“Bernard Manning said: ‘You’ve got no fucking chance!’ to us.” Peter Hook is reminiscing about the comedian’s first impression of The Haçienda on it’s opening night. “But we proved him wrong, by managing to waste money for 17 years…” Perhaps no other failed business has had such a massive impact on British art and music. This was a club which had a key role in the UK’s acid house scene, and began Manchester’s evolution from grim industrial hub to a cultural mecca.
Even 20 years after it collapsed in financial chaos, the spirit and music which reverberated through this converted yacht showroom is being kept alive. Hook, DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, and the Manchester Camerata orchestra are adding a symphonic polish to some of house music’s most enduring hits with the Haçienda Classical project. “It’s as difficult as ever,” Hook cheerily tells me. “When we come to do the playlist it’s the most difficult. I must admit, this time, I had to put my foot down to get a bit of acid house – because I’m a great fan, I really threw a tantrum.” After a sell-out show as part of last year’s festival, this sprawling orchestral rave returns with a show at Brighton Racecourse. By Hook’s own admission it’s a huge undertaking, but people are still eager to preserve the legendary venue’s legacy.
The venue was opened in 1982 by Hook’s former band New Order, their manager Rob Gretton and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. It was unlike anything seen in clubland before, with an industrial style, bars named after famous British spies and VJs projecting questionable imagery. Here was a cavernous yellow and black homage to the vibrant Manhattan clubs New Order had been visiting. It subsequently failed to attract crowds for almost seven years, save for a few live shows. Then people started coming for the exotic machine music it played at the weekend, and Britain’s acid house movement was born. “People loved the idealism, they loved the wackiness of what Tony created and what he championed. It was very punk. A lot of punk ideals were built on non-commerciality.” Obviously running a club where some preferred drugs over alcohol is not going to generate a fortune. It’ll instead create problems with licensing officials, especially when rival gangs start warring on the dancefloor. Ministry of Sound, Cream and a wealth of super-clubs viably learnt from the venue’s mistakes, forming a new breed of world-class commercial brands. “The Haçienda changed the world, and people very rarely change the world when they’re only interested in money. Tony was only interested in people.” Hook detailed his experiences in his hilarious 2010 book, The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club. Since closing 20 years ago the venue has been redeveloped into apartments, but people are still talking about it, and the music it promoted lives on.
In 2012, to celebrate its 30th birthday and to mark the club’s contribution to global dance culture, Hook, Park and Pickering released the Haçienda 30 compilation. It was a glimpse into the sounds you’d hear in the venue, and quickly became a bestseller. True to form, their next step was to transplant some of these tunes into a sprawling classical live show. “I was a bit sceptical about the marriage between classical and dance. I couldn’t for the life of me see how it was going to work. But I was delighted to be proved wrong, and Graeme and Mike always go to great lengths to tell me how wrong I was… every bloody chance they get.” He concedes that it’s been a big learning curve putting the project together. Choosing and arranging songs for an orchestra is difficult enough without the massive endeavour of keeping 100-plus people on the road. “It is a bugger,” he chuckles.
The poularity Haçienda Classical has found is due to the special place many of these records have in people’s hearts. Here is a soundtrack to so many people’s experiences, from going out at 18 to facing mid-life crises – yet these tracks have never been performed in such a physical and heartfelt way. “Every time we play, you get the old duffers coming out, like me, for their once a month outing – because it takes the rest of the month to recover.” He is finding the shows are increasingly drawing a new younger audience. There’s been a massively successful show at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and international tours are even being planned. “I’d be really, really happy to take it to Detroit or Chicago, to give them that payback they so richly deserve.”
One hard learnt lesson Peer Hook has taken from his club’s legendary implosion is to find the balance between realism and idealism. The future sees a new house compilation from the Haçienda brand, the developing of a completely new set for the Classical show, and tours around the world. But would he be able to offer any advice for aspiring club owners, other than not to risk it? “I’d get yourself a very sensible partner. You have to follow your heart, but at the Haçienda a mate said to me: ‘What are you doing this for? Are you doing it for your heart or your wallet?’ I looked in my wallet and realised I was doing it for my heart. You do have to be very careful in living your dreams.”
Haçienda Classical, with Groove Armada and Stereo MCs, comes to Brighton Racecourse on Sat 9 Sept.