Thursday, August 16, 2007

Paul Morley writes one more time about Tony Wilson...

When Ian Curtis commited suicide in 1980, Joy Division were on the brink of bringing the new Manchester to the United States. JD, of course, were a package. On the inside, pure, raw talent, capable of perfectly capturing the alienation and isolation the late 70's youth were feeling. The outside, however, was brilliantly nebulous, carefully constructed by the artwork of Peter Saville, the management of Rob Gretton, the sound engineering of Martin Hannett, and the vision of Tony Wilson.

Although rarely mentioned in the same breath as the group above, Paul Morley, journalist for NME at the time and deeply involved in the emerging Manchester music scene, was as much a part of the Factory story as anyone. Wilson instinctively knew this. And so, on the day of the wake for Curtis, Wilson drove Morley to the site, telling him that he has to be the one to tell this story, that he was the only one who could, or should for that matter.

Not only did Morley write that story, he spent the next 27 years writing about all things Factory. His most recent story, appearing in the Guardian, is below.


Idealist, chancer, loyal friend: why I will miss Tony Wilson
by Paul Morley
Sunday August 12, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Paul Morley pays tribute to his mentor, the man who shaped Manchester's culture from punk to the Happy Mondays and who died on Friday at the age of 57

Sometimes, Tony Wilson was just too much. Perhaps he was just too much all of the time. Sometimes I hated that he was too much, too sure of himself, too convinced that his ways were the right ways, rampant with self-assurance, self-belief, self-confidence, self-indulgence, a man crammed with busy, swashbuckling selves to the extent you were never quite sure what he was up to, and what he was. Could someone so forward, so garrulous, so indiscreet be trusted? Was he really the idealistic northern philanthropist determined to fight a lazy, complacent and derelict south, discovering and enabling all kinds of local talent to help in his battle for an absurdist form of north-west independence? Or was he the pompous, tricky TV buffoon exploiting musicians, fans, viewers, colleagues and Manchester, while he talked up his own place in social and music history?

Sometimes I loved the fact that there was no one quite like him, that he could be at any given time Jerry Springer and/or Malcolm McLaren, Melvyn Bragg and/or Andrew Loog Oldham, a fiercely smart hybrid of bullshitting hustler, flashy showman, aesthetic adventurer, mean factory boss, self-deprecating chancer, intellectual celebrity, loyal friend, insatiable publicity seeker. How could you not love this freewheeling, freethinking bundle of contradictions, even as he drove you up the wall with his non-stop need for adventure and his loathing for mental and moral inertia?
There was so much of him, and so many of him, from the slick, charming television host to the seditious impresario, from the surreal activist to the baroque loudmouth. This was what people had trouble with: there was no precedent for such a combination of unlikely driven personalities to be so compressed into one mind and one body. Ultimately people tended to suspect it was all about his ego. His ego, though, was part of his genius, and his genius consisted of the way he could flatten everything in front of him with sheer force of personality, and sweetly, sternly persuade the world to become what he wanted it to become. A place where talent and imagination and ideas could thrive, and make the world not just better, but more beautiful

From the very first moment I became aware as a teenager of this loud, ebullient and slightly unsettling man on the telly, it was obvious he was so full of life, and so full of himself. In the early and mid-1970s he became well known in the north west as a slightly naughty young Granada TV newsreader with longish hair and flapping flares. He was a vaguely hip alternative to the BBC's traditionally madcap Stuart Hall.

At the time it would have seemed more logical that the breezy Wilson would have gone on to present It's a Knockout rather than be inspired by the Sex Pistols and avant-garde social theory. But then we didn't know at the time, with that insubordinate, even sinister twinkle in his eyes, Wilson's background in anarchic politics, his knowledgable passion for Shakespeare and his proud appreciation of Manchester's radical, reforming, progressive history. He had decided it was his duty to ensure Manchester's intellectual tradition was not toppled by the emergence of popular culture but enriched by it. This was not what you expected from newsreaders.

Those of us who spotted the curious Wilson at those early Sex Pistols shows at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June and July 1976 couldn't quite believe what we were seeing. A few of us there might have remembered the time he turned up at a Rory Gallagher concert a couple of years before and was cheerfully jeered by the entire audience. It seemed inappropriate that the clumsy, slightly camp man from the telly should infiltrate the rock world, and then even more impertinently the new, anti-cliche punk world, and this was the source of the suspicion that somehow Tony was a dilettante, an outsider. Even at his most triumphant and groundbreaking, this made him something of an underdog, a misfit, but he liked it that way, constantly identifying with the marginalised, unloved and isolated.

When he merged the two sides of his character, the brazen cultural theorist with the slick television presenter, and created the magnificently pretentious pop programme So It Goes, putting punk music on TV before anyone else, the clash was so far ahead of its time there still wouldn't be a place for it now. After the demise of So It Goes, he withdrew, wounded, and worked out how to keep his two lives together yet separate, maintaining his light-hearted Granada presence even as he was organising and inspiring the subversive Factory Records collective. Somehow he managed to be related to both Joy Division and Coronation Street. How Manchester was that?

He seemed driven by the feeling that if he wasn't as dark as he was light, as profound as he was trivial, or as aggressive as he was gentle and patient, he couldn't complete his mission - which seemed to be nothing less than the modernisation of Manchester in a way that reflected his Situationist-inspired belief in a kind of urban utopia, the idea of a city as much made up by poetry, pleasure, philosophy and dreams as politics, business and architecture.

It seemed as though all along he was destined to become known as Mr Manchester. He accepted the role with ridiculous gusto, happy as always to sacrifice dignity as long as he was the catalyst for change and excitement. He became the personality most identified with the changes the city had gone through since the Sex Pistols' 1976 visit. There was no one better - there was no one else at all - to play this role, and the vigour with which he did never dampened the suspicion that he had manipulated history and exaggerated his own role in proceedings to ensure his own notoriety.

He relished the confusion people felt about his manner and motives, and was totally pragmatic about, even flattered by, the often extreme, occasionally violent, vitriol directed his way.

When Joy Division's Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, Wilson was already a monstrous master of mixing fact and fiction to produce the truth of history. He approached the turmoil surrounding the death of Curtis as if it were raw material he could play around with, already planning how he could bend history to his purpose. It sometimes seemed callous, but he was ahead of everyone else in understanding the cultural impact the suicide would have.

He had marked me out as the man who would write the history of Joy Division. I initially resisted the role, annoyed that he was putting me in a place where he wanted me to be. His presumption that everyone would fall in with his version of events could make him seem like a bully. Even as it was happening, he seemed to know that 25 years later there would be films, and documentaries, and books about this story, which was both his story, and not his story. He realised more than I did that I would be writing about this period, from the Sex Pistols in Manchester to the death of Ian Curtis, for the rest of my life, hunting down the meaning of it all, following the clues that Wilson alone seemed to leave. If he didn't actually know then that this period of Manchester life as it revolved around his galvanising presence would become history, he was convinced he could make it happen, by making enough noise, by willing it to happen.

He willed it to happen, because he believed that what happened, directly and indirectly, because of him, as he tore through Manchester, launching TV shows, clubs, labels, bands, bars, events, creating scandal sometimes for the sheer sake of it, was important, and that everyone should know about it - both as a major part of rock history and as an important new part of the history of the radical, progressive north.

Wilson was frustrated that he could not follow up Factory Records or the Hacienda with what always interested him the most - the new, the next, the unexpected - and anxious, yet flattered, that everyone was fixing him in time as the man who multiplied Marx with Warhol and the Sex Pistols to make Madchester. He hated to be fixed, to be pinned down, to be filed away in the past, even as he fought to make sure the history of his extraordinary times was properly recorded. Death may quieten him down a bit, but it won't slow him down. He appears as fiction in Anton Corbijn's film about Ian Curtis, Control, and as, to some extent, himself in Grant Gee's Joy Division documentary and Chris Rodley's BBC4 film about Factory. The history he helped set up moves more and more into the mainstream.

In all of the years I've been involved in the music business and journalism - and I would not have been as involved without his generous, constant, inspiring and occasionally annoying mentoring - I've never come across anyone so energetically brilliant. Without Wilson there may well have been in some form Joy Division, and Factory, and New Order, and the Hacienda, and Happy Mondays. There may well have been Peter Saville's dream designs, and Martin Hannett's timeless production, and a Manchester that managed to move on from its sad post-industrial decline. But none of it would have been so far-fetched, so dramatic and so fantastic. It took courage to be Tony Wilson, to then become, in the face of certain derision, Anthony H Wilson. Only he knew how much.

An idealist's life:

1950 Born in Salford.

1961 Wins a scholarship to De La Salle Grammar in Salford. Later studies at Cambridge University before joining Granada Television.

1976 Sees the Sex Pistols in Manchester, an experience he describes as 'an epiphany'.

1978 Sets up Factory Records, a label that spawns Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays.

1982 Opens the Hacienda nightclub, which becomes the heart of the 'Madchester' scene, playing host to bands such as New Order, the Smiths, the Stone Roses and Oasis. In the same year he sets up the annual Manchester music conference, In the City, with his partner Yvette Livesey.

1997 Police close the Hacienda due to its out-of-control ecstasy problem and gang violence. Wilson continues to work on TV and radio.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow-up to Living in a visual world...

From the forward of Michel Chion's renowned book Audio-Vision, written by Walter Murch:

"We begin to hear before we are born, four and half months after conception. From then on, we develop in a continuous and luxurious bath of sounds: the song of our mother's voice, the swash of her breathing, the trumpeting of her intestines, the timpani of her heart. Throughout the second four and a half months, Sound rules as solitary Queen of our senses: the close and liquid world of uterine darkness makes Sight and Smell impossible, Taste monochromatic, and Touch a dim and generalized hint of what's to come.

Birth brings forth with it the sudden and simultaneous ignition of the four other senses, and an intense competition for the throne that Sound had claimed as hers. The most notable pretender is the darting and insistent Sight, who dubs himself King as if the throne had been standing vacant, waiting for him.

Ever discreet, Sound pulls a veil of oblivion across her reign and withdraws into the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the braggart Sight. If she gives up her throne, it is doubtful that she gives up her crown."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tony Wilson, visionary...

I've written before about my fondness for Factory records in Manchester, England, and particularly, the music era 1975-1979. On Friday, August 10, Factory founder, Tony Wilson, died.

His keen awareness of authenticity in the making led him to broadcast the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Souixsie and the Banshees, and The Jam even before the rest of the world knew what was happening. Creating Factory, and lifting Joy Division into the spotlight literally inspired generations of bands to follow. The Haçienda speaks for itself. He was a true visionary and will be missed.


WILSON PUT CITY ON THE MAP
by Paul Taylor [Manchester Evening News]


Anthony H. Wilson 1950-2007


WHEN the story of Tony Wilson and Madchester burst forth in the movie 24 Hour Party People, a poster campaign sprang up across the country.

Beneath a photograph of the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division ran the legend "Artist". Beneath an image of the Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder was the accolade "Poet". But the poster of Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson carried the simple caption "Prat". And that was the more polite version.

Could Wilson possibly have approved such an ad campaign?

"The answer is yes. I found it very funny," he said at the time.

It was one of Tony Wilson's most endearing characteristics that we laughed with him, we sometimes laughed at him, and he laughed too.

If you totted up his genuine achievements, he would have earned the right to act the big "I am".

He captured nascent punk rock for a gobsmacked TV audience.

He fostered enduring musical talents through Manchester's independent Factory Records at a time when the music industry barely existed outside London.

He had a stake in the Hacienda, a club which was not only the touchstone for Manchester's most inventive period of popular music, but also, briefly, the coolest place to be in the entire world.

He even persuaded the music business to decamp to Manchester annually for the In The City convention - proof positive of a Wilson philosophy that Manchester is the centre of the universe.

Meanwhile Wilson also remained, for much of the time, that man on Granada Reports.

But he combined a tremendous pride in all these achievements with a joy at the frequent ridiculousness of life. That would be the journalist in him. There was a time when he asked to be called Anthony H Wilson in print. Affectation? Too big for his no doubt designer-name boots? It was never that simple with Tony.

FLASH

He later confessed he just wanted to "wind up all the people in Manchester who think I'm a flash ****."

And you would need a plentiful supply of those asterisks when quoting the words of Wilson, an aesthete who thought Shakespeare and Shaun Ryder were cut from the same cloth.

The hilarious opening scene of 24 Hour Party People saw Coogan as Wilson the TV reporter, soaring perilously in a hang glider. This was Manchester's answer to Icarus of Greek legend, who flew too near to the sun on wings held together with wax. Like Icarus, Wilson had the odd downfall, but it was still a glorious flight.

Anthony Howard Wilson was born on February 20, 1950 in Salford. When he was aged five, the family moved to leafy Marple, but Wilson would return to Salford daily after passing his 11-plus and gaining a place at boys' grammar school De La Salle.

He would also later marvel at just how many of his fellow movers and shakers in Manchester music were products of the local Catholic grammar schools. Wilson was put in the A stream and later discovered that, of 1,000 entrants for De La Salle, he had been top.

Wilson's ambition had been to become a nuclear physicist, but then he saw Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon and fell in love with literature.

Studying English at Jesus College, Cambridge, Wilson was delighted to discover he was being taught in rooms once used by the poet Coleridge, a slave to opium. How very rock `n' roll. Having joined the student paper and decided that his future lay in journalism, Wilson exited with, for him, a disappointing 2.2 degree.


Wilson on his legendary show "So It Goes"

"I've been a minor celebrity since I was 23 years old," he once said. That celebrity began with his work as a news reporter for Granada TV in the 1970s. In the cosy world of regional telly, he was a long-haired maverick famed for his unscripted asides. When he had a chance to present a culture and what's on programme, So It Goes, Wilson found himself documenting a music revolution, with punk sweeping aside progressive rock and putting guitars in the hands of kids who could muster only three chords but bags of attitude. Many people first saw the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Elvis Costello and the like on So It Goes.

Wilson was one of the tiny number of people who saw the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Practically everyone in the audience went off to form a band of their own, while Wilson said the experience was `nothing short of an epiphany'.


Factory Night at the Russell Club

In 1978, the Factory name was minted, firstly as a club night, then as a record label, Wilson forming a partnership with band manager Alan Erasmus and drawing in designer Peter Saville, producer Martin Hannett and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton. Factory's name was burnished with tragedy in 1980 when Joy Division front man Ian Curtis committed suicide just before the band's planned tour of the USA.

In May 1982, the Factory empire extended to a club. Housed in a former textile factory turned yacht showroom, the Hacienda was a triumph of understated, industrial design. The early years were lean, and the club lost thousands of pounds a month. Even when the Hacienda was thronged, the money was still not rolling in as the punters often preferred ecstasy to drinks from the bar. By 1985, married for a second time to Hilary, living in Withington and with a family on the way, Wilson was still professing to earn `virtually nothing' from Factory, and even used the annual holiday from his TV day job to produce the latest Durutti Column album.


Typical Saville inspired Haçienda advertisement


But it was in the middle of the 1980s that the Hacienda caught its wave, with DJs such as Mike Pickering being the first in Britain to play club music coming out of Detroit and New York. When dance rhythms were welded to rock and suffused with the grimy Manc poetry of Shaun Ryder, a movement was afoot and its name was Madchester. Factory was renowned for inspired yet not necessarily business-like strategies. In 14 years, not one decision was ever made with an eye to profit, Saville once said.

Durutti Column's first album had a sandpaper sleeve which scratched adjoining records in the record store racks. New Order's Blue Monday was the biggest selling 12 inch single ever, yet, legend has it, the sleeve design was so lavish that money was lost on every copy sold.

There was an unwise £750,000 refurbishment of Factory's building on the corner of Charles Street and Princess Street.


Haçienda first birthday, of course there had to be a poster


AGREEMENTS

More music evangelist than hard-nosed businessman, Wilson had not even tied Factory's bands to conventional contracts, preferring gentlemen's agreements.

Most crucially, the Happy Mondays failed to provide a follow-up to the successful Pills `n' Thrills & Bellyaches album in time to plug the gap in Factory's finances. So began torrid times. In 1991, Wilson had parted company with Hilary, mother of his children Oliver and Isabel, and fallen for Yvette Livesey, a former Miss England 18 years his junior. They became the original loft-livers in Manchester city centre, their home being a cavernous two-story conversion of an industrial building at Knott Mill. They were partners not just in life but also in work. The In The City conference made Manchester the music business's talking shop once a year. "I am the boss. He's just the mouth," Livesey joked of their respective In The City roles. Together they did their bit to put Manchester on a world stage at a time when Manchester's regeneration was gathering pace.

In 1992, Factory crashed with debts of £2m. The Hacienda faltered when Greater Manchester Police tried to revoke its licence because of drug-taking. Then it closed voluntarily in the face of gun-toting gangs, opened yet again but closed for good in 1997 with debts of £500,000.

The name of Factory continued to ebb and flow. By 2005, Wilson was on to the fourth incarnation, F4, singing the praises of Hulme drum and bass collective Raw-T.

For much of the 1990s, Wilson was, with Lucy Meacock, a presenter of Granada Up Front - a late night TV show which was a feisty forum for topical debate. Wilson returned to Granada Reports in 2002 after a 13-year absence, but stepped down the following year. His `new mission' was to campaign for devolution for the north west. He founded the Necessary Group, made up of politicians and opinion-formers keen to see an elected regional assembly, and even asked Peter Saville to design a flag for the north west. But Wilson later said that there was `horrendous' apathy about devolution, blaming the media for ignoring the issue. The idea for regional assemblies was eventually shelved by the government .

When 24 Hour Party People told Wilson's story in 2002, he did not just take those `prat' posters in his stride, he smiled benignly on a film which he admitted had `lots of untruths' in it. "There's that line about the choice between truth and legend{hellip}always pick the legend," he said.

In January this year, Wilson underwent emergency surgery to remove a cancerous kidney and then began chemotherapy at Christie Hospital. He wrote, courageously, of his ordeal in a feature for the Manchester Evening News, crediting a long list of doctors and nurses by name.

"Strange how everyone has a complaint about the NHS except for people who actually use it," he said. "When you actually come face to face with its care and concern, it is little short of wonderful."

When he discovered that the NHS in Greater Manchester would not fund a pioneering new drug called Sutent, a group of showbusiness friends joined together to fund the £3,500-a-month cost of having the treatment privately.

But Wilson found another `new mission' in his final days - campaigning on behalf of those others who were not fortunate enough to have wealthy benefactors and were losing out on the treatment because of a `postcode lottery.'

"I'm lucky I have this fund and my friends have been very generous, but some people needing these drugs are cashing in life savings, some are selling their homes", he said."You can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal."