Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson
Photo © Anthony Wilson

Born in Salford, Greater Manchester, February 20 1950, Anthony H Wilson graduated from Jesus College in Cambridge and began to work as a news reporter in the 1970s for Granada Television in Manchester. Then he presented Granada's culture & music program "So It Goes" and "Granada Reports" news among others.

Through "So It Goes" he was in contact with the emerging punk scene and attended the infamous Sex Pistols gig in Manchester in 1976. He started organizing gigs (for the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello and the likes...), managing bands and co-founded the Factory Records label as well as the Factory Club where local bands were on the bill weekly.

Tony Wilson
Photo © Kevin Cummins
reproduced with kind permission

He was so clever as to build a great team and Factory was probably the most influential indie label of pop music history. With Rob Gretton, Martin Hannett, Peter Saville and Alan Erasmus he shaped the post-punk music with Joy Division and many other bands - including then beginners U2 & OMD. The major feature of his management was freedom for the artists and search for quality both in the music and its packaging. And *not* making money at all cost...

Tony Wilson

Factory survived Joy Division demise, and was naturally home to New Order. Together they released "Blue Monday" in the mid 80s, the 12" biggest sale int world ever. He was again a major actor in the Mancunian life with the Haçienda club and the Dry bar. Even after the hard time of Factory's bankrupcy, he kept on promoting the music he liked, through Factory Too, Factory Once and F4.

Tony Wilson

In 2002, "24 Hour Party People", the film by Michael Winterbottom, was based on his life and on the Mancunian music scene of the era. He was also involved in co-producing the film "Control" directed by Anton Corbijn on Ian Curtis despite his battle with cancer. Tony died of a heart attack which did not seem related to his condition in Manchester on 10 August 2007, aged 57. The Union Flag on Manchester Town Hall was lowered to half mast as a mark of respect. Tony Wilson's coffin was given a Factory catalogue number (FAC 501), which will be the last Factory catalogue number. Tony is buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery.

Tony Wilson
Photo © Richard Bellia, Lyon, May 2005
reproduced with kind permission

Peter Hook:

"It's a very, very, very sad day. I feel very lost out here in Japan. It's like my father dying all over again. I'm devastated."

"My heart goes out to Yvette, Oliver, Hilary and Isabelle. I'm thinking of you all, my heart is broken."

"Say hello to Rob, Ian and Martin for me please Tony. Rest in peace. God bless."

"In a conversation with Oliver Wilson about a tribute gig for his father, he asked me what the chances were of getting New Order to perform. I said, 'Seeing as we have just split up, pretty slim.', he then said to me 'If I could get the others to agree, would you do it?', I said 'In honour of your father, I'd do anything.' This means I would sell the popcorn, take the tickets, sweep up after, play bass in New Order/Joy Division/Crawling Chaos."

Stephen Morris:

"There would be no Joy Division or New Order without Tony, he really believed in us and he was smart enough to start a label and put our records out."

"He was so enthusiastic, he was always 'We'll just go ahead an do it and figure out why we did it afterwards'. It was his spirit of enthusiasm that steamrollered things through and it's why we put up with him for so long [laughs]. You could have an argument with Tony and walk out hating him and the next time you saw him it was all forgotten. You just loved him."

Tony Wilson Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan (actor, played Tony in "24 Hour Party People"):

"I'm working in Hawaii right now. There's a warm breeze, the sun is shining and the sea is turquoise, but I wish I was in Manchester and I wish it was raining. It should rain, because today the older brother for a whole generation of creative, bold, innovative people is gone. It seems odd that he's not around to expostulate and wax provocatively at all the eulogies and sadness of the past week."

"It's almost impossible to describe Tony Wilson in a sentence, you end up with a long list of adjectives some of them paradoxical. But let me have a go. Lyrical, poetic, un selfconscious, very self-conscious, unsentimental, a bit sentimental, un-cynical, enthusiastic, Teflon coated, vulnerable."

"In the late 70s there were quite a lot of arty, lower middle class, catholic Manchester grammar school boys. Some of them tried to form bands; others (me) just bought records and listened to them. Tony was the apotheosis of those baby boomers who wanted to reach beyond their background and find the poetry in this post-industrial landscape. He gave confidence and legitimacy to an army of haltingly insecure men. Put simply, he showed it wasn't poofy to wear nice clothes and use long words. But above all he was a true civic champion, who found excitement and creativity on his own doorstep. Under his stewardship, Manchester became and still is an alternative metropolis. That is his legacy."

"Looking back, Tony's other job as a TV presenter seems almost like a disguise, as if a spy for a disaffected generation had bluffed his way into the enemy camp and tricked them into putting unusual and adventurous music onto television. Most notably 'So It Goes' in 1976. This was when I first encountered him. He came to a party my aunt threw at my parents' house. I was 10 years old and banished upstairs, but I caught a glimpse of him walking down our hallway, that slightly hippish bloke who presented the news. Twenty five years later I got a phone call from Michael Winterbottom, asking me to play Tony Wilson in his film '24 Hour Party People'."

"In 2001 when I sat down to Frank Cotteral Boyce and Michael Winterbottom, I was worried. Tony's lyrical proclamations made him an easy target for satire but we agreed that if we ever laughed at Tony, and people did, ultimately he should emerge as a flawed hero. I wanted to play Tony, not least because I didn't want someone else to make a pigs ear of it. Looking back now, it is the work I am most proud of. I feel very personally connected with it, the only work I've ever done where I didn't want filming to stop. I wanted to carry on being Tony Wilson."

"I haven't been able to watch it for years, I don't suppose I will for a long time yet. It will be like looking through a shoe box of old photographs, bittersweet."

"Tony was nervous for the same reasons I was and we talked before filming began. As an artisan, he understood perfectly that it would be an impressionistic interpretation of him and events. He disputed aspects of the script but quoted John Ford when he said 'If it's a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend'. Throughout filming, he visited the set. On one occasion he walked in whilst we were filming a scene which was un-sympathetic to put it mildly. 'That never happened' he pronounced, 'but its your interpretation and I believe in artistic freedom', before leaving in flourish. I love him for that. On another occasion, at the production office, which now seems almost surreal, I was standing at the end of a corridor dressed as Tony in a Yohjiyamanoto suit and white tennis shoes, (a distinct Tony look). When Tony arrived at the other end of the corridor dressed identically, he was on the phone 'oh this is too weird' he said 'can I call you back?'. The writer, Paul Morley, later mused that if we'd touched we would have ended up in the fifth dimension. Peter Hook said at the time with robust affection 'the biggest twat in Manchester being played by the second biggest twat in Manchester'. It was the biggest compliment I ever received."

"I know he was pleased with the film, we did countless interviews together to promote the film in New York and LA where he would always diminish his status describing himself as a mere conduit for talent. I never quite believed him. He signed one of the bejewelled bricks from the exterior of the recently demolished Haçienda and gave it me as a gift. The interior of the club was rebuilt for the film with uncanny accuracy. When Tony saw it, he wept. There never was a last night party at the Hacienda. But with artistic licence, we recreated one for the film. Almost anyone who had a connection with the club was there. The real New Order, the actors playing New Order, The Happy Mondays, the actors playing them, Dave Haslam, Mike Pickering. The party continued into the early hours, long after filming had stopped. Only one person didn't turn up: Anthony H Wilson. I never knew why. Did he not want to cramp my style? Did he not want to say goodbye? Or was he already moving forward onto the next thing? Never being one to wallow in nostalgia. One thing is certain; he was conspicuous by his absence and always will be."

Tony Wilson Steve Coogan

Tony Wilson Yvette Livesey

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Update 2021-02-19    Copyright © Michel ENKIRI