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Obituary: Tony Wilson

Obituary by Jack Foley

TONY Wilson, one of the most influential names in the UK music industry, has died of cancer at the age of 57.

The record label owner, broadcaster and nightclub founder, who was dubbed “Mr Manchester”, was only diagnosed during a routine visit to the doctor last year. He passed away on Friday (August 10, 2007).

Wilson was widely regarded as the man who put Manchester on the map for its music and vibrant nightlife. He founded Factory Records in the late Seventies and was responsible for the success of seminal bands such as Joy Division, New Order and The Happy Mondays.

And he set up The Hacienda nightclub in 1982, which quickly developed a reputation as one of the most famous clubs in the world in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Born in Salford’s Hope Hospital on February 20, 1950, Wilson attended De La Salle Christian Brothers’ school, before reading English at the University of Cambridge in 1968.

He developed a passion for all things entertainment related at an early age and in the 1970s went to work for Granada Television in Manchester, fronting programmes such as So It Goes and World In Action.

However, his biggest passion was for music and he really started to develop a name for himself after founding Factory Records, a label that brought him some of his most notable successes.

Factory, together with The Hacienda, became the heart of the so-called “Madchester” scene and the venue played host to bands such as New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis.

Madonna even played her first UK gig at the Whitworth Street club in February 1983.

The club also became famous for its dance nights, particularly house music, and regularly attracted the cream of the Madchester music scene for nights out.

But it experienced finance problems in the early 1990s and eventually closed in 1997, before being demolished in 2002 to make way for apartments.

However, the legacy of the club remains and a semi-fictional story of the club, the music and Wilson’s own life was made by British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom in 2002 – namely, 24 Hour Party People starring Steve Coogan.

In spite of the demise of The Hacienda, Wilson continued to be at the forefront of the music scene in Manchester and worked tirelessly to promote the city and its bands up until his death.

He set up the annual Manchester music conference, In The City, with long-term partner and former Miss England Yvette Livesey and became a key player in local politics, supporting a campaign for a regional assembly for the North West.

In 2004, he set up an unofficial coalition, called The Necessary Group, and began campaigning for regional devolution and, most recently, presented radio shows Ground Rules and Talk Of The Town on BBC Radio Manchester and Sunday Roast on Xfm’s Manchester station.

He was also the main presenter of the BBC’s Politics Show North West.

The first indication of Wilson’s failing health came in late 2006 and he had to undergo emergency surgery to have a kidney removed in January 2007.

But doctors then diagnosed him with cancer and he started a chemotherapy course at the Christie Hospital in Manchester. Sadly, it failed to beat the disease and he was recommended to take Sutent, a non-NHS funded drug which members of the Happy Mondays and other acts helped to pay for by starting a fund.

Tributes

Tributes have quickly been paid by friends, colleagues and many associated with his work, who pointed out Wilson’s massive contribution to Manchester.

Stephen Morris, from Joy Division and New Order, said he owed him his career and claimed New Order would not have been what they are without his influence.

“He was very passionate about music and he believed the band should have total freedom. He was, I think, the only person in the music industry that didn’t believe in contracts.”

Creation records boss Alan McGee, meanwhile, described him as “a complete inspiration” and said that without his influence there wouldn’t be any indie labels.

He told the NME: “He was one of the great spotters of music talent and it’s a complete shame for him to go so very young.

“Factory Records was the template for every indie label with its 50-50 deals [between artist and label] and I can honestly say without Factory there would have been no Creation.”