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City DNA #98: Rob Gretton

City DNA  #98: Rob Gretton
Music visionary, Manchester inspiration and loyal, passionate City fan… that’s the enduring legacy of the late, great Rob Gretton.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the sad passing of Rob, but such is his enduring impact and legacy, his influence still resonates today.

One of the defining figures in Manchester’s post-punk music scene, Gretton's stature is assured thanks to his key roles as manager of Joy Division and New Order along with his part in the creation of the Hacienda.

However, Rob was also a massive City fan, and dedicated much of his time to following the Club both home and away whenever he could.


Indeed, on the day of his passing on May 15th, 1999, Rob had been due to attend the live screening at Maine Road of our Division Two semi-final first leg clash with Wigan Athletic at the Latics' former Springfield Park ground.

A regular at Maine Road from an early age, Gretton also attended many City away games too, and once memorably hitch-hiked all the way to Bilbao, northern Spain in 1969 in the company of Elliot Rashman, later to become manager of Simply Red, to watch our European Cup Winners Cup first leg clash against the Basque side.

And such was his passion for City, Rob also amassed a vast array of City memorabilia which he proudly displayed at his house in south Manchester.

Born in January 1953, Gretton grew up in Wythenshawe, where both music and City played huge roles in his life from an early age.

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Already heavily immersed in the nascent Manchester punk scene in 1977, Gretton began DJing at Manchester’s famous Rafters Club where he first met the members of Joy Division, then known as Warsaw.

After being transfixed by the band’s performance, Gretton subsequently became their manager after seeing the band play for a second time – they were by now rechristened as Joy Division - and he went on to effectively become the group's de facto fifth member.

He also joined forces with Granada TV’s Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus to form Factory Records.

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Based on Palatine Road, Northenden, Factory quickly established a reputation as one of Britain’s most iconic and influential record labels, thanks principally to the release of Unknown Pleasures and Closer - Joy Division’s two ground-breaking albums.

In the wake of lead singer Ian Curtis’s death in 1980, it was Gretton who urged Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, the three remaining band members, to carry on in the guise of a new name – New Order.

It was to prove yet another of Gretton’s inspired decisions.

                        LASTING IMPACT: New Order in concert in London
LASTING IMPACT: New Order in concert in London

New Order – now joined by Gillian Gilbert – went on to enjoy huge commercial success both here and internationally and are still going strong today almost 40 years after their formation.

In 1982, Gretton also played a major role in the creation of the Hacienda nightclub which was to later become a pivotal landmark in British culture.

More latterly in his life, his creative quest also saw him set up his own labels, Rob’s Records and Pleasure Records.

Hugely respected writer Jon Savage – one of Britain’s most pre-eminent chroniclers of the domestic music scene of the past 40 years – delivered a memorable eulogy, both touching and humorous, in celebration of Gretton’s life at his Requiem Mass which was attended by more than 1,000 mourners.

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In trying to sum up the man and his impact, Savage said he remembered Gretton with nothing but awe and affection.

“The thing about Rob is he was a top-class manager – but he was also a visionary. He had an idea,” Savage recalls.

“He did what all managers do and took care of gigs and equipment, and he was older than the band members and would tell them what to do – often in forceful way, which was true Rob style!

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"But he also had a vision that they would remain independent and do things their way. He gave them space.

“Rob had a brilliant brain and was always right about the music.”

His passing at the age of just 46 was also marked by a moving tributes to his work, impact and friendship by New Order and Gretton’s management company.

"We are sure that all who have dealt with him as a colleague share with us our feelings that we have a unique and genuine friend,” it read.

"His loyalty, generosity and the strength of his principles combined with his love of life will remain an inspiration to us all.

"Our thoughts are with his partner Lesley and children Benedict and Laura at this time."

(Holding image top shows Rob Gretton (right) with New Order's Peter Hook. Picture courtesy Kevin Cummins)

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