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Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records

By James Nice

In May 1978, a 'Factory for Sale' sign inspired Alan Erasmus and Tony Wilson to book a series of post-punk happenings at the Russell Club in Manchester. Soon this electrifying scene was translated to vinyl, with Factory Records going on to become the most innovative and celebrated independent record label of the next thirty years.

Always breaking new ground, Factory gave the world innovative and influential bands such as Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Section 25, The Durutti Column and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and later New Order, James and Happy Mondays. However its founders' avowed ambition was not chart success, but 'a laboratory experiment in popular culture.'

Factory collapsed with massive debts in 1991, and in the years since both the label and its troubled folly, The Haçienda, have become both a legend and a cautionary tale. However the definitive, authentic story has never been told - until now. Shadowplayers is the most complete, authoritative and thoroughly researched account of how a group of provincial anarchists and entrepreneurs saw off critics, bankers and gun-toting gangsters to create the most influential, acclaimed and adored music imprint of modern times.

Foreword by Jon Savage. 560 pages. Plate section in hardback. Published on 1 June 2010 by Aurum Press at £20.00 (hardback, pink cover), £14.99 (softback, blue cover). AURUM EDITION CURRENTLY SOLD OUT. French language edition published by Naïve.

To access detailed chapter-by-chapter source notes for the book please follow this link:


'Definitive and comprehensive, this is the actual story of Factory Records' (Peter Saville)

'Such a rare thing - really interesting and immensely readable. I learned a lot' (Peter Hook)

'This book is surely the definitive study of the chaotic, praxis-driven enterprise that was Factory Communications' (Stephen Morris)

'The definitive bible' (Michel Duval)

'The story of Factory Records has become so encrusted in myth that this book stands a necessary corrective. James Nice tracks the rise and fall of an extraordinary company with a forensic eye. The details pile up into a fascinating story of delusion, hubris, and betrayal' (Jon Savage)

'Few people can rival his knowledge of the label's history. James Nice is uniquely placed to write the definitive chronicle of Factory Records' (Simon Reynolds)

'Absolutely engrossing, a stunning piece of substantial scholarship and research' (Michael Bracewell)

'A triumph!' (Linder Sterling, 06/2010)

'This remarkably comprehensive overview goes deep to illuminate the storied Manc label, and is recommended to all those who, like chief designer Peter Saville, recognise that countercultural gestures were the turbine of Factory. Four stars' (Mojo, 07/2010)

'A solemn and scholarly account, retold in epic detail. Excellent - four stars'(Q, 06/2010)

'A good story well told. Nice gets the tone of the time spot on and the detail covers not only the usual musical suspects but also the lesser recognised Factory signings. And, happily, the humour's there too' (Manchester Evening News, 05/2010)

'James Nice comes to his subject with no axe to grind, no partiality, no angle. Shadowplayers provides a detailed, scrupulously thorough year-by-year history of the label, its major and minor players, in which the full story of its triumph and disaster, sometimes concurrent, is slowly unfurled in all its perpetual strife. There has been so much print and celluloid devoted to Factory in recent years that you might think a moratorium on the topic should be called for. This 546 page volume is a compendious riposte to any such qualms' (The Wire, 10/2010)

'An immaculately researched history, and looks lovely, as Factory related material must' (Metro, 06/2010)

'An extraordinary story, well told' (The Word, 06/2010)

'James Nice's exhaustive research uncovers myriad anecdotes that mix betrayal, delusion and bewilderment at how Factory went from a small-scale club night to a global phenomenon with a place in musical history' (Shortlist, 06/2010)

'Crucially this isn't Wilson's story, which has already been told in books, documentaries and feature films, but that of a dizzying array of artists, musicians, managers, writers, music fanatics and chancers who helped to build up one of the most important labels in British popular culture. Nice brings an encyclopaedic zeal, and refuses to indulge in sensationalist storytelling. His book stands as a corrective to some of the crass mythologising, and acts as a model textbook on how not to run a record label while changing the face of modern culture' (The Independent, 06/2010)

'Shadowplayers is all you could want from a reference guide, a musical tour-de-force that can be summarised as a detailed, reverential and chronological account of the most chronically illogical record-label in UK history. To borrow a quote from Wilson himself, "praxis does indeed make perfect" (AllGigs, 06/2010)

'The general approach is a cool-headed one that's rooted in journalistic rigour. His writing is clear and readable, and the deep research evident in every sentence ensures his credibility. He's also careful to entertain as well as inform, furnishing the mythologies adhered to by quixotic protagonists as well as the details of what actually transpired. Finally Factory has its reliable narrator. Nice work!' (The Stool Pigeon, 07/2010)

'A masterwork, and better still it all reads engagingly and with pace. Shadowplayers feels like a monument, a life's work, and a practical instruction for all jobbing music biographers' (Record Collector, 09/2010)

'A matter of mind-boggling detail, reductible to the fate of a model of left-bohemian utopianism and the various hopes, delusions and problems therein' (The Guardian, 08/2010)

'The tale of how Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson and some local Situationists created arguably the most influential British record label yet. Complete and thoroughly researched, yet still loaded with ludicrous yarns' (The Times, 12/2010)

'When Wilson died tragically early a huge part of British cultural history was lost. Fortunately this book is here to explain why we'll never forget just how much. Thankfully there's no airbrushing the past, and broken promises and cracked friendships seem to pop up as often as glorious triumphs, which makes this account all the more definitive' (ICA Magazine, 09/2010)

'Anyone remotely interested in the Manchester music scene will find this an indispensable book, almost a reference manual for an important part in British culture in the 1980s. A superbly researched and exhaustive look at what went right, and what went spectacularly wrong' (, 09/2010)

"A story by turns tragic and comic, James Nice's knowledge, passion and uncommon neutrality on the battlefield of egos that was Factory, achieves a result few would have thought possible - a book that all the protagonists applaud" (Les Inrockuptibles, 02/2012)

Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records
Tony Wilson
Alan Erasmus
Peter Saville
Rob Gretton
Martin Hannett