underground music scene. He is a regular contributor to SOURCE, NME, The Quietus, Bowlegs and more. His huge archive of magazines, flyers and vinyl is either an invaluable research tool or a bloody pain. He occasionally runs tinpot record label Dizzy Tiger, DJs sporadically and plays live even less.

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