For something that happened twenty years ago, it’s amazing to see how influential the whole Factory Records era still is. Time and again things lead back to that era, as it continues to inspire films, music, graphics and books.
“Black Monday” is another contribution, and it’s a really fascinating snapshot of the day the music ended for Factory in November 1992. That said, this isn’t a polished ‘proper’ documentary, and none the worse for that. It’s a direct transfer from VHS, wobbly, grainy and repetitious at times – but hey, it’s not a Madonna video... Most of the mainstream music and film we see is over-produced, over-polished and manipulated, and with little connection to reality - things don’t really look as perfect as in most films now. Here film-maker Anthony Ryan Carter/Tosh Ryan simply takes his cameras along to a breaking story – the receivers coming to Factory Records – and films what happens. “Capture an atmosphere”, as he says to the cameraman. It’s rough and grainy, the sound isn’t always clear (to these old lugs, anyway). If you feel better calling it agit-prop or scratch video, that’s fine too.
The day starts on the street as rumours circulate. Gradually laid-off office workers emerge, sundry musicians come and go, and then the main players start to emerge, the label having gone into receivership. Once it’s become clear that the offices have been effectively abandoned (hanging boardroom table and all), the camera leads us on an eerie progress through deserted offices and store-rooms. Happy Mondays and New Order albums are scattered all around. Posters, white labels and even master tapes are strewn across the floor between piles of other groovy record company detritus. Dexion shelf units groan under the weight of boxes of 12”ers that’d probably fetch fortunes on eBay now. I’d always read about the label’s offices being in a converted warehouse, but until seeing this I’d never realised just how vast (and impractical) the place was.
We see the comings and goings of the Factory main men like Alan Erasmus and Rob Gretton. Typically though it’s Tony Wilson who steals the show. On being asked the significance of the day’s events, he pauses for dramatic effect, before announcing (with his usual smile): “It’s what Chou En Lai said when he was asked whether the French Revolution was a good or bad thing, and replied ‘It’s too early to tell’ “. Just the sort of thing to enrage the Wilson detractors, but to anyone who knew him (as I did, pre-Factory) there’s always a slight tongue-in-cheek element, kind of “Come on, are you going to let me get away with that?”
Talking of detractors, one former Joy Division/New Order member has his habitual mither against Factory, although at least for once he has the grace to concede that without their backing he’d never have made it in the first place. There is also a subtle subtext of schadenfreude at times in the film – apparently deriving from resentment between film-maker Anthony Ryan Carter (co-founder of Rabid Records) and Tony Wilson, mainly over musical/industrial espionage and the alleged poaching of Martin Hannett by Factory.
The meat of the story is really in the first two chapters. Chapters Three and Four record the rebirth of the former offices as the Fac 251 nightclub, and the unveiling of the anvil (FAC73) made to commemorate 500,000 sales of “Blue Monday”. Along the way we hear a mix of views and recollections from the usual suspects like Mani, Shaun Ryder, Kevin Cummins and Vini Reilly. Once you’ve got past the fact that this isn’t a glossy mainstream product, there’s a lot here for anyone with a serious interest in the whole Factory/Manchester/post-punk scenes . “Control” or “24 Hour Party People “ it isn’t. But if you want to feel the strangely haunted, Marie Celeste vibe of the abandoned Factory offices – and wonder where it all went wrong – this is a really genuine documentary that captures what went down on a certain day that’s still resonating onwards and outwards.