Mike Pickering was one of the resident DJs through the halcyon period of the Haçienda. He was also in Quando Quango and, later, M People. We spoke to him shortly after artefacts from the Haç had been auctioned off.
So. Did you buy a bit of wood from the auction then?
I made the highest bloody bid. Even the DJ box went for about a grand. I bought a painting from the Shiva night, which was actually done by my wife, but that actually got up to £3,200. And then I bought a big bit of the dancefloor for £400. What I really wanted was an Anthony Blunt picture, but they’d all gone. I got some bricks. One of the bricks is for [Mark] Kamins, it’s his Christmas present.
How did you come into the orbit of the Factory people?
I met Rob Gretton at 16-years-old. We were Manchester City supporters, and we got chased by a load of Nottingham Forest supporters in Nottingham. I just jumped in a garden and hid behind a hedge and he did the same thing. That was it then. We were best mates. He managed Joy Division and New Order, though he was a DJ at the time.
What really happened with the Haç, I went through the punk times and then I buggered off to Holland and lived in Rotterdam. These people that I met, they squatted this disused water works with a tower. They said that they wanted to do something with this big hall. We cleared it all out and I just started DJing. I was into Chic and Stacey Lattislaw. It was called Rotterdam Must Dance and it became quite a big club night. We put bands on and I put on the second New Order gig after Ian died. Rob saw it all and said he was opening this club and he wanted me to help him do it all. I came back six months before it opened but it was just rubble, really.
I used to book the DJs, lighting, bands, everything. I couldn’t get a DJ that I really liked, but it was alright for me. I was always going away with New Order and Quando Quango and I was always going away to New York. ‘Love Tempo’ by Quando Quango was really big in the Paradise Garage. We actually did a PA there, when Larry Levan was DJing. I went to the Loft, and I was gobsmacked by it all, because I was just this little scally. So I went back to the Haçienda and I was ‘this is what it’s got to be like’. So I pulled out the microphone; this is the future, you know.
The other thing me and Rob were into was no door policy (apart from keeping the knobheads out), to reverse what was the door policy at the time. I couldn’t find a DJ. They all wanted to talk, they were all so programmed. So in the end, I just thought I could do better and started doing the Friday night. It was a real mélange of music at first, everything from salsa, to electro to northern and it really took off.
How long did it take from you starting to really getting it going?
It only took about four weeks. I don’t know why, but word spread, I suppose this was about 85.
What about when the first house records started coming over?
About ’85 or ’86. You know, stuff like Wally Jump Jr. and JM Silk. We had a lot of old northern soul boys cos it was all 4/4 and quite pacy. I used to do a swap in London at a club called Fever run by Simon Gough at the Astoria. I got booed off. There were a lot of black guys there, and they were shoving notes into my face saying, ‘stop playing this fucking homo music’. At the Haçienda it was a really black night until ecstasy swept in. So I couldn’t believe it. About six or seven months later I played for Nicky Holloway at the Trip, which was also at the Astoria, and they were all like bingo-bongo, smiley T-shirts and I was like, ‘wait a minute…?’
How did the night change from being black to white?
Yeah. Once it exploded, it was weird, you could watch from Friday to Friday and see the crowd change in colour. In those days, most of the black kids would smoke weed, but they weren’t into chemicals. But then when ecstasy came in it wiped it all out. It was so quick. It was over about four or five weeks. It was because it was so packed, and they couldn’t do the moves so they retreated to the smaller clubs. It was a shame in one way. In the long run it was a shame.
Did it change the music you played and the approach you took?
Oh it did.
Before, I was playing everything, a much wider variety of music. As we all got swallowed up – actually that’s the wrong phrase isn’t it? As we all swallowed it up, everything house.
I think it was easy to lose your head because it was so all encompassing, though, wasn’t it?
Yeah, well we used to come out of the Haç, get in the car and put the set on that we’d just done! Nowadays, I think, ‘fucking hell, it must’ve been really boring.’ We did plays lots of stuff; we played things like Carly Simon.
When did the E come in and the racial complexion change?
Early ’88, I’d say.
What’s the halcyon period? Is it the period leading up to this?
No. I loved the year or so leading up to the ecstasy explosion. We only had a fire limit of 1,200 but we were getting 1,600, and the thing about it was they were complete music fans. We had some weird records that were big. JM Silk was really big, ‘Jump Back’. Then you’d get things like Whistle ‘Buggin’’. ‘Was That All It Was’. It was old and new.
Was go go big?
No. We had Trouble Funk on, but it didn’t take off like it did down here [London]. 1988 and 1989 were special times, but in different ways. It changed our lives, both personally and professionally. Everyone I know from that period, we all dumped girlfriends or boyfriends, who were longstanding and met the loves of our lives! It was a wonderful wonderful time that period in Manchester.
What do you think of The Haçienda now it’s long gone?
I’m glad it’s gone and it wasn’t taken over by anybody. I think it lived too long anyway. We had a ten year plan and at the end of that ten years, it was definitely finished. But it had a great ten years.
Something puzzled me about that period, why did you never run a sub-label of Factory for all of this stuff coming out of Manchester and the Haç?
A lot of people mentioned it when Factory went into receivership and I was a bit embarrassed about it. I became a junior director of Deconstruction.
Were you taking things to Factory and telling them to sign things?
Well the real truth was Rob Gretton and myself went to Tony and said – in about 1986 and ’87 – and Factory had always had this thing about a lot of us being influenced by funk and electro records. We said, ‘look, we wanna start a subsidiary dance label’. Tony said, ‘Dance will never happen’. And of course two years later it did. That was fair enough, though Tony wanted to stick with what he knew. I signed Black Box, Felix, Guru Josh (for my sins) and, of course, M People.
What about ‘Voodoo Ray’ and ‘Pacific State’, you must have had early access to them?
Well I got ‘Voodoo Ray’ on the North album that I did on Deconstruction. It was a great souvenir of that time. Tony was really nice about it. He’d come in and congratulate me when another record I’d signed had done well. I was thinking, ‘But Tony, you could have had ’em!’ It was another quirky Factory thing. There was a lot of wastage of money around that time.
But then, in a sense, without that wastage, the Haçienda would never have existed. It was a bit of a folly anyway.
To be fair, it would never have remained open had it had different owners. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We were open seven nights a week with a haute cuisine restaurant! It was like an alien spaceship had landed in Manchester, and everybody was still in raincoats and listening to the Cure.
Was that one of the incongruous things about it, that it had been opened by Factory, but a lot of what was being played there was black music.
That even extended into ’89 and Madchester came on the scene. I remember sitting in a hotel room with Andy Weatherall one Saturday afternoon. It was like a scene from a film. There was Japanese, Canadian and American film crews all over the street. There must’ve been about 40 of them on the way from Piccadilly Hotel to Oldham Street. It was fucking hilarious. Then I started doing interviews and this American guy asks me, ‘Mike, what puzzles me a little is how you find enough Madchester records with your club open so long.’ He thought we only played Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and ‘baggy’ music. So I said, ‘Well we play records from Chicago and New York’. He just didn’t understand what was happening. I thought, ‘Oh God, is this the beginning of the end?’ And it was, really.
What’s your fondest memory of it now?
Well ’88 and ’89. Like Graeme Park and I were saying last week: you don’t get many memories! The whole time was just great. Prior to that, on the Friday night, when I had Mantronix playing and then DJing with me, that was quite amazing. Anything during those two years was amazing. I’ll tell you another thing, every year was the birthday party, and we used to go really over the top, fairgrounds, pontoon bridges. We always said they had to be midweek, though in the last few years I noticed they were on a Friday or Saturday.
When did you stop DJing?
Funnily enough at one of the birthday parties. ’92. Both myself and David Morales got threatened. I’d said to David beforehand…. I’d been thinking of giving up and people were saying it was because of M People, but it wasn’t and I was quite upset by that. People came up saying, ‘You’re deserting us’, and I had to tell them, ‘No, I haven’t. It’s because I don’t want you to all get beaten up and mugged’ I told David this and he said, ‘yeah I knew there was something’. Blow me, at the end of the night, we’d both been threatened him with a bottle, me with a knife. I thought, ‘I’m out of here’. I tried to carry on DJing after that, travelling all over the world, like the modern guys do, but it didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t do it after that. I’d only ever worked in the same place I always like having my own crowd. I really believe to be a good DJ, you’ve got to have your own crowd. They come and respect your tastes, and you respect their tastes.
Do you still buy records?
I buy more now. I think you mentioned earlier about not listening to anything but house from ’88 onwards. Before that, I had really wide, eclectic tastes and I found my taste for collecting came back. Now, when I’m not in the studio, I live in second hand record stores.
Interviewed by Bill Brewster, 1.12.00