“This is going to go off”: five nights that shook The Haçienda

Forty years since the Manchester dance Mecca first opened, the club's key players remember its finest moments

Timed to coincide with the fortieth anniversary year of the opening of the storied Manchester club, BBC documentary The Haçienda: The Club That Shook Britain charts the venue’s history and cultural legacy. Ahead of its release, NME asked five key players to recall their most memorable nights there.

“They used a road-digger to drill through the centre-pillar that was holding the whole club up”

Einstürzende Neubauten live
28 February 1985
By Peter Hook, co-owner of The Haçienda and New Order bass legend

“The gig that was the most exciting for all the wrong reasons was [German experimental group] Einstürzende Neubauten. It hadn’t started out well: their singer, Blixa Bargeld, had a reputation for screaming until the blood vessels in his throat burst, and our PA guy warned him: ‘If you get blood over my mic, I’m going to batter you!’ That was during the soundcheck, so there wasn’t a great mood! They had dumped all this heavy-duty equipment onstage, which nobody took any notice of. They were renowned for their industrial sound, so as soon as they started playing, it was a swathe of feedback, really heavy, loads of distortion with the lead singer screaming. Then they started picking up different bits of machinery and were chopping up the stage and attacking the walls and I thought: ‘Fucking hell, this is pretty good!’. The audience were pummelled into submission.”

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“One of them picks up a pneumatic drill that’s used by workmen on roads, and started drilling through the various pieces of concrete they’d brought along, then suddenly Paul Mason, who was general manager of The Haçienda, ran over to me and went: ‘Hooky! Look what’s happening!’ And they were using this road-digger to drill through the centre pillar of the stage that was holding the whole bloody club up! So we all ended up wrestling with Einstürzende Neubauten trying to get their equipment off them, the audience didn’t have a clue what was going on, and the gig ground to a halt. With that, the PA guy comes onstage, grabs hold of the singer and says: ‘I told you about getting blood on my mic!’ and nutted him, knocking him out. What a night! I loved their performance: it felt punk and anarchic.”

Hacienda
Peter Hook, New Order and Joy Division founder member, Haçienda co-owner. CREDIT: BBC

“We had to wipe away Take That’s tears backstage”

The opening night of ‘Flesh’
October 1991
By Kath McDermott, Haçienda DJ

“Flesh was The Haçienda’s gay night. The opening night was only half-full, but walking in, it was unbelievable seeing that many gay people from all over the North of England congregating in this enormous space. It was a diverse crowd – in their gender, sexuality, race, age – but I’ll never forget the passion on the dancefloor that night. People were looking at each other, feeling like ‘This is going to go off’.”

“By the third Flesh, we were rammed to the rafters. Each one was themed, which allowed for a lot of creativity and bizarre experiences. I remember having to push an ice-cream van through The Haçienda with drag queens in high heels because the fire safety team arrived. We had a ghost train at one where people were taking loads of poppers and freaking out. There was a great blend of dykes, naked people, people in gimp masks, people having sex, and straight ravers who loved it because by this point, The Haçienda was getting bad vibes with gangsters, but Flesh was a safe, warmer space, and the likes of Pet Shop Boys and members of Kraftwerk would come down.”

“I remember Take That played at Flesh and were booed and heckled off, and Lucy Scher, one of the promoters of Flesh, ended up wiping away their tears backstage, because they were only kids. But after that, they’d come all the time. Flesh was one of the first gay clubs where straight people wanted to come en masse. It became so popular, we had complaints from gay people that they couldn’t get in, which led to us half-jokingly putting on the ticket: ‘The management reserves the right to refuse admission to known heterosexuals’, but to have been there from the start felt special.”

“Running for your life so you don’t get a golden-shower from Keith Allen is an experience that could only happen at The Haçienda”

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William S. Burroughs live
October 4, 1982
By Ben Kelly, designer of The Haçienda

“When I was a student at Royal College of Art, I’d named my thesis after a line from William Burroughs’ [1959 novel] Naked Lunch, and Factory’s Peter Saville later had adapted its cover into the sleeve artwork for Joy Division’s [1980] single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Fast forward to October 4, 1982, and I witnessed the spectacle of Burroughs doing a series of readings at The Haçienda, at an art event put together by Psychic TV, led by the weird and wonderful [avant garde icon] Genesis P-Orridge.”

“It was four months after the club had opened, and in the early days, not many people went to The Haçienda; it was just a handful of people standing around in raincoats with their hands in their pockets. But it was full for Burroughs, which seemed extraordinary, and he sat at a desk onstage, and read from [his 1980s novels] The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands in his big, croaky monotone voice.”

“Afterwards, I found my way backstage and wanted to get his autograph, but he was pretty scary, so I didn’t have the bottle to approach him. Another night I remember was a private party that New Order manager/ The Haçienda founding partner Rob Gretton had organised in the club’s basement, where Keith Allen was off his face and chased me through the club mistaking me for a urinal. To be running for your life so you didn’t get a golden-shower from Keith Allen is an experience that could have only happened in that club!”

Hacienda
Ben Kelly, designer of The Haçienda. CREDIT: BBC

“The swimming pool burst and the flood of water swept everything up!”

The opening night of ‘Hot’
July 1988
By Paul Cons, Haçienda promoter

Hot happened during the Summer of Love in 1988 when rave and ecstasy first erupted in Manchester. I’d been running a night called Zumbar which was a cabaret disco, and had featured acts such as Julian Clary’s Joan Collins Fab Club, pop duo Dollar and Liz Dawn, aka Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth, who had turned up to sing a few numbers in a chauffeur-driven limo in a fur-coat.”

“For the summer, I’d run out of ideas, and decided to do a summer holiday beach vibe, and without thinking about it, with ‘Hot’, we’d designed the perfect Ibiza-style backdrop. We had palm trees, beach balls, I bought Manchester’s entire supply of ice-pops and we installed a 20ft-long portable swimming pool in it. On the opening night, we had a Spin-the-Wheel promotion, where Factory manager Tony Wilson spun a wheel of fortune that contained different offers like ‘20p off drinks’ and ‘Doubles for the price of singles’. As luck would have it, it landed on ‘Free Bar’ which he wasn’t happy about! At some point, the swimming pool burst and there was a flood of water that swept everything up. But the craziness of that night and everybody being on one made it magical.”

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Paul Cons, Haçienda promoter. CREDIT: BBC

“I ran to Peter Hook and yelled: ‘HOOKY! YOUR MONEY’S ON FIRE! I’M BURNING IT!’”

New Year’s Eve 1992
By Ang Matthews, The Haçienda’s manager and licensee

“The Haçienda was an ex-showroom for yachts and the ceilings were huge, so every New Year’s Eve, we’d have fireworks go off inside the building. At midnight on January 31, 1992, the music stops, the place goes black, the fireworks go off and the next thing I hear is screaming: ‘THE MONEY’S ON FIRE!’ We used to put all the notes from the door – everybody paid in cash in those days – into cardboard boxes, which we stored at the back of the main bar. The fireworks had fallen from the shelf above, and £20,000 had started to slowly catch fire. I ran to Peter Hook and yelled: ‘HOOKY! YOUR MONEY’S ON FIRE! I’M BURNING IT!’ and he tried to pour it out with neat spirts which didn’t help. We saved the embers on a shovel and the bank were able to work out how much money was there, so we got most of it back. Another night I remember is when The Smiths played in 1983, and Paul Cons had covered the whole place in gladioli. In true Haçienda stye, it was on another level of nonsense!”

Hacienda
Ang Matthews, The Haçienda’s manager and licensee. CREDIT: BBC

‘The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain’ airs Saturday 5 November at 10.15pm on BBC Two and iPlayer

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