Indie Originals: The New Hormones Story

The story of New Hormones records 1977-1983

Factory’s shadow

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The story of New Hormones is, first and foremost, a story about Manchester. Yet, as Ian Runacres, frontman with the label’s ‘nearly men’ Dislocation Dance, points out, “For those outside Manchester the assumption is that Factory was it.”

“I think New Hormones actually had better bands than Factory,” says ex-Ludus drummer, Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall. Runacres concurs: “New Hormones was a better label than Factory; of that I have no doubt.”

“Factory boy through and through”, Nathan McGough, naturally disagrees: “New Hormones was important because it was the first independent in Manchester if not the UK. But it hasn’t left the same footprint on Manchester [as Factory].”

For Liz Naylor, New Hormones and Factory had a “really complicated’ relationship. “Factory we all just used to call ‘Fat Tory’ records and they were like the mill owners. There was a real, palpable sense of their power in the city,” she says. “I don’t wholly suggest that Tony [Wilson] went out to do that, and certainly not Rob [Gretton], who was a lovely feller. But that was just how it was because they achieved success quite early.”

With Factory’s power came a sense of exclusion. “I think it’s to do with Saville’s graphics in a way,” says Naylor. “It sends out an aesthetic that says ‘No’. There was something much more approachable about Richard – he’d be around and you’d see him around. I think Tony, because he was on telly, had a kind of distance. I went to Palatine Road [Factory HQ] maybe twice and I felt quite intimidated by being there.”

[Factory] really did have their heads up their own arses,” reckons CP Lee. “It wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way they were – deadly earnest – and it went hand in hand with what we used to call intense young men with minds as narrow as their ties. Then you’d go to New Hormones and it would be Nico jacking up in the bog. Liz and Cath trying to get five quid together to write the next City Fun. And Richard… Just complete madness.”

“New Hormones was more of a family thing than Factory,” says Graham Massey, whose Biting Tongues recorded for both labels at different stages of their career. “Tony always had this media connection as well that sort of widened it out. It didn’t feel quite as cottage industry. Two different styles, definitely.”

Despite Factory’s pre-eminence, relations between the two camps were friendly: “Both labels looked on each other quite affectionately,” recalls Runacres. He felt that New Hormones and Factory “had a common purpose. We were comrades. A tangible example was my loan of Vini Reilly’s amp for a gig in Liverpool, (or did he lend mine?).” He also recalls how on the Dislocation Dance US Tour, “Tony Wilson helped to finance the hire of our backline when the New Hormones cheque bounced. For that, I’m forever in defence of Tony’s reputation.”

Tony and Lindsay Wilson lived on Broadway, just round the corner from 569 Wilmslow Road, home of Richard Boon, Ian Runacres and Pete Wright. “They used to pop in all the time,” says Runacres. “The first time I met Tony Wilson, he was sitting on the floor in the front room [at 569 Wilmslow Road] showing someone out of Dislocation Dance how to solve the Rubik’s Cube,” recalls Ken Hollings.

“[Tony and I] were very close friends,” says Boon. “We’d just hang together.”

Lawrence Fitzgerald recalls an early encounter with the two men: “I remember being in a kitchen with Tony Wilson and Richard Boon, chatting. It was quite obvious where the ideas came from. Tony Wilson, I don’t think he had an original idea. They came from Richard.”

“Tony was a fan. Richard was different: he was an innovator,” believes Runacres.

But, says Albertos and Durutti Column drummer, Bruce Mitchell, “If Wilson stole an idea he would make it work.”

Yet, if New Hormones sometimes lacked the wherewithal to implement its ideas, conversely sometimes Factory’s conceptualism got in the way of the music and the individual bands.

During Biting Tongues’ spell with Factory, Howard Walmsley recalls Tony Wilson complaining about a bill from the record producer while happily spending much more on the sleeve designer. He says this was indicative of “A value system that didn’t actually understand the thing that seemed to be at the centre of it, the music.”

“Factory had a sort of set image. If you signed with them you had to have their image. And you had the Martin Hannett sound put on you as well,” says Andy Diagram. “Raincoats and dour and miserable Manchester,” is how Fitzgerald defines the house style.

“Half the bands were forced into it,” believes Eric Random. “Or they’d end up promoting a weaker version of something else.”

“One tends to think of all the Factory bands being quite the same,” agrees CP Lee. With New Hormones, “There wasn’t a house ident. It was definitely a whole mess of individuals. Which possibly led to its eventual demise.”

“If New Hormones had had the same resources as Factory, it would have left a bigger mark,” believes Runacres. “Some Factory releases trade on the label, they don’t stand up so well by themselves.”

“There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label,” says Massey. “A lot of it [was] front,” he reckons.

The signing of Biting Tongues could be seen as evidence of this lack of vision: “Factory didn’t know who we were,” remembers Walmsley. “They had no idea who we were or what we did. But they did it.”

“If some of the New Hormones bands had been on Factory and vice versa the world would have been a different place,” believes Runacres. “In some ways better.”


Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:43 pm

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