The woman behind The Haçienda facade

words Anna Marsden

In conversation with Ang Matthews: The Haçienda’s manager – from the floor to the  frontlines… 

“What is this girl doing!?” exclaimed some amazed male in 1990s Manchester as the  female manager of The Haçienda successfully moved multiple heavy boxes of cash up  and down the stairs of the club, late at night, all by herself, once again. They were  talking about Angela Matthews, The Hacienda’s powerhouse of a manager for 8 brilliant  years, the woman at the very core of the club that rocked Britain’s cultural foundations.  

The Haçienda manager

Photo by Peter J Walsh https://peterjwalsh.com

I found that it is quite easy to say something about The Haçienda that has been said  before. I then found that it is quite hard to articulate what I want to about the  experiences of Ang Matthews during her time at the centre of the club’s axis. For one, I  discovered the sexism experienced throughout her time as manager to be contradictory and not straight set in the least, which I didn’t expect because usually, sexism, although  complex in its way, is very simple – women are victims to the patriarchy. She became manager of THE nightclub, which is perhaps why on the surface is seems to herself and  others that sexism was barely a barrier for her. But I feel this is untrue. Infuriatingly, it is rarely her name that is heard in conjunction with The Haçienda today. It is more the likes of Peter Hook and Tony Wilson, and of course they deserve the credit – but so does Ang. She was the one with the keys in her pocket. She was the one who proved that women in  these industries so steeped in masculinity do have a place, they do belong, and they do deserve to be remembered.  

I meet Angela Matthews on a rainy day in the Northern Quarter, my umbrella is leaving a huge, cold puddle on the floor of the café. Before she arrives, I worry. I seem to have picked a table right below a rather loud speaker that keeps playing songs by The Smiths  and New Order. I cringe at myself, hoping she doesn’t think I have chosen this place  because of their penchant to seemingly play only 80s indie music. After Temptation blares in my ear, they seem to have gotten the era out of their system just as Ang arrives. We both order a cup of tea– we both take it black.  

Ang Matthews The Haçienda

She has such an air about her, so humble and soft – she holds herself with a strength  that could only possibly belong to the woman who was the manager of Europe’s most popular nightclub for almost a decade. She has an endearing girlish giggle and a way of reminiscing with candour and a whole lot of modesty.  

It all began with music for Ang; “I was just obsessed [..] I was always at gigs; I suppose I  stood out because of being the only girl”. With fierce independence, she injected herself  into the music scene in Manchester, uprooting herself from the quiet North Wales of her childhood just as The Haçienda reared its head and, just in time for the start of a new decade. It was the beginnings of a new era entirely. 

She began spending her time with people already knee deep in the growing music  scene, people whose love for this music was the driving force in their life. “The Haçienda was the only place in Manchester to go if you were like that”, she says. It was a venue unlike any other at the time and it wasn’t long before Ang had her very own part  in it, first as a bartender back when the venue was mostly known for its gigs.  

Ang Matthews Haçienda

Through student life, jobs in other cities, saving Primal Scream from the motorway and  freelancing as manager at the iconic Boardwalk, one thing was for sure; the invisible string that connected Ang with The Hacienda was being tugged, hard.  

Impressed by her natural killer leadership instinct, the club needed her. She recollects  the “weird interview where nothing was said afterwards” with The Haçienda about the job of manager. Laughing, she tells me how she waited weeks before following up only to find that they had been wondering where she was; “has nobody let you know, we were  waiting for you to start!”. She still has a piece of paper she has kept all these years with ten simple points of what her job as manager would entail. She giggles about how  incredulously casual they were about such a big responsibility within The Hacienda’s infrastructure; “it was a very relaxed place”.  

The Haçienda manager

Ang took over as manager from a man and she holds in a smile as she tells me of her first day; “the door staff had bets that this tiny woman, so thin and skinny, would last  about one weekend!”. It is not surprising to say that “they lost a lot of money!”. From day  one, Ang had to prove herself, had to show she deserved the role, she deserved to be there. Getting the job wasn’t enough, she needed to show these men that she could do this. She is proud to tell me that “they were quite impressed with me”, which I would  guess is quite the understatement. The woman in front of me holds herself in a manner  that suggests she proves men wrong quite often. The main guy on the door told her once; “Good God Ang…we were amazed with you!”, as night after night she booked bands, defused problems and remained sober and brave in order to be the one there keeping all under control. “There were times when my hands used to shake! I’d put them behind my back.”, she recounts, although it is really quite easy to tell that Ang took the  manager position by its horns and was the perfect person for the job. She is confident in herself. It’s plain to see that she is highly respected, a hard feat sometimes to come by  for women in industries so male heavy.  

“I didn’t hear any sexism, they were all very respectful”, she tells me, whilst also  acknowledging that “it was an unusual set of men” she worked for. As she stood one  exhilarating night in the DJ booth, above a sea of people all with hands high in the air,  Tony Wilson said to her; “you should be really proud – you’ve done all this”. He acknowledged Ang for all she was doing and all she was accomplishing at that time, so  why is her legacy not more spoken about in today’s conversations about The Hacienda?  We need to bring her story into the narrative, not only to empower the younger generations of women battling through the industry, but primarily, because it is the  truth.  

“I think I was very lucky in some respects as I don’t think I had some of the bad  experiences with men like the women working in more corporate/office jobs at the time  did”. Inside the doors of The Haçienda, the world on the outside slipped away, it was a  once in a lifetime zeitgeist, people were there for one thing and one thing only – the  music. The fashion was androgenous, “unisex”, she says, and people would be on the  dancefloor in whatever they wore that day, it was about comfort and having a good time, the air heavy with love and unity. The casual environment of The Haçienda was what she  believes created this lack of divide between men and women. This, and the fact that  “porn wasn’t the thing it is now”. Before the easily accessible poison that is the porn industry of today, “there wasn’t that expectation of sexuality” from women, Ang  believes. At least, she didn’t feel there was in The Hacienda. In the outside world, though, there were certain things Ang felt she couldn’t do as a female in the industry. The male acts she would hire to perform would often have small after parties in their hotel rooms and Ang was cautious to not attend at times in order to ensure that  assumptions were not made. An unfair difference in the treatment of men and women,  certainly, as it is these double standards that have the distinct ability to hold women back.  

Through each bewitching night, laced with the threads of violence and mystique, otherworldly experiences and legendary tales, Ang stood by it all, enveloped in the four walls that contained a whole universe. However, 8 years on, things “started changing  […] things were different, the drinks, the music, the people – you’re on another generation!”. When threats of gang violence increased, Ang felt her independence deplete when she was given a personal security guard and body alarm. Gone were the days of leaving the side door open whilst she completed jobs around the venue. This  loss of freedom for Ang frustrated her to no end. “I thought it was so silly that they were  making all that fuss!”, she didn’t see herself as the only woman in the situation, they were all just friends, she just happened to be female. But things weren’t really safe for anyone anymore. As Thatcher’s rein continued, the atmosphere was shifting and the  =nights of selling countless bottles of water were long gone. Spirits had taken the throne and staff were becoming exhausted trying to keep up with threats coming from both gangs and the police. The authorities refused to help The Haçienda in an attempt to put an end to this raving culture that seemed to attract violence and drugs. This anti authoritarian ethos of acid house (whether direct or not) posed a threat to the society  Thatcher seemed so desperate to hone, strict rules were put into place over the years  that went against everything The Haçienda was. 

Eventually, it became time, and it was ultimately decided that The Haçienda must be  closed. The floors had been hosed down for the final time, the last ever tickets had been checked and in the centre of it all, on that very last day, was Ang Matthews. She was the  last man standing as Peter Hook and his wife Becky arrived. “That’s it Ang”, said Hooky  as he took the keys. “I was crying”, recounts Ang, “and that was that”. It was time, she knew, but still, it wasn’t easy to watch the doors close on such a pivotal part of her life.  

Angela Matthews ended up being the last ever employee of Factory Records. The last ever. After that, her greatness, of course, continued. She worked for non-other than  Vivienne Westwood for 10 years before her most recent venture – selling her husband’s  (her old sound engineer and best friend, Ian) pottery in Altrincham. After our tea, she will meet him for lunch in the Northern Quarter, just streets away from where it all began  for them both.  

She is an inspiration to me, a woman who came to Manchester young and made her way to the top in an industry of men by being passionate, present and prevailing. Our conversation contained multitudes; from her hilarious criminal record to the overflowing box of prohibited drugs she confiscated each night and the fantastic  monthly Queer Flesh nights but, I do not have enough words or time to relay them all here so I shall leave you with this, “You never know what’s going to happen or where you’ll be…I don’t know how much control you have on that really.”, she told me,  thoughtfully. “Just do what you want because anything can happen”. Ang found what  she wanted, found what made her happy – music – and then she went out there and made it her life. 

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