Publications > Scream City > Scream City Issue #5 > The Absence Of The Object Becomes A Presence You Can Feel by John Cooper

The Absence Of The Object Becomes A Presence You Can Feel
an interview with Fiona Allen by John Cooper
Fiona Allen went to, worked in and eventually became the Box Office manager of FAC 51 The Haçienda. In 1989 Factory Records branched off into retailing with the opening of FAC 281 The Area in Affleck's Palace in Manchester, with Fiona in charge. Following the demise of Factory she has pursued a successful acting career and is most well known for Channel 4's hit comedy show Smack The Pony. She also briefly appeared as herself in 24 Hour Party People.
Scream City went to the Area and sat on the sofa for two hours to catch up with Fiona and discuss the Factory grand plan for retail domination that sadly never happened.
How did you come to work for Factory?
Well I was working at the Haçienda because my sister was working there and then I started to work there. And obviously, like everyone else who worked there, it was a really good time.
Then, when it closed, I said "Well, I've got an idea, let's open a shop. Cos I actually came up with an idea for a Factory label, which Wilson thought was a really good idea, for clothing. But they didn't do it in the end because it was gonna be really expensive. But you should've seen some of the draft stuff that they designed; it was really good. I can't remember the team there but it was lovely.
We'd have meetings in that lovely boardroom with the gorgeous table designed by Ben Kelly. So, that didn't happen because of the money so we thought well we could open a shop. And that came up as as idea just because we had the t-shirts we had and people were always writing letters to us asking for stuff and it was all dotted about and nobody really gave a shit about it. So I thought, why don't we just do a shop. Well, I wouldn't call it a shop really, well, it had a door, but it was more like a stall because it was in Affleck's.
It was quite cool y'know, the way we decked it out.
Tony gave me a tiny bit of money just to get a bit of furniture and stuff. Which we did and it was nice. But, it's just typical Factory really, it was full of creative people with brilliant ideas but the downfall was we were selling things that were all limited edition so they went so quickly that it was like "Ah, now what do we do!?" Because all the really gorgeous stuff just went, y'know like the Little Louie. There were so few made of these things. And the only other to sell were CDs but they were in every music store so there was no point.
On t-shirts I had to battle with those guys who were doing the Happy Mondays stuff because they'd sewn it up really, they wouldn't let anyone else do it and I just fought and fought and fought. They weren't their designs, we did a separate design for the shop.
But when everything had gone, and some of them were so gorgeous I wanted to make some more of things that didn't matter, not like the really superb collectible stuff, but other stuff that it wouldn't matter if you made more of them. And there were people who wanted them all over the world and that was when that guy kicked up a real fuss about wanting to do it. But that was Tony.
Anyone he believes in and he thought had a good idea, he would give them a chance. He was a really good bloke like that.
So, business-wise, it couldn't have gone further unless we had done the Factory clothing. In fact at that stage, Factory was in trouble with money so there was no way that that was gonna be able to be possible although in an ideal world it was brilliant and we probably would've had shops by now... and loads of them! It was just one of those things - the money wasn't there and there was nothing we could do about it.
Before the Area there was a certain mystery as to how you would come to obtain Factory artefacts...
It was Factory stuff and it belonged to Factory Records and it was hanging around and if they were just left in a box somewhere that would've been pointless.
What I mean, is that before the shop opened, there were Factory artefacts which would emerge on to the collectors' scene but the ways in which you got them varied from them being sold by private individuals to people just writing to Factory saying "Have you got any badges?" and them just sending them some.
If they did that, I've got no idea. I just said "Let's open a shop and then we did."
I know, it seems like a totally logical thing to do. I didn't mean that it was mysterious that Factory would want to open a shop! It was a brilliant idea.
The brilliant idea I think was to take it forward. Which is why it was such a shame.
But how long do you need to set up that kind of business - quite a long time, although I think we could've turned it around fairly quickly but that was me, full of enthusiasm! But I was trying to convince an accountant and it was pretty impossible because they don't have a creative bone in their body! So there was nothing you could do about that really.
What about the World In Motion t-shirts and caps and shorts...?
We sold a lot of those - and other t-shirts - at the Haçienda. So we would try at the Area to do stuff that they didn't. The Haçienda just did t-shirts for the various nights unless a band came and did a bit of merchandising. We tried to make it different and they all did fairly well. But we literally ran out of stuff and we had to pack it in.
Were some of the other artefacts that were sold were any made specifically for sale at the shop and they wouldn't have been made if there hadn't been a shop?
No, it mainly stuff that they had already. It was hanging about, lying around and we might as well because otherwise people would just nick it! There was nothing made specifically for the shop apart from the t-shirts. I had to have those otherwise it was "I'm not gonna have anything to bloody sell here!".
I bought my Factory blue [Fac 299] tshirt there amongst other things. Was there an Area badge? It has been rumoured that one existed.
You know what, I actually can't remember it was so long ago! Obviously The Area had a FAC number [281] and flyers.
The other thing that seems to be almost legendary is the Hi-Nek t-shirt. I've never seen one and don't know (m)any people who have.
I don't know but when I worked at Factory I went up to Manchester United, y'know cos Tony supported United. I got a little deal with them for a Factory shirt and they were really nice.
It had a round neck which was high. I can remember something like that I just can't remember which specific design it was.
OK, well that was more of a nerdy collector's question than anything else! So that we can fill in a gap in our over-obsessive records of things...
What about the marketing slogan which was "Prenez votre desirs" and which appeared on the leaflets?
I had nothing to do with that. That was Tony.
I was gonna say, it sounds like a Tony thing.
Yeah, anything like that was Wilson. That's what he was good at!
Going on to the Haçienda, what do you remember from the first time you ever went in there?
I just remember how huge it was because a lot of clubs weren't like that really. And the difference in the style of it I thought was really cool. I loved it. I noticed the shit sound because it was really bad then. I liked to go and watch live bands and stuff and there was just a really bad sound system, which was a shame. But I was really into the design side and I thought it was really interesting - new for the city and new for any nightclub in England at that time.
Oh yeah, it was pretty revolutionary in terms of concept and design. And highly influential.
So yeah, I was really into it. It was new and there was something exciting happening.
But obviously it changed very very quickly.
What was your favourite night, either an actual individual night or a like a generic night, like Nude night or whatever?
I used to like... Nude night was Friday wasn't it?
That was my worst night! For somebody who would work there because I ended up mopping up people's blood and guts. That was a nightmare workwise. There wasn't time to enjoy it. As you know, it was very troublesome, with all the gang warfare, drugs and all that kinda stuff. It was particularly unpleasant for me to work on that night.
Sometimes I used to have to take people to hospital myself, because ambulances took such a long time to arrive. I also had to help with stab wounds, mop up blood. It went on and on...
But I used to like the Temperance Club. I loved that night on Thursday with Dave Haslam because of the nice people who used to turn up for it and also I really liked the music.
And I used to love Hot night with the pool.
I just loved that night. That night was such good fun. It was full of good fun people.
My dad had a narrow boat and we were doing a cruise on it in 1988 and coming down through Manchester. We happened to moor up behind the Haçienda and it was Hot night. So we went and afterwards had what was possibly the shortest ever journey home afterwards. I'll always remember that.
And you pretty much answered one of my other questions which was "What was your worst night at the Haçienda?".
That's funny. It's not that I didn't appreciate what was going on on Fridays, it was just the horrible criminal element that came with it. It was so ugly and was against every creative bone in my body. Anything that is new, exciting and interesting becomes so popular that it gets ruined. I think it ruined itself because of its popularity really.
There was a certain type of person coming in and it became about something else, opposite to what it was really meant to be.
In my mind, it's the best club I've ever been to anywhere.
I mean I don't go to clubs any more because I'm far too old but also, I'll stand there looking around thinking "those were the days..." Or you go to a club and think "I wonder where they got that idea from!?" Exactly. But it was a brilliant place. But unfortunately, like all good things, it had to come to an end.
I remember being in the Area one day and you said how you'd got an acting part in the film Shooting Stars based around football in Manchester. You were obviously still working for Factory but going off doing acting parts.
I was just starting out. I remember going off and I did a little film. I was at the Factory offices and I'd got this huge office, next to the A&R room, beautiful design of course, Ben Kelly again. Anyway, somebody, possibly Wilson, phoned me after I'd been off for two or three weeks and said "Are you coming back at all?". So I said "Yes, I'm just finishing filming". And they were like "OK". And I said "Bye".
They were just so laid back.
Was it good though that when Factory went tits up that you had already dipped your toe in the water?
Yeah. Well I had just about had enough of Manchester then and I just wanted to get well away. I had had enough, even though I liked Factory a lot. And so I was kinda quite happy because I bought a house, moved to London and started to work within about 12 weeks. So it changed my whole life, day to day, but that's what people do, they move.
Apparently you were Nico's landlady...
It's true actually, and it's so bizarre because when I say it people go "What!?". I had this huge house and I needed a flatmate. And Alan Wise said, "Oh, I know somebody" who's called Elise and he's a really nice guy and he needs somewhere to live.
So I met this guy and he was stunningly handsome, really nice and he moved in and then he said "Oh, my mum's coming to stay for a couple of days". So I said, "Oh, alright then". And for some reason, when someone says their mum's coming around you don't expect to open the door and for there to be Nico! So, I was like "Oh, shit!". It was so unreal.
And she was like [adopts Nicoesque drawl] "I really like your flat, it's really nice".
And I thought "Oh, thanks" but she liked it that much that she didn't move out. She literally didn't move out! It was bizarre, there were methadone bottles all over the kitchen floor and she was always smoking all these huge lumps of black, just dotted around. She had pictures of Jim Morrison.
She had all her albums out in our living room and she had Chelsea Girl I think, the one with Jim Morrison with his arms out with a necklace with a ring out. And she said "Oh that was mine, we had a love affair". She was telling me all these stories and I was like "Fuck!", I couldn't believe it.
But the worst thing about Nico was that she'd sing and she'd have her little organ.
And she was properly tone deaf. She had the worst voice I think I've ever heard in my life. It was actually shocking.
You could say it was her unique selling point I suppose!?
FA: Yes, possibly!
Many thanks to Fiona Allen and to James Masters for facilitating.

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