“People come up to us and say ‘I met my partner or was conceived at the Hacienda’ – which is a bit worrying”
Graeme Park remembers the heady days of the Hacienda well. In the Second Summer of Love in 1988, that sowed the seeds for Madchester, the club where he was then DJ-ing seemed the epicentre of an earthquake that shook the UK’s dance scene.
Suddenly the 4/4 beats and synthesised basslines of house music could be heard in Britain for the first time.
“When I met Mike Pickering and realised we were both playing very similar stuff, then we ended up working together for many years at the Hacienda, it was an incredible time, because if you wanted to hear the music we were playing then the only place to hear it was at the Hacienda,” he reflects, nearly three decades on.
“Mike and I were just looking at each other one night and he went, ‘There’s something really incredible happening here’ and I went, ‘Yeah, there is’. We couldn’t put a finger on it, but by the end of that summer, when other clubs had started doing similar things and then London finally understood what was going on – having generally dismissed out of hand Chicago house music – it started to spread. But the Hacienda always remained special.
“The amount of people who come up to us and say ‘I met my partner or was conceived at the Hacienda’ – which is a bit worrying,” he chuckles. “It was a very special time.”
Inevitably the Hacienda acquired a wild reputation. Park thinks that’s putting it mildly. “I would say it was actually wilder than its reputation. People would talk about things going on in the past and I would think, ‘You know what? That pales in comparison to the Hacienda’. Whatever anyone says, multiply it by ten then you might get close to how it was at the Hacienda
“When I say wild I mean it in two ways – wild in the documented issues we had with gang problems as well. When you see someone walking through the club with a gun that’s not what you want to see. The club closed for a few weeks in the summer of ’91 and we sorted it out and carried on.
“But because of Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and New Order – the people that ran it – it was a club for hedonists run by hedonists and that’s why it ended spectacularly as it did in 1997.”
The building on Whitworth Street West in Manchester which housed the Hacienda may be long gone, but enduring affection for its spirit has contributed to the popularity of a new venture, Hacienda Classical. Brought together by Park, Pickering and former New Order bassist Peter Hook with the Manchester Camerata, its aim is to fuse the worlds of electronic and classical music by setting vintage tunes from Hacienda’s heyday such as Voodoo Ray, Pacific State, Ride on Time and You Got the Love to orchestral arrangements, with mixing and scratching by Park and Pickering. Peter Hook plays bass and sings on Blue Monday.
Initial concerts at Castlefield Bowl in Manchester and the Royal Albert Hall in London proved so successful that Hacienda Classical has become a touring entity – with a show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on 14 April.
Park explains the original idea stemmed from a late night conversation after one of the club nights he continues to stage with Pickering and Hook under the Hacienda banner. Noting the crowd was becoming increasingly younger – “too young to have gone to the Hacienda itself” – while the dwindling number of Hacienda regulars “would just start whinging, saying ‘Put something we know on’”. They were wracking their brains for how to keep their original fans happy.
“We were in this bar and the lift doors opened and these two musicians walked out carrying musical instruments in cases and we just looked at each other and said we should we should do classical for a laugh. Then we stopped laughing and went ‘Oh yeah’ and that’s literally how the idea began.”
Seven months later they had a meeting “and realised it was a go-er”, yet still it was a surprise when Hacienda promoter Paul Fletcher told them he’d pencilled in their first concert for February 2016. “We were like ‘What? You’ve put a show in?’” Park recalls. “For the rest of 2015 we were working hard choosing the tracks then creating a DJ mix of the tracks then scoring and arranging them. After Christmas we realised we had less than six weeks until the first show.
“We had a rehearsal three days before the first show when we realised it was probably going to work but there was still a lot of fine tuning to do. Then what was supposed to be two shows, in Manchester and London, became three, then four then five. In the end we did nine shows last year and it was just the most incredible journey.”
Park admits to feeling “quite nervous” about their impending show in Leeds. “It’s a brand new set,” he reveals. “The last few shows were such a great success, it would be so easy to do it again, everyone loves it, but as a DJ who’s been performing in clubs for 33 years you don’t want to do the same thing, you want to do something new, you’re always looking forward.”
Peter Hook might have taken a little convincing but Park’s argument that there was “a rich seam” of material they’d yet to explore won out. “So Mike and I have come up with a whole new set list,” he says. “We have kept some from the last set because they’re just amazing but we’ve been quite ruthless. The stuff that people are assuming we’re going to keep - anyone’s highlight from last year - most of them will have gone because we’ve found other tracks that are as good if not better.”
Gone, he says, is the gradual build up from the set. “We realised after three or four shows that’s not really what you want from a classical show because it’s not a club. People are full of anticipation, the lights go on and bang, the show starts. So it’s smack, right between the eyes from the first bar.”
The concert will be followed by an after-party at The Church, the new venue founded by Aaron Mellor of Tokyo Industries and Dave Beer of Leeds’ own Back To Basics. Park promises the mood will be quite different to the classical show, with sets from Derrick Carter, Peter Hook and Buckley. “Mike and I and Francois Kervorkian and the other DJs will do what we feel is right, so don’t expect there to be loads of classic Hacienda tunes,” Parks says. “It will be a Hacienda club night, which can be anything and everything.”