Tony Wilson > Q Magazine February 1992: Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is?

Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is?
Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is? [photo credit: Hugo Dixon]
Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is?
Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is? [photo credit: Hugo Dixon]
Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is?
Who The Hell Does Anthony H Wilson Think He Is? [photo credit: Hugo Dixon]

He is a man of many parts, none of them private: self-regarding television presenter, pretentious record company executive, so-called Mayor Of Madchester, espouser of glibly outrageous statements. But today his hectic media networking has been interrupted by Tom Hibbert who has just one quick question...


IN THE headquarters of Factory Records, Manchester, I found myself privy to a sight and sound seldom witnessed, I dare say, by any human being or living thing. It was the sight and sound of Anthony H. Wilson - Tony Wilson as was until he underwent the mysterious name change that transformed him from rock bloke, celeb and entrepreneur of the Mane streets into something quite else in a suit - being actually terribly, terribly polite in conversation.

Tony/Anthony is best known for his public statements on behalf of his Factory enterprise, for sneering at teenagers on Channel 4's rather awful quiz show Remote Control, for being aloof and acerbic in various presenting roles on Granada television, was talking into a telephone and minding his manners, actually calling somebody "sir". Whatever next? "Yes, sir" and "Indeed, sir" he was saying - but this was not quite as staggeringly surprising as one might suppose when one considers that the "sir" at the other end of the telephone was, in fact, a top police person from the CID.

Tony/H was sprawled out on the monstrously stylish black leather sofa in the Factory conference room - a room the size of a basketball court, floorboards polished to a bowling alley sheen, table of stupid curvy shape at centre suspended from the ceiling, showroom dummies intruding into corners and a huge telly that can only pick up satellite. All very post-modern (whatever that is), all very Situationist (whatever that is). All very expensive and knowing. All very crap.

He was fondling a book by Umberto Eco, discussing the recession ("Lousy. One of the worst times of my, life") and drugs and violence at Manchester's Factory-owned Hacienda club - "The violence, that's all gone" when the police call came and the voice at the other end told him that a man, one Dave Rowbotham, original member of the Durutti Column, the group that got Wilson involved with music management in the first place and led to the formation of Factory Records back in 1978, had just been beaten to death with a lathe hammer.

The polite and sombre conversation at an end, Wilson held a hand to his brow and whispered, in dramatic fashion, "Another one. Another one. Jesus... I get used to death..."

Ian Curtis, lead singer of Factory Records' Joy Division, Martin Hannett, Factory producer, Dave Rowbotham. Wilson gets used to death. I feared that to continue a Q interview at this point might be an "intrusion on private grief or something and so suggested that I might return at a nicer and more convenient season but Tony/H was having none of it. "Sorry about that," he said, springing back into garrulous mode. Tony/H is a pro and the beat goes on...

HE HAD been in bedazzling socks and decidedly feisty frame, looking forward with relish and energy to a skirmish with the "pop press" that he perceives as some kind of enemy ("The British pop press spend half their time up their own arses and being a dick like I am, I sometimes believe them," he says) when first he greeted me. He snatched the recent issue of Q from the inelegant coffee

(Above) Anthony 'W' Burgess studying at the feet of the wise old chat show master in '89. (Left) Wilson at the height of punk as the finger-on-thepulse presenter of Granada's So It Goes: "And every group I put on was table in the Factory conference room, flicked the pages with a perceptible sneer, and said, You are Q magazine, are you? 0h, dear Fucking God. Q is not one of our favourite magazines. Because you want to interview me, does this mean that we are tims middle-aged and middle-class?"

Anthony H. Wilson is 41 and talks with a certain refinement. though he is able to slip into the tones of real Manchester (as seen on Coronation Street) at will. So which part of the magazine is this going in?" I cannot tell a lie, father. so I replied. "Where do you think?" And he said, "Well, if it's going where I think it is, I'm very flattered by, that. But it's really a question of Who the hell do other people think I am? That's what it's about, isn't it? I mean, who the hell do I think I am? I think I'm my mother's son, really. I think I'm a schoolboy. My vision of myself, my self-image, is based on what I was when I was about 17 or 18. I'm just a Catholic grammar school boy."

Just a kid. And there we were, fools that we are, imagining him to be a wily, grown-up thing, some frightful hybrid: Sir Robin Day crossed with Malcolm McLaren.

HE WAS born in Salford and took LSD (and studied English and edited the student paper Varsity) at Jesus College, Cambridge. His only ambition was to be a nuclear physicist he says, but he knew he couldn't achieve that, so at university, I lay on my bed for two days and thought, What job can I do? I thought about being a newspaper journalist, but I'm too much of a wimp to ask difficult questions. I'm not a hard-nosed bastard So I thought I'd be a TV journalist.

He trained at ITN and then joined Granada, where he became an onscreen reporter and a minor celebrity of the Northwest as a regional news presenter with more hair than most on Granada Reports. The nation-at-large first caught sight of the televised features of Tony Wilson when his Granada music show So It Goes was networked in '76. The Sex Pistols were on So It Goes and so were The Clash and so were the Buzzeocks and so was Iggy Pop ("They told me, If we see one more guy with a horse's tail coming out of his arse on this station, you're fired!") and so were a lot of completely useless groups like Ed Banger And The Nosebleeds that everyone has long since forgotten aft about. Tony brought punk rock to the TV masses and he remains fiercely proud of the achievement.

It sounds arrogant and it sounds terrible and it sounds smug. but to me So It Goes was like being the A&R man for the biggest record company, in the world. I was the A&R man for God's record company. And every group I put on was the right decision. It made me think to myself, I am clever, I am clever.

(At this point, I suggest that there was nothing particularly clever about putting Ed Banger And The Nosebleeds on the telly because they were so dreadful and, after an attempt to defend this historic scheduling decision in terms of "providing a service to the Northwest", he concedes. "Good point, good point, but, in my humble opinion, I was right about everyone else I put on.")

And when the nation-at-large first caught sight of the televised features of Tony Wilson it went, with one exasperated breath, Ugh! Who is that smug, selfsatisfied creep? Boo! Reviews for So It Goes, or more particularly for the presenter, were less than generous. "Boring, cryptic, irritating and the worst coillp television'.

"If I could get £50,000 for every time someone said I was smug, like Ken Barlow did, I'd be very rich indeed. I'd hate to think I was smug, but that's what everybody thought - and they still do. With So It Goes, I got a bad review in every single publication in Britain, probably, including the British Libraries Monthly. and I have never been so hurt in my life. I just went into my shell for three months. I felt really dreadful because everybody in the world hated me. Everybody despised big head fucking Wilson."

And he is not an object of universal love even today. In '78, the reviled TV presenter founded the independent Factory Records, a label that would come to base its corporate "style" (though not the music, which has been everything from the quite ghastly Distractions to the quite good New Order up to the alright-if -you-like-that-sort-of-thing Happy Mondays) on a certain joyous snootiness (as exemplified by the conference room wherein we sit and the "tasteful" packaging of sleeves which rarely informed the buyer what the bloody record was supposed to be). As the spokesperson for the corporation, Wilson, who counts Malcolm McLaren amongst his heroes (along with Pol Pot and Colonel Gadaffi and a lot of posh writers that are no good), seemed to take much delight in giving forth of frontationaV statements.

Like: I Am A Megalomaniac.

---0h. that's Ot a way of avoiding other people describing me as a megalomaniac. The thing is, it would appear that I have a kind of vertigo. It's that sensation that whenever I'm suddenly on top of a tall building and on the edge of making a flippant remark that might upset people. I go over the edge. I just can't resist winding people up. It gives me great pleasure and it always has. It's strange because I like getting that rise out of people. People are always going, Fuck off, Tone, but I think I'm actually quite a nice pe~rson. I used to campaign for prohibition in the school debating society, saying, Alcohol's disgraceful and we should all start drinking Coca Cola. I was just trying to annoy people."

Like: Ian Curtis's Death Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me. (Because when Joy Division's singer topped himself, the group became - hey presto! - famous and a viable commercial proposition.) "But I never said that except, possibly, in irony. Ian Curtis's death is the best thing that ever happened to me? Ian Curtis's death is the worst thing that ever happened to any of us. We would have all been millionaires if Ian had lived because Joy Division would have been monstrous. If I was really this Svengali-type person that everybody thinks, oh a great creative person, then I would be able to say something like Ian Curtis's death is the best thing that ever happened to me but I am not. I'm a journalist. I am not Prince llanilet nor was ever meant to me. I'm not first-division creative because I know what I'm doing. Real creative people don't know what they're doing. fan was a real creative person and maybe it was his destiny - who knows? who knows? - but I just always feel pissed off that he left. I'll always feel a little bit annoyed with him."'

Like: Well, for various reasons - possible linkage 'twixt names Joy Division and New Order with "philosophical" packages of the Third Reich, showings on loopy scratch videos at the Hacienda of Holocaust footage - Factory, in the early '80s, were suspected by some to be revelling in some kind of Nazi "chic". Wilson's riposte to this charge appeared to be an aloof and groovy silence. No comment?

"Well, none of that controversy would have existed but for choosing the name New Order after Ian's death and it was Rob (Gretton, New Order manager) who chose the name, he says, after seeing a thing on the News At Ten where the Khmer Rouge had renamed themselves the New Order Of Kampuchean Liberation. It gave Gretton such pleasure to see the rock press chasing their own tails with this fascism story year in and year out that I just couldn't bring myself to interfere. It didn't bother me. Never worried me. But I'm the spokesman for Factory; my partners never talk to anybody, so in the end it was I who was the one who had to face up to it and get the stick. In particular, there was this Channel 4 programme called Loose Talk and it was very boring and I was falling asleep when I vaguely heard this drunken women ranting away and saying, Lampshades, Babies. She was accusing me of making lampshades out of babies. And, apparently, I just turned to her and put my hand on her knee and said, Listen, love - which was the worst thing I could have done because it just set her off a bit more - but the proof of the pudding is in the eating: no NF member ever turned up to a gig."

Like: This Is The Soft Drink, Soft Drug Generation. Wilson, as the socalled "Mayor Of Madchester". has been accused of positively encouraging young persons of the Hacienda generation to get illicitly sozzled.

"That's not true at all," he says. "I think drugs are terrible." (Does one believe him? After the interview was over, Anthony H. Wilson offered, for no apparent reason, an amusing anecdote about a friend of his who went to a northern rave-type club the other day and was approached by a very young person who enquired, Have you got any drugs? No! snapped Wilson's friend. Upon which the youngster popped something exotic into the friend's open mouth. This Yarn tickles the Anthony H. funny bone greatly.)

"I think drugs are terrible. He goes on. "I'm not the leader of all these young people. I'm the follower. I'm not a great creative manipulator. I never told the Happy Mondays to go to Ibiza on holiday and bring back this strange American leisure drug and Swiss therapy drug and start selling it. It all just happens. And I watch it and find it all fabulously exciting. I never claim to have invented anything. I just watch these music scenes happening with a growing sense of wonderment every time and I'm amazed and because I've got a fucking Oxbridge degree (2.2, readers, could do better!) I'm able to explain it to all you dickhead journalists."

Charming. The gauntlet has been cast down. Look mate, I weedily pipe, this is all very well but wouldn't you agree that the behaviour of your Factory Records' top pop attraction, ie the Happy Mondays featuring Shaun Ryder, is, ultimately, frightfully old hat?

I forgive anything of somebody who writes wonderful lyrics like that," says Tony/Anthony Ll., before launching into an off-the-cuff rendition of some of Ryder's lyrics that don't strike me as being particularly wonderful at all ("I should have told you that the things that you love start to own you," intones Tone, before continuing.) I don't think Shaun is old hat. Which piece of Shaun's behaviour are you referring to?"

As Tony well knows, I am referring to Shaun's boring drug and big-chested girl predilections.

"Oh," he says, "drugs and sex. Well, what else is there? Oh, no, hang on, it would be really unfair of you not to go Sex And Drugs What The Fuck Else Is There? Says Wilson. Don't do that." (He's already been caught out ill this kind of situation, The News Of The World ston headlined something like Top Pop Group Just Drug Dealers referring to the Mondays and Wilson caused Anthony's father much distress until Anthony assured. Dad, I get a kind of ironic applause for these things that appear," after which everything was all right again.)

"I have no problems with Shaun's behaviour. He doesn't like cocaine and cocaine is the drug that I abhor and fear the most because it is the ultimate destroyer of talent. People always say, The Mondays, ah, the drugs, it's disgusting, and my answer is, Do you think they are taking more or less drugs than The Rolling Stones or The Beatles were taking at the height of their creativity? That shuts people up."

IT'S PECULIAR being Tony/Anthony H. Wilson. On the one hand you are a bloke on the telly doing Kilroy-styled debates and business shows in the Northwest regions and useless quiz shows on Channel 4, on the other you are a would-be "iconoclastic" purveyor of rockular music and popular culture. Doesn't he ever feel something of a - as King Crimson so horribly put it - 20th Century Schizoid Man?

"No. It's the complete opposite. It's a great irony, a great paradox being who I am. The two parts of my life are so contradictory. I love that. I remember one night I presented Granada Reports dead straight, did a big political interview with a cabinet minister, off air at 6.30, Manchester airport by quarter past seven, plane to Italy. got to the gig at 11 and at midnight I'm doing the onstage mix for the Stockholm Monsters in a small cinema somewhere in Tuscany. That was a wonderful night. It's an interesting life. The best interview I ever did was 27 seconds with Demis Roussos but I want to be Robin Day in my fifties. That's my ambition."

And he's not that far off his fifties. It must be the music that keeps him looking quite young. That or the socks.

"Yes, they're nice socks, aren't they?" He sprawls out on the sofa and goes, "But look. what's this interview about anyway?" It is about you. Tone. It is about you... Yes, but aren't you going to give a plug for Palatine?

Palatine? What the four CD/LP Factory back catalogue retrospective thing that's just been released? No, I'm bloody well not. But your socks do look quite expensive socks, if you'll pardon me saying so.

"Well, yes. And everybody thinks. Oh, you're that tucking smug bastard Tony fucking Wilson, you must be rich. Bollocks! Would it were the case! The other week Shaun Ryder rang up and was moaning about money and I said, Shaun, these are difficult times; I'm living in a rented cottage and I haven't even got a kettle! And he was screaming, I'll buy you a fucking kettle, and I was saying, Shaun, I don't it want you to buy me a kettle, I'm just explaining about the times and the recession.

But fortunately, being a lower-middle-class, upper-working-class boy made good, I do have a nice car. I do have my wonderful cocaine dealer's Jaguar, which is a thing of beauty. And because Granada give me an on-screen clothing allowance of about two grand a year, I spend it very carefully and I wear, by and large, Comme Des Garcons clothes. I love Comme Des Garcons. I love the fact that I am wearing Comme Des Garcons socks. They're delightful."

So exquisite were the socks that I quite forgot to ask the all-important question: why did you change your name from Tony to Anthony H.? And by the time I had remembered, the "Mayor Of Madchester" was on the telephone again, being terribly polite.