Factory error: hunting for stolen 1977 sign that put Manchester on pop music map | Manchester

The hunt is on to locate an object that truly qualifies as “a sign of the times”. In 1977, the first Factory Club night in Manchester was announced with a poster bearing the now-famous symbol of a health and safety warning, urging workers to protect their ears from loud noise. But the original board used in the artwork is missing.

Acclaimed designer Peter Saville was a young student at Manchester Polytechnic when Tony Wilson, the TV presenter and promoter behind the city’s burgeoning music scene, asked him to create an advertisement for the event. Fortunately, inspiration was close by.

“There was a yellow laminated poster board on the wall at the poly, something I looked at every day,” Saville said over the weekend.

“I had a romantic view of Britain’s industrial past, afforded to me by my comfortable middle-class upbringing in leafy Hale, so I felt it had a certain ironic beauty and would fit the Factory name. I took it down one night to trace it for the poster.

Public Image Ltd played in Factory’s club. Photo: Duncan Bryceland/Shutterstock

A forerunner of the Hacienda nightclub, a regular venue for Joy Division and the venue for an early Public Image Ltd gig, the club was the birthplace of a celebrated moment in British music. As a result, the poster later appeared in a show at Manchester’s gallery and art venue Cornerhouse, now Home.

“I lent it to the exhibition in the 1990s as a kind of ‘patient zero’ gesture,” Saville recalls. “Unfortunately, someone took it off the wall, as I had, and I regretted not getting it back. Now, more than 40 years later, I think it belongs in the British pop archive at John Ryland’s Research Institute in Manchester, so if anyone comes forward, it should go there.”

The story came to light when author Andy Spinoza was researching his new book, Manchester Unspun: pop, property and power in the original modern city, published next month by Manchester University Press. Spinoza, co-curator of the Cornerhouse exhibition, points out that ephemera from that era are valuable now. Fac 1, the poster, was the starting point of an extensive catalog of Fac artifacts that now includes more than 500 plates, books and images.

“That poster set the course for the whole Factory aesthetic,” Spinoza said over the weekend. “It would be nice to think that whoever took what many fans consider a holy relic was an ardent admirer of the label. Hopefully they can now help complete an archive of perhaps the most personally meaningful item from Peter Saville’s entire design career.”

The pop archive is run by Professor Jon Savage, a veteran of the era, who harbors some hope that the inspirational sign will be recovered.

“The story of British pop music is incredibly important because it’s a fantastic gateway to understanding our social history,” he said.

“Our archive, containing the lyrics of Ian Curtis and the archive of Tony Wilson, is open to the public. We opened last May and started Factory. I moved to Manchester in 1979 because Tony, who worked at Granada TV, wanted a journalist on site to cover his bands, mainly Joy Division. It was a depressed, post-industrial area at the time, and Joy Division seemed like a great answer to that.

“The club nights weren’t always full and the hall, which smelled like hamburgers, could only seat about 250 people. Special that we are still talking about that moment. I never believed it then.”

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