19 Nov 2019
In conversation with Anthony H. Wilson by Iain Key 
In conversation with Anthony H. Wilson by Iain Key

I think it's safe to say that everyone who ever came into contact with Tony has at least one "Tony Wilson Story".

My Dad and I had season tickets in the South Stand at Old Trafford for many years about 6 rows behind where Tony and Oliver, or other friends would sit. Every game we'd watch the players come out, the toss of the coin, the teams line up for kick-off. Then, normally, within a couple of minutes of the match starting, Tony would arrive causing those on his row to stand, and those around hm to strain to see past if anything of interest was happening.

Whilst making his entrance Tony would apologise, shake hands and wave, occasionally I'd get a nod in my direction.

I think my Dad actually enjoyed having Tony sitting in our block as when he spoke about his religion - Manchester United, he'd always mention the late arrival and wished that "the bugger off Granada" would buy a watch and then with some irony comment "he's always on the TV, never late for that...".

I'd then often then hear other people pick up the thread with the line, "that Tony Wilson...".

Ironically, my first meeting with Tony involved him being late as well. My friend, Ian, and I were doing a project on Factory Records for college in early 1995 and we had invited to interview him. We arrived at the time agreed, were shown into his office and then waiting for 2 hours. He'd been at awards do in London the night before and had been delayed.

As with his late arrivals at Old Trafford though he was apologetic and very personable.

I transcribed the interview we did that day with the idea I could submit it to The Big Issue. I ran it past Tony and he (politely) dismissed it as boring, pedestrian and nothing new, which in fairness it was. It was the same story that anyone who knows the history of the label could relate.

Rather than tell me this over the phone or by letter though I was invited back into the Factory office and Tony explained his feelings and suggested I try again. To assist me he lent me a couple of books, one of interviews with politicians and one with musicians and artists and told me to read them and go back to him on the afternoon of Monday 22nd May.

I remember being nervous when I arrived, I'd been given a second chance and I really didn't want to blow it.

This interview was going to by an attempt to look beyond the caricature and break down some of the perceptions people held, hence the limited questions about Factory or Factory Too (as it was then).

I still vividly remember sitting on the metal staircase just outside the office in Little Peter Street on a warm spring afternoon with a dictaphone between us, being in the company of one of the most charismatic individuals you could ever hope to meet.

I rushed home, on a high to listen to the recording, and was mortified to realise the batteries were dying meaning that we sounded like chipmunks on helium. Not to be put off I soldiered on and transcribed the piece, sending it back to Tony for approval.

It was nearly a month before I heard anything back due to Tony being away. What impressed me was he'd not just read and approved what I'd sent, he'd been through it and made notes and changes "to make sense of his rambling".

So that's my Tony Wilson story, rather than dismiss the first piece of work I'd offered, which would have been the end of it, he gave me feedback, encouragement and and opportunity to produce the best piece of work I could which was printed in the Big Issue in August 1995.

Nearly 25 years later I still feel blessed and proud to have had that opportunity.

- Iain Key, Stretford, November 2019

In conversation with Anthony H. Wilson by Iain Key

With a career in television, journalism and music spanning over 20 years Anthony H. Wilson, Granada stalwart and co-founder of Factory Records, love him or hate him, is one of the most well known faces in the North West.

He's a Manchester United and Eric Cantona fan and probably as close to a professional Mancunian you'll find.

Monday 22nd May, the country is seeing its 2nd glimpse of summer and Manchester is not the dour, gloomy city some would have you believe. Anthony Wilson is in a brilliant mood, despite the team he's supported since a boy failing to hold onto either their League Championship or the F.A. Cup.

How disappointed were you?

I actually wasn't that disappointed the previous weekend because a) I think it's boring if we win everything all the time and b) for me it was important for Eric’s myth. He won the League Championship in 1991 in France, 1992 with those tosspots from Leeds and in '93 and '94 with United. So you see it adds to the myth, the one year he wasn't playing he didn't win the League.

Poetic?

Yes, poetic, I didn't feel too bad but I did perceive they'd win at Wembley. I wasn't depressed by the game, but I was depressed that Paul Ince who is fantastic had a shit game from beginning to end and as far as I'm concerned we didn't actually get beat in either game .

We certainly didn't get beat by West Ham and it wasn't as if we actually got beat by Everton. The result was down to Mr Southall and his do or die heroics, so yeah, I'm a bit pissed off.

So was the season a disaster?

No, having won the League twice, a wonderful achievement, and to have pushed Blackburn so far without deserving to was great. My season was complete when Crystal Palace got relegated.

Why?

Everyone in the country seems to hate United but the level of hate and sheer nastiness from the Crystal Palace supporters was sickening.

As you are such a well-known face in the North West and have such a strong personality, do you think it's fair to say people either love you or hate you?

I think it's something people don't talk about in the media, we're not national celebrities. The easiest way to explain is if you ask people who Mike Neville is, 90% won't have heard of him. Do you know who Mike Neville is?

No.

In one fairly significant area of Great Britain, the North East, he is bigger than the Pope. He's been the local TV presenter for years and years, and he's bigger than the Pope, George Michael and Elvis rolled into one.

That’s what happens with regional TV presenters to a greater or lesser degree. I've been at Granada for 20 years and it’s a strange phenomenon that people are aware of me because of my personality. In 1973 I did a feature for Granada with Emmylou Harris and I asked her to do a song she'd recently recorded by Gram Parsons. Anyway she couldn't but that night at the Manchester Free Trade Hall she said "I'm going to do a song now for a nice young man I met this afternoon called Tony Wilson", almost immediately 2000 people stood up and shouted 'WANKER!'. Par for the course really but I think it ruined her concentration. So yeah, it goes with the territory really.

Have you ever been misunderstood?

Liverpudlians have a problem with me. These people at the end of the M62 think I have a problem with Liverpool, I love Liverpool. To be honest I don't think they've ever forgotten or forgiven me for the Brugge rosette.

What was that?

Liverpool were playing Brugge in the Semi Final of the European Cup, this is years ago, and I was told that under no circumstances was I to mention that night’s game. So I didn't, I just wore this fucking great white Brugge rosette.

Do you ever get worried about over exposure?

No, I do 4, 13-week series a year for Granada and it's up to them when they show them. Do you think I'm on TV too much?

Sometimes.

I don't think I'm on enough. I'm a red light junkie. I work my bollocks off and I think I should be on more often.

With working at Granada and also running Factory Too, do you find it difficult to split your time between the two?

No, I don't really, at Granada I'm a hired hand, a journalist and I work for them. It can be difficult because I do a lot of travelling, but at Factory though I'm only~~ ;!lking head\A and I've got a great team of people working with me.

Do you get a greater satisfaction from one over the other?

No (pause). It's a strange thing but I still see journalism as a craft, like being a plumber or a carpenter. I served my apprenticeship to do this job.

Moving on to Factory and music, in a recent article in VOX you drew parallels between 'No One Here Gets Out Alive' and Deborah Curtis's book about Ian and Joy Division. Do you think there will be a Doors type 'Joy Division revival' ?

I think, yes, to a degree, what is happening in the media - there is a generation that has come of age who understand the importance of and significance of Joy Division. I really thought that Paul (Morley) would write the book. Yes, there will be a degree of a revival.

Do you think it's a good thing that the book has been written?

Oh yes, the more books the merrier, but I think the book is a little short really.

It seems to be more 'pre-fame' than when things were happening.

Well yes, Debbie is telling her story and understandably it’s from that period. When a band, any band, gets going it always happens that the wife is an outsider, a rock ‘n' roll casualty. I was thinking about this the other day, the scene of the band travelling up and down the M1 in a transit, which is something that most Manchester bands go through. The wives or girlfriends do feel shut out because that's a lads thing.

Have you read the book yet?

Bits - from what I have read it's like 'Tony Wilson treated me like shit. I don't intentionally treat anyone like shit but I can imagine what Debbie or anyone would feel. Until you get to playing Wembley Stadium with the baby changing and hospitality suite next door - that's what's going to happen.

Do you ever get pissed off talking about Joy Division?

No, never, not at all. I'm still very surprised that I was fortunate enough to work with Joy Division. It's exactly the same as walking down the corridor at Granada and this guy goes 'Hello Tony', what gets me is do I call him Ken or Bill because you don't expect these mythical creatures, like Ken Barlow, to talk to you. I feel the same way about Joy Division, a bit other-worldly but I feel very strongly that people should know about it, and listen to the wonderful music.

Pete Waterman recently paid tribute to you over the 'In The City' festival, and you are revered by the music press. Are you the most important person in the music industry outside London?

No, people see me for things like Factory; the Hacienda; and 'In The City' but yous ~ the Hacienda is really Rob Gretton, 'In The City' is run by my girlfriend and partner Yvette Livesey, and Factory over the years in general has been run by all the people who are a lot cleverer than me. as with all these things I'm the 'talking head', the middle class wanker who went to Oxbridge and so I end up being the face of all these things and people get confused, they think / I'm the face and therefore I must be the thing itself, which I’m not.

With Factory it was Rob (Gretton) who thought of the idea. I thought we were just going to get our bands signed to other labels. I get the credit for these things which is hard on everybody else. It's all down to my face and lazy journalists.

In conversation with Anthony H. Wilson by Iain Key

You are presently arranging a Computer Festival for 1998 to celebrate the creation of the 1st modern computer being developed in Manchester. Why?

It's absolutely essential. I have friends regularly coming across from America and they get the Wilson tour of Manchester. First I take them to the Hacienda, then at 2 o'clock in the morning they get driven past Foo Foo's to see 500 drunken post-menopausal women falling out of the club which they think is amazing.

The next stop is the Daily Express building and then I take them to this unlit park in the middle of the University, where no-one ever goes, and to this little alley and this little building with a plaque on the wall that says "the world’s 1st computer ran here in 1948"; and then I laughingly point out that Rutherford split the atom 2 doors down.

If this had been anywhere else in the world they'd have built a fucking theme park and have brass bands playing. I'm a Salford lad and I didn't know 'til I was 31 that Manchester won the race ahead of Teddington and Philadelphia.

So I think it's very nice, and important, for the people of Manchester to know that a) our city was the scene for both the 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions and b} for the rest of the world to know. So we should celebrate this.

Do you think Manchester underrates itself?

Yes, it's almost like this wonderful thing of not selling ourselves to anyone because we can't be bothered. It's typically Mancunian just not to tell anyone. In fact United’s success over the years has been so overt with the likes of Edwards, Law, Best, Charlton, Robson and Giggs that when we do get overt everyone gets upset.

Yes, we underrate ourselves, but the opportunity to celebrate the computer is too good to miss.

Is there anything you'd still like to achieve?

Yes, loads (laughs). It seems you have music, TV, computers, so If you really wanted to achieve anything or be involved in anything you can. People find it strange but I feel excited about every record I'm putting out as I did with 'Transmission' or whatever. I've lots of ambitions, loads. One thing is a movie that was being done with 2 very talented Geordies that would have been, and still will be, one of the best British movies ever made. Before I die I want to see it made.

Is there anything you're glad you've never been asked?

Very good question (long pause). Yes, there are probably one or two things in my life that I'm embarrassed about, but I'm not going to tell you.

I think you make mistakes and that's part of the process. One thing I hate being asked is "What would you have on your gravestone?".

What would you have on your gravestone?

"The perfect client" as Ben Kelly, the architect calls me. Generally speaking I'll answer anything - it's my day job. That's probably why people say I'm a bullshitter, this bizarre reputation I have which I find insane, I wish I was.

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Next time Tony Wilson is on your TV, don't switch channels, he may not be the man you think he is.

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IN CONVERSATION WITH ANTHONY H. WILSON

QUESTIONS, INTERVIEW AND TRANSCRIPTION - IAIN KEY

MAY/JUNE NINETEEN NINETY-FIVE

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Transcription and editing from original draft by John Cooper, 2019

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