Acoustic Sounds
By: JoE Silva

February 19th, 2024


Book Reviews

I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records

Author Audrey Golden collects many of the unsung stories behind the legendary label

Girls DO count. If you were able to plaster one of those hip Instagram filters over the titanic lore that hovers around Joy Division, you might just be able to make out another side of the Factory Records story. In fact a fair, full spectrum reading of the label that launched that iconic band would more accurately render it as a true indie success story - one built on a semi-fanatical vision in a semi-derelict city that imploded in a semi-brilliant fashion.

Now Audrey Golden’s “I Thought I Heard You Speak” is here to not only help make that case, but to do so while celebrating the many female cogs that kept the company in motion all those years. Because even after they ceased operations in 1992, the version of Factory that remains a cultural touchstone, largely rests on the outsized legend of Tony Wilson and its other male founders.

For a start, it’s not like Wilson or his partners even had office space in the Manchester apartment building where the label first physically took root. Whenever they popped by to look in on operations, they did so from the perch of reception or some other borrowed desk. In fact, so infrequent were the appearances of producer/partner Martin Hannett, that there’s a story of him walking off with a stack of vinyl from the storage room essentially unrecognized.

And once the madness surrounding New Order’s “Blue Monday” swept over Factory, it’s clear from Golden’s lengthy oral history that it was the women onboard who managed the fervor behind the world’s best-selling 12”.

Production and Office Manager Lesley Gilbert stresses that: “…Without a doubt, everything changed with ‘Blue Monday’. I mean, it just went bonkers. First of all, the sheer volume of pressings, and the whole hoo-ha around the sleeve, obviously. Just the interest in it and the way it took off was instant.”

Not even the gloriously popular boat anchor that was Factory’s Haçienda nightclub could have stayed afloat for its 15-year lifespan without the supreme efforts of people like Penny Henry, who did everything from repairing the stage to climbing on the roof to keep the Manchester rain from leaking through to the dancefloor. And because the venue was one of the first to put on female jocks like Michelle Mangan and DJ Paulette, Golden maintains that the club “became a safe space for LGBTQIA+ dancers and music lovers who could thwart the hazards of identity politics…”

But even with talent, location, and extremely potent aesthetics, perhaps the supreme irony in the label’s eventual demise is embodied in the laissez faire attitude that Director of Factory Communications Tina Simmon’s could not stanch in Wilson himself.

“(I’d tell him) ‘We haven’t got the money. This is going to cripple us. We cannot foreclose or not pay the publishing on those two records.’ That was my major row with Tony. He wouldn’t listen and said everything was fine.”

But of course, there’s no telling this story without running headlong into the spectre of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. As the band that Factory largely built their reputation on, his suicide was another of the sad realities one time employee and Wilson’s ex-wife Lindsay Reade can’t shake even more than four decades on.

“I didn’t really get the whole thing that much immediately, but when I heard their recordings, I thought, this is fantastic. And the second album…whoa! You just knew this was amazing. But with the terrible tragedy of Ian’s death, I couldn’t listen to it again. I can’t bear to hear it, even after all this time. It’s too . . . painful still.”

By adopting an oral history format, Golden has given over much of her authorial voice for “I Thought I Heard You Speak” - and that’s OK. What’s more of a ding against this compelling story is that it’s also organized by theme instead of chronologically, which sometimes make it a touch hard to follow. But the lorry load of detail and back story here offsets any of that hedging.

Because even if you weren’t dumb enough to gloss over the subtext of Section 25’s “Girls Don’t Count” single that the label released back in 1980, the idiotic Jann Wenner-isms that we still have to cope with reminds us how necessary books are that strive to peel back the accepted histories of popular music. Golden’s work makes more of a multiverse out of the standard Factory Records narrative, and less of the grim shadow play that most of the documentaries out there have portrayed it as.


Interview with author Audrey Golden

Tracking Angle: Did you find that most people you interviewed were happy to talk about their experience at Factory?

Audrey Golden: The funny thing is almost none of them had ever been asked to talk about Factory before. For so many of these women it was really a process of trying to convince them that they had an important voice in this story. (Even) some of the musicians who did a lot of recording with Factory like Ann Quigley (of Swamp Children) or Gonnie Rietveld who was a key founder of Quango Quango and one of the first electronic musicians who was a woman… she's now a professor of sonic culture in London but had never been asked to talk about Factory before, which shocks me.

TA: The format of the book is a little different from most music titles in that it’s laid out thematically.

AG: When I started putting it together, I used only a percentage of the interview material I had for the book. I mean it was really important to use the oral history form to me to kind of create these thematic chapters. And I think often maybe people don't realize how much work goes into putting together an oral history because it looks like you've just…cut and paste, right? No big deal. But in fact (I was) sorting through all the transcriptions myself...what's ultimately like 500,000 words of material trying to caress it into a narrative.

TA: One of the things I thought was interesting was the comment from Lindsay Reade who said that even after many years it's really impossible for her to Joy Division’s music at this point.

AG: Something that doesn't come through in oral history is kind of the emotional tone someone's taking in an interview  and Lindsay Reade was speaking really matter of factly and had a really clear memory. (She) spoke  kind of firmly and authoritatively and confidently and so for her to kind of move into that mental space was surprising to me for that reason.

TA: Was there any big surprising takeaway that you discovered from your work on the book?

AG: One of the things was honestly just how much work women did at the Haçienda…I mean like just how much work they did from the very start. Penny Henry's started working at the Haçienda from the very beginning and the way she was doing everything that had to be done to make the club functional to working like 70, 80…maybe more hours a week and doing stuff like climbing up on the roof of that building to fix roof slats. That's like madness And all throughout the life of the Haçienda there were women working there and doing heavy lifting, both literally and metaphorically throughout the life of that club and I was surprised that that aspect of it isn't known and it's something that I really hoped in putting the book together would become known.


  • 2024-02-19 02:45:05 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    The input of these women to make sure Tony Wilson's dream came true was undeniable, whether it was 'fixing roof slats' to the bands themselves creating substantial and important music of this era. The title of the book says a lot. It took a few self-absorbed pricks to create a world that women have spent decades trying to pry apart, so we rebuild one that where we all have a voice. Nice review JoE!

    • 2024-02-19 02:48:14 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      I still have that 12" and never thought about their critical input.

  • 2024-02-19 02:56:01 PM

    Adrian Galpin wrote:

    It's great to shine a light on the women that a misogynist record biz sought to suppress, but Factory Records was abysmally run, in financial terms. The label haemorrhaged money from, almost, the start - and the club was a financial disaster, everyone had their hands in the till, (which was common knowledge even at the time), and it ended up being de facto run by Manc drug gangs. I was there in northern England at the time, so I do have direct personal knowledge of Factory/Hacienda goings-on. The music, though, was sublime.

    • 2024-02-20 05:19:53 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      Wow. Stunning connection to the material. I was just listening to Sleaford Mods "Tilldipper"... lol.