History > Leader of the F.A.C. interview with Tony Wilson, NME 31 May 1986 < So It Goes < Television

Tony Wilson; NME 31 May 1986; [photo credit: A.J. Barratt]
Tony Wilson; NME 31 May 1986 [photo credit: A.J. Barratt]

TV personality and punk entrepeneur TONY WILSON has built Factory Records - through Joy Division and New Order - from nowt to summit. "I met him at the candy store", reports DESSA FOX. "You get the picture" from A.J. BARRATT.

TONY WILSON is the kind of person who believes that he glass is always half full. For him, life's slippery cup is an optimistic sort of proposition - it never arrives stained, cracked, or pissed in; furthermore, anyone trying to knock it from his hands finds the Catholic Salford lad clinging to the bitter end, till they prise his stubborn, exhausted Proust anthologies from the table.

Tony Wilson is head of Factory Records, and a television star in the north of England.

Wilson got into television long before Factory began in 1978, and still considers himself primarily a news journalist ("The beauty of it is, you can do both things badly").

Factory Records were born the day Wilson's accountant pointed out that Granada Television would never make his client rich, so why not get into the music business? Wilson, freshly ravaged from producing the magnificent but shortlived TV punkfest 'So It Goes', subsequently jumped in his car, drove to a friend's place, and discovered one Vinni Reilly lying on the bed mumbling. Reilly needed a place to play. Wilson found one, and cast around for some locals to complete the bill. FAC 1 was four consecutive Friday nights of music in a black club in Hulme: the event featured Jilted John, Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, Big In Japan, and the then Wilson-managed Durutti Column, together with a poster by Peter Saville.

In 1978 came the FAC that walks by itself, Joy Division's' Ideal For Living' EP. What followed was all things that music engendered, endured, and enshrined. The rest is, as they say, 'part of the continuous dialectic' (Wilson went to Cambridge). To date there are factory ventures in real estate (Manchester's Hacienda Club, plus plans for loft co-ops); fine arts (Wilson sponsors a painter, and wants to get into publishing); Factory Benelux in Belgium; Factory New York; the Wilson adventures in film and video ("I'm on the phone going, 'You want how many more pounds?"); and several bands who never made musical history but wore graphic distinction on their sleeves. The last bit of Continuous Dialectic I bought was ACR's 'Wild Party', a good record.

The real-life Tony Wilson smiles an admiral's smile, smacks his forehead, bumper-cars his way through selected topics in space and ime, offers me some of his sirloin tip and dwells alertly in a universe that is shaped like a doughnut (Cambridge lore again). Tony Wilson let me chew his fat, but I wouldn't want him as a landlord.

Does catholic guilt create good pop stars?

I think that Catholic guilt is a lot of bullshit. Anthony Burgess had the right idea; the only people who can effectively be Catholic are the Italians. They invented it, they excel at it, and they don't have any guilt. Catholic guilt is actually Protestant guilt. Look at guys like St. Paul - they used to stone people, and then went home and felt guilty. Also the Jewish religion contains a lot of guilt. But I would say that a Catholic education in Britain has been responsible for a lot of interesting people and ideas, On the other hand they say that about art schools, and I hate art schools.

What was the best thing about So It Goes?

It was all wild. There were only two series; one in the summer of '76 and another in the autumn of '77. The Pistols night was a standout, and the night we filmed at the Electric Circus, with Buzzcocks and Penetration. Basically, I got into it because all the way through the summer of '77 I would wake up in a sweat, thinking: someone else is going to realise this is great stuff. I can't believe it's so wonderful, it's gotta be on television. I remember going to see the producer Mike Appleton, an absolutely sweet guy, God bless him, and I asked, 'Why can't we have more punk bands?'. He said, 'Because music is about technical excellence, and if they're technically proficient I'll put them on'. To this I replied, 'Mr Appleton, you are completely and utterly wrong'. But that's what it was like then.

Why was the third series cancelled?

They'd had enough of me, and I can't blame them. My boss said, 'I don't need any more guys with horse's tails sticking out of their asses'. The musician he was referring to was of course Mr Osterberg. When we filmed him - and a wonderful show it was too - Jimmy had this horse's tail sticking out of his ass. Plus, in the middle of 'The Passenger' he yells out 'fucking', as in 'fucking cars'. So there's a week's debate over this one word, right? And I'm screaming ART ART this is fucking ART. After this I wanted to film the Pistols' Anarchy Tour, but someone got cold feet. A memo arrived in the office saying, 'there will be no mention of the Sex Pistols on this programme for the next month'. Of course I started waving my arms a lot and said I'm leaving, how dare you, etcetera etcetera, and I find myself hauled up to the big boss, where we came to a stalemate. By the way, the Iggy show was eventually aired, but we had to dub some loud clapping over the 'fucking' bit. So we did this, but then somehow we finished ten seconds too early. Everyone's clapping, the tape rolls on, and over the credits you can hear Jimmy shouting, 'Clap your fucking hands'.

Does too much TV make you stupid? As stupid as say, the Americans, who elect their Presidents because they're good entertainers...

I think that's a great idea. Reagan is a great entertainer.

Yes, but while he's being entertaining, the Contras are getting their guns.

Okay, imagine you chose an intelligent President Of the United States. An intelligent President would realise that resisting communism is all very well in America, where you have a highly developed industrial society, but resisting communism in the poverty-stricken third world is a different proposition altogether. You can't do it - as we've now found out - by bolstering dictatorships. For the intelligent President the solution is to institutionalise liberalism. To put reasonable liberals in power everywhere, stop these nations from going communist for another 30 years, and maintain the power base. But that would be terrible, calamitous - it would put back world revolution by another hundred years. As it is, the much better way is to be a complete moron, turn your citizens into a lot of morons, and then try to screw other countries; in the end these other countries will turn around and screw the Americans, just like Vietnam.

Tom Wolfe used to say: why does America bother fighting at all? Why not just airlift in jeans and radios? The consumer revolution is quicker and easier. Look at Puerto Rico, and they weren't even at war. Or Canada.

Canada is a small town.

Full of New Order fans.

Small countries are, you know, they always are. New Order have four gold albums, right. Three of them are from New Zealand, and the other one is from Ireland. You mustn't print that- no, print that, it deserves to be said.

THE POSITIVE thing about New Order is that they throw upon airplanes. Journalists would be expecting something pale and morbid, but they got the old technicolour yawn...

Yeah-yeah-yeah. Wild. There's been a lot of myths about us, which is nice inadvertantly created myths. Joy Division - New Order are our biggest band, right? And for the first two years they didn't want to do interviews, because everyone kept asking about lan. What happened to Ian? It's a wonderful question, the only question, but they didn't want to answer it.

Thinking of Ian Curtis right now, what memory comes to mind?

I won't answer that question. I do have a particular image in mind, but I wouldn't like to say what it is. It's rather too sad.

What was his laugh like?

It was always really loud and noisy. Actually I do have an image of him - it was around the time of 'Closer', when the band were in London. We met up and went to their flat, which was off the Marylebone Road. Now, it's always been a tradition with New Order-Joy Division that when you got home you'd immediately rush around to check the practical jokes - who's put cornflakes in your bed or sawn up your favourite chair. Anyway, a few japes were played that night and when I said goodbye, Barney and Ian were looking really strange, sort of' See you, uh...' So I go out to the van, open the door, and the handles are covered with strawberry jam. Which is a fucking drag in the darkness, right, trying to deal with jam all over the hands. And then eggs started flying out the windows, flour, everything. And Ian is hanging out the window, grinning.

Out of the whole Factory organisation in '78 - '79, who got the most girls?

Oh, my partner Erasmus. Definitely. He always did the best.

Which girl got the most boys?

There's a perfect answer to that one, one close to my heart, but you can't print it. I dunno... I remember Japanese girls with cameras wandering around looking blank. Overall, I can remember behaving really badly to some women... Waitress, another fork please.

Will you tell me about the famous Private Eye allegations instead?

Oh, God. What it amounted to was a journalist turning in a quick 50 bucks. The Private Eye article was basically a rehash of the whole 1979 thing, which happened when the NME went at us for being Nazis. Some complete moron reviewed an ACR single, and wrote that the band's name refers to proportions of non-semitic blood, blah, blah, when everyone knows that A Certain Ratio comes from the Eno song. John Peel went on the radio and said,'I just read in the NME that Factory are fascists, and I'm not playing any more ACR records'.

In Manchester it was even worse. There had been a video shown at the Hacienda which included some shots of Nuremburg it was a film on the history of Western Civilisation. Somehow the Jewish Chronicle picked up on it and plastered headlines all over the city: GRANADA MAN OWNS NAZI NIGHTCLUB. God! God! Actually Private Eye was nothing compared to the Jewish Chronicle. It was incredibly upsetting: I mean, most people say their best friends are Jewish, but mine really are.

But we don't complain. We don't explain, either. The only criticism that I actually considered was Julie Burchill's, who said that the quiet from Factory was a 'dangerous silence'. I did think about this, for about 20 minutes. I think it would have been dangerous had there been National Front incidents at any of the gigs, but there wasn't.

There's a quote about being misconstrued: 'Irony is lost on pinheads'. I think Elvis Costello said it about The Clash, when all those, um, anti-violence songs caused the audiences to start slugging each other.

The only way we can have peace in the world is by having lots more riots. There will be riots down the line before we get peace. A good old fashioned rock and roll riot is a movement towards truth; it's the forward motion of history.

Even if the rioters aren't freedom fighters, but simply a bunch of assholes?

Oh certainly. The urge to destroy is a creative urge. It's never static. You only get old when you decree 'all revolutions are over', when you say the dialectic is finished. That's why Russia is an old nation, because it has called a halt to change.

What happens to pop when the rioting stops?

I saw Malcolm Mclaren last week in Los Angeles, and his theory at the moment is that it will never happen again. He's saying that there are now so many avenues open to music that there's just no chance. I said to him,'Just like fucking Lenin, right? There's a continuous dialectic going on until you've had your bit. As soon as you're in charge, that's the end; no more world revolutions'. Speaking of Malcolm, I'll have to tell you my How Malcolm McLaren Fucked Himself In The Ass Theory.

I don't have to look at a picture of this, do I?

No, no, it's about the Pistols. Malcolm wanted to have the Bay City Rollers of outrage, basically. He wanted a worthless group to be completely and utterly pointless. They had to be number one, and very rich, purely because they were disgusting, and for no other reason. They were planned to have absolutely no value. But as we all know they were tremendously valuable - culture was just never the same again. Because it was valid, Malcolm didn't get his way.

But we were talking about revolution. In my opinion the next one will start with a tune. It will begin in the avant-garde.

But right now the avant-garde have only about ten minutes before the television crews arrive.

I'm an optimist: I don't believe we've reached the end of the avant-garde. I wish I had my Proust with me here. There's a quote I wrote on the last page from Rimbaud or Rilke or one of those assholes. It says that man's essential stupidity is to cling to the past. We drain dry the old pleasures and then never think new ones are going to happen again. Rationally, we know that wonderful things are around the corner, and yet we don't believe it.

What's the best record Factory has ever made?

'Atmosphere'. I can still remember the first time I heard it - a spectacular experience.

And the worst?

They've all had their fascinations. I always used to say that I was never terribly fond of Crispy Ambulance, but then Pat Nevin said he liked them, which gives me a whole new insight into Chelsea Football Club.