30 Oct 2019
Use Hearing Protection Factory Records 1978-1979 review 
FAC 1-10 - Use Hearing Protection box set review

Where do you start?

It's big? 15" x 15" x 5" is a little oversized for the average shelf.

It's quite expensive? Yes, but with some justification.

It has limited appeal? Maybe, but those who are invested will love it.

It's breathtaking.

When this box was first announced in August, I had no hesitation in ordering it. Whilst costing more than I would normally spend (I thought the deluxe version of 'Movement' a little on the high side) the contents, the book, the music, the posters, the CD and DVD promised a treasure trove of riches most could only dream of owning, despite being copies.

FAC 1-10 - Use Hearing Protection box set review

It's worth noting on this point that where things are facsimiles, they are to the highest degree, for example, FAC-2 is in a proper heat sealed sleeve rather than a card or paper one. FAC 6 is in a replica black-on-black thermographic braille sleeve. Clearly no expense has been spared in the production of this box celebrating greatest of all record labels.

Opening the high quality box very carefully the first thing you see is the 12x12" 60-page paperback book. With new text by the curator, James Nice, and some rare full-size photographs mixed with quotes from various sources, this focuses on the content of the box and reprints an original 1979 article by the future filmmaker and screenwriter Mary Harron. My initial intention was to have a quick skim through the book before moving on to the contents of the box, but found myself being drawn in and studying it in detail for a long time.

FAC 1-10 - Use Hearing Protection box set review

Nestled between the book and the first couple of pieces of vinyl are the 3 posters and other paper-based artefacts (FAC 1, FAC 3, FAC 4, FAC 7 and FAC 8).

The posters I've not opened out yet and, to be honest, I'm a little scared of doing so as I don't want to damage them at all as I am contemplating having them framed. The stationery is interesting, especially the copy of the 'History of Factory' double-sided piece of A4 originally typed up by Tony Wilson. When it comes to Linder Sterling's Factory Egg Timer print it's something of a curio. Indeed it's probably something that will get passed over during the first examination by most people, but it's essential as not only is it one of the first 10 items with a Factory catalogue number, it's so off the wall you can't imagine any other record company encouraging the idea of such a thing… which in itself is what makes Factory so special.

Moving on to the vinyl, as mentioned these are facsimiles of the originals. A Factory Sample, All Night Party, Electricity, Unknown Pleasures and the previously unreleased 3-track 12" by Tiller Boys. Other than the Joy Division album (the 2015 master), all of the other tracks have freshly been remastered at Abbey Road this year from the original tapes.

I must confess, that when listening to 'A Factory Sample' I realised what a bad 'fan' I am. Other than the Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire tracks I'd never actually heard the other tracks on the debut EP, never having owned it before. Whilst I was listening to the first disc I looked at what was in the charts on 24 December 1978 when it was released… Boney M were No 1 with 'Mary's Boy Child' in the singles and the 'Grease Soundtrack Album' was holding off all pretenders in the album chart. Those Martin Hannett-produced tracks sound light years away from what was in the mainstream at the time, as would the Cabs. Curiously the 3 tracks by John Dowie don't sound that dissimilar from something the likes of the Barron Knights may have performed, who had a single in the Top 5 at the time.

FAC 1-10 - Use Hearing Protection box set review

I'm not sure how the bonus Tiller Boys 12-inch would have been received if it had been released as originally planned. It's interesting to hear, but to my ears is basically a set of instrumental jams, and not something that would have necessarily been comparable to the opening salvo of ACR, OMD and Joy Division, although again, the fact that this was considered is typical of the label.

Hidden under the seven-inchers are the final treasures in the box, the first of which is the rarely seen and recently remastered 'No City Fun'. Accompanied by 3 Joy Division tracks, the film is almost exclusively filmed on the 42 bus route through Withington to Manchester City Centre. For me this was fascinating as it took me back to my youth, as it was about a journey I vaguely remember making as a 9-year-old complete with orange double-decker buses and Piccadilly Radio 261.

The final item contains 2 CDs worth of an interview / conversation with the aforementioned Mary Harron. This comprises ninety minutes of conversation between Mary, Tony, Rob Gretton and the members of Joy Division whilst eating out in Manchester. I had an idea this would be interesting, but I didn't realise HOW interesting. The conversation covers everything from the birth of punk and the Sex Pistols in Manchester to the formation of Joy Division and Factory. There’s all this and Tony Wilson really pushing a new Mexican restaurant (which probably would have been one of the first) in Manchester City Centre and explaining what a taco is to those listening.

Unlike myself and the Factory Sample, I imagine anyone reading this, or thinking of buying the box will have heard or own the contents of the box. They may also have seen much of the printed material in books or behind glass at exhibitions.

The box is a gorgeous artefact, lovingly curated and a truly a sum of its parts. For me personally, it's an audio/visual time capsule of a period which I missed out on by around 10 years and it offered me an opportunity to immerse myself in the late 1970s Manchester. Incidentally I am currently reading Gareth Ashton's brilliant 'Manchester: It Never Rains’ book which covers this period via eye witness accounts and adds additional context from outside of the Factory bubble.

Yes, this is expensive, but I'd say worth it as it's a quality item, which has been made to the highest possible specifications and overseen by those that have been keeping the Factory legacy alive.

Saying it's the perfect tribute for the 40th Anniversary of Factory, and to the memory of Messrs Curtis, Hannett, Gretton and Wilson, or a celebration of Saville and those who remain doesn't seem enough, but that's exactly what it is.

- Iain Key for Cerysmatic Factory

FAC 1-10 - Use Hearing Protection box set review

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