“Andy Lockhart: In the book you make an interesting connection between Manchester’s famous music scene and today’s property developers. Could you tell us what this is all about?
Owen Hatherley: I think it’s partly the self-presentation of them – like Nick Johnson’s talk where he basically says the foundation of Urban Splash is the Sex Pistols playing at the Free Trade Hall. They actually say this. In terms of people who are actually involved it’s far trickier. Certain people were involved directly. Alan McGee got into property development, Mick Hucknall’s in property development, though I think it’s quite rare to find people who were involved in both. People who are involved in property – I imagine in many cases they were on the fringes of that stuff, Bloxham was certainly involved in the music scene and in the Labour Party left as well – consciously say, “We are in this tradition.” And towards the end Tony Wilson was saying it too: “You are the inheritors of Factory Records.”
There’s a documentary called ‘New Order Play at Home’ for Granada TV in about 1984. There’s Tony Wilson who’s in the bath interviewed by Gillian from New Order who’s wearing a wedding dress in the bath as well. So she’s at one end and Wilson’s at the other. It’s a fantastic documentary. But there’s a bit where Gillian asks Wilson something like, “what are your ambitions” and Wilson says, “I’d like to see the revolution in my lifetime’, and later says; ‘I’d like to open a New York office, and I would like to build lofts in Manchester.” This is 1984 – 12 years before it actually happens in Manchester. The reason was because they’d just been to New York. It was a time when the radical arts scene, punk and post-punk in New York were very much providing the foundations for gentrification there. People involved with that scene were then involved in the loft apartments scene.
In a way it’s hard to resent them and again this is the major flaw in my stuff about Manchester. The thing is I don’t remember it when it was fucked. Of course outside the ring road it’s still fucked, but the centre isn’t. I think that if you were walking around Whitworth Street when all that area was derelict with that level of grandeur going to waste, then you went somewhere where very similar buildings were actually inhabited and used, and there was street life – of course you’d want that. The problem with it is that the critical faculties just seemed to disappear around the same time. But I understand the rationale. My main source for a lot of this was Justin O’Connor who was involved in the study of – I hate the phrase – ‘creative industries’ in Manchester. He was one of those involved in founding Urbis. He was involved early on and then thought, “Hang on.” Not enough people did that in my opinion. The sad thing about all this is that Richard Leese recently described himself in an interview as a socialist. I’m sure Bloxham would too. I’m sure Wilson thought he was a Situationist until the end. They still think they’re radicals when they’re serving land and property.”