13 Jun 2017
But what price art? 
FACT 89 Dowie (detail)

A letter from Tony Wilson to Ralph Steadman dated 1 September 1983:

Dear Mr Steadman

Forgive the intrusion and the videos herein. And most particularly forgive the paltry sum of money offered in the last paragraph. Let me explain; Factory Records is a small independent record company operating out of Manchester, England, with some success, mostly in keeping our back to the marketplace but still with our hands in the till. The company has a small video wing - so far we have put out three videos, largely mail order, at the extremely socialist price of £13.50, and they have sold 200, 800 and 1800 respectively. Recently an old friend of mine, a frequently down and out comedian called John Dowie (we put a record out for him in 1979) approached me and asked if we would put out a video cassette of a performance at last year's Edinburgh Festival. Since sales demand will be low and only in the region of 40 to 100, no real expense is involved. Our cottage industry simply transfer from a 3/4" master to a VHS one by one to keep up with demand. HOWEVER (better than but) it would nice to have a good sleeve. It would be nice to have a good sleeve. It would be nice to have a serious piece of art reflecting the manic nature of the piece and the classical nature of the record company involved - do I have to say any more? When things cost about £9 to produce and we sell them for £13.50, on sales of about 50 I could only reasonably offer you £100 (it could be a very quick drawing). We could agree that any sales above 50 you would get £1 a copy for. I enclose the Dowie video itself with its awful sleeve, and our own New Order video. Plus an example of the size of paper required. All it has to say on it is "Dowie" and the matrix number "FACT 89".

I could tell you how long I have been an ardent admirer, I could tell you how I purchased large quantities of those remaindered postcards, the Gridiron Exploder being my favourite, an I could tell you that I am a friend of Viv and Ian Starr as a form of civilised introduction. I could also offer you more money but what price art?

Yours sincerely

Anthony H Wilson

P.S. Ian just sold the Searle. I think he has some money for you - not much, but then who's Searle anyway?


AHW's direct approach paid off and Mr Steadman duly provided the cover. It is not known whether it sold more than 50 copies.

View the full letter and accompanying notes/details (and the final cover).

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Biting Tongues

In the grey days of late 1970s post-punk Manchester, youth culture was a serious affair: every musical performance was measured mostly by the conviction of its delivery. The term 'New Wave' opened up free vistas where acquired skills could once again be exercised after punk's monochrome blur. It could be applied to anything from a James 'Blood' Ulmer record to the latest Throbbing Gristle release, Magazine to Swell Maps. Move outside that terrain into Sun Ra, Parliament, Frank Sinatra and Martin Denny, and your options were suddenly without limit...

Then came Tony Wilson's Factory Club (at the Russell Club in Hulme) offering an open invitation to experiment that was taken up when Ken Hollings, Howard Walmsley, Eddie Sherwood and a few others decided to make some noise to accompany their 16mm silent epic Biting Tongues. A further performance followed a few weeks later, when Colin Seddon and Graham Massey disbanded their Post Natals project and joined up. The film itself, a flashing series of negative images, became a memory; the name remained.

- extract from the LTM Biting Tongues biography

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