Q: Could we begin with a bit of background info about yourself?
CM: I was born in Stockport, which is six or seven miles outside of Manchester. I think it appears in The Idler’s Book of Crap Towns. I left school at 16, around 1982. I remember at school they said: if you work hard you might get a job but it won’t be a job you want. At the time there was no industry in Manchester. There was nothing to do apart from dream of being in a band and getting famous. When I left school it was when the Hacienda opened, in 1982, and that became a sort of platform and a stage for kids my age. You look at the history of it now and realise that New Order were running it. I mean, New Order were paying for it. I started going there when I was 16, but I actually started going out when I was about 12 or 13. I went to Rafters, which was Alan Wise’s club, and The Basement in Manchester. I was in a band when I was 13 called The Playground, so I was really interested in music. My older brother, Paul [Morley], was in London, so he wasn’t part of the Manchester thing that I was part of. He’d left when I was 12. I think music is a really important part of Manchester, as it is with Liverpool. As working class kids, it was what you aspired to, being in a band and stuff. Later on I was in TOT, which is mentioned in “The Alcohol Years”. So, really, from the age of about 16 to 21, which is when I left Manchester, those are the years the film deals with. It was the beginning of the Hacienda, before “Madchester” and all the E [ecstacy] culture thing. In fact, the Hacienda wasn’t particularly populated as everybody was in the cocktail bar. Every time you’d go there you’d see someone famous. It was very exciting, being 16, and there’d be New Order or Martin Fry from ABC or Siouxsie and the Banshees, people like that. It was a really cool venue, very exciting. And London people used to come down. There was always that thing, if you came from Manchester you hated the south and hated people from London, but you really wanted to live there. And so I did go and live there in the end.
Q: When did you actually leave Manchester?
CM: I left in 1986 or 87. I’m not actually sure. I came to London and pissed about again really. For the purposes of the film, it’s like I left and made good, but I eventually went to college when I was about 24. I’d never wanted to go to college but then, at some point, you think, Oh my God, I’d better do something real.
Q: Did you go to college specifically to study film?
CM: Yeah, I went to St. Martin’s and did Fine Art Film. “The Alcohol Years” came about because I’d left, I’d met Cairo [Cannon] and she became my producer, and then I was looking for something for which I could apply for an Arts Council grant. I met this guy who’d lived in Manchester and he said, “Oh, I know you,” and I’m like, “What? I don’t…” We were at dinner and he came out with all these stories about me that I’d never remembered, like giving Tranny Andy a blow job in the toilets of Archways, this gay club in Manchester, all this stuff. I kind of remembered that I’d had a wild time but I never really thought about it. So he started telling me these stories and I thought it would be really cool to go back because I’d left and not been back at all as none of my family lived there any more. At that point, it had been about 12 years since I’d left. I’d never gone back and I’d been a bit scared of ever doing so because I’d burnt all my bridges really. You know, used people up in some way. That’s what it felt like. When I did go back people were pretty cool about the film and about being in it, although one guy phoned up and said, “Everything I’ve got to say about you, I wouldn’t want my wife and children hearing, so I wouldn’t be in your film.” It was kind of weird to leave and have no relationship at all to the city you come from. So going back was a big psychological deal, I suppose.
Q: Why did you leave?
CM: Well, in the film, it’s quite enigmatic and I like that. But at the time it really was a kind of… going mad, I think. I don’t know if I’d even been to bed the night before. It was right after the G-MEX thing, celebrating 10 years of punk in Manchester and I hadn’t been to sleep for about four days. It was all very insane. The next day I got up and I just left. I just got the train out of there. It was almost like knowing that I’d just die if I stayed. That’s what it felt like.
Q: What was the story behind you not being allowed to play the gig that night?
CM: Me and Debby [Turner] were in [the band] TOT and Tony Wilson agreed that he’d put us on. Then we got these two guys involved. One was a fireman. I don’t know what the other guy was, but they could actually play their instruments, unlike us. They were really into us because they knew that we were their meal ticket, in some ways, because we could actually front it. We’d only got about two songs at that point, so I think it was a sensible decision that we didn’t play, although in the punk tradition we should have because it would have been quite explosive. We were going to shave our heads and we had T-shirts made. Someone put the money up for us and we had those T-shirts that appear in the film, “From C to D and Never Again” which we took from Andy Warhol’s book, “From A to B and Back Again”. We had the T-shirts and we made stickers, so we had all that 80s kind of hype but no real substance. Or maybe we did. Melody Maker did this review of us and said we were going to be bigger than The Beatles before the next gas bill came round. I was very fond of that. So we had the hype but not the confidence to do the music. It’s weird in a way. In Manchester, if you think about it, everything that’s come out of there, apart from Carmel, is all male. Stella Grundy, who does the music for the film [The Alcohol Years], almost had a career. She was touted as being the next Debbie Harry and stuff like that but Shaun [Ryder] from the Happy Mondays said to her, “I like what you do but you shouldn’t be doing it because you’re a woman.” So there was a real attitude towards women doing music. The gig thing might have been partly due to that. Two guys, along with the blag that we had, might have actually been able to go on, but I think it was a chick thing really.
Q: Do you no longer have any aspirations to be a pop star?
CM: I’m too old! No, I think all that energy that I had then… people talked a lot about what they were going to do but nobody really did it. I think a lot of people were like that. They had these aspirations but were never sure where to go. I hung around with Dave Haslam [Hacienda DJ]. He was the sensible guy in our midst. He never did drugs or drank much. I think that’s why he got to be the historian. At the time, he was running this fanzine. Everyone was doing something that could have led somewhere but I think, in a way, making films is my kind of pop stardom because I can put all my ideas into it. I think I got confused with the celebrity bit of it all. When I look at all that Pop Idol stuff now, the seeds of it were from the 80s in a way, although we wanted to be the cool Warhol kids rather than that. But I think it was the beginning of that kind of psyche happening. You know, where you thought, I don’t want to go to university or really work at something, I just want it to happen. So, no, I don’t want to be famous. I just want to get money to make films.
Q: Can you talk a little about your earlier films?
CM: “Girls” I did at St. Martin’s. It was my degree film. “I’m Not Here” is about my dad and is sort of autobiographical. I really like dealing with autobiography. I think “confessional” is a derogatory word. You know, like with Tracy Emin, when they say she makes “confessional” art? “The Week Elvis Died” had Tony Blackburn in it – I also have that DJ connection with John Peel [narrator of “Everyday Something”] – and that was autobiographical as well. In 1977 Tony Blackburn came to my school to do a live recorder choir broadcast on the radio and I was in the recorder choir. It made a huge impact on my life, meeting Tony Blackburn. He stars as himself in the film. A lot of my films have been autobiographical. “Stalin My Neighbour”, which is included on “The Alcohol Years” DVD, is not so much autobiographical, but it deals with my obsessions about missing people, and my dad used to go missing when I was a kid. It’s also about a girl’s identity and stuff like that. “Everyday Something” is just about my mindset, my obsession with those weird, quirky stories and the humour in them.
Q: Did you have to research all the trivia for that yourself?
CM: Yeah, but really, it wasn’t so much research as obsessional collecting. One of the stories came out of the Manchester Evening News, actually, while I was there. I just collect things like that, so it wasn’t like I was going to a newspaper library and looking for them.
Q: I was going to ask about your newspaper clippings collection later but now seems like an appropriate time.
CM: Yeah. I think it is that kind of quirkiness of it. I’m very interested in how other people live their lives. Even though “The Alcohol Years” was ostensibly about me, I was actually more interested in what everyone thought at that time. I was really curious about people. “Everyday Something” is about what goes on behind closed doors. It’s almost like domestic horror, you know, the thing about the husband making his wife jog to lose weight and the guy getting his parents to answer questions about Claudia Schiffer. They’re really warped stories but they happened. It’s fascinating to me that we assume that other people live normal lives but, possibly, no one does. So I’m fascinated by that and by exposing it. With “The Alcohol Years”, obviously, to me, it just seemed very normal in a way, because I lived through that time and whatever. But when people see it or hear about it, they reveal a lot of attitudes about how they feel towards promiscuous women and how they feel about how they’ve lived their own lives. I feel it was a sort of catalyst for people telling me stuff about their lives that they’ve been kind of embarrassed about and I really love that. It’s more than a film, it’s like this discourse, this thing that people can use to begin to pinpoint their identities and relationships. When we were trying to make it, one woman on the panel asked, “Who would want to see a film about this promiscuous slag?” I think it’s quite important material because it’s not often looked at to any great extent. Or if it is, it’s only in a stereotypical way, such as “all the guys are bastards and all the women are victims,” but it is much more complicated than that. I liked it when, after I had made “The Alcohol Years”, people that I thought would hate Alan Wise or someone like him, were saying, “Oh, he’s all right actually.” I kind of like that because it makes it much more than just “women are slags and they’re stupid if they do this” and the men are heroes if they do it. It opens it up a bit, which I think is why people have been interested in the film for longer than just the time period when it was on TV. I think the themes in it are quite universal. After we made it, it got into all these festivals and shown on TV in places like Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Russia. It went to places that had a connection to it. It wasn’t just, “Oh it’s Manchester.” It kind of reproduced attitudes in villages and in towns everywhere. I know people in LA and Melbourne who say, “Oh, it’s just what I went through.” And I met one woman in LA who said she also used to take toys out with her and stuff. Did you have a train set that you used to take with you when you went out?
Q: No, I had a train set but I didn’t take it out with me. I sometimes took other toys to the pub though.
CM: You did! Did you? It’s funny isn’t it?
Q: Was it difficult getting financial backing for the film? As a pitch, it could almost be seen as a vanity project.
CM: When I first started it, it was an Arts Council project, an artist’s thing, so that initial part of getting the money was easy. Well not easy, but no one questioned it as being a vanity project because that’s the kind of thing you do as an artist. But as soon as it went outside of that and we began looking for money from television companies, then they had very fixed ideas about how it should be made. There are acceptable ways of making documentaries and they wanted me to have a kind of Nick Broomfield presence with the big fluffy mic. They wanted me to be in it. I thought that was a bit naff. Once you go to television and other funding bodies, they want to impose upon how you make your film. We didn’t want that, so it was kind of a struggle to get the money. It took time but I think it became a better film because of that. What was fascinating was, everyone involved in television wanted me to be in it but when it came out, the one thing that the TV reviewers picked up on was the fact that I was mostly absent and they thought that was the real strength of the film. So by sticking by our guns and going, “No, we’re not going to go the traditional route,” then it became a feature of it that was really picked up on by almost everyone that wrote about it. That was cool. As far as the vanity thing goes, some of the people that I wanted to appear in it did say, “It’s a very narcissistic thing to do, Carol.” And, of course, none of us wants to be thought of as narcissistic. But I actually think that a lot of documentary is so anthropological. The beginnings of documentary were about upper-middle-class people going to look at poor people and going into lives that they knew fuck all about. I think what I did was interesting in the sense that I looked at my life and what I had access to. I like documentaries like that because there’s less of an anthropological feel to them. You could say it’s narcissistic, which I think to some extent it is. If you look at yourself, it can’t be otherwise. A lot of documentaries pretend to be about other people, or are about other people, but in the end it becomes all about the director and their worldview. I think, in this case, it starts off about me, but it becomes all about those people who appear in it, because they reveal so much about themselves.
Q: They become the characters…
CM: Someone like Tony Wilson has his blurb on the whole time and it’s all based on his kind of mythologizing of it. He can talk for England, as you probably know. I think if I’d gone up and asked them to talk about that time or to talk about themselves, it would have been very different, but because they thought they were talking about me and they got relaxed about it, then it ended up coming out. Some of the things they say, you think, “Fuck,” you know? They wouldn’t normally say those things but because they are getting involved in who this person was, they begin to reveal these things. I think it’s quite a good device. And although I’m in “The Alcohol Years” there are also the other people, like the bar staff and others, people who were so important as a part of the whole going out thing. As you know, as in Liverpool, they are key components of it. I like that the film has got those people in it, such as the chef at the Hacienda.
Q: Once you had committed to making the film, did you have any fears about what you might hear?
CM: Yeah, it’s weird, because when it’s over, you forget about all that. Because I was behind the camera when I was doing the interviews, it sort of protected me. Also, if anyone said anything really horrible I thought, Well that will be great for the film. But I was sort of scared. I was mostly scared about seeing people again rather than what they said. I was like, Do they really hate me? And some people still did, obviously. But it’s like when you face up to your demons, it sort of calms you down. It’s like putting off a phone call or putting off seeing someone, and when you eventually do it it’s not so hard and you feel good about it. When we went back and showed the film in Manchester to the people that had been in it, there was one guy, Howard Jones, who was the manager of the Hacienda for a couple of years. He said, “I’d never have been in your film if I thought you were going to finish it.” And I just thought, Yeah!, because it was somehow a vindication of the person I’d been in a way. It was like I’d actually got something off the ground and completed it. So it felt quite good. It was scary but then it became kind of cool that I was making something of a messy time and being constructive as a result of it.
Q: It’s funny how, no matter what people say about what you did and how you behaved, they all say it in a sympathetic way apart from Gary…
CM: Gary, yeah, he was the Hacienda’s chef.
Q: He really comes across as the villain of the piece because he’s the only one who is negative about what you did.
CM: It was really funny because with most people time has passed, so the acuteness of feeling you feel at those times, when you are a teenager or whatever age they were at the time, had also passed. But with him the acuteness was still there, which was fantastic. It was actually very difficult to get him to be in the film because like he says in the film, “When you told me you’d got this money to make the film I told you not to bother making it and to spend it on therapy instead.” And he did, he said, “No, I’m not having anything to do with it.” I kept trying to get him because I knew that he would be kind of hard on it, and on me, and I knew the film needed that. No one wants to watch a kind of eulogy to someone unless they’re fucking dead. You know what I mean? Not that the other people are like that but he is the sharpness to it. I think he’s the voice of the audience in that they’re thinking, “Oh someone’s gone and made a film about themselves. I could go and do that but why bother.” So he’s brilliant to have in it. He was the last interview that I did after he’d blown it off about four times. That was the hardest one I did. I think I went away and felt like I’d been run over by a lorry. It had a real impact.
Q: Have you maintained friendships or contact with those people since making the film?
CM: Yes, like Debby. It’s not like I see them a lot but I’m in touch with them. I’ll tell them when the film’s repeated on telly. When I re-met Debby we did become friends [again]. We worked out that we’d only actually known each other for 9 months. It was really nice to see her again. We are in touch now and there’s no animosity, which there was when I left.
Q: You do get the impression from the film that your friendship with Debby lasted longer. When Tina says that bit about, “Debby’s my friend”, that sequence kind of gives the impression that you were friends for years.
CM: Yeah, it feels like much longer and you look back and you think, “Fuck,” it was a really concentrated time.
Q: Do you think your behaviour at the time, and when you actually started drinking, was something that a lot of teenage girls do, or were you responding to your dad passing away?
CM: My dad killed himself when I was 11 and I originally started drinking at 12. I remember I got really, really pissed. In actual fact, the original treatment for “The Alcohol Years” began like this. I got really pissed when I was 12, in Mersey Square, on sherry and wine with my friend Ann. We mixed it up in these cans and I just got violently, violently drunk. I remember trying to get on the bus and the driver called an ambulance. I was going back to Ann’s house and I remember wetting myself and the humiliation of it, then waking up the next day and watching “Tiswas”. I’d been sick on her mum’s cardigan but I had no memory of that. I didn’t drink again for four years. All my mates were drinking from then on but that had really put me off. I’d go round and they’d be drinking cider and I’d drink lemonade. But when I was 16 I started drinking the day the Hacienda opened. I started off that week drinking Pernod and black and by the end of the week I was drinking whisky. I’m really interested in all this stuff going on at the moment about binge drinking and women. It’s a phenomenon in England different to other countries, so there must be something cultural about it. But I think, for me, it must have been a thing like, drinking’s fantastic. I still think it’s a fantastic thing to get drunk. There’s that thing where everything’s coming out, your whole… when you’re sober you’re holding things in and when you’re drunk you’re not. So I think the whole dad thing was probably very tied up with it. It did come along in a kind of adolescent way, like a long period of mourning. They say that women mourn differently to men and so I think it was connected. I was 16 and going out with guys in their mid-40s, and refusing to acknowledge the fact it was a replacement father thing. And you look back and you go, “Of course it was,” but at the time you are thinking, “Of course it’s not fucking that, it’s about me, and it’s nothing to do with anything.” So I think there was a kind of chaos in it. When my dad died it was just a different family, a different upbringing all over again, because my brother and sister had left home. It was a sort of response to being very… there were no boundaries, so you just push it and push it and push it and wait for something or somebody to save you and no one ever did. So I think it was all tied up with that. But at the time you’re not thinking that. And, of course, I was reading Sylvia Plath and contemplating suicide but that’s sort of a teenage thing, so it’s hard to know. That’s why in the film Debby says that thing about maybe it was because she was adopted and my dad died but maybe it was just because we liked being delinquents. So I like the idea that it’s not simple. Nowadays it’s sort of cod psychology isn’t it? I hate that because it’s much more complicated. I’m sure that had something to do with it, part of the identity. And obviously people thought so because it comes out in the film, people mention it. And everyone knew about it, so…
Q: How much of an influence, if any, do you think your film had on Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People”?
Cairo Cannon: They did ask for a copy of the film and they did watch it.
CM: I did a review of the film for a Manchester magazine and Dave Haslam got in touch with me and said, “I’m glad you said something critical about it.” I thought it was a brilliant film, but one of the things I said about it was that, although it represented the time accurately in that there were no women in it, I criticised it for the fact that the only women who were in it were rubbish. [Tony Wilson’s] girlfriend has actually got much more to do with him being who he is than the film lets on. But they did ask for a copy of “The Alcohol Years” as it was research material and apparently they liked it. I like the mythological idea that it was based on it. I think that’s quite funny. I love “24 Hour Party People” but it covers a much bigger time, it’s a much bigger leap and it focuses on Tony mostly. I think “The Alcohol Years” is much more about the Hacienda years, the beginning bit.“24 Hour Party People” is the story of Factory. They should be sold together as a 2-for-1 package.
Q: What influences you as a filmmaker?
CM: I did Fine Art Film and I was never born to be a filmmaker but when I went to college I really got into avant-garde film. I was really interested in Maya Deren. She was a filmmaker in the 1940s in Hollywood who said, “I can make films for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.” She made these beautiful films, like “Meshes Of The Afternoon”. Probably women filmmakers were of particular interest, a lot of the Australasian filmmakers, like Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong and Alison Maclean. They make great films but I think it’s because they tell women’s stories. In terms of documentary I was really blown away by “The Thin Blue Line”, the Errol Morris film, and then a lot of the American documentary stuff, like Shirley Clarke, who made documentaries during the 1960s in the States. So I think the influences are quite fine art and kind of female, different voices really. In terms of British films, obviously Lynne Ramsay, I think she’s a fantastic filmmaker. You just want there to be more women making films in this country because there aren’t that many.
Q: As a woman, were you in the minority on your course?
CM: No, they were pretty cool about it. Most of the people teaching were guys, but it was actually a good mix. They were very pro women and we had two radical feminists on the interview panel. You were really encouraged to look at your own past and to look at how to tell stories differently. That’s why I think “The Alcohol Years”, as a documentary, has more life than a normal TV documentary, because it tells a story. The form is a bit different. It’s hasn’t got the bog-standard voiceover. That’s why it was weird doing the audio commentary for the DVD because I never wanted to do a voiceover, but there I am doing a commentary on the DVD and it’s like, “Oh my God.” I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but with the commentary it makes it a completely different thing.
Q: I have heard it and the thing that most interested me was when you talked about not putting the interviewees names on screen to identify them. The first time I watched the film, that annoyed me because I knew a lot of the faces but couldn’t put names to them, so I was looking forward to the end to see the list of credits. Then, of course, they come up in order of appearance and it’s still difficult putting names to the faces.
CM: Yeah, putting names on the screen is the conventional way of doing it and I really didn’t want to do it because I wanted people to… you know when you go on a night out and you can’t remember who anyone is? I wanted it to be like that, where you couldn’t remember a name.
Q: For a lot of people it won’t matter…
CM: No, they won’t know anyone anyway, but you must have recognised Dick Witts…
Q: Dick Witts, I recognised. Obviously Tony Wilson, Dave Haslam, Pete Shelley, and Alan Wise, who I’d seen before.
CM: He’s not changed, has he? He was in “Nico Icon”. What’s weird is I’d never seen it and then after I’d made “The Alcohol Years” I got hold of it on DVD and he’s the first person you see. He’s the first interviewee just as he is in “The Alcohol Years”. The other funny thing is, you know the Internet Movie Database? I looked up “The Alcohol Years” and you know how you can see what other things people have done or been in? I looked up Alan Wise and it’s got that he was in “Nico Icon” and “The Alcohol Years” but it’s also got him as being the accordion player in “Kids”, which I doubt. But it’s another part of that mythology. Maybe it is him but I somehow doubt it.
Q: What’s next?
CM: Well, we’ve got two features in development. One is in development with Film Four and a company called Tall Stories. We’re the co-production company, Cannon and Morley Productions. It’s called “Food Farm” and it’s a science-fiction film, set in the near future. It’s like a documentary from the future and concerns an obese young girl of 16 and a pop star. It’s based on a short story written by Kit Reed. I first read it when I was 13. She wrote it in the 60s but everything in it is about today. It deals with celebrity and pop culture and the ideas of government controlling food and stuff, so it’s really quite powerful subject matter. The other one is called “The Trials of Liz and Alice” and it’s about two very cute, sexy pole-dancing girls who decide to go on a tour of the British Isles looking for one of their missing sisters. But the way we want to do that is much more as a documentary, so they are two fictional characters but they integrate with real people.