Factory Records: Factory Communications Limited (UK)

"You're quite lucky that Tina hadn't warned me you were calling because I would've said no," admits Factory co-founder and 'director general' Alan Erasmus. "I've always let others put forward their views, whether I agree with them or not." Erasmus' surprise means he talks all the time through a Budweiser beer can: "I picked up the nearest phone which was in the bathroom, which is this beercan, so every now and then, it slips round my car and I can't hear you," he says halfway through.

Erasmus was an actor in rep and then film when he met Anthony Wilson at a party and struck up a lasting friendship. After, "jumping in at the deep end," with a young band called Flashback, he managed The Durutti Column - then including two sacked Flashbacks and Vini Reilly - and found them some shows at Manchester's Russell Club. The shows were so successful that Erasmus started booking more nights, with bands that had appeared on Wilson's So It Goes show on Granada, while joy Division's manager Rob Gretton started acting as unofficial A&R scout.

It was Erasmus who thought up the label's name, although it was initially for another purpose. "I was driving down a road and there was a big sign saying 'Factory For Sale' standing out in neon, and I thought, 'Factory, that's the name,' because a factory was a place where people work and create things, and I thought to myself, these are workers who are also musicians and they'll be creative. 'Factory' was nothing to do with Andy Warhol because I didn't know at the time that Warhol had this building in New York called the Factory. 'Friday Night Is Factory Night' - so the poster read.

Factory the label only came about after the Russell Club's owners Roger and Pete, started discussing a double twelve-inch single of two groups from Manchester and Liverpool, which Erasmus and Wilson adapted to the more manageable double seven-inch format. A Factory Sample eventually starred Joy Division, The Durutti Column - now just Reilly - John Dowie and Sheffield's Cabaret Voltaire. "That was the start of it. There are lots of frills to the story but you're not getting those."

Erasmus also takes the unofficial title of special projects director. As usual, titles mean little. "I may have met Quincy Jones, had a meeting with New Order about the new album, and done a deal that will bring us in £250,000 over that month," says Erasmus, describing 'a day in the life.'

"I do whatever needs doing. At the moment, I'm looking at the fact that Factory needs an audio-visual side (the Ikon production company which previously made all Factory band videos now works out of a separate office). Then there's DAT too. We released the first Digital Audio Cassette in the UK in 1988, with Durutti Column's Guitar & Other Machines and then New Order's Substance a few months later. Everything from that point on has been on DAT. I do believe that DAT will be launched and marketed by the majors in the future. It's far too good a technology to be abandoned. All studios have DAT now."

Factory's adventurism and idealism was reflected by Erasmus' plan to establish a classical label, starting in 1984 with a quest to find young Soviet and Eastern bloc musicians. "It was at the time that Thatcher and Reagan were putting across the view that the Soviet people were animals, or sub-human, which was out of order," reckons Erasmus. "I went across to Russia and worked very hard trying to organise some deals but the main thing that happened was that the two guys I was dealing with in London, the head cultural guy and the one who ran the record and arts company, got expelled for supposedly being KGB, so I was back to square one. I just wanted to show that people worked the same as us. Glasnost has happened since and there's a greater understanding of people.

"It's been very difficult to get it off the ground, but we have got a classical label together which is establishing itself by using young English musicians. It's a new area for us so we have to get people in who know the ground and can help us to launch it." Erasmus is determined to see Eastern Bloc musicians on Factory, "but a little bit further down the road." He admits his determination lost Factory time, but that's the price you pay for being an innovator.

Keeping up with the artists is another concern. Erasmus feels he has more or less scaled New Order's Barney Sumner's solo album (in conjunction with Johnny Marr). There was a time when Barney was a bit wary of putting it through Factory because he thought he'd see what it did through a major, but at the moment, the pair of them want the album to go with us. When New Order come back from America, I'll be working on that as a project to make sure it gets from A to B, regardless of whether it goes out on Factory or not. If they want a deal because they've been offered 'x' amount, a major can't really top any deal we can offer because of the other points involved. If the deal was for straight cash, then that's up to them. We wouldn't be overly offended by that, but I'd be in touch anyway to make sure it goes through."

Is Factory such an attractive proposition then? "Very," says Erasmus. "These days, we do encourage bands to tour because it does help sales, but at the end of the day, they're not pushed around the same way as they would be by a major, like over what singles to release. We give them our advice but it's up to them. A major will offer 15 to 16 points, whereas with New Order and most of the other bands, the deal is still 50% of profits, after mechanicals and royalties. We now do deals, because in the past, bands like The Railway Children and James have left us, and I always wonder why? Unfortunately for all the bands who've left us, except OMD who we knew would leave before they recorded with us, it's been the kiss of death. We'll see what happens with A Certain Ratio, but The Distractions fell apart after Factory too. I hope they all make it. Someone's on our side, I think."

- excerpt for FAC 229! The Music Week Factorial

Factory Records Shareholders Analysis
Factory Records Shareholders Analysis