Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, died on Friday 10 August 2007 of a heart attack following a battle with liver cancer. He was 57.
There will be many moments throughout life as an indie kid when you notice the divide between yourself and the rest of humanity. When the them’n’us, against-the-world mentality that made you choose this path in the first place is writ large in neon letters and sound-tracked by a booming bassline.
For me, one of these moments came when discussing my plans for the evening with a colleague. I was going to see the film 24 Hour Party People. When asked what it was about, I described it as, “a biopic of Tony Wilson”. “Tony Wilson?”, my originally Northern colleague asked quizzically. “The news presenter?”
The thought that in the 21st century, or in fact in any decade, Tony Wilson could be described by anyone as “the news presenter” must seem beyond reason to music fans visiting this site. And yet, of course, that’s what he was to the vast majority of people watching regional TV in the north of England during the late ’70s, ’80s and beyond.
And what we might forget, amid platitudes that namecheck Madchester luminaries and the nothern post-punk scene, is that in that analysis of him lies something more, the essence of someone who was always able to remain a man of the people, a devout Mancunian who was never dazzled by the bright lights of London. He constantly harassed Paul Morley about not giving Manchester bands enough coverage in the NME after Morley moved from being the paper’s regional correspondent to a full-time position in their London offices. Wilson was a true indie troubadour, who always remained honest to himself and never, ever sold out to The Man.
His achievements need no introduction to musicOMH readers. We all know how he brought us Joy Division (and announced Ian Curtis’s death live on TV, dressed as a town crier). How he helped nurture their remains into New Order and steered a furrow from there, through Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, to Happy Mondays. Indie? And Dance? There was a time when people would have thought you mad to even suggest they could go together. But Wilson worked, at various times in his career, with talents as diverse as Richard and Judy and Shaun Ryder. Weirder combinations have happened. You just need someone with the vision to see them.
Wilson was the man who booked the Sex Pistols for their first ever TV appearance, on the Granada culture show So It Goes. His television career, maintained even through the height of Factory Records success, kept him in touch with a world outside the music industry, gave him a way of keeping his finger on the pulse. Or perhaps, it just helped to pay the bills, as he never made any money from Factory. That all went on packaging and promoting, or was just frittered away through bad management’, paying to get the music he loved to the people he wanted to hear it.
New Order should have made millions but they have consistently refused to hold it against Wilson that they didn’t as, after all, neither did he. Peter Hook has described his death as like losing his father a second time. “Some people make money”, Wilson once said. “I make history”. On his death, the flag on the Manchester Town Hall flew at half-mast.
Tonight, if you’ve got one, go home and dust off your turntable, find the box where you left your seven inch singles, and play Love Will Tear Us Apart as loud as you can. If you don’t quite remember what seven inch singles were, the CD will do. After all, it was always the music that mattered.