The iconic Manchester club comes back to life at Brighton Racecourse, featuring original music, DJs – and a live orchestra. By EDWIN GILSON.

FOR those of us too young to have witnessed the Hacienda in its heyday, the club has taken on a kind of semi-mythical status. It exists in British folklore as the epicentre of “Madchester”, host to wild parties, cutting-edge music and, ultimately, destructive excess and disorganisation.

Now, 20 years after the club closed its doors for the last time, crowds of all ages have the chance to experience it for the first time – or, for the 90s ravers, all over again. Hacienda Classical is a touring concert founded by original Hacienda DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering and musician Peter Hook, whose band New Order’s record sales were largely responsible for funding the club (which was managed by industry whizz Tony Wilson, co-founder of Factory Records).

Electronic music merges with classical stylings in the event, as the Manchester Camerata orchestra provides strings and piano to supplement Park and Pickering’s eclectic beats. Hacienda Classical was only supposed to be a one-off gig at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, but since then it has been performed at The Royal Albert Hall, to 50,000 people at Glastonbury and a sell-out crowd as part of Brighton Festival last year. Next month it rolls on to the vast open air space of Brighton Racecourse, an ideal space for a huge dance-a-thon. Not that Park and company initially thought the concert would get the audience off their feet and their hands in the air.

“We were expecting the audience to sit and listen and applaud,” says the DJ. “But it turned out to be a rave. Everybody was screaming and shouting. Some people in the crowd said they couldn’t hear the strings, so in the week before the next gig we tried to work on the sound. But that second concert was even more rave-like.”

Park says the event is intended as a “re-imagining rather then reproduction” of the music heard at the original Hacienda club nights which, as he sees it, was primarily a mix of house and Detroit techno. He and Pickering had a DJ slot every Friday between 1988 and 1992, while high-profile live acts to play the club included The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur and, remarkably, Madonna. The two DJs – among others – continued to spin tunes under the Hacienda name into the 21st century.

Park remembers looking across at his partner in crime Pickering during one of many bustling 90s nights and thinking, “bloody hell this is big. Those times were crazy and it all hit a crescendo near the end of the century.” Amid all the “Madchester” mania, the Hacienda witnessed a drug-based death in 1989 and several shootings inside and outside the club. The main reason for its closure in 1997 was most likely financial, however, with Peter Hook later estimating that the club lost up to £18 million overall.

Park admits that the Hacienda was a “shambles” in the way it was run and says that nobody was surprised when it closed. “Read Peter Hook’s How Not to Run a Club book and you’ll think it’s a fiction. It’s not.” Another good document of the short-sightedness of the team behind Hacienda is the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, which documents the rise and fall of Factory Records and the Hacienda. “The amount of money being thrown around...” Park trails off.

Hook had the good sense to register the Hacienda name, however, and here we are. Not only did the Joy Division and New Order bassist grant permission for Hacienda Classic to go ahead, he’s been a strong creative voice throughout the whole process and often straps on the old bass to join in the jam.

Park says that he, Pickering and Hook have worked hard to make sure the event “celebrates the legacy” of the club without being “one of those tedious nights that try to look back on the past”. He adds: “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say ‘I’m a Hacienda DJ and I play Hacienda tunes’. When I’m DJing I always get some miserable, overweight middle-aged bloke saying ‘come on Parky, get some classics on’. They think I’m playing new stuff but it’s actually from 1991 – they would have heard it if they were at the Hacienda.”

The DJ has an interesting theory as to why the electronic music of the late 80s and 90s seamlessly translates to a classical orchestra. He argues that because a lot of disco music in the 70s was made using a full orchestra, “kids in darkened rooms” in the next few decades tried to recreate that sound on synths and drum machines.

“It sounded basic,” says Park. “But then you take all those string lines and give them to a proper composer. When we did our first practise we went ‘oh my God!’ It sounded unbelievable.”

Another interesting point about the show is that a lot of the songs performed were never played live at the time they were written. American composer Marshall Jefferson – sometimes referred to as the “father of house music” – was one young experimentalist making beats that were played at the Hacienda but never by Jefferson himself; at least not live, to an audience.

“Marshall came to one of our gigs recently and he was almost in tears,” says Park. “He was overjoyed to hear his songs again.” The Hacienda Classical set is always changing and Park says those who saw the show at Brighton Dome last year shouldn’t be put off – it’s a whole new concert now. “It was actually in Brighton, our fifth ever gig, that I remember thinking ‘this is good, but it could be better’. So we wrote another set list.

“If we keep doing it next year, I’m going to have to put the cat among the pigeons again and tell Hooky we need a new set list. He’ll hold his head in his hands and say, ‘really’? What started off as a crazy idea has become an amazing journey.” Park reckons that the new generation of music lovers is much less tied to certain genres and sounds and therefore more open to experimental sounds. The Hacienda demographic has notably shifted.

“The original Hacienda clubbers were coming to our club nights less and less, because of life, basically. The older you get the less clubbing you do. But a new audience was coming along and the music was getting more contemporary." By way of portraying the breadth of their audience, Park points out that his 12 year-old twins love the show as much as his 82 year-old mother. “Although they may be a bit biased.”

And what of the original Hacienda building? It’s a block of flats. Does Park feel anything when he sees his former second home? “I still get a little tingle when I drive past,” he says. “You see tourists having their picture taken outside it, and it does give me a tingle. But then again, you’ve got to look to the future. Learn from the past but don’t get stuck in it.”

A lot of modern nightclubs have tried to emulate the formula of the Hacienda, says Park, but they can never hope to achieve the atmosphere of the Manchester institution. “The best business model in the world won’t buy you that legacy.”

Hacienda Classical, Brighton Racecourse, September 9, 6pm. Visit