Six Years Gone But Not Forgotten – Tony Wilson

It may seem overly sentimental that every year I remember Tony both on his birthday and particularly on the anniversary of his death, because that day I felt as though someone had pulled the plug on Manchester. First let’s get all the clichés about Tony out of the way. So It Goes on Granada TV, Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order, The Hacienda Club, Madchester blah blah – tip of the ice berg.

Manchester is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK. Millions of visitors a year, second only to London in England and possibly only London and Edinburgh in the UK. But somehow I have an uneasy feeling that Manchester’s success has been somewhat hi-jacked and that six years on, it’s almost as if Tony Wilson has been written out of that history, because he’s very much the reason that Manchester is what it is today and if he’d still been around it would have been a much more Mancunian flavoured Manchester and unashamedly so, could it be that some people bathing in the reflected glow of glory of Tony’s legacy are after all the glory.

Tony almost single handedly put us on the cultural map worldwide and also kept the ferocious inward debate over what was and wasn’t relevant burning in Manchester. He always had an idea or an opinion, sometimes hi-jacked, sometimes pure sophistry and hyperbole about what, who and why something happened and what was coming next around the corner and how Manchester should always think of itself as a world City and not just a place up north with the thankless task of playing second fiddle to the unthinking cultural metrocentricity amongst London’s cognoscenti. Tony made us write our own history and that’s still happening and that’s why Manchester is so special and unique in so many ways in terms of world cities never mind UK cities.

To Tony our awkwardness as Mancunians, our constant questioning and deflating of egos and often grudefulness at each other’s achievements he saw as a positive force. If all we were doing was moaning, he’d sort of challenge you to do better, think bigger. Given the amount of vitriole Tony often put up with from his fellow Mancunians and Salfordians, and I was very much a constant in that sizeable crew , he chose to stay and enjoy the frisson rather than go off to London and carve out a different path where he could put the doubters and grudgers behind him , but his sheer strength of personality ego and huge self belief wouldn’t allow him to do that – I suspect ultimately  he wanted to be President Wilson of The North – and as far as I’m concerned he was.

Tony set the confrontational tone for Manchester; he had a charm and persuasiveness that meant he could go from the nun to the whore. He was annoying to many , , ‘Who does he think he is’ – ,someone well known in Manchester music circles more or less said that a year or so before Tony died – I said ‘who wants to know’, a polite (not like me) way of saying, ‘what the fuck have you ever done’.

So here’s the Tony Wilson I knew. A volcano full of constantly erupting ideas, an intimidating amount of confidence, a sort of fearlessness, never on time, never stuck around for more than thirty minutes unless on home territory, always had time albeit it transient, always engaged with people on a one to one basis, always positive even about ridiculous ideas at times, always encouraging – even about other people’s ridiculous ideas, always loved an argument, rarely bore grudges and a hide like a rhino.

He was to all intents and purposes exactly what we needed in Manchester and need now more than ever. He was a figurehead and a walking coconut shy at the same time. Everyone had an opinion about Tony, like his beloved Manchester United he was hated, adored yet never ignored. He was sometimes wrong and would admit it – eventually – but he always had an opinion and that in itself was exciting and different a charismatic arrogance that was so un-serf like that it was hypnotising to us working class kids in Manchester and very attractive, there’s nothing as life sapping as someone without an opinion, it’s a form of laziness, like they can’t be bothered engaging with life, that was never the case with Tony. So after all this waffling – what exactly did Tony do that made him so special. Well here we go.

Tony’s door was always open; he’d always engage, take a phone call and give a helping hand or even some unhelpful advice. When I was first presenting The Word on Channel 4 I was feeling frustrated about the number of arguments I was having to have to get certain bands and guests I wanted on the show – everything it seemed to me had to go through that Home counties posh kid media prophylactic and if what they put on was shit, I felt that was damaging my ‘brand’ as they’d call it now. I rang Tony – and asked him ‘Tony when you’re the presenter of a TV show – how much say should you have in the programme content’ – Tony paused for a minute , and then quite solemnly said ‘Hmm 11.5% , that’s exactly it , 11.5 % I’d say’. I found myself mesmerised and dumbfounded and said ‘Thanks Tony ‘ and hung up and then thought ‘what the fuck does that mean’. Oh yes, he was exacerbating all the time :-)

Tony could do and excel at anything , he was a brilliant TV presenter – I used to sort of hate him when he did So It Goes and Granada Reports as a teenager , but I was fascinated by him , like he saw where I lived yet through double rose tinted spectacles, he’d bring bands on that were different and introduced me to  The Sex Pistols, Ian Dury ,Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello , The Clash and more importantly for us Mancunians a band we already knew about (I was at school with the drummer)  Buzzcocks , he made where we lived seem exciting , then he’d interview people like Anthony Burgess and intellectualise about the nature of Mancunians and working class people and our place in the world and the worthwhile contributions we could make . He wasn’t telling me what to think, but almost challenging me and others about how I thought. I’d watch and think posh twat, then carry on watching and tune in next time – fascinated.

Manchester has just had its third International Arts Festival – no way would that have happened without Tony Wilson , nor would the Commonwealth games- so even City fans enjoying the stylish comfort of the Etihad have to thank a United fan for that , although then we should also never forget the contribution of Tony’s Partner in crime at Factory records and the devil on Tony’s shoulder  the late Rob Gretton , as true a blue as ever existed and still sorely missed and totally under- appreciated in Manchester .The Commonwealth games came from  Manchester’s cheeky failed bid for the Olympics , an idea that came from Tony who basically told the Council , you’re in charge of a big City start acting like it . Now we have numerous arts, literature and music festivals on in Manchester throughout the year – Tony’s In The City , International Music Seminar in Manchester taught the council that these events brought money into the City and Manchester Council were very quick learners in that respect .

You talk about City centre living and how it can feed the culture of a City, it was Tony’s vision after visiting New York and seeing loft apartments in old warehouses and mills , would it work in Manchester and elsewhere – just ask Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash. Walk through most City centres or trendy areas nowadays and look at the names of the bars, all one word names. The first in Manchester to do that was Dry – originally it was going to be called Dry and Hungry on two levels , a bar on the ground floor to get a drink when you were ‘dry’ and a restaurant on the second floor where you could eat when ‘Hungry’. Factory ran out of money and decided they couldn’t afford the restaurant so just used half the name @Dry’ and after that everywhere in the Northern Quarter became one word bars , Blu , Common, Cord, Trof and it went the same way outside of Manchester – genius branding cooked up from the mind of a true genius. As for Tony’s own ambitions, yes he wanted and deserved recognition, he should have had his own show on Channel 4 or BBC 2 looking at the Arts, I groan inwardly every time I see Yentob and his ilk – the sons of privilege trying to communicate the world of ideas to a general audience that they have never moved amongst. As for Tony , thanks to him there have been films made about the Manchester Music scene , 24 Hour Party People, Control, Spike Island  Made Of Stone – 4 big music films all set against a backdrop of 12 years of the Manchester music scene between 1978-1990 – and numerous books about Manchester bands and the Manchester music scene , and it’s big , is there a kid in the country nowadays who picks up a guitar and doesn’t start off by learning how to play Wonderwall by Oasis – culturally and historically that sort of stuff is like an atom bomb.

Manchester has a history and generations will absorb and remember and add to it, that was Tony’s vision and its mission accomplished but where’s his official memorial, where’s his statue in town, where’s the street or building named after him. If you live in Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Belfast, and any so-called provincial working class City – don’t you wish you had had a Tony Wilson – don’t you ever imagine what a difference that could have made to where you lived and grew up? It’s been six years and I’m still waiting for an official Anthony H Wilson memorial and it worries me , because as we all know ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’ so let’s give Tony the credit that he truly deserves ,six years is too long and it’s starting to look like he’s being purposefully overlooked and forgotten.

Tony Wilson So It Goes Interviews

John Cooper Clarke

Iggy Pop

Mike Garry – St Anthony Poem


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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. John Walters says:

    Six years !!
    I cried when I heard that Tony had passed away.
    For all his faults ( and he had many ), he was a true Manc through and through.
    Loved his maverick days on Granada reports in the seventies. Loved his passion for music and the reds.
    He should not be forgotten. He would probably detest a memorial.
    However, a day of live Manchester music on the anniversary of his death would be much more appropriate .

  2. Phil martin says:

    Nice words.

    The Manchester Man

    If ever there was anyone who should stand in Albert square,
    Encapsulated in bronze glory, raised eyebrow ‘n’ floppy hair,
    Pompously proud in statuette, for evermore for what he’s done,
    So us Mancs could all pay tribute to Anthony H Wilson.

    A post-modernist before his time, he changed the way we party,
    A house, indie and punk pioneer despite being cultural and arty,
    He ripped up London’s rule book and made music relocate,
    Pimping so many local bands and making Madchester resonate!

    With ‘blooded minded determination’, for better or for worse,
    He campaigned to make Manchester the centre of the Universe,
    In his quest for local talent, he set up nightclubs to unearth,
    The best bands around, then signed the deal in blood to prove his worth.

    He brought embryonic punk rock, to a shocked audience on TV,
    And a conveyor belt of new bands through his label Factory,
    He helped foster a new sound, one so Manc could lead the way,
    And made Manchester cool again, standing tall with lots to say.

    Factory took on the giants but hated commercialisation,
    He didn’t want a sales team, and didn’t care for amortisation,
    Factory was just a platform to show off Manchester’s best,
    Bollocks to corporate profit, in this city he’d invest.

    His Hac would rule in club land but would spin out of control,
    But his influence was everywhere; it was just the way he’d roll,
    In politics and broadcasting, in journalism and the arts,
    His passion always Manchester, it’s where his swagger starts.

    The Hac was an iconic noose but Wilson wouldn’t crack,
    Never in it for the money, always giving something back,
    Blue Monday’s sleeve was priceless; every single lost some pence,
    Aesthetics over commerce, creative spark v common sense.

    Corporately rebellious, Wilson didn’t curb his views,
    Politically outspoken yet they let him read the news!
    They famed him for his insight and his naughty news ad libs,
    He’d rather tell it how it was than spout us corporate fibs.

    He worked on World In Action, After Dark and other shows,
    He hosted The Other Side of Midnight, What’s On and So It Goes,
    They let him loose on the Politics Show, so he could air his views,
    But I liked him best locally when he read the North West news.

    He epitomised Manc attitude, he’d rather walk alone,
    Aware of everyone and everything but preferring the home grown,
    He riled them all and made his point often causing himself strife,
    But all the while he tickled himself with the ridiculousness of life.

    So a presenter and a journalist but culture was his heart,
    Yet even in his life story, he claimed just a minor part,
    He wound them up the right way; when told he was bold and brash,
    And called himself ‘Anthony H’ to make himself more flash.

    His arrogance was rousing whilst his quotes were heaven sent,
    Like not owning a record label but a human experiment,
    He said that some make money and some make history,
    His own words sum up his life, nothing short of an epiphany!

    He claimed Ryder and Shakespeare were a chip off the same block,
    Then he brought us In The City coz he wanted Manc to rock,
    He campaigned for regional assembly and ‘The Necessary Group,’
    He designed a flag for the North West but what was his favourite coup?

    I’d say promoting Manchester and all that it bestows,
    Coz he wanted folk to notice us and he wanted to impose,
    Our city’s culture on the south and all around the world,
    So the proud flag of his Mancunia could be defiantly unfurled.

    He had a point on everything but his views would never bore,
    His overflowing civic pride was a nice, heroic flaw,
    He said we do things differently here in rainy Manc,
    Where he helped to shape our history; we’ve got his ilk to thank.

    For lauding our creation and our creative streak as well,
    And pushing Mancs to the front if they had a skill to sell,
    See our Tony was a helper of people with a craft,
    But even at his funeral he had to have a laugh.

    Coz everything was referenced; his coffin FAC 501,
    His headstone carried a quote to remind us now he’s gone,
    That people drop from history; every year it is the same,
    But the influence of the truly great will eternally remain.

    His quote is taken from a Manc book, of which he was a fan,
    But sorry Toe, forget Jabbez, you’re the Manchester Man,
    You’ve done as much as anyone in the post industrial age,
    To put Salford and Manchester back on the front page.

    So I’d like to see you cast in bronze from your barnet to your boots,
    So Mancs can always celebrate the heritage of their roots,
    Coz you fought to put our cities on the international stage,
    Doing similarly to those statues from our great industrial age.

    I’d really love to see you standing next to Albert in statue,
    So I could nod to you with civic pride coz I love your Manchester too,
    I’d like for you to pontificate over the Square for years to come,
    So over the Centuries, Mancs won’t forget, the work that you have done.

    It’s important they acknowledge you so then they won’t forget yer,
    A revolutionist of the modern age, Tony Wilson, Mister Manchester.

    Copyright©2011 by Phil Martin
    philmartinbooks.co.uk
    All rights reserved.

  3. Dave Brown says:

    People remember the moment important things happen. I was in Edinburgh Corn Exchange at a James gig, when Tim Booth, almost in tears announced his death to the crowd. They played a song dedicated to him which was about birth and life. That’s what Tony gave Manchester.

    It’s embarrassing that there isn’t some sort of Manchester memorial to him, but what would it be? A street wouldn’t seem right, a gig venue nowadays probably too corporate,

  4. Sue Copp says:

    Beautiful tribute to Tony Wilson and a fitting reminder. It stirred powerful memories of my Manchester…no mean feat as I was wrenched out of the heart of the city aged just 4 years old but still like I’m going back home every time I visit…. such is the strength of the place that although there have been many changes and developments since then, there is the same magnetic pull,the same vital energy of a town that exploded into being in the 18th century driven by the cotton trade

  5. Harvey says:

    Hi Terry, wee anecdote for you. Back in the summer of 1985 or 86 me and a couple of my mates were bumming round Glasgow City Centre (punk rockers by the way)and Anthony was doing a thing for tv “McGinn of the Calton” with Robbie Coltrane and we were sitting just across the road and we seen Robbie coming out for a smoke. I went over to talk to him, but before I got there, he had already went back inside and Tony came out and as soon as he seen us, he came right over and started talking to us. Even although most people avoided punks especially hardcore punks enjoying a tipple. He was more than happy to shoot the breeze with us, asking how the scene was going in Glasgow and were we in bands etc. Which we were. A really nice guy and I’m glad we got that opportunity to talk to him. Thanks for keeping his spirit alive!

  6. iancurtisstatue says:

    HI Terry
    Brilliant article,and I totally agree with you. No one but Manchester music on the map like Anthony H and although he might have annoyed or irritated no one could question his intentions.
    Support you all the way with this. Would be great to do a joint venture get the powers that be here in macc and there in sunny Manchester to honour both these legends.
    Cheers pal
    Tim Hartley @iancurtisstatue x

  7. RedArmy20 says:

    Gone too soon but ‘Never forgotten’ Mr Manchester. I was lucky enough to meet Tony at the after show party for New Order’s comeback gig at the Apollo in 1998 and as Terry says above, he didn’t stay for very long then either. A great man who should be immortalised like Sir Alex has. R.I.P. Anthony Wilson

  8. Joey Manic says:

    Wonderful, wonderful man who never forgot where he came from, and was all the better for it. A man of true depth and principle too, not in music for the money or the fame but for the privilege of releasing records and giving people a good time. We will never see his like again because there was nobody like him.

    On an off-topic note, The Word was an amazing show. The world still desperately needs a show when, as Windsor Castle was surrounded by fire engines, is not afraid to say ‘The Word, the show that’s hotter than Windsor Castle’. TV today? It’s the bland leading the bland.

  9. RedArmy20 says:

    Forgot to say what a great, well written article this was. A great tribute to a great man, from another ‘great man of Manchester!’

  10. A Purist says:

    Anyone remember the old BBC hq leaving its unwitting tribute via portrait up on the outside ramp long after Wilson’s last GMR stint? Had Lazyitis done merely a dozen or so chart places better then this aspiring editor would have had the task of getting Wilson to honour the promise of ten grand to back a fanzine that you can bet his colleagues/partmers/talent were kept in the dark about. I’d have had to retrace my steps not on Oxford Road but within Granada – different business entirely would be discussed in the Gay Traitor – and literally hold my hand out as if his own example were not enough to nourish in others the lasting determination to disseminate something and nothing. Years later, tributes from folk as diverse as John Mundy, Chas Banks, Tosh Ryan, SWR and Bruce Mitchell went unpublished, ironically enough, but each phone call in the days/weeks/months following his death will remain treasured, again, perhaps ironically, for the sheer honesty. Given John Peel’s even more sudden departure less than three years before, the loss of Wilson really was the last thing music and Manchester needed. RIP the eminence cerise.

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