21 August 2007


Tony Wilson (center) with Peter Saville & Alan Erasmus
outside The Factory Club

Photo © Kevin Cummins

I was sitting on my sumptuous couch watching HowardTV one night, as I always do, when my friend G. sends me a text saying "Tony Wilson died". I text back "Who?" and then I realised who it was. "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh", I said. Sometimes, I'm slow. Bear with me.

Tony Wilson single-handedly changed the face of pop culture. Wilson was to Manchester what Malcom was to London; except Wilson wasn't an asshole.

Wilson owned & ran a record label, did a radio show, was a TV show host, a nightclub manager, he was an impresario and journalist for Granada Television and the BBC. And what do you do?!

Known as "Mr. Manchester", he was the mogul behind some of Manchester's most successful bands. He was the founder and manager of the legendary Haçienda nightclub, and was one of the five co-founders of the famous Factory Records.

Between 76 and 77 Wilson hosted the infamous short-lived "So It Goes" show on ITV Granada.

So the story goes Wilson was one of 40 or so people at the 1976 show by the Pistols at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall—the other attendees included future members of the Buzzcocks, the Fall, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Smiths, Simply Red, and Joy Division—Wilson described the show as "nothing short of an epiphany" and booked them for the last episode of the first series of "So It Goes"

The Sex Pistols made their first ever TV appearance here on 28 August 1976; The Jam, The Clash, The Stranglers and Siouxsie and The Banshees all followed suit and appeared on later episodes. Iggy Pop had the show pulled off the air after an "expletive strewn appearance". The bosses at ITV Granada got pissed and canceled the show after only 2 series' of episodes. As always, Wikipedia has an exhaustive detailed break-down of each episode; a summary of who appeared, etc. Check it out, here. It's awesome.


Tony Wilson hosting "So It Goes" in 1976

Wilson founded the 'Factory' night at the Russel Club in Hulme. He later founded Factory Records (Happy Mondays, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a.k.a. OMD), and Joy Division/New Order) and the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester.

The Haçienda was for punk and new-wave what Studio 54 came to define for disco; A beautifully designed megaclub that hosted Madonna's U.K. debut and served as the symbolic epicenter of the late-'80s and early-'90s "Madchester" dance-rock explosion that helped bring house music and rave culture to Britain.

For as much as I love Siouxsie, the Pistols and the Clash, I really love all that dance-rock stuff, too; I'm a sucker for some psychedelic keyboards and jangly guitars. Bands like Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, New Order and later the Soup Dragons, EMF, Primal Scream, Inspiral Carpets, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesus Jones, Pop Will Eat Itself, PiL and the more electronic stuff like Erasure, Depeche Mode (who were INSANELY cheesey until they met Siouxsie), Dead or Alive, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, and so on and so on...

Tony Wilson never made a fortune from Factory Records or the Haçienda, despite the enormous popularity and cultural significance of both endeavours. Both came to an abrupt although not necessarily premature end in the late 1990's.

The 2002 film "24 Hour Party People" is a satire centred around Factory Records, the Haçienda, and the infamous, often unsubstantiated anecdotes and stories surrounding them - including the myth that Tony Wilson "signed" the first Factory contract with Joy Division with his own blood.

This is a complete myth started by Wilson himself during the film's production, and unfortunately it seems to have been picked up as "fact" by many journalists since.

The "blood signature" scene also appears to repeat itself in the forthcoming Ian Curtis biopic "Control", to the dismay of many Joy Division and Factory fans.

Many of the people associated with Factory, including Tony Wilson, have minor parts in "24 Hour Party People"

Wilson died of a heart attack. He was 57.

Following news of his death, the Union Flag on Manchester Town Hall was lowered to half mast as a mark of respect.

Not-so-fun fact: After developing renal cancer, Wilson's doctors recommended he take a drug called Sunitinib (a.k.a. Sutent), the £3,500 per month cost of which was not funded by the Manchester Primary Care Trust.

He was turned down by the NHS, while patients being treated alongside him at the Christie Hospital and living just a few miles away in Cheshire are receiving funding for the therapy.



Tony with Yvette Livesey

A number of Wilson's music industry friends, including the Happy Mondays former manager Nathan McGough and their current manager, Elliot Rashman, formed a fund to help pay for Wilson's medical treatment.

Wilson famously told the BBC:

"This drug is my only real option. It is not a cure but can hold the cancer back, so I will probably be on it until I die ... When they said I would have to pay £3,500 for the drugs each month, I thought where am I going to find the money? I'm the one person in this industry who famously has never made any money ...

I used to say some people make money and some make history - which is very funny until you find you can't afford to keep yourself alive ... I've never paid for private healthcare because I'm a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal"

Related:
Mr. Manchester: How Tony Wilson changed the face of pop culture.
By Jody Rosen / Slate.com

How Tony Wilson changed music
By Ian Youngs / BBC News

Read: "The Gig that Changed the World" by David Nolan

See: 24 Hour Party People

1 comment:

rev said...

This is sad news.
Just saw Mr. Wilson (however sick he was) hyping it up for The Happy Mondays at Coachella.
A unique character-- one that can't be replaced.
Tony meet Tony now
& rest in peace.