6. Factory settings


Tony Wilson, the philosophy-reciting 33-year-old co-founder of Manchester’s independent music label Factory Records and, by association, part-owner of the city’s New York-style Haçienda nightclub, was stranded on the B2599 Dalston Road somewhere to the south of Carlisle. The small apron of concrete where the car had ground to a halt appeared to be a turn-in to a muddy field for a farmer’s tractor. Wilson’s hearse-sized Peugeot 505 Estate had its bonnet raised. Hazard warning lights flashed in metronomic fashion, blink… blink… blink… blink… while Wilson, in a grey knee-length raincoat and khaki combat trousers, tightened a wide maroon scarf around his neck. Visibility was virtually nil.

He began traipsing from the direction he had travelled from, facing the traffic – not that anything was using the road – to locate a telephone box, farmhouse, pub or any other sign of life or communication. Had Wilson noticed a village a few miles back? And had the village been two miles away or 15? He had no exact recollection of a settlement. Wilson’s gamble on bypassing central Carlisle was now backfiring in riotous fashion. In stupendously dense fog, and with no carriageway lighting, the eerie glow of the golden indicators quickly vanished, leaving Wilson walking along an uneven, muddy grass verge in eerie stillness. Only by testing the ground’s surface using the soles of his white Nike Air Force 1 basketball hi-tops was the Granada newsreader, occasional presenter of World In Action and music-industry megamouth able to differentiate between earth and Tarmac.

This is what it’s like to be blind, Wilson spoke inwardly, although Stevie Wonder never found himself lost in fucking Cumbria. He muttered the opening lyrics to “Superstition” but abruptly stopped. He needed all his concentration to stay upright in the slippery mud. His NYC-purchased “sneakers” were giving precious little grip, but then again, this was a universe away from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Battery Park and Broadway. God, it’s cold, Wilson scowled.

Wilson was unaware that his 505 was suffering from a dead fuel-tank pump. It was a job for a garage mechanic, not a charismatic entrepreneur with a penchant for John Keats and Boethius. As Wilson contemplated his predicament, he recalled that the car’s performance had been deteriorating through the week as he’d rushed across northern counties in preparation for the arrival of Channel 4’s television cameras at the Haç. In just two weeks’ time, the youth-oriented music show The Tube would set up shop in Wilson’s nightclub and his record-label acts would be beamed to every living room in the country, should they happen to be watching Channel 4 on a Friday night.

Earlier in the day, Wilson had met with The Tube director Gavin Taylor in the Egypt Cottage pub, adjoining the Tyne Tees studios on Newcastle’s City Road. Wilson had just secured the appearance of young New York performer Madonna for the Haçienda show, assisted in the main by Manchester DJ Mike Pickering, by way of New York DJ Mark Kamins, who just happened to be Madonna’s beau. Madonna’s infectious dance number “Holiday” was finding chart success on both sides of the Atlantic, but she remained a minnow compared to gritty, child-voiced performer Cyndi Lauper and the ambitious chip-shop comic-romantic Tracey Ullman. Wilson thought Madonna was a major coup; Taylor wasn’t convinced – British audiences would be lukewarm to a relatively unknown, upbeat, electro-influenced chick with heavy eyebrows, Jim’ll Fix It jewellery and New York attitood.

“It isn’t very Tube and ‘Lucky Star’ is as sugary as ‘My Boy Lollipop’,” Taylor insisted.

“Listen, darling” Wilson cajoled and leaned forward, “don’t downplay the importance of Millie Small to a British audience. Without her, we wouldn’t have reggae. Rod Stewart played sax on that track.”

“He didn’t,” Taylor shook his head, smiling. “It’s an urban myth. He told me so himself. Ah, you’re pulling my leg, Tony.”

“Possibly, very possibly. Listen, we end nights at the Haçienda with Lulu, and it goes down a fucking storm, so I’m thinking that Madonna could well be the Lulu for the Eighties. You can’t knock Lulu; her northern soul credentials give her immunity from criticism. And there’s synergy Gavin, fucking synergy. Manchester borrows from New York to create the Haçienda, and we borrow something from New York – Madonna – for the Factory edition of The Tube. We pay homage and we give thanks. We’re twinned cities from a cultural perspective. Believe me Gavin, it works, it fucking works.”

“Tony, white boys with guitars is a winning formula, a formula that can’t be beaten in this country. Ever heard of The Smiths? They’re going to be as big as Pink Floyd.”

“They’re not and we’ve moved on, believe me – white people want to dance, they want to take drugs, they want to hang out in clubs with a lot of neon,” Wilson argued. “‘Blue Monday’ has proved that, and right now, apart from Manchester, New York is the centre of dance music.”

“Manchester is not the centre of dance music in Britain, Tony,” Taylor scoffed.

“Joy Division/New Order have emerged as the greatest writers of dance music since fucking Chic,” Wilson stated. “Please try and keep up.”

“They’ve made one decent dance track – ‘Blue Monday’,” Taylor pointed out. “A great record, but hardly the stuff of legend. It won’t go down as a classic in the way that ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ has done or ‘She’s Lost Control’.”

“I disagree wholeheartedly,” Wilson said. “Hey, don’t forget ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Temptation’ – Ian Curtis would have been totally, totally proud of these records. ‘Temptation’ is actually superior to ‘Blue Monday’. They’re working on a new track called ‘My Cock’s As Big As The M1’, a working title, which may well prove the next logical step for dance music.”

“Manchester’s some way to go before it can crown itself ‘UK Centre of Dance Music’, though, Tony.”

“I’ll tell you something,” Wilson half-smiled, “it’s not fucking Newcastle. Half the kids in town look like they’re on their way to see the Bay City Rollers.”

Taylor laughed. “OK, let’s showcase New York’s Lulu on The Tube,” he conceded. “It’ll give viewers the chance to put the Horlicks on. All is fine as long as we get New Order, cos that’s who everyone wants to see right now.”

“Barney’s being a prime pain in the ass,” Wilson admitted, “but he’ll do it, eventually. He likes playing mind games – with me, with Hooky, with Gretton, with Manchester, with Salford. His head’s just getting… rather large right now. I’d like the Factory All-Stars to perform. New Order, ACR, John The Postman – you get the general idea.”

“I like the sound of that,” Taylor nodded.

“OK, I’ll see what I can do,” Wilson said. “Gavin, I must dash – I’ve got to pick up some artwork from Saville, who’s holed himself up in a hard-to-get-to coastal village on the other side of fucking Carlisle. He’s redesigning the Factory logo – big stuff for us. Why he can’t do this in an office in Manchester or London is completely beyond me.”

“Whereabouts on the coast?” Taylor asked.

“Silloth. Solway Firth. A port. Used to have a railway, hasn’t now. Look it up on a map.”

Wilson continued his sightless, black-out yomp, eyes squinting, waiting for familiar shapes to reveal themselves from the impenetrable murk, wishing for a pavement, wishing he was in a city, wishing he was anywhere except a B-road in Cumbria. But hang on, what’s that noise? In the gloom, there appeared a dull-yellow ball that rapidly grew until the fog was suddenly illuminated like a will-o’-the-wisp. It was a car, its engine at high revs as corners were tackled in first and second gear. Wilson began flapping his hands, hoping to be spotted. The car whined closer, screeched, lurched to the opposite side of the carriageway, swerved sharply back to its lane, before grinding to a stop, already out of sight. Wilson trotted towards the passenger window and peered through the glass. The window was wound a third of the way.

“I’ve broken down,” Wilson explained through the aperture. “My car’s dead – won’t start, won’t do anything… I’ll just leave it along the road for now, until I can find a phone…”

Inside the car, a man in his late-fifties, with nervous eyes staring from beneath a woollen flat cap, seemed to take so little notice of the conversation that Wilson tailed off… “Are you taking any notice of this?” Wilson enquired.

“You frightened the life out of me,” the man eventually responded. “I didn’t see no bloody car.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” Wilson explained. “It’s half a mile further along. In fact it’s a good job I waved you down – you might have hit it.”

“Where do I know you from?” the man panted and pointed a finger. “Thursby?”

“If there’s a television in Thursby, then possibly – I can explain on the drive.”

“It’s to be a wild night,” the man replied, nervously glancing forward through his windscreen. “It’s the fog, always when there’s fog.”

“Well, if you could take me to the nearest village,” Wilson grimaced. “There’s surely one round here somewhere. Maybe Thursby, where the television is. Failing that, an A-road would do, somewhere with lamp-posts and pavements. I need to contact Silloth.”

“Astaroth?” the man jumped.

“No, Silloth!” Wilson corrected, patience waning. “I have a friend in Silloth, on the coast. Solway Firth. Why would I want to contact the Prince of Hell?”

“There’s a Spar there, you know,” the jittery driver made known. “Owner’s into the occult. Dodgy stuff. Dark monkey business.”

Wilson hid his smirk as he’d done many times on Granada Reports. “Oh cool – I’ll make a point of visiting.”

The driver leaned across the passenger seat and pushed the lock down on the door.

“You’ve just locked that,” Wilson pointed out, “as opposed to opened it.”

“Do you believe in ghosts?” the man asked, without making eye contact.

“Ghosts?” Wilson said, pulling an irritated expression. “If it has a car, I’ll gladly accept a lift from one tonight.”

“I’ve seen the dead, you know,” the man continued. “Something like that can stay with you.”

 After a moment’s disbelief, Wilson replied, “I’ll bet. Still, you have to carry on, don’t you? Are you sure it wasn’t a lucid dream?”

“It was a night just like this,” the driver spoke with increasing alarm, as if he was living the torment again. “The fog, the thick, thick fog – you can’t see shadows on days like this, can’t see into the darkness. That’s where they hide, you know, the shadows; the demons, the spirits. There’s a saying, you know… get a beggar on horseback and he’ll ride to the devil. I was that beggar. I sensed a presence.”

Wilson conjured a quote from his extensive library of a mind: “Every man that hath seen me forgetteth me never, and I appear oftentimes in the coals of the fire, and upon the smooth white skin of woman, and in the constancy of the waterfall, and in the emptiness of deserts and marshes, and upon great cliffs that look seaward, and in many strange places, where men seek me not. And many thousand times he beholdeth me not. And at last I smite myself into him as a vision smiteth into a stone, and whom I call must follow.”

The man looked back and grimly enquired, “What’s that, where’s that from?”

“Crowley,” Wilson revealed. “Aleister Crowley.”

“I have to go,” the man whispered. “This is not a good place to be, young man. There’s more to this place than you can ever imagine. If I were you I should get on home as quickly as you can. You’ll find no locals about when it’s foggy round here. Now be on with you.”

The man wound up his window and the small petrol engine of the car reared into reedy life.

“OK, thanks,” said Wilson, raising his arm to wave, admitting defeat. “Thanks a lot.”

The rear lights of the car evaporated into the black surroundings. Wilson, feeling abandoned and wronged, trudged awkwardly along the scrubby grass margin, slipping and sliding. This went on for ten agonising minutes before he grew weary of the mud and precariously crossed the carriageway to explore the conditions of the opposite verge. He managed no more than five paces before promptly headbutting a grey-painted metal signpost. A dull “donnng” rang out. Wilson held his head for a few moments and checked for blood. There was none. Once the throb had settled to an acceptable twinge, Wilson brought a lighter from his pocket and scraped a flame. The sign above read Carlisle 5. It was a public footpath, in the direction of Carlisle. It offered hope and, best of all, the path – more a narrow country lane – had a concrete surface. Five miles? That wasn’t so bad. He’d be in a hotel within two hours.

Go to Chapter 7: Sherlock Holmes v Magnum PI.