On Thursday the 8th July, 1982, as a gaunt youth of some 20 summers, I received my flashy, official silver-grey hazmat-striped membership card for a new night club in the heart of Manchester in the North of England. The truth was, that a month before, I had unknowingly wandered into the old yacht showroom on Whitworth St West, shortly after its refit; the huge loading doors were open and unattended and inviting. This was the moment that myself and a mate accidentally set foot in the The Haçienda (the Haç, "the Hass"), witnessing a grainy ‘rehearsal’ by the motormouth punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, for his set later that evening, (June 8, 1982).
This, in the Peter Saville-designed club, which would eventually become both legendary and notorious. Intrigued as I was by this serendipitous encounter, I parted with my meagre cash supply in order to become a Haç/Fac51 member (no. 257 or something – I still have the card in a drawer someplace). But the Club’s history is covered amply elsewhere, and this is not a sentimentalised/revisionist essay on Joy Division or Tony Wilson or Madchester or the Salford Gangs. There was something however about the club, the experience of being there and more to the point, the seminal concept of something filling a void, that suddenly seems strangely topical and acute in its relevance to the current zeitgeist. Anthony H. Wilson’s alleged rationale for the Haçienda’s existence went something like this:
And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda … where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That’s all over. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.
The Haçienda must be built.
(Ivan Vladimirovitch Shcheglov. I.V. (1933-1998). Formulary for a New Urbanism, 1953)
“So what has this to do with the current price of fish?” I hear you ask, well actually, everything. Whilst there is a general, global acknowledgment that Covid has been disastrous for families touched by tragedy, and the toll on life itself. Hospitality and travel are cited as two of the main casualties of lockdown, but I would argue that the impact on creative livelihoods will possibly prove to be more devastating. The reasoning behind this assertion is that the concerted financial clout, sheer cash and professional body representation of hospitality and travel are huge and effective lobbyists. Compare if you will the relatively politically uncoordinated mosaic of individual artists, designers, film makers, actors, etc. who have simply disappeared from practice as their industries, audiences and clients are well, just gone.
What I am advocating therefore is the pressing need for creative, financial and industrial visionaries as we emerge from the burdens of viral loading; visionaries who need to build the ideological and physical Haçiendas of the future selflessly for others and for all whose development has been arrested so brutally. Now if you read Peter Hook’s The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club you might think twice about this, but there is something vital and indispensable about the idea of the place as much as the place itself. Before lockdown, there was much political policy laundering and virtue signaling in the name of placemaking, as if everyone knew what that really meant, apart from a license to build on greenbelt and steer communities towards desired municipal spending targets.
More than ever though, I for one would be more than willing to meet the politicos and developers halfway in order to foster some real places of interest other than trying to prop-up the doomed project of the High Street. One might be forgiven for thinking that in the minds of government, retail therapy and less-skilled, lower-paid retail sector jobs had insinuated themselves as some kind of social sponge to soak up the transactional aspirations of the lumpen proletariat. Opioids of the people indeed. Without wishing to appear treasonous, I believe that there will be some real opportunities in the near future, mainly because governments, city planners and economists don’t actually know what to do about the ironic deforestation of the high street by Amazon (are other brands really available?).
So I end on a plea for imagination, for different kinds of development partnerships and some appropriately-informed ethical skepticism about the imperatives of acquisitive capitalism above all else. This is also an early call to creatives to leverage their relationships and skills to make some positive changes, and to become politicized before the doors of uncertainty/opportunity close, and any post-lockdown liberation fades. There are a thousand Haçiendas waiting to be built.