Journalism

Tony Wilson, R.I.P.

10th April 2009

Like many people, I was gutted when I heard about Tony Wilson's death. It was made all the sadder when I learned that Tony was caught up in our "universal" national health service's post-code lottery, and was reliant on friends to procure for him the anti-cancer drugs he needed to survive.

It might come as a shock to many that he didn't have the money to pay for private health care. It seems even sadder that most of the money that flowed into Factory Records and the Hacienda ended up as bling on the arms and round the necks of local gangsters. I suspect this was more of a bugbear to the many talented musicians than it was to Tony. For him money represented just another opportunity to do something - it was pretty much useless otherwise.

The first Factory album I bought was A Certain Ratio's Too Each. Then I got the Joy Division/New Order bug and stayed pretty much with them since. I started going to the Hacienda in the early nineties during the heady years of acid house. I was naturally delighted when, some years later, Tony put on a show for me there (albeit at the reborn Hacienda 2- complete with the famous old black and yellow striped doors). Fame descended very quickly, and while I had anticipated it by moving Amsterdam to body swerve it, I was shocked and overwhelmed at the rapturous reception I got from the Manchester crowd on the opening leg of my biggest UK tour. I urged them to put their hands together for Tony, an obvious Manchester legend. There followed an embarrassing silence. I felt terrible, having inadvertantly exposed the great man to the apparent apathy of his home city he loved so much. Typical of him, Tony didn't give a toss. "I'm on the telly," he said. "Everybody on the telly is a wanker."

At one point during the discussion, which involved questions from the floor, one of my countrymen decided to join me on the stage. He was inebriated and in between telling me how great I was, proceeded to slag off the members of the audience for the heinous crime being English in Manchester. It was a mortifying experience - I wanted the stage to open up and swallow me. I was sitting on a couch, embarrassed by and for my slaughtered compatriot and bored with his excruciating rant, but also at the stage of believing that anything I did or said would only make matters worse. Fortunately Tony managed to sweet-talk him to the front of the stage, where the bouncers grabbed him and threw him out. It prepared me for something which is now fairly routine at some of my events.

I appeared on Tony's show when he was trying to kick back and put his feet under the table as "Anthony Wilson." For a larger-than-life entrepreneurial character, the way he could comfortably launch back into the role of TV anchorman was something to behold. Over the years Tony would send me recordings of the latest band (obviously from Manchester) who were going to be brilliant. Sometimes it was sublime stuff that was light years ahead of its time, other times it wasn't that great, but it was always accompanied with the Wilson enthusiasm that made you wonder whether or20not you’d missed something first time around.

Tony Wilson was a one-off, as brash, ballsy, knowing and erudite as the city he loved so much. Manchester - and popular culture - are all the poorer for his absence. This is the era of the Simon Cowell's and Pop Idol's, instead of the Tony Wilson's and Factory's. Enough said.