So here we are at the 7th anniversary of Tony Wilson’s death and in the pipeline in the next year hopefully is a square to be named after Tony and a twelve foot high statue that will straddle the Salford Manchester border – one foot in each city. It’ll be about time but I’m not sure that Tony would have wished for either , certainly he would never have admitted he wanted it and he’d have enjoyed it more when he was alive that’s for sure . I mean Manchester hasn’t even got a statue of Emily Pankhurst the catalyst for women’s suffrage and most statues in the UK are of royalty, money grubbing capitalists and various Generals. Tony’s Factory and Hacienda business partner the late Rob Gretton would have slaughtered him for it , Tosh Ryan his old sparring love hate partner from Rabid Records would have slapped him down as a revisionist and Bruce Mitchell would have rolled his eyes and wondered how many drum kits and PA systems he could have bought for the money . I think it’s time Manchester and Salford honoured him for the huge impact he and his peer group had on Manchester culturally but most of all I’m looking forward to the conversations that’ll come from it – hopefully plenty of nay sayers and head shakers saying ‘what did he do’ , ‘ he was a twat’ etc – because Tony being talked about and what he did is his real legacy – that’s what would really have floated his boat.
The reality is that it wasn’t just Tony , it was his partners in crime , the late Rob Gretton – from Wythenshawe and ex St Bede’s Catholic grammar school lad , Alan Wise, Alan Erasmus , Tosh Ryan , Martin Hannet, The Godfather of them all Bruce Mitchell (referred to by Tony as Mr Manchester ) and journalists like Paul Morley and Mick Middles who collectively seemed to inadvertently pull Manchester off its cultural knees in the late 1970s and say ‘stand up tall , we don’t need some posh kid from the home counties sitting in an office in London to tell us how to do things or to reflect how great our city is or could be’. In many ways honouring Tony is honouring all of them and will also prove that great changes and shifts can sometimes come from a collection of spikey egos hell- bent on having a good time and almost constantly in a state of argumentative huffs and skirmishes with each other and bollocks to consensus - which for me as a Mancunian is a great relief and a lot more fun .
As the years go by since Tony died and before him Rob and the great Martin Hannett : and they’ve gone by swiftly – whenever I meet up with anyone who knew them i, we inevitably talk about those great characters in particular Tony and Rob Gretton and every conversation is filled with laughter – sometimes to the edge of tears and not being able to breathe. I’ve had two conversations like that in recent weeks , one was outside in the beer garden of a City centre bar and even the eavesdroppers were laughing . It’s impossible to walk away afterwards without chuckling to yourself and feeling spiritually uplifted and grateful that you lived in and through such historic times and had the privilege to work with and know them . I remember when Tony had his posh flat in town with his partner and it was announced that a lap dancing club was opening up across the way – Tony stormed into the town planning meeting and said ‘ I’ve got two young kids and I don’t want them seeing blokes walking around outside with erections every time they look out of the window. Tony did have two kids but at the time his eldest was 16 or 17 and his youngest 14 or 15 and neither actually lived with him , but just to make the point he then went out and bought a load of soft toys and teddy bears and stuck them in the window of his apartment for when the council came round. The Lap dancing club was relocated out of view .
The feistiness of Tony and the imagination and the sheer mischief was always fun and he reflected that soul in Mancunians. The moral looseness of the City , playing by our own rules the twisted humour. He even did it on his Granada Reports show on several occasions. Imagine watching a regional news show now where the presenter announces because of a loop hole in devolution regarding regional assemblies that Merseyside could become devolved – after an interview with a lib dem councillor from Liverpool and a phone in with people calling in ranting about how it was a disgrace and others saying yes that’s great and of course using it as a vehicle to mercilessly take the piss out of Scousers – he then at the end – reminded the viewers it was … April 1st.
Was it good , it was chaotic and funny as – let’s look at it this way you’d never get that much entertainment in 10 years of watching the One Show.
That was Tony – he was entertaining all the time probably because he had one of the lowest boredom thresholds known to man. It was always snatched conversations and always punchlines or a wind up. I remember talking to him about the book Perfume and how good it was . ” Yes but everyone read that book two years ago’ – undeterred I just said ‘ shit Tony I was going to start reading Butler’s The way Of All Flesh next , but then I’ll be decades behind – you pretentious div’. The people who didn’t like Tony never got him really – he’d say things like that for the fun for the banter – if you were intimidated or precious where was your sense of fun. It’s like the whole music thing , nobody later on down the line cared that much what Tony thought about music , but he’d love anything that caused trouble. I don’t think he ever even listened to Manchester’s The Courteeners but was excited about them as soon as I told him they’d been in the NME in their first interview for that Magazine , basically saying every other new band around in Manchester was shit ,if I had told him they said every other band from Manchester in its previous 50 year history was shit – he’d have bought their album.
People talk about Tony’s charm. But it was a kind of Mancunian charm , the most flattering thing he ever said to me to my face was ‘ You’ve got great enthusiasm’ , I still buzz off that – that’s why I mention it here, and then his son Oliver once told me ‘ My dad says your really intelligent’ – that just meant I got him and I was a United fan. Tony was Manchester in that way, I doubt he ever praised the people he admired to their faces but would enthuse about them to others , yet often when interviewing them or in a discussion with them he’d be fiercely slapping them down and going head to head with them especially if they weren’t part of Factory. Not for Mancunians the over the top fake Southern London gushing like a broken toilet pipe (often with just as edifying a content) to people’s faces, we’re more a curt nod and a smile – he or she’s alright is the equivalent of a thousand gushes in London luvvyland.
The national media seem to ignore Tony Wilson and what he helped to create, that’s their blindness and loss .My experiences were often that they were jealous of the fact you came from Manchester, in my case they seemed jealous of the times you’d lived through from the punk days and Buzzcocks through to that unbelievable era of what became known as Madchester – and they should be jealous because it was all in retrospect even better than they could possibly imagine, London couldn’t have coped with people like that. If you ever watch 24 hour party people – the truth was much more unbelievable and out there and Tony was the ringmaster in that circus for 25 years.
Tony both as a human being was larger than life , an aura of positivity and supreme confidence surrounded him , a genuine charisma, he was a touch stone that could annoy and irritate but very much a character you subconsciously wanted to approve of what you were doing. Although he had his own priorities like Factory records ,his TV career and In The City , he always had an eye out for any Mancunian who was doing something , anything and then he’d usually approve , very occasionally disapprove to start with , but he understood the dynamic , so that if they kicked against him and he seemed to kick against them the sparks that flew could start a huge fire and the bigger the blaze the more he warmed to them.
We look at Manchester now, shiny glass buildings – bars that all seem a bit homogenous , a kind of yuppified version of what we once knew but there’s a confidence about the city , and though we may well be just like any other medium sized City in Europe we don’t feel like we are. There’s a swagger about the place which can often infuriate outsiders but we’re respected as a world city , the capital of Britain’s working class culture with a steady eye on a brighter tomorrow. That’s pure Tony Wilson and I still miss the guy being around and feel sad for those who’ll never get the chance to argue & banter with him for five minutes . He could be funny as fuck in every dimension of the phrase.