Factory Classical > "Pulling the strings" / "Classical Flat-Top" - NME 14 October 1989 on the launch of Factory Clasical < A Factory Classical Q&A with John Metcalfe

"Pulling the strings" / "Classical Flat-Top" - NME 14 October 1989 on the launch of Factory Clasical

As Factory launch their new Classical label. DON WATSON talks to arch-orchestrator TONY WILSON and JONATHAN ROMNEY puts composer STEVE MARTLAND through his "Drill"


"One of the best things about Factory starting a classical label," says Tony Wilson, "is that as a pop label we pioneered the classical look of record covers without pictures of the groups on them. Now, as a classical label, we can pioneer the pop look of records with pictures of the musicians on the front."

Such an inversion appeals to the Factory overseer's sense of humour - after all, Wilson has endured 13 years as an active cultural iconoclast without losing his delight in disruption. He'll argue vociferously that Acid House has found Stravinsky's lost chord, then proclaim his intent to wrest the reins of classical music away from "middle-class wankers in dinner suits". Having applied a veneer of sophistication to the low-brow market of pop music, he's now intent on stripping it from the face of classical music.

The Classical label, which seems like a perfect move for Factory, was more a matter of chance than planning.

"Quite by chance we got to hear of the Kreisler Orchestra, because the viola player, John Metcalfe, was also the viola player in the Durutti Column. We were trying to book him for a concert in Tokyo with Vini and found that he was already booked for one in Budapest with the Kreislers."

The thing that attracted Wilson about the Kreislers was that here was a group of young people who had the same post-punk reference points as the Factory audience, but were also classically trained.

"The idea that I had in mind was people like Peter Saville (the Factory designer) and his girlfriend; art school kids brought up with Bowie and Roxy Music, into punk, maybe they find Acid House interesting, but they're looking for something else.

"For people like them or younger, there is no easy way into classical music, because it's all quite exclusive, they're scarcely likely to read Gramophone magazine, or make head or tail of it if they did.

"Ideally what I'd like to do is establish some setting in which people like the Kreisler Orchestra could play, that would suit them better than the circuit they get involved in because there is such a limited sense of contemporary classical music in this country.

"If you go anywhere else in Europe," says Wilson, "classical music is much more central to the culture than it is in England. Here there are so many barriers of class which prevent people from simply appreciating it. If we can break some of those down, I think we will have done a good thing".


INCOMPARISON to other record labels that have branched into classical music, Factory's first offerings are far from ground breaking: Brahms, Britten, Shostakovich, Tippet ... hardly a radical manifesto.

Whatever the merits of the individual works, it's clear that Factory are hardly (from their press release) taking "classical music into the uncharted territories", unless you take 'territory' as a strictly marketing term. So where is the challenge? Where are the new composers?

For those, you have to look at the blind spot in the series, at Fact 226, by Steve Martland.

Martland is a young British composer whose reputation is growing all the time, partly because of his talent for PR and highly marketable image - Vaughan Williams was rarely to be seen in denims and flat-top - and partly because of an original and uncompromising vision.

Martland studied music at Liverpool University, where he was more involved in revolutionary politics than the music department.

"There's always a big heavy God Squad in music departments. Ours was in a basement, and the God Squad wouldn't come down because of the language." He then worked in Holland, with composer Louis Andriessen and jazz improvisation orchestra De Volharding - "loud, raucous and very political".

The political edge came to the fore with Albion, a drama-documentary shown on BBC2 last December, in which Martland examined the heritage business that's fast becoming the only viable industry of Great Britain PLC. Using Test Department and Sarah Jane Morris, Martland's nightmare parodies of Pomp and Circumstance music soundtracked a montage of Thatcher speeches, Falklands footage, and animatronic figures of Queen Victoria and actor Frank Finlay expostulating on the great days of the British Empire. The irony is that these latter grotesquees are genuine installations in some ideological Disneyland in the North of England.

"So many people just don't connect their music to social reality - but music has to connect with it," says Martland. "I believe there has to be some form of social engagement, a commitment to some sort of moral values, otherwise it's just useless."

A good version of Martland's titular precision is the relentless 'Drill', for pianists Gerard Bowhuis and Cees Van Zeeland, featured on his LP. The title came from Jacob Epsteins's statue 'Rock Drill'.

"I was thinking of a military drill, or any form of drill where there's fantastic synchronisation. I dropped the 'Rock' part because then people would think I was trying to be trendy. It's half an hour, and it's loud all the way through. No one else has played it yet and I wonder if anyone can - there's no virtuosity, it's just the stamina."

There's nothing comfortable about this music, which was certainly not written to nibble canapés to; but there's nothing inaccessible about it, either.

"My music is of now, as much of a now as Prince is," insists Martland. "If I were on Mute, I'd be alongside Diamanda Galas or somebody."

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