TONY WILSON RIP
Tony Wilson has died of cancer aged just 57. He was a big figure in my youth because, as presenter of the ITV local news in the north-west, he gave slots to bands such as the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols. It doesn't seem like such a big thing now, but back in the 70s, you didn't see bands of any sort on TV outside Top of The Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test; punk bands were at the time treated with hatred, fear and contempt by the mainstream media, and even on the radio could only be heard on John Peel. So the sight of the Pistols performing Anarchy in the UK or the Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto, playing Boredom, on ITV at 6.20 - live, not miming- was exciting, even shocking.
At the same time Wilson began putting bands on at the Russell club in Hulme, Manchester, which he renamed the Factory. I remember queuing outside to see Iggy, when Wilson arrived in a chauffer-driven car, straight from the ITV studios, still wearing his grey newsreader's suit, canvas artist's bag over his shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll all get in" he called out to the queue swept into the club.
"Wanker", various people muttered. There was always this thing about Wilson, that he was seen as cocky, too big for his own boots (the nickname "Mr Manchester" was certainly double-edged in that respect) but, despite that, people acknowledged his real enthusiasm for the music he promoted, on Granada Reports, at the Factory Club, on his So it Goes TV show, through Factory Records, which gave us Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and a number of other worthy but less remembered acts (Section 25, Crawling Chaos, Crispy Ambulance). Then he went on to open the Hacienda, the first British superclub, that dragged a generation from the gloomy introspection of new wave into the world of dance music and ecstasy.
Meanwhile, he continued his TV career, somewhere along the line adopting the name Anthony H Wilson. I once went up to Manchester to appear on a debate programme, whose name escapes me, that went out live at 11 on a Friday night. We were discussing deaths on the road at a time when there was a general moral panic about joyriding. There was me, a politician, someone who'd lost a relative in a road accident, a road safety campaigner sitting in front of a pissed-up audience, high on tabloid moralising. We all said our pieces, then Wilson went to a member of the audience for a comment - a middle-aged Liverpudlian who said "What the police should do with joyriders is drag them out of their cars and shoot them there and then". The audience cheered ecstatically. Wilson clearly loved the controversy, energy and rage of it all: it was a great wind-up, just as it was when he provoked gloomy, raincoat-wearing new wavers (such as myself) by saying that Ian Curtis's suicide was the best thing that could have happened for Joy Division and Factory (or words to that effect).
There was an item about Wilson on Newsnight Review a few weeks ago, which had the feel of an obituary to it, during which he talked about his serious illness. So, in a sense, it's not a surprise that he's dead, even though it is a shock. Mr Manchester, RIP.
Here's a short tribute from Paul Morley.
And here's an interesting fact from James concerning Tony Wilson and Iggy's Lust For Life cover photo.
And here's an TV interview with Wilson, looking back at the early days of Factory, with some great footage of Joy Division.