L-R: PETER SAVILLE, TONY WILSON, ALAN ERASMUS
Anthony H. Wilson
Tony Wilson was a divisive, Jeckyll-and-Hyde sort of character. There were so many different Tony Wilsons: preening, occasionally buffoonish public figure, arch commentator, egomaniacal blowhard, canny marketer of unlikely pop music, tireless booster of Manchester’s fortunes, prophetic club impresario —the list could go on and on. However improbably, each of these personae (some more dominant than others at any one time) strengthened, rather than weakened, him. He was like Antaeus, and Manchester was undoubtedly the place from which he drew his considerable strength.
Did his unerring talent for sniffing out genius make him one by proxy? Hardly. But it certainly wasn’t a skill to be taken lightly. While he was often derided for being a terrible businessman —as if cold, hard profit was the only value worth aspiring to— his goals were more complicated than that.
We prefer our indie heroes to be slightly awkward outsiders —slouched, aloof, and hardly camera-ready. If anything, Wilson was too camera-ready, and it made us wonder about him. His televisual flair —honed by years as a Granada TV presenter— gave him a Teflon-coated, slightly oily aura. It was all a bit too used-car-salesman for some: the toxic pairing of Armani flash with the occasional overreaching reference point —Boethius, praxis, any Latin quote— made Wilson immediately, eye-rollingly suspect. (Paul Morley once described him as “so full of life, and so full of himself.”) Equally suspect, too, was his quick-change double life: television presenter by day and punk iconoclast by night. (Bastion of the square establishment on one side, anarchist intellectual on the other.) As a career strategy it seemed not only audacious but downright impossible —how could anyone possibly play both sides of the fence like that? Even a world-class bullshitter like Anthony H. Wilson?
And yet, he did it, and he thrived on the challenge. He drew fire and admiration in equal measure through the years, but forged his path to spite everyone. He was a catalyst of the first order —someone who challenged people and sparked their best work, often through his own bloody-mindedness and sheer force of will. To paraphrase Factory partner and artistic director Peter Saville, “To make the analogy of the solar system, [Tony was] the bundle of energy that fed the whole thing. Without Tony’s energy, commitment, love and passion, you couldn’t have fuelled it.”
New Order, “Mesh” “Cries & Whispers” [Thanks for the correction, aTom Ten!]