Memories of RobRather than writing the usual potted history of Rob's achievements, the like of which you can read here, here or here, we have asked a few of Rob's friends and acquaintances to send us their memories. If you would like to contribute to this page, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have nothing remarkable to say about Rob Gretton. I first met him at Maine Road when I went to a match with Sean O'Leary and Andy Lyons, who I worked with at the Hacienda (don't know why, I was a Red). I was at the Disorder party some time later after New Order's gig at G-Mex when Rob apparently covered the bar bill to the tune of 10 grand.
I was personally touched by his generosity a few years later when he backed me and Elaine Constantine in our new photography business by giving us regular work for Rob's Records and paying for publicity for an exhibition at Dry. Rob set a great example. He was a good, genuine, generous man and, although, I'm not sure he'd approve, I think if anyone should be commemorated for services to Manchester it should be him.
We were all big fans of New Order and Joy Division so Rob was someone we had heard of. We were very aware of the whole Factory thing and knew he was a part of that, although we didn't know what Rob was like until we met him.
We knew more about Tony Wilson, probably because of Granada/Factory, etc, but we were aware that Rob was New Order's manager and that the idea of opening Haçienda came from Rob.
Our first meeting with Rob was at Dry Bar a year or two after Sub Sub's first single [Spaceface] had been released by 10 records/Virgin. 
We had just come back from London having had a meeting with Virgin, playing them some new stuff. At the meeting, the guy who dealt with us there seemed really into it and we came back really buzzing, but after a week or so we got a letter saying our services were no longer required!
We had been put in touch with Dave Rofe who was working in Rob's office at this point, and Dave suggested we talk to Rob. So we went and met up with him. He had set up his own label because Factory weren't really signing dance stuff, and Rob really liked a lot of the music he was hearing around at the time, so he set up his own label to start releasing dance music.
It was refreshing meeting him because he was totally straight with us - he said he liked what he heard and would like to release it but he didn't actually have any money to spend on it – it can't cost a lot but anything we made from it would be a 50/50 split – which actually worked really well for us, especially when 'Ain't No Love, Ain't No Use' became a hit. the money allowed us to get our own studio and bought us enough time to work on Sub Sub, and further down the line, songs which eventually became Doves songs.
Rob was instantly very funny and dry. We'd been dealing with the typical London music biz type people at the time with Sub Sub, but Rob was totally different like I said, really refreshing. He used to point to his ears and say, "Golden ears these..."
I have a lot of memories of meetings at Rob's. We would work flat-out at the studio and go to his office really excited about a track, play it to him and he'd just go, "I suppose I'd better put it out, then". At first we didn't know if he liked it but after a while we realised it was just his way - he was very laid back. Every time we went to the office he'd call over Pete [Robinson] and say, "How much do these fu•••rs owe me now? Get the files out!". It was really funny. We would leave his meetings without any business actually getting done, but it was all good. Atlas Bar was his second office, sometimes we'd have meetings in there over a couple of pints. People would just wander in and sit with him. He liked hanging out with his friends and he really enjoyed encouraging new talent and helping people, he was very generous. Rob helped a lot of people get started.
For a number of years Rob used to suggest that we should get Jimi to sing [Jimi had already sung on a couple of early demos]. After 'Ain't No Love' we spent ages auditioning for singers - I remember a 7ft Goth singing Imagine, and stuff like that. Again Rob was right. When he first heard 'Lost Souls' and heard us all singing on it he said 'I've been trying for years to get Jimi to sing now you all want to have a bloody go!".
Doves' first singles were released on Rob's. He seemed to really like 'Lost Souls' and had supported us for years. We wouldn't be where we are now without his support.
It was such a shock when we heard he'd died. No one saw it coming, and a big hole was left, not just for us but also for Manchester. He was a friend.
From the pages I have seen in the book I can't believe how organised Rob was! I'm really surprised at the detail in there.
When I first met Rob Gretton it was at a meeting in the Yuet Ben restaurant in Chinatown, Liverpool in about 1994
My manager at the time had being going on about how Rob was interested in signing my band Kill Laura, and I didn't have a clue as to who he was and why everyone was making such a fuss. When he turned up he had this big long beige mac on like The Godfather, and as the meeting started I realised I couldn't understand his accent at all. I had to really really concentrate. He started talking about how he was going to 'Recoup', and turned to me and said sarcastically..."that means... get my money back". I thought cheeky sod...he probably ordered Chilli Beef.
After this the band went to Los Angeles for a week to meet 10 record companies who wanted to sign us. We even had an American manager and lots deals being structured; we had lunch in Beverley Hills and margueritas a plenty at the Troubadour, but for some reason I didn't want to live in America.. I had had my fingers burnt by Polydor previously and already had one album shelved due to my A+R man losing his job. I decided I wanted to work with Rob because I felt for some reason that I could trust him I admired his ideals about being industrious in Manchester. Why should you have to go to London, or anywhere else?
When I finally immersed myself in the Manchester scene that's when I kind of realised how respected Rob was...it was nice walking to the front of the queue at The Hacienda. Everyone let on to him even though half the time he didn't say much. Just nodded... I actually think he was quite shy, but had outbursts of this big personality, like when he found something funny- when the Royle Family first came out one day at the office he just kept going on and on about it like a kid laughing his head off...for like the whole day.
If I was at the office he used to send me to the Atlas deli for Lunch. I'd buy Ciabatta, Ham, Cheese and he always wanted a bag of those Redskin peanuts, and you wouldn't get a look in on those.
I remember he had a penchant for Caramacs to, and once at Reading Festival whilst sitting with Primal Scream I had to go to the vending machine at least 6 times for him 'til there were no more left.
When we finally signed our deal with Manchester Records (which took a good while due to Rob's lawyer working from a shed in the bottom of the garden and I've still yet to find out if this is just an urban myth), as a gift I bought him a tin of cafe creme mini cigars and a caramac: he was pleased.
The only time I ever fell out with Rob was when he told me that I needed to go on a diet!
Since my move to Manchester my love of exercise had been replaced with meals out and daytime pints of premium strength lager so I suppose it was fair enough as he was putting my record out... but he would say these odd things like, ' yes... Gillian (from New Order) has been on a diet and she looks really well, she's lost loads of weight...Gillian this... Gillian that...maybe you should think about it!' I was furious at first but now of course it makes me laugh the fact that he thought he was being subtle.
Eventually the Band split and I started working with Andy Votel, Rob sussed out that Andy and I were fond of each other ...he would tease me in front of people saying, 'why have you gone all red Jane?', after just speaking with Andy on the phone...or if Andy's name came up he would kind of smirk at me and raise his eyebrows.He was like the village elder, always observing what was going on but at the same time a bit of a shit stirrer too!
I liked the way he kind of championed the underdog too - there where people who worked at the office like Rebecca and Andy who kept stuff tight and in order... but then there were other people who hung around Rob who did stuff for him - maybe more creative stuff... not particularly 100 percent proficiently, in fact borderline shambolic ...but if he liked you he would champion you...and always include you and make you feel part of it.
When I think of Rob he's a bit like my Dad...generally quiet but then with the odd outburst of a story, or laughing really loud if something was funny. Rob was also a Gentleman, and when I came into the office he would get up and greet me with a peck on the cheek. Rebecca Boulton would say 'Why does Jane get a kiss and no one else?'.... which made me laugh! He would hold open the door for you. I remember him telling off my manager Simon Duffy for never carrying my guitar for me.
I was devastated when Rob died. I was absolutely stunned. I suppose I just took it for granted that he would just always be around. I remember finding out whilst driving to my Mum's house with Andy and she said ' I'm sorry love you, liked him didn't you…he was your friend'
There are few people I have known who are this interesting and well liked- and I was genuinely saddened for everyone...it's a real tragedy he's not still around.
In the late 1970s Rob was the only man on the music scene I trusted who had a beard.
Rob came along to a few meetings of the Manchester Musicians' Collective, asked me how it was going, took a genuine interest. And those around the Collective appreciated that very much, because Rob recognised that it was attempting to be constructive, however naďve it was considered to be by some others around him.
I was very grateful to Rob on many occasions, mainly for taking me as I was, being down-to-earth and friendly, even though I was well aware that we toiled in a culture where people like me were considered university-educated prats with romantic agendas.
He also booked the band I was in to support Joy Division, including the fateful night in Bristol when Ian collapsed, and I can't recall any trouble for us over the gigs Rob managed. In those empty hours before gigs, his wonderfully dry humour kept spirits up – mainly vodka in my case. He was strong in protecting musicians from the idiots and sharks that hung around gigs; the word 'surly' springs to mind.
I remember Rob's physicality, the way he came up to me and held my shoulder when he told me of Ian's death, and when we were together in his car one night in Whalley Range buying something-or-other – when I pointed out the cop car tailing us – how he laughed and gripped my arm and told me, 'Don't worry about them fuckers. They want to know where we go, not what we've got'.
I also remember to this day Rob's vivid earthy voice, a kind of scratchy rasp, one that Paddy Considine caught so well in '24 Party People'. I often said he should have been the singer after Ian, instead of Barney. He could have outclassed Tom Waits.
GIGARETTES AND SLIPPERS
I first met Rob through Lesley, his partner. We worked together in Manchester. She would often forego our lunchtime visits to the newly built Arndale in order to type up the handwritten lyrics which would later become some of the iconic songs we know today.
My overriding memory of Rob is of him sitting in his lounge with a cigarette in hand and huge slippers - his glasses perched right on the end of his nose.
A more laidback man you could not wish to meet. His dry (sometimes dark) sense of humour was legendary.
He was an expert at seeing people’s vulnerable side and then within minutes making them feel totally at ease - he enveloped you with his soft, slow way of speaking.
He has left a huge gap in all our lives and Manchester is a sadder place for him not being here.
Rob Gretton: the go-between.
Unfortunately I don’t control my memory and with time passing it's worse and worse.
With Rob, everything begun when he sent to me (with a few lines) a copy of the Joy Division first LP, the astonishing “Unknown Pleasures”.
In the background, I was already in contact with Factoty Records, since the beginning (one time on the phone, Tony Wilson told me that Sordide Sentimental had been the first independent record label to write to them) and of course an admirer of JD.
In a letter Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle) made me also aware of Ian Curtis's personal interest for Sordide Sentimental (our first record with Throbbing Gristle had just been published).
Sordide Sentimental was never a “normal” record label, especially because a project of text was absolutely necessary for publishing a band. And listening “Unknown Pleasures” I immediately had a text in mind (a text about the light and the German Romanticists). I explained this to Rob, and proposed to publish a single with JD.
Everybody knows that the project was accepted (thanks also to Factory Records!). First named “Entre Chien et Loup” (literally “between dog and wolf” it means “at twilight”) it was finally published in February 1980 under the title “ Licht und Blindheit”.
We (I was with Yves von Bontee) met Rob Gretton and Joy Division members at their hotel in Paris the day of Les Bains Douches concert (18/12/79). It was decided to meet there to receive the mastertape for the single.
We first met Rob in his room, and the members of the band came later. I remember Rob as a very active man and also that I had difficulties to understand his fast speaking English (not surprising, my own English was so basic!). When the band arrived, the room was full and added to the problems of language, it was not easy to communicate.
I was impressed by the so pale Ian Curtis face...
As an excuse for this lack of memory in such an historical moment, I must say that I felt myself as in a dream, or worst, as in a nightmare: the same morning we had met doctors in famous hospital, for Danny my girlfriend. She had a cancer for a year (with surgery operation), and they told us that there was very little hope to cure it.
Of course we were completely desperate by these horrible news, and I had personally a great feeling of irreality, and with a sort of barrier between me and the world outside.
Not the ideal condition for a good communication.
I shall be always indebted to Rob for being such a very efficient go-between, for facilitating this project with Joy Division, which remains one of the most memorable among all the Sordide Sentimental's publishings.
We were friends from the age of 11, toerags from the Wythenshawe estate who passed the Eleven Plus exam and attended the posh Grammar School. By the age of 15, we were young mods, sporting "French crewcuts," Levi's jacket and jeans and shiny brown brogues, sneaking into the Firbank pub before catching a live band at St.Peter's youth club. We hitch-hiked through the night to Man City away games, and blagged tickets to tapings of the pop show "Lift Off" at Granada TV studios.
When Rob became the fan club secretary for Slaughter & The Dogs, he got me to design the band's logo and fanzine. When he began to promote shows at The Oaks, I designed his flyers. When he started deejaying at Rafters, I was the venue's poster designer, so we'd see each other in there on a regular basis. I remember that Rob played a lot of bluebeat in among the punk and new wave. In my mind's eye, I can still see Gary Holton and the rest of the Heavy Metal Kids bouncing around the bar at Rafter's as Rob played Dillinger's "Cocaine In My Brain." To this day, if I hear Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves," I'm back in Rafters with Rob. Mine was a lager, his was a Pernod and black.
When he put out a single for The Panik, the first band he managed, he got me to design the sleeve. He was working part-time for the council as a census taker at the time, and I remember that he was chased though the streets of Benchill by a pack of wild dogs when he called round at my Gran's house to pick up the artwork. A few months later, he'd started managing a fledgling outfit called Joy Division, and he got me to design a sleeve for the first E.P.
Gradually, our paths drifted apart, me becoming more involved with newspapers and magazines, Rob becoming a music mogul! We stayed in touch over the years - he and Lesley danced at our wedding, he took me carousing in the Hacienda, then later stayed with us in L.A. after I'd moved out to California with my wife and kids – and we'd meet up occasionally in Manchester, though not as much as I now wish we had. He was a generous guy, with a dry and quick wit, and great company. I still think of him often. It seems to me that he was an ordinary lad with extraordinary vision and I know that, among those who knew him when we were young Wythenshawe tearaways, there is a genuine sense of pride in how much he achieved.
It’s not a well-known fact that Rob was a Wythenshawe Black and White minstrel.
He conducted TV interviews dressed in his karate suit (with black belt, no less) in the back garden in his armchair.
I met Rob hiding under a privet hedge in a front garden in Nottingham after being chased by Notts Forest skinheads. We lay flat on our stomachs staring eye level at a dozen pairs of well-polished Doc Marten boots, and he extended a hand and said, “Rob Gretton, Wythenshawe, pleased to meet you.”
He bought one of the first Audi Quattro cars in Britain, but couldn’t really drive, so I got to sit at the wheel of a flash new car. He particularly didn’t like motorways as he said they had 'long corners'.
I recall a few Rob Grettons...or a few contrasting visions of him, anyway, at various stages of his life. I have fond memories from all of them, from all of him.
Conceive of a typical fanzine band interview in the spring of 1977. Martin Ryan and myself, from punkzine Ghast Up, chatting inanely to Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, complete with Vini Reilly as schoolboy attired guitarist. Rob was shadowing the situation, hanging in the background, thoroughly amicable, apparently wanting to know “...what happens at one of these interviews?” He was involved with Ed Banger, through Rabid I guess, although I didn’t really know who he was at this point. After the interview we went for a beer and he told me about his plans for a fanzine of his own. My immediate impression of him was of a thoughtful, quiet character. The impression wasn’t strictly correct but it still impossible for me to square that Rob Gretton with his character portrayal in ‘Control’, which I still regard as a disgrace. (Rob certainly had his boisterous moments, I got caught up in a couple of them and his banter with the band members could be lively but Rob...NONE of the Robs I knew, and I knew them well, remind me of the ball-scratching moron in that film. Just my opinion.)
We met Rob at many gigs and would hang around his DJ area at Rafters. I also recall how proud he was to bring in the proofs for Manchester Rains. He was genuinely interested in my opinion. He always was. Right into the New Order days. I never found him arrogant in the way that the band could be although, in retrospect, I guess if was just their way of coping. It was Rob who introduced me to Tony Wilson at Rafters.
“Tony seems to be a decent guy...but do you think he is too showbiz for us?”, I vividly recall him asking.
The ‘us’ would have been the Wythenshawe crowd. Tosh, Vinnie Faal, Ed Banger, etc…and my answer was, “yes, totally”. I couldn’t see how these people could possibly have anything in common with Tony Wilson. Perhaps they never did.
Things changed when he started to manage Joy Division. I had started to write for ‘Sounds’ and, frankly, Rob badgered me to do an interview. There was no problem with this although I couldn’t see how the band could progress...Rob seemed to and, in retrospect, obviously he was correct. Then again, the moment you become a manager, the moment you get involved, you lose objectivity. Rob knew this, I think, which is why he was always interested in people’s opinions. Having said that, he did harden during that first six months.
I met Rob a week before my wedding, in Manchester city centre. I have told the story before, but we had numerous lunchtime beers (in Horts) before jointly going to choose my wedding suit. It wasn’t particularly wise...of me anyway. To Rob’s eternal delight I ended up with an electric blue suit, white shirt and red tie. As such, looking like Yankee Doodle Dandy I went to the altar. The reception was at a club in Stockport...the Blue Waterfall, complete with various Quality Street Gang people. Lesley came along with Rob and it was a bizarre mix of aunties and people like Mark E Smith and Kev Cummins....all mixing freely. Every non-driver would be hugely inebriated. Rob got a bit out of hand with my wife...though in a playful way. She knew him from karate club. They had fought together. At one point we went in a room at the rear and share a joint...again not a wise move on a wedding day. Rob was handing out marital advice. Unfortunately, that was the night Ian died. The portents for the marriage weren’t good. Another Rob I fondly recall would be sat on the garage of New York’s Paradise Garage in 1983. New Order were sound checking in the venue and it was incredibly, unbearably hot. Rob was stretched out in the sun, claiming to be on holiday. Rolling Stone, of all people, were attempting to set up a photoshoot, Rob was hugely unhelpful with them, to the point of rudeness. He had developed an edge by this point, I must admit. He was particularly vindictive towards the photographer who accompanied Melody Maker’s Chris Bohn...Anton Corbijn. He really did lay into him verbally throughout the trip. When I asked him why, he said, “Just being playful...relieves the boredom.” There was no nastiness in it.
That New York / Washington trip was amazing for me. I didn’t really get on with the band that well...Hooky was quite friendly, but Rob seemed to want me there. We would end up in restaurants in the early hours of the morning, after the band had gone to bed. On one such night, in Washington, we sat by the window eating nachos while a full scale street fight raged outside. People were being thrown against the glass and everything. Rob just calmly munched away, continually pushing his glasses up his nose, seemingly unaffected by the very real possibility of the window crashing in all over us. That’s how I like to think of him. Strangely calm, stubbornly refusing to allow the thugs to ruin his night.