(A RE-POST FROM OCTOBER 2009)
For more years than I care to remember, I always said that my ideal night out would be to sit down in a pub alongside Bill Drummond and Tony Wilson and just enjoy the conversation that would inevitably flow. Yes, it was all a pipe dream, and indeed it was something that, if it had been allowed to happen, would in all likelihood have been a bit of a disaster given the psychological make-up of my two heroes. I’m not sure if they would in fact have got on or whether the first barbed comment from one of them would have had the other storm off in a huff (possibly after a punch or two had been thrown).
But I just have a feeling that these two geniuses, who I think were among the most urbane, witty, talented, opinionated and intelligent people on the planet, would have just kept up a non-stop discussion in an entertaining and enlightening way on just about any subject under the sun or moon. And to have been in their collective company would have been a privilege as well as enormous fun.
But of course the premature death of Tony Wilson back in 2007 put paid to that ever happening, but even now, two years on from that very sad day, I’m still fascinated by the life and times of both men. And while Bill can continue to amuse and delight me with books like 17, it’s now down to others to keep Tony’s flame burning brightly.
The latest bit of work to do just that is You’re Entitled To An Opinion, which has been penned by David Nolan, a music journalist whose past works include Confused, a terrifically enlightening and enjoyable bio of Bernard Sumner which revealed in a far from sordid way, lots of things about the singer that helped fans get a better insight on what it was that drove him on. That particular book was an excellent example of a rock biography, clearly written by someone who was an admirer but who wasn’t afraid of offering a critical comment when the music or other aspects of the subject’s life deserved it.
I’m delighted to say that David Nolan has done an equally superb job with his look at Tony Wilson, and You’re Entitled To An Opinion is a tremendous read with all sorts of facts and information that were new to me, particularly the early chapters on his upbringing, and the later chapters that deal with the last few months of Tony’s life as he battled a particularly violent form of cancer.
What we get isn’t just a re-hash of Tony Wilson, the music mogul who arguably did as much as anyone else to raise the profile of Manchester over the last quarter of the 20th Century and help with its regeneration as a modern, vibrant city far removed from the greyness and grime that was the legacy of its industrial past. There’s loads in this book about Anthony Wilson (or sometimes Anthony H Wilson) the journalist/reporter who many of his contemporaries reckon could have been a giant in that field if he hadn’t been so distracted by his love of music and the lifestyle of musicians. There’s also substantial details about his family/private life which prove to essential in helping readers understand some of Tony’s behaviour over the years, and in particular his ‘devil may care’ approach to business.
But of course the centrepiece of the book is The Factory Years, from the founding of a club, to the forming of a label, to the forming of THE club, to it all crashing down around their ears and the subsequent small re-launches in the 21st century.
The author has spoken to dozens of people who knew or worked with Tony Wilson, and not all them are always complimentary. But this doesn’t mean David Nolan has given us a book with all sorts of spite directed at the man who himself accepted most seemed to know him as ‘Wanker Wilson’. I lost count of the times where a narrative would end with something along the lines of ‘But that was just typical of Tony’ which should give you all an idea that this was a man it was near impossible to hate. But there are one or two life-long enemies out there who do get their say….as with all good bios, the reader is then free to make up their own mind.
Some of the anecdotes are less than serious – such as the time Tony was dispatched to Liverpool to cover a story and how his worst fears of his car getting stolen were eventually realised in a way that was both funny and imaginative on the part of the thieves. Others are moving, including Tony’s battle for the right sort of medical treatment for his illness. Others debunk some of the myths and/or legends that have grown up around Tony Wilson, without belittling his many achievements for instance – the facts surrounding the Sir Keith Joseph/Mad Monk interview are laid out and while not as outrageous as the scenario painted in the film/book 24 Hour Party People, it still shows Tony at his mischievous but self-destructing best.
You’re Entitled To An Opinion is a book that will be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone who has ever had any interest in any facet of Factory Records, Granada TV or indeed the city of Manchester itself.
And here’s the last song ever played at the Hacienda (not that anyone knew it at the time):-
mp3 : Sneaker Pimps – Post Modern Sleaze
And this post wouldn’t be complete without these bands….
mp3 : Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Pennine Version)
mp3 : New Order – Confusion (Rough Mix)
Both taken from 12″ singles that have followed me wherever I’ve lived over the past near 30 years…..