Today in Music: R.I.P. Tony Wilson

Cover artist Peter Saville with Factory founders
Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus

photo by Kevin Cummings, NME 7/25/92

The weekend began with news of the very unfortunate passing of Factory Records founder Tony Wilson. The journalist-turned-music entrepreneur, who signed Joy Division (and later New Order), Happy Mondays, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, A Certain Ratio, and many others, while hosting the burgeoning Manchester scene at his famous club The Hacienda, succumbed at the age of 57 to a heart attack, which was apparently unrelated to his ongoing battle with cancer. Praised by some for his nurturing guidance and criticized by others for his overwhelming arrogance, Tony Wilson provided a model for independent music labels to follow to this day and helped shape the current state of DJ culture. Status was important for Wilson, who stated when Factory records fell into bankruptcy that “You either make money, or you make history.” It was Tony’s vision that brought the “Madchester” scene to international attention, featuring bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, whom he continued to support and even appeared with at this year’s Coachella Festival. Even earlier, Tony’s vision brought the Sex Pistols to the mainstream in 1976, on his Granada TV show So It Goes, not only helping to popularize the punk movement but also inspiring the next generation of post-punks like Morrissey, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, and The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, who were all reportedly in the attending audience. More recently, Wilson channeled his vision through the British music conference In The City, which he started in 1992 with his partner Yvette Livesey and modeled after the long-running but now defunct New York-based New Music Seminar. Over the years, In The City has helped launch and further the careers of Oasis, Radiohead, Suede, Coldplay, Doves, Elbow, Muse, and countless others. Tony Wilson even tried to start his own post-Napster music download service (four years before iTunes) called Music33, which charged users 33 pence per song. As he told the BBC, “At some point in the future, people will get their music digitally, if they want it that way – but they’ll have to pay for it.” Other services soon followed, and while his own service soon collapsed, it was Tony’s vision that guided them. Love him or hate him (and most people did both!), Tony Wilson has indelibly marked the music world and will not be forgotten. Rest in peace, Tony — you have indeed made history.

While the blogosphere is appropriately rife with posts and tributes, you can find more than ample information about Tony Wilson’s life and those paying tribute to him now at NME.

Here’s a great interview from 1984 with Tony Wilson, who is accompanied by Peter Hook of New Order, and who demonstrates the verbal fluidity that he was famous for:

Tony, who introduced Happy Mondays onstage at Coachella this year, speaks in detail to the Swedish host of Grooveradio about his recent projects:

If you’d like to know more about the legendary Hacienda, check out this documentary clip:

And here, in a prescient scene, Steve Coogan, who plays Tony in the fictionalized biopic 24 Hour Party People, learns from God that he’s done alright — and confirms the revelation that many people have that Tony Wilson is God himself:

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 13, 2007 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    As a big New Order/Joy Division fan Tony Wilson passing should be noted by many music fans. Without his vision I don’t think anyone would have ever have heard about dozens of UK bands that have made a huge influence through their records. RIP Mr. Wilson.

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