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Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records Hardcover – 6 May 2010
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`Familiar Manchester music saga retold in epic detail' 4 STARS -- Q Magazine
`...detailed history unfolds the tangled tale of how Factory produced music that helped to shape the scene way beyond Manchester's Hacienda' -- Waterstone's Books Quarterly
'...a very good way to immerse in its strange and inspirational story' 4 STARS
"Shadowplayers is an immaculately researched history of a label born in 1978 with Joy Division and whose later peaks- New Order, the Hacienda's acid house hedonism and Happy Mondays- are as interesting as the famous, financially induced troughs" - Ben East -- Metro Scotland
"Shadowplayers offers a meticulously researched year-by-year account of the label's beginnings, its triumphs and eventual dissolution. Nice brings an encyclopaedic zeal to his recollections of such fleeting musical oddities as Crawling Chaos, Swamp Children, Biting Tongues and The Wendys, alongside Factory's more famous players." --The Independent
Factory was no Motown, you're reminded of the distictly patchy nature of much of their musical output but this is an extraordinary story, well told.
-- Word Magazine
Shadowplayers is an immaculately researched history of a label born in 1978 with Joy Division
-- Metro Scotland
`Knockout Read' --The Coventry Telegraph, 8th June 2011
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The book tells the story of Factory Records from 1976 - when the Sex Pistols first played in Manchester and Tony Wilson and friends founded the Factory Club in Hulme - right through to its dissolution in 1992. It's a fascinating story, impeccably researched and wonderfully written, which concentrates on the facts rather than the anecdotes. The story is, in some ways, horrifying: a record company run with good intentions but no written contracts, and business decisions often made on personal prejudices (such as Wilson's insistence that Dry Bar should be opened in Manchester's then run-down Northern Quarter rather than close to the university on account of the fact that he disliked students) and gut feelings as opposed to market research.
The focus throughout is Factory rather than one particular aspect, so readers hoping for the detailed story of Joy Division, New Order or the Hacienda may be disappointed, but their stories are told excellently elsewhere. I recently read - and thoroughly enjoyed - Peter Hook's book about the Hacienda, and in some ways I see that book and this as companion volumes. In this book you'll find all Factory bands are covered almost equally, with plenty on the likes of Section 25 and The Durruti Column as well as New Order and Joy Division themselves, but as this book concentrates on the record company and its numerous spin-off projects they're almost characters rather than the story itself.
Towards the end when Factory begins to collapse the story darkens, and the end is always looming on the horizon. There's a feeling of inevitability, as Wilson's doggedness to continue with projects to their bitter end sees his company fall into oblivion, spending spiralling out of control, bands relied upon to shore up business ventures at the expense of their own salaries, and the mis-management is shockingly revealed. In some respects it reads almost like a thriller.
If any criticisms are to be made I'd have liked a few more pictures maybe - sometimes record covers are described as being beautiful or terrible, and a picture would have been good, but then again the internet is always at hand - and the few which are included are all in black and white, but they're sufficient. Also, I'd have liked maybe a catalogue of the FAC numbers, as several things are referred to initially by their name and number, then later just by their number, but this is just a niggle.
This is a superb biography of a sadly missed record label, and a reminder of how not to run a business. Buy and read this, and if you want to know more about the likes of the Hacienda or the bands you can then read other books.
It's good to get beneath some of the obvious events and people (AHW, Ian Curtis) that have already received a lot of analysis and gain an insight into enigmatic but crucial personalities like Saville, Erasmus, Gretton, Pickering and Hannett. Equally, it is illuminating understanding how the less well known Factory artists fared - and James Nice happily provides ample column space to really obscure/unsuccessful Factory artists (To Hell With Burgundy, Crawling Chaos..) as a counterpoint to the success of Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays. It would have been easy to gloss over them as an irrelevance, but the story really comes to life with their inclusion.
Well worth a read and a unique addition to the many books that are out there exploring the incredibly creative, influential and bizarre 13 year run of organised chaos that was Factory Records.
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