A Factory Night (and then again)
12th December 2009
Plan K (aka. La Raffinerie), Brussels
The much awaited follow up to the first edition of the Factory Night from 2007 is finally here. Organised by the team behind the Fantastique Nights, the idea being to get as many of the original Factory Records bands together in one place, in the legendary Plan K venue. La Raffinerie (in the appropriately named Rue de Manchester) is an old sugar refinery that was transformed into a performing arts centre. It was officially known as the Plan K in the late ‘70s & early ‘80s when it was the main concert venue for anything big in the Belgian underground, and saw gigs from the likes of Joy Division, Front 242, and many others.
A good deal of the local die-hards had turned up for The Names at 19:00. Not untypically for this sort of event, things are not quite running to schedule, so we have about an hour’s wait (inside, fortunately, as it’s freezing outside) before we are let in.
The Names were the most important band signed to Factory’s Benelux subsidiary label. They released a number of records between 1978 and 1982, most of which were produced by Martin Hannett. They reunited for the original Factory Night in 2007, and have since released a new album on Str8line records, Monsters Next Door. Tonight, they are recording the gig for a live album to be released next year (which may well be the source of the delay). Original members Michel Sordinia (vocals) Marc Deprez (guitar) and Christophe den Tandt (keyboards) have been joined by Eric Debruyne (bass) and Laurent Loddewijckx (drums). Tonight, they also have a string trio on stage.
They kick off with a few album tracks from Swimming & Spectators of life. My thoughts turn briefly to the crowd – how pleasant it is to be stuck in the middle of people who are as excited at seeing The Names onstage as the band are to be there, and how it makes a change not to be stuck behind some 6ft2 Dutchman. Michel is very much into performing the songs, as is quite clear from White Shadow – acting out the lyrics as he goes along.
The string section is fabulous. I’d guess they’ve had some freedom in working out the parts, as there’s regular solo work from the violin & viola. Marc’s guitar work is also delightfully precise and controlled, and Michel is in very good voice – better than when I saw them at the BIFF earlier on this year. Overall, I thought that the sound was very consistent and up-to-date, and though I’d had my reservations beforehand, the string section really worked very well indeed. The set was on the short side for my liking – I was hoping we’d get a full album’s worth, but they’ve only got time left to include the obvious singles – Nightshift and Calcutta, and new track Nature of the Beast. Neither Speak My Language nor the excellent Flesh Wounds from the new album get a look in. And after 35 minutes, there’s just time for The Astronaut as a brief encore.
The whole evening is intersparsed with DJ sets from various personalities from near and far, but there’s so many people to talk to that I really didn’t pay attention to any of these pretty much all night.
From Glasgow, and originally featuring Bobbie Gillespie, they signed to Factory in 1982 until eventually splitting in 1995. I know we’ve got 2 of the original line up here, but I’m not quite sure who. This is simple, austere New Wave. The excellent bassist is something like Peter Hook playing both the bassline and the bass-solo bit at the same time (if that makes sense), and the sparse keyboards add to a sort of low-tech New-Orderish feel.
I’ll revert to the notes I wrote as we went along – nothing like spontaneity in the heat of the moment. Cesar (guitar & vocals) looks like just an ordinary guy who’s come out of his regular job selling tickets for British Rail to tell us the world he lives in. The first few tracks, I imagined as the sort of thing you’d want as a soundtrack on your walkman while walking around Glasgow’s forlorn industrial wastelands. Then a few stories of teenage angst, and something that made me think of a walk down a deserted Blackpool Peer on a freezing mid-winter’s day.
The later tracks get very New Order-ish, particularly the sparse Barney-like vocals and the keyboards. By the last song, he could seriously do with tuning his guitar, and I suspected the lyrics were not as fresh in his mind as they were 25 years ago. But talking to the band a bit later, it seems that they don’t exactly get together that often, though they do all still live in Glasgow. I’d guess there’s been a few people come over from the UK for this, as there’s a minority of very vocal fans demanding an encore. But it’s 22:05, and we’re way late on the schedule.
Trevor, For Against’s manager was over from Nebraska specifically to see The Wake, and he thought they were well up to scratch.
What’s next? Bighting Tongues? Section XXV? A Certain Ratio? We’ll save that for part 2 – this was a long night with loads to talk about, so I’ll have to split it into more than one post.
So it’s time for a sandwich. Which was not just the usual fare of ham and bread, but came buttered with pickled gherkins on as well! (a hint of the attention to detail that went in to the whole of the organisation). Though I did think a chips van just outside would have just gone down a treat.