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From Middleton to Rolling Stone and back…

Submitted by on April 16, 2014 – 4:18 pm3 Comments


Richard McNevin-Duff will be playing the final Gigg Lane Course You Can Malcolm on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Rich was the lead singer of Space Monkeys, the last ever band signed to legendary Manchester label Factory Records.

We interviewed him for issue 11 of AFL. Here is a snippet of that article. For the full version, buy the mag at CYCM on Monday…

Stood outside a non-descript snooker hall in Bury back in 1996, Tony Wilson was caught up in the moment as bottle throwing, vomiting and sweary youths engaged in some Olympic standard anti-social behaviour in the car park.

“You need to think about where you wish to sign your deal darlings. It should be an iconic moment in your lives,” he said. “We may not get you on Top of the Pops, but we can do some interesting things.” he told the four lads from north Manchester.

Space Monkeys had just played on a bill with a Bury band called Soft, who went on to change their name to ‘Elbow’. The two groups’ paths would take very different routes over the intervening years.

A few weeks earlier Wilson had been taken aback by the reception Space Monkeys had received when they played the downstairs Fifth Man bar at the Hacienda. A big crowd had descended on the club to watch the hotly tipped Northern Uproar, but there was only one name on the lips of the bar’s clientele come the end of the night.

McNevin-Duff takes up the story. “Typically he missed us playing, but he told us later that the whole club was saying ‘did you see the Space Monkeys?’ He came to Bury the week or so after and liked what he saw.

“He came up to us after the gig and said ‘can we talk in the dressing room?’ We looked at him daft because it was a fucking snooker hall, so there were no dressing rooms. We opened a fire exit and went into the car park.

“He started reeling off all the places other bands had signed their deals and was obsessed with how important that moment was. He started going on about his mate who had just built a bridge in Hulme over the Mancunian Way. We said we’re not signing a deal on a fucking bridge over a flyover in Hulme. We went for the clock tower on the Palace Hotel as we thought it was something we would always see whenever we came to town and it would remind us of what was then the greatest moment of our lives.

“We also thought we could get a night in a hotel out of it, but Factory being Factory we ended up with two rooms between about eight of us.”

True to form for Factory Records, after the debut album was done, the label was dropped from the roster of London Records, who had funded it. Wilson was heart-broken. “He thought the deal was for the long haul but London had only signed Factory Too for three years and didn’t want to renew,” said McNevin-Duff.

“They gave us the rights to the album because it was finished. They had paid for it and said we should take it elsewhere to another label. Tony was left with nothing. They basically allowed the Factory Too label to start to keep Tony sweet so they could get the Factory back catalogue. He felt like London had stabbed him in the back.”

Despite the setback, the band remained loyal to the man who had shown belief in them. “We told Tony we didn’t sign with him to be involved with London, we did it because it was him and it was Factory. We owned the recording so we said with his nouse and our music we could start from scratch again.
“His eyes lit up and he got really excited. His artistic juices started flowing again.

“He was touched that we had shown the loyalty and weren’t arsed about money. We said let’s split everything half and half. We didn’t have a contract; it was like the old days again. Tony went into overdrive. He discovered he still owned the rights to the name ‘Factory Records’ so he went into running it full time again with that name.” The first single issued on the latest reincarnation of the legendary label was Sugar Cane and that was the song that elevated the band beyond Manchester.

“Tony got us in touch with Tom Atencio who was New Order’s former manager in America and he had just broken the band No Doubt around the world.
“Tom loved our stuff and wanted to sign us to his new label in America, which was to be part of Interscope. He sent a load of white labels of Sugar Cane to college radio stations and we went top 10 as a result.”

This led to an unlikely link up with famous Vogue photographer David LaChapelle. As McNevin-Duff explained: “I had been to United with Tony [Wilson] and on the way out of Old Trafford he said ‘you’ve got to ring this guy’… So I rang him and told him about the song and how I had written it. David started reeling off all these ideas and mentioning Hollywood stars. He ended up getting Rock Steady Crew involved, which for me as an eighties kid, was brilliant.”

After the success of Sugar Cane, a tour followed on the same bill as Smash Mouth and Third Eye Blind. McNevin-Duff, with bandmates Pipes and the not-related Morrisons Chas and Dom (who went on to infamously brawl with Bez) were living the dream, or so they thought.

Richard continued: “We landed in America ready for the tour and as soon as I got off the plane I saw our name on the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

“I thought we must be famous. Then I flicked to the actual article about us and it was called ‘One hit wonders’. I thought ‘fucking hell, give us a chance, we’ve only just landed in the fucking country…’ Beck was another person in the list, so we were in good company. I threw the magazine away and I really wish I’d kept it now.”


Eventually Interscope fell out of love with Space Monkeys’ main American contact Atencio and weren’t prepared to pay for the next album. The constant lack of money to live on and the year-long party in America had also taken its toll on the band and they split.

McNevin-Duff spent 10 years away from music, ‘getting married, divorced and having kids’. Things changed however, when people began to get in touch about the Space Monkeys.

“People seemed to want to hear more of our stuff, even 15 years after we’d finished. Loads of people got hold of me on the internet asking for songs. So I looked into getting what would have been our second album, Escape from the 20th Century, released (it has subsequently been released on iTunes).

“Around the same time I got chatting to an old mate John Whittaker, who I played football with for about 20 years. He had been in all kinds of soul-type bands. He had a few tunes and we got together and it sounded really good. Then a few friends we know like Robbie Maddox, who used to be in The Stone Roses and Denise Johnson, who sang with Primal Scream, also came in and did a few bits with us. We floated in and out and were doing it for the love rather than anything else. So we formed a band called Giant Star.”

The band’s debut album, Year of the Snake, was launched at Ruby Lounge in October. Friends old and new mixed, but one man’s presence was missed…

“Of course we were sad when Tony [Wilson] died. We never fell out with him. We had business disagreements with him, but it wasn’t personal.
“People had this opinion of him that he was arrogant and maybe he was, but he always had time to speak to anyone who approached him. He gave us our opportunity and we have no regrets. Things didn’t work out, but that was the chance you took when you got involved with Factory Records.”

More details of the final Bury Malcolmses will be announced shortly, including a nice musical freebie for the first load of people through the door…


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