This is a fantastic book. It's a chunky brick of a thing, encased in a shocking pink cover with tastefully embossed silver bits, but what matters is the content. And oh, what content.
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.
The definitive book on "the most culturally sophisticated label in the history of recorded sound". James Nice delivers the actual story of Factory; facts not myths. With a chapter for every year and two chapters for 1980 - bands, stories and connections previously overlooked are all featured. So often reduced to Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and The Hacienda the story here is expanded so that The Wake warrant numerous entries in the index and The Durutti Column story is woven throughout the text and links to Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule are explored.Based on numerous author interviews the story from 1976 -1992 is comprehensively covered with no artist considered too small to have their part in the unfolding story portrayed. The book may become darker and darker as the end approaches but you still leave it inspired by Factory's love of beauty and 'art over commerce' and wondering why people demand so little these days from their bands and labels.James Nice is never afraid to be objective and critical and consequently the love and admiration that the author obviously feels for the subject carries a lot of weight. When something is praised you know it is deserved. Shadowplayers is the much needed literary equivalent to Matthew Robertson's Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album and should be read by anyone with an interest in the musical landscape of the late seventies, eighties and early nineties and anyone intrigued by those who choose to take the path less travelled.
Finally someone has written a real history of Factory Records that doesn't fall into the trap of unquestioningly re-hashing the myths. James Nice has produced a history of the Manchester label that gives a more substantial version of events than those previously published. Nice includes the part played by the 'lesser' lights among the Factory artists - Section 25, Stockholm Monsters, etc. - and isn't afraid to be critical of the decisions made by the company.
As a thorough and relatively academic work, 'Shadowplayers' offers a nice counterpoint to the entertaining, but one-dimensional version of events in 'Twenty Four Hour Party People' etc.
Comparable in scope to David Cavanagh's Creation Records biog My Magpie Eyes Are On The Prize, Shadowplayers is a major work that is the ideal companion to the DVD of the same name.
James Nice is ideally placed to write the definitive account of the label, having worked for Factory's Benelux arm, as well as curating his own label, LTM, which has re-released much of the material that Factory recorded in its short life, and safeguarding the legacy of many of the artists, including The Durutti Column, Northside, Biting Tongues, Section 25 and Revenge.
Scholarly but accessible, and shot through with mordant black humour, the book is a terrific primer for anyone with even a passing interest in post-punk, and absolutely essential reading for all Factory aficionados.
Balanced, well-paced, candid. If you've ever read the liner notes of any LTM Records (the author's own label) releases then you'll know exactly what to expect from this - and you won't be disappointed. James Nice expands these strands to 546 densely printed pages.
Wisely, Nice avoids re-telling the stories everyone already knows (Ian Curtis's suicide, Blue Monday sleeve, blah blah). Instead, he studiously assembles nuggets of information from previously published articles (some of which you will remember, some of which you won't) and his own interviews.
James himself admits that he is a fanboy, albeit a connected one - having worked for euro-Factory's sister-label Les Disques du Crepuscule. But when a fanboy writes as well as this, who needs what passes for so-called journalism?
Criticisms? Well, the black and white pictures in the middle of the book aren't up to much - I've seen most of them elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr Nice has lots more Alan Erasmus photos lurking in Bonusprint envelopes in his Welsh dresser drawers. "A Factory Pictorial" should, perhaps, be his next project? Also, although you already know the ending, it's still a bit of a downer. There's no attempt to provide any pseudo-philosophical uplifting summation of the label's legacy by way of a conclusion: no big deal, just a bit depressing. The reader is left to make up his own mind.
My own opinion on the label (for what it's worth)? Commerce and uncompromising art didn't mix and the end result was that a lot of artists and suppliers who put their faith in Factory, went unpaid. That was wrong - irrespective of how immaculate the finished product appeared to be.
If you're a fan of the label then you need this book. If you're an obsessive, why not order the (possibly) forthcoming solid marble cover, Peter Saville/Ben Kelly-designed edition with sandpaper pages and then...don't pay for it? Revenge.
Apart from Bernard Sumner's memoirs (and, of course, not forgetting my aforementioned pictorial idea?), there surely can't be many more books about Factory Records/Joy Division/New Order that need to be published?
I've finally got round to reading this and I have to say it is the most thorough book about Factory that I've come across. Quite a dense read at over 500 pages but the effort pays off as James Nice's level of research is outstanding, and he isn't afraid to challenge a lot of the accepted stories/myths and opinions that have become part of Factory folklore (probably orchestrated by AHW himself!).
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.
If you were like me in the late '70's early '80's music was key in your personnel life. It was the Thatcher years and times were very tough. I'm from Liverpool so I experienced it from the front line. Music was an escapism. I experienced the truly exciting times of the evolution of punk (Eric's) which really did have a major impact on music but then some of the major bands during this era (Clash, Pistols, The Jam, Stranglers & Siouxie) started to play the big venue circuit. The fans were disillusioned with this so a sub culture was created both in Liverpool and Manchester with Factory having a huge influence and of course the introduction of the Hacienda. At the time the Hacienda for me, was the ultimate club in this country. When I read 'Shadowplayers' it took me right back to those heady times. The attention to detail is right there for everyone to read and understand. Joy Division, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen & A Certain Ratio. Ahhhh! Bliss. Thanks Tony!
I found Shadowplayers the most definitive story of Factory Records told so far. It begins with the death of Tony Wilson in 2007 and goes on to explore the 14 year history of the label between 1978 and 1992, including Joy Division/New Order, The Hacienda club and the late rise of Happy Mondays and Madchester. Refreshingly, unlike most shorthand media versions of the Factory story it also finds room for everyone else involved with the label, even if they only released a single or two. The story moves from some very funny to other truly tragic events which James Nice examines with objectivity and clarity. The writing is nicely complemented by its packaging and layout (supervised by Peter Saville) as well as an interesting picture selection. Long at 500-odd pages, but still engrossing, with plenty of new facts and anecdotes, and written with heart so far as this Durutti fan is concerned.