Caught by the River

Remembering Rob Gretton

15th May 2009


‘This is the New Order 1989 usa tour programme centre spread, i got Rob to sign it a few years later. miss him dearly’.

Bobby (Langley)

There’s been a lot of ‘remembering’ going on here of late, I know. But I think it’s important and in this case, it was someone that I was very fond of and had enormous respect for. As did a lot of my friends.

Rob Gretton died ten years ago today. He was 46. Rob was New Order’s manager, he had been Joy Division’s manager and he had a record label, ‘Rob’s Records’. These were titles, what he was known as, but his legacy is down to much more than just those things.

I first met Rob in the Summer of 1988. I had been appointed as Factory Records publicist and thereby put in charge of managing the press for the labels biggest band New Order. The thing was, none of the directors had told Rob the news. Worse still I don’t think that they hadn’t even consulted him on it. Big mistake.

I became aware of this a couple of days after the successful interview when I picked up the phone and was asked by a bloke at the other end if he could “speak to Jeff Barrett”. That’s me, I replied. “This is Rob Gretton” he said, “Wilson’s just told me that you are doing the press for Factory. Well, I manage New Order and you’re not doing anything for them unless I fucking say so”.

I remember this conversation so well. It made me laugh. I’m not sure as that was the desired effect but I loved it. You see, I was a fan. Of New Order and of Factory. I knew who Rob was. I knew his reputation. He was a big, tough, Northerner. He took no shit and liked to scare Southerners. This phone call was that bloke.

“I suppose I’d better meet you. When can you get out of that shit hole (London) and come up here?”

I went the next day. The train got in at midday and I was met at Manchester Piccadilly station by Rob’s assistant Rebecca who drove me to Rob’s house in Chorlton.

At this point I need to confess to how I was looking that Summer. I had long hair. Shoulder length, curly, red hair (in my mind Tim Buckley, in reality Robert Plant) Worn with red selvedge Levi’s, ‘engineer’ boots and vintage American check shirts. (My point here being that it was a look. Maybe a crap one but it was deliberate).

I walked up to the door, maybe a little nervous by now, and rang the bell. The door opened and it was Rob. He looked at me – stared at me in fact – pushed up his glasses and declared “Fuckin’ ‘ell they’ve sent me a hippy”.

Genius! This, as I soon learned, was pure Rob. He was sort of taking the piss but he did actually mean it. Thankfully I held my ground and just laughed. Cheeky fucking bastard. But very very funny.

I was let in (“I suppose you’d better come in seeing as how you’ve come all this way”), parked in the kitchen and played The House Sound of Chicago Volume One. The afternoon – the interview – was spent emptying the fridge of lager, smoking fags and listening to Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, Marshall Jefferson et al. In the course of the next four hours Rob realised that I was about as much of a hippy as he was (that’s no hippy) and that I was from Nottingham, therefore not one of his ‘not much cared for’ Cockney’s. I got the job and did it for four years before getting serious with Heavenly. Rob remained a friend and it was always a real pleasure to see him.

I now work with Doves. They started out on ‘Rob’s Records’ and came to us after his passing when the label closed down. The guys in the group and their manager Dave Rofe loved Rob and they conduct themselves in a way that I know he would approve of (and that really does matter) . Over to them;

It still seems strange not to have Rob around.

He connected so many people and still, 10 years on, whenever you’re in the company of any of them it doesn’t take long for Rob to come up in conversation.

I don’t know of anyone who’s remembered with such love and warmth as he is.

Since Marvin Gaye’s ‘Abraham, Martin & John’ was played at his funeral I don’t think I’ve made it to the end of the song over the last decade without having to turn it off, which really does my head in, I love that song…

A massive regret is that he didn’t get to see Doves achieve all that they have since 1999, (but I know he’d probably still have had a tenner on Lady Gaga).

We miss you Rob

Dave, Jimi, Andy & Jez