Saturday, August 11, 2007

Impressobit: Tony Wilson

There will be, of course, much written about Tony Wilson elsewhere today, focusing - we guess - heavily on Factory, New Order and Joy Division, Granada Reports; perhaps In The City.

Here's some of them:
BBC News Online
Manchester Evening News
Associated Press
Click for larger imageThis Is Cheshire manages to get his name wrong. Three times. But they were working at 1.11am
The Independent

Paul Morley writes in The Guardian:

We used to make fun of Wilson and the mantle of grandeur he often assumed, but we knew that in his idiosyncratic and subversive way he was a great and important figure. Good things happened because he was around. This flamboyant, infuriating, pushy hybrid of light entertainer and anarchic Situationist was so in love with life, with music, with ideas, that he infected you with his passion.

It's not often when we're writing one of these where we have much in the way of a personal angle to add, but we did - just the once - break bread with Tony Wilson. He sat himself down at a table where a few of us were fortifying ourselves before a day talking about the digital future of music, and it was immediately apparent how he was able to carry so many people with him on the most hare-brained of schemes. He didn't just sit down, he held court, making a (seemingly) convincing case that to stay in business, record companies would need to embrace the obsessive fan - he used an example of somebody who wanted to be sure the resins used on reproduction covers were the same as the ones used on the original. And then he was off again. Working the room. Running the show.

In a way, he was the Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the music industry, in that his spectacular victories were made possible by the same sense of experimentation that created terrible failures. And like Brunel, it was those flops which meant that he never got to enjoy the fruits of his successes.

So while the American press raises its toast to "the man they based 24 Hour Party People on", let's remember some of Wilson's other work:

Factory Too: 1994's attempt to revive Factory, using money from London Records. Curiously, it was London who almost saved Factory when it had gone into receivership with debts of two and a half million. That deal had foundered at the last minute when it discovered buying the label didn't bring rights to the New Order catalogue with it - although they would have got a lovely table.

Factory Once: The third coming of Factory, in a form dedicated to releasing material from the original Factory records.

F4: Never being afraid to tread over old ground, Wilson revived Factory again in 2005 - the main fruits of this short-lived effort being a Durutti Column album and some compliment slips.

Remote Control: Channel 4's reworking of MTV's game show. It does make you wonder what Wilson could have done with a more mainstream game show - it's surely not inconceivable the man who happily voicedover The Richard Hillman Story could have found a niche as a twenty-first century Countdown helmsman.

What Now?: We're not entirely sure this was called What Now, but it probably was. Back in the 1980s, when exam results were generally a private affair and not merely an excuse for the Telegraph to print pictures of blonde teenagers jumping in the air alongside thinkpieces decrying the slump in standards, Granada would contribute a daytime phone-in to the ITV network. The idea would be young people who had suddenly discovered their lives had collapsed could call-in, Swap Shop style, and discover there was still a chance they could go to Loughborough University or get a career in the twine-manufacturing industry. We imagine that Wilson's contract with Granada and his role presenting pop programmes put him in the frame for talking to Britain's youth, rather than an executive enjoying the irony of Tony giving careers advice.

Northside: But at least he stood by them.