The thought struck me several times recently rewatching 24 Hour Party People: the problem with the record industry is that it doesn’t have mavericks like Tony Wilson any more. Of course with Wilson, you’d have to also have an expensive …
The thought struck me several times recently rewatching 24 Hour Party People: the problem with the record industry is that it doesn’t have mavericks like Tony Wilson any more. Of course with Wilson, you’d have to also have an expensive boardroom table, iconic posters which turn up too late to be used and acts which he and he alone could appreciate. But you also got magnificent colour, over-the-top conspiracies and plenty of mad times. It was, you’ll probably agree, a good trade-off.
Wilson’s death in August was one of the real low-points of this year. I’d encountered him several times during the late 1990s. He was someone who was both larger than life and, for a Manchester United fan, as cool as fuck.
Michael Winterbottom’s film on how Wilson went from Granada TV presenter to the man behind Factory Records, Joy Division, Happy Mondays and the Hacienda via seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester is one of the finest music films ever. It’s definitely the best to feature copious WB Yeats references. Music is usually badly served by film directors but Winterbottom was a welcome exception. One shudders to think how this story would have turned out in the hands of anyone else.
What’s apparent again and again throughout 24 Hour Party People is Wilson’s self-belief. It came from that Venn diagram where civic pride, mischevious tinkering, timing and a mighty motormouth came together. Wilson was the one who marshalled the troops, took some gigantic chances and found himself in the middle of a cultural revolution.
Yes, it comes down to the acts. Wilson knew this more than most because he spent the last few years of his life trying to find that elusive third great band to go with Joy Division and the Mondays (and it was not going to happen with the Space Monkeys, no matter what Tone thought). It also helped that Manchester was buzzing like no other city in Europe at the time.
But it was also Wilson. There were lots of other head-the-balls in Manchester at the time pushing things forward – Martin Hannett certainly, Rob Gretton for sure – but Wilson was the one who pushed things furthest.
I know it’s probably a little simplistic to argue that what the record industry needs today is another Tony Wilson. But it is always the mad ones, the wild ones, the off-kilter ones who’ve turned this industry on its head. There will always be a need for a middleman to broker the exchange between the artist who creates the music and the audience who consume it. Lets hope the next Tony Wilson will be interested in getting involved in that barter.