Even though no one knew it at the time, the Stiff/Chiswick challenge became a historical moment in music. It was the night most people either ignored or missed Joy Division, though speaking for myself I couldn’t be accused of ignoring someone I was too knackered to wait around for! As one might expect with Stiff the night was random to say the least, add Chiswick to the mix and chaos ensued.
I had been a new recruit to the world of promotion and Island fortunately was my first port of call. If you were in the music business there was no better place to be, not only did they have the acts but they had the staff……..stars in their own right, and a few of them platinum! I joined early in 1978 after a few years on the road selling records and now I had to sell them the artists…my job was to get them radio and TV. As part of the package I had Stiff to promote also but with an artist roster that boasted Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury ‘n all it wasn’t too hideous a task!
The gig took place at Rafter’s on Oxford Street in Manchester and I went along on my own knowing there would likely be a few of the usual suspects thinking just the same. I knew for sure local Sounds writer Mick Middles and NME photographer Kevin Cummins would be there, Tony Wilson too.
Tony was well known in Manchester as the local news anchor but now he was also the man fronting the soon to be legendary ‘So it goes’ music show. I’d recently got to know him as he’d put a couple of my acts on TV and personally found him a good guy though to some he was a target for ridicule by some senseless clowns….just jealously I had always thought.
Back then Joy Division were faceless wannabees and their singer Ian Curtis was in ranting mood that night…..he was also the most vociferous when it came to promoting them. Ian was especially pissed off that so many bands were being showcased on the show while his own band were being ignored. As is normally the case, drink increases the bravado and his cursing of Wilson was extreme to say the least. However bad the language may have been, he hit home when making his point and Tony was left intrigued. Also present that night were Rob Gretton, Martin Hannett and Alan Erasmus although I didn’t get to know them until much later.
I’m not sure if Tony and Alan had started their Friday night band nights at the Russell Club in Hulme yet (known as The Factory)or whether that came later but I’m pretty sure the buzz they got that night sowed the seed for the label the following year. Tony wanted much more than just to front a TV show, he wanted to be in the thick of it. That night Rob was a local DJ but after the show was over he made plans to go and watch them rehearse…..and the rest is history, he became their manager and mentor and undertook the same task for New Order after Ian’s suicide.