“I don’t think great literature and great art is pretentious so I do talk about things like that to people. If that makes me a prat so be it”
Ah Tony , there really was no-one else like you. I know I’m not alone in remembering the life and times of Anthony Howard Wilson at the moment. Like so many others, I had several encounters with him down through …
Ah Tony , there really was no-one else like you.
I know I’m not alone in remembering the life and times of Anthony Howard Wilson at the moment. Like so many others, I had several encounters with him down through the years and there was always something to take from each one. Tony was generous, gregarious, funny, smart, opinionated and always – always – on the money.
The last time I interviewed him was around the time of the release of the 24 Hour Party People film in 2002. I can’t find a link to the piece from The Irish Times online so the interview is replicated in full below the fold.
“Today, I’ve done 73 meetings, 100 phone calls, two interviews, five photo shoots and before I go to London, and I must go to London tonight, I’ve got to go to Wigan, fucking Wigan, to talk to 50 kids about why rock & roll is a fantastic business.”
Do not adjust your sets, it’s Tony Wilson. The man whose image as portrayed by Steve Coogan is plastered all around Manchester at the moment with “prat” sprayed across his face in his car somewhere between Manchester and Wigan.
He is not sure if he is on the right road and quickly establishes that the interviewer’s weak grasp of English geography will be of little assistance in the circumstances. Cursing and consulting maps and hand-written directions, he motormouths his way through another interview at a 100 miles a minute. It’s like he never went away.
Not, of course, that Anthony H Wilson has ever been away, thanks to the In The City music conference and Music33.com online initiative taking up the slack after Factory and the Hacienda called it a day. He may refer to himself as “a local TV presenter doing stupid things” but this self-depreciation hides a wealth of pop culture history.
The man who brought the world Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order, The Hacienda and Happy Mondays may hate the fact that he has to talk so much about the past thanks to Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People flick but there’s a flicker of interest in his voice nonetheless. After all, if people are talking to Wilson, they have to listen, don’t they?
As always, he has plenty to say. Some of it we’ve heard before (he’s a great man for repeating yarns) and some of it we can’t repeat (a great story about New Order’s Hooky) but, like Malcom McLaren, it’s always interesting. The music industry may claim it has a special place for mavericks but, in reality, that place is always on the sidelines. Wilson and his lucid, sometimes pretentious but always intriguing theories and rants about art and culture are a world removed from the showbiz smarm of Simon Cowell and friends but it’s his world we would prefer to inhabit.
What’s exercising Wilson’s enthusiasm right now is Red Cellars, “the new Factory”. Chasing three bands to sign, he’s fired up about the new enterprise. “People keep saying that it’s all very wonderful what I’ve done with the Mondays and Joy Division but it won’t happen a third time. My line is no-one takes the ball home when they score twice. My dream, and it probably won’t happen, is to have had the three – the greatest band of post-punk, the greatest band of the next round which was the Mondays and then to have another great band this time around. It’s what I want and it’s why I’m doing the label.”
He also feels that the time is right. “As often happens at these historic moments, the music industry is in chaos and they don’t know what the fuck is going on. The point is this is always the time when great independents happen and they may last for eight years or they may last for 18. In the end, they fall apart because they don’t have enough product flow but it’s fun while they last.”
For once, he knows he won’t find the band of his dreams in his beloved Manchester. “Something’s gone really wrong here” he believes. “The reason for Manchester’s prolific music culture is, to quote Dave Ambrose the A&R man, because Manchester kids have the best record collections – Brazilian samba bands, the complete Parliament collection, great German rock albums, all this kind of shit. But we’ve had ten years of what I called dance-slob culture and that has taken away what was really special. The bands we’re looking at are in Bolton, Chorley and East Anglia and I’m told that Milton Keynes is fantastic at the moment which is very logical.”
Leaving the would-be musical delights of the concrete cow city aside, it’s time to turn the clock back. Wilson groans. “I am talked out about the past to a great degree. I am so excited about new stuff around me – if there wasn’t a new culture around, I’d be very fucking bored – that I am a bit depressed about this focus on the past. I don’t like nostalgia.”
As a sussed media operator, however, he knows that 24 Hour Party People is set to awaken a huge interest in all things Ian Curtis, Madchester and the Hacienda so who better than the instigator to talk us through the good old days. He admits the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film has surprised him. “Michael made the film he wanted to make. Michael and Frank (Cotrell Boyce, scriptwriter) wanted to shoot this fucking stupid thing they’d grown up with of a local TV presenter doing stupid things and making his living from that while hanging out at night with all these bizarre people against this backdrop of punk and acid house. Because of that, there’s a lot of me in it which I wasn’t too pleased about but that’s what they wanted to do.
“The film does three things. It captures the mood and spirit and reality of a punkish gig like no movie has captured before, it captures the mood of an acid house dancefloor like no movie has captured before and thirdly, it’s fucking funny. That’s what it does. You can take or leave the fact that it revolves around this stupid local TV presenter.”
In his role as said presenter, Steve Coogan uncannily captures not just the mannerisms and speech patterns but also that sense of the ridiculous which is so Wilson. “Do I mind? No I don’t, it’s my public image which is completely unconnected to me in my opinion. It makes me out to be a prat more than I think I am. I said to one of my friends that the movie is great but Steve plays me as this pretentious prat. To which my friend replied, the first time I met you back in 1980, you were walking around the room quoting Proust to everybody. So fine, I don’t think great literature and great art is pretentious so I do talk about things like that to people. If that makes me a prat so be it.”
What remains the most intriguing aspect of those days for Wilson is the Hacienda. “I’m still quite amazed at what happened on that dancefloor at the Hacienda. Other clubs in Manchester history are vitally important like the Twisted Wheel or the Electric Circus. We’ve always had great clubs but the fact that this marriage of Ibiza, hedonistic behaviour, E taking, working-class kids revelling in what they heard and great gay black house music from Chicago happened in the Hacienda still fascinates to me to this day.”
Yet he’s pleased as punch that the Hacienda has been demolished and replaced by new residential developments. “They’re building flats there now, you know, and I love that because Manchester is forging ahead as a lived-in city. It’s wonderful because it’s continuing what music culture began by regenerating this black, dirty industrial city into a thriving, booming place. We don’t know what will happen or what will change when the city is lived in but it’s really interesting to observe.”
Such abiding civic pride leads to an obvious question about any political ambitions he might harbour. “I was always flattered by John Lydon” he says “because every time we would meet, he would ask me what I was doing. When I’d reply the usual, you know, music and the telly, he’d get hold of me, shove me up against a wall and say you were the one who was supposed to go into politics. I don’t think I would be very good as a politician because I open my mouth too much. I’ve just read a local business paper today where I’m slagging off the city’s chief executive, the emperor of Manchester basically, and I shouldn’t have said those things.”
It would seem that nothing changes. Before politics, though, comes the search for the third great band and, right now, the search for the road to Wigan. Lets hope he gets there.