The UK debut of Madonna wasn’t exactly the triumph you might expect. We jump back to a cold January night in 1984 and a live broadcast from Manchester’s HaÇienda for the full tale
It would be easy to look back at Madonna’s first live appearance on UK shores and paint it as a pointy-boobed meteorite crashing to earth, rattling dainty teashop china for miles around. Or a dancing sex nun gatecrashing a knitting circle, vicars fainting, monocles falling from startled eyes. However, it was more mundane than that.
The venue for this pivotal moment in music history was the hotbed of moody Mancunian mardiness, The Haçienda. The soon-to-be Queen Of Pop landed on our green and concreted land not with a bang, but with bemusement.
The moment, on 27 January 1984, was shared live on Channel 4’s essential Friday teatime music show, ‘The Tube’.
The previous night, with her slow-rising debut single ‘Holiday’ barely tickling the Top 30, ‘Top Of The Pops’ beamed in an outside broadcast. The producers had clearly ordered attendees to dance, party hats snapped clumsily onto bobbing heads. There was no such crowd fakery the following night when ‘The Tube’, fronted by Jools Holland and Paula Yates, turned up with their cameras and Madonna took to the Haçienda stage.
Headlining that night was Sweet Sensation frontman Marcel King alongside the Factory All Stars, a supergroup which included members of Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio. When Madonna’s turn arrived, the audience mostly stood there, cross-armed as if waiting to collect their Argos order.
Don’t take my word for it. Let’s make this a multimedia extravaganza: search for ‘Madonna Haçienda’ on YouTube. There she is, curly-haired Madge, miming to a backing track while caught in awkward goth aerobics with her brother Christopher and socialite dancer Erika Belle. Look closely and you will see the bread roll and napkin gifted to them by grateful watchers.
Speak to the celebrities who witnessed her appearance and the stories come thick and fast.
Resident Haçienda DJs Mike Pickering and Greg Wilson talk of Madonna’s moodiness in the dressing room, while Fatboy Slim recalls her being quite polite. A Certain Ratio’s Martin Moscrop says he chided her for trying to move his gear. The most famous tale though is of New Order manager Rob Gretton sticking his head round a dressing room door and offering Madonna the chance to play again later that night for £50. “She looked at him,” recalls Peter Hook in his 2009 book ‘How Not To Run A Club’. “‘Fuck off’, she drawled in her whiny Noo Yawk accent before turning away. That was it for the night.”
Speak to regular audience members and the apocryphal stories fade away. Former Portishead videographer Hazel Grian got into the club thanks to a friend’s doctored press pass. “It was like a big fridge inside, clinical and industrial with high ceilings,” she says. “I used to get Smash Hits and felt like the only New Romantic in Bury. I hadn’t really heard of Madonna, but I have a vague memory of people being a bit sniffy about her, but ‘The Tube’ was a cool programme and we were excited. I had to leave early because my dad was picking me up.”
“We didn’t know Madonna and we didn’t know ‘The Tube’ was there,” says Southport furniture salesman Steve Molloy, who’s easily spotted on the YouTube clip. “All of a sudden someone started dancing on stage. There was no pomp and ceremony. It was too poppy for traditional Haçienda music and that’s maybe why no one was dancing.”
Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone, unimpressed with the reaction, says they took the money and ran. Although Hooky, who had been collared for speeding on the way to the gig, says Madonna later got stuck in the porch of Mike Pickering’s place in Chorlton.
“They [Madonna and boyfriend/manager Mark Kamins] turned up, both completely drunk,” he recalls. “They successfully unlocked the [porch] door, stepped into the gap, and then the doors slammed behind them with the key still in the lock. At which point they were stuck. Mike woke up the next morning to hear that his missus had opened the door, causing Mark and Madonna to tumble into the house.”
Years later, the late Factory supremo Tony Wilson reminded Madonna that it was his club that broke her UK performing virginity. Indeed, it was her first appearance outside New York. Even Madonna was underwhelmed with such a mundane moment that, thanks to the Mancunian rumour mill, became the stuff of legend.
“My memory seems to have wiped that,” she told Wilson, flatly.