Rob Gretton On The Record – 1 Top Class Manager


I just received this in the mail.  1 Top Class Manager is how Rob Gretton(January 15, 1953 – May 15, 1999) referred to himself as Joy Division‘s fifth member in the book.  Through financial thick and thin, this amazing publication chronicles Joy Division’s rise as one of the most influential bands of all time.  1 Top Class Manager is definitely for fans only – who else would care how much Stephen Morris (Joy Division’s drummer) was owed for petrol from a late night gig?

Rob was a dedicated hoarder, note taker and doodler.  The compiled notebooks, memorabilia and business records have been locked up until his partner Lesley Gilbert unearthed them for this volume.  Rather than write a biography or transcribe Rob’s thoughts, Gilbert and a handful of editors chose to take high quality photos of actual pages from several steno-notebooks and place them in chronological order. 

Some of my favorite highlights document some of the “doubt” stages any band must travel through on the journey to success. Early in the book Rob drafts a pitch to the members of Joy Division – “I know that you all suffer from depression to depression but personally I think things are going along fine – Anyone disagree”?


A band’s image was 100% of why Melody Makerand NME readers in the late 70’s chose to listen in the first place:  “I would appreciate it if you would all co-operate more -(my shirts(?) beard) and try and dress more smartly (Barnie’s shirt)”. 

Later in the book are invoices for garments, notably 3 pairs of trousers on one invoice early on and an £165.22 shopping trip for the band only three days before the suicide of lead singer, Ian Curtis on May 18th, 1980.  Other iconic purchases include the legendary (Vox Mark) “teardrop guitar” (Friday,May 2nd 1980),  “Ian’s coat” (30/10/79). One of the more pricey and telling items predicts the planned (and future as New Order) “more electronic” turn for the band, an “ARP OMNI 2 Synthesizer” for £1090.00, including flight case.

Throughout are planning for gigs with contemporaries like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Cabaret Voltaireand The Buzzcocks.  Rob made notes on what the song order should be on Closer, including the infamous run-off groove markings (Side A “THIS IS THE WAY”/Side B “STEP INSIDE” referencing the track Atrocity Exhibition).  One of the more haunting pages are his initial band names for what would become New Order, only days after Ian Curtis’ death.  The apparent leader of the pack, Man Ray is joined by other possible names like Fifth Column, Complex, The Immortals and The Truth – or maybe they were just a list of words to describe his feelings about a horrible tragedy.   

These highlights took some considerable flipping from page to page – and that’s what 1 Top Class Manager is – a reference for fans (or perhaps budding band managers).  I’ve only had it a week but I enjoy picking it up and flipping through it for interesting passages.  Factory Records was the blank stage for wacky events and characters which became legend in film and print.  The entries here connect legend with reality and surely ignores Factory rule number one – “Print the myth”.


During the time when members of New Order were working on side projects, Rob started his own record label, aptly named Rob’s Records.  There were a few great singles, I especially like the Manchester revamp of “Security” by The Beat Club with added vocals by Bernard Sumner.  There was another little band on his label called Sub Sub who changed their name and became the massive stadium rocking Doves – Rob was their manager as well.  

Rob acheived much in his lifetime.  I’m sure he would be quietly flattered to see actors portray him in modern films about Joy Division (Anton Corbijn’s Control) and the rise and fall of Factory Records (24 Hour Party People).  I by no means knew Rob Gretton, but I met him a couple of times.  He was always nice, but never smiled.  I was too scared to talk to Peter Hook in an airport once and he made me go over and say hello.  I swear it felt like a dare!   Whenever Gillian (Gilbert, New Order) would put me and friends on the list, Rob always made it happen!  I even have his autograph on one of the Technique stickers which came in the NME the week of the album’s release in 1989.  It’s tucked away safely in my New Order scrapbook which I’ve had for about 25 years. 

I swear I’m never going to grow up!  And really, why bother anyway?

I you’d like your own copy, you’d better hurry – they are limited to 1500 copies.  If you order directly from the 1 Top Class Manager web page, you’ll receive an immediate, and exclusive link to an additional 159 pages which didn’t make the original volume.

[Apologies to Japanese Forms flickr stream for use of the notebook image without attribution from June 20009 – Sept 2010.]

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