Anyone with even a casual interest in the rich musical history of Manchester will have seen Factory Records and Hacienda partner Rob Gretton portrayed on the big screen by Paddy Considine in 24 Hour Party People, and later Control. But that narrative only represents a small fraction of the label creator’s deeply ingrained influence on the city – some of which is still being demonstrated today.
Twenty years since Gretton sadly passed away prematurely due to a heart attack, we spoke to one such band who were given their first breaks towards the latter years of his career. Even after the international success of Factory and the peak of The Hacienda, he already had a new venture plotted.
We sat down with Robert Paul Corless of Gabriells Wish to talk about his memories of the great man and to find out more about Gretton’s work on a DIY level after Factory had come to an end.
So where did it all start with Gabriells Wish and Rob Gretton?
“We were just starting to get it going, taking any gig we were offered. It was a bit of a closed shop in Manchester back then in the mid-90s. But our bass player Darren got lucky because he took a tape down to The Roadhouse just when they’d got a new PA. Our tape was the first thing on there. They liked it that much they asked us to support The Fall on a run of gigs there.
“We were just scratching around thinking about doing some recording at that point. Our involvement with Rob ended up coming through Chris Nagle. He was an engineer who worked with Martin Hannett, but he would sort of come in and out of the shadows like Darth Vader. Eventually we met him at Mother Macs [nearby bar] – as that was kind of our office at the time!
“Anyway he mentioned that Rob Gretton had this label he had just set up, Manchester Records, and that he was interested. I think Sub Sub – who were the first version of Doves – were already signed there. Next thing Chris brought Rob down to our rehearsal room in Droylsden, he watched us play and said there and then ‘I’ll have you’. That was the best thing about it all, he was straight up. No bullshit.”
So he was unassuming even though he was so weel known in the city?
“Rob had the same ‘in and out of the shadows’ thing too though. We were signed up with him and recording at the time, but he would stay out of your way and then just turn up out of nowhere. It was still early days for us but we knew Rob had been coming to our gigs, then he would quietly slip off afterwards.”
How did your relationship with him develop from there?
“We signed a deal for two EPs and one album, We developed a good relationship with him. He liked the music and we liked him because he wouldn’t take any shit and he was honest. Plus we’d go for these meetings at the Hacienda building and end up in the Briton’s Protection [another nearby pub] and get absolutely steamboats. So we really got to know him then!
“He ended up setting us up to record at Suite 16 in Rochdale – a legendary place where people like Joy Division and Gang of Four recorded. It all went well, Rob really liked the stuff.”
And was he involved in the live side too by that point?
“He set us up on our first tour. I’ve no idea why, but he sent us to fucking Cornwall for a run of shows. Middle class people with surf boards. They didn’t want to hear us coming down there with a load of racket.
“In fact I remember one of the shows we didn’t have any digs to stay at afterwards. The promoter sent us on a half-hour drive with some mad farmer, who gave us a tent to put up in a potato field. We went straight back to Manchester after that… Apart from the drummer, he stayed because he’d met a girl down there. And I’m sure the promoter of the tour got run or something too. So yeah, that was the chaos of the first tour Rob set up for us!”
Well, at least you were happy with the recording then!
“That tour did nothing to harm that relationship. By this time we were getting to recording the second EP Golded Up. Again he was into it. We were still having the piss-ups after every meeting with Rob and Chris, but we were enjoying ourselves and we were serious about the music.
“Every now and again we’d have a one on one chat – but that would always be about music.”
So you were working on your first recordings with him just before the Hacienda shut down?
“He sorted us some more gigs that were better choices than the Cornwall ones, and then we also got to work on the album.
“I don’t know why but it ended up being a real slog compared to the EPs. Timing-wise it was unlucky. By now it was 1997 and the empire was beginning to crumble. The Hacienda had run out of money. The News of the World had done some undercover interview to try to stitch them up. It was clear things were starting to go on the decline. Our album got shelved in the end. We ended up signing with Plastic Frog Records to do it eventually, but unfortunately that was well after Rob had passed away in 1999.”
So you still maintain this fondness for Rob even though you never actuslly released a full-length album with him?
“It was a real shame that was where it ended. Really we were only involved with Rob for a short time, but it was enough for him to become a great friend. We’re still going now and really it was Rob who got us on that first step, financially and spiritually.
“I’d love to be around him and as I said, have some great chats about the music. The Hacienda days meant there were always a lot of twats trying to hang around him. But he wasn’t interested in that.
“In fact one of my favourite things was a night like that at the Boardwalk. Rob would pop in to see us after the show, but there’d be about 20-30 people following him, all trying to get their hands on a few free beers. So one night we pissed in a load of empty cans and waited for these hanger-ons to pick them up.
“They were supposedly Rob’s mates, but he loved it. There were moments like that, but Rob could take the piss out of anyone, he was always in control. That’s what you get with a Wythenshawe lad.
“Honesty is great in the bullshit business of music and Rob was all about that. He was always straight up. He was a gentleman to us.”