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Tony Wilson Profile

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Tony Wilson Profile

Factory Co-Founder, the much missed Tony Wilson

Photo: Jo Hale/Getty Images

Tony Wilson - The Basics:

  • Who: Factory Records founder Anthony Wilson
  • Born: 20th Feb 1950, Lancashire, England
  • Significant Achievements: Founding Factory Records and The Hacienda Nightclub, discovering Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, instrumental in the 'Madchester' scene.
  • Years Active in the industry: 1976 – 2007

Local TV:

Wilson began his career as a news reporter for UK TV news station ITN before returning to his home of Manchester in 1973 to present various cultural TV programs for local TV station Granada TV. In 1976, he began presenting the music show So It Goes, after witnessing The Sex Pistols seminal show at the Manchester Free Trade Hall he was the first to give TV exposure to the UK punk scene. The show was finally cancelled by TV bosses after two seasons after an expletive laden performance by Iggy Pop. Wilson continued to work on TV throughout his career, until his diagnosis with cancer in 2006.

Joy Division:

While at a Battle of the Bands concert Wilson, already well known in the Manchester music scene, was approached, and berated, by a young man for featuring The Buzzcock and The Sex Pistols but not his band on the show. Wilson booked the young man's band, Joy Division, along with The Durutti Column and Cabaret Voltaire to play at his new club night, called Factory, set up with unemployed actor Alan Erasmus.

Factory Records:

The club night soon morphed into a record label, and Factory records was born. One of the seminal British independent labels, Factory early releases were by The Durutti Column, whom Wilson co-managed, and Joy Division. The label went on to release New Order, Happy Mondays and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark and defined the Manchester sound of the late 80's and early 90's.

Mr Manchester:

As well as playing an influential part in the rise of Mancunian bands Wilson was also involved with opening and running the Hacienda nightclub. Hosting DJs such as Mike Pickering and Graeme Park it became an influential part of the burgeoning House music scene. Many of the bands from Manchester fused their rock sound with this new dance music, creating the Madchester scene. Wilson involvement in Factory and the Hacienda, as well as his love of the city, led to him being dubbed "Mr Manchester."

Unique Business Outlook:

Despite huge cultural and critical success, neither The Hacienda nor Factory made Wilson a fortune. Partly due to his unique business deals, none of the bands on Factory signed contracts, plus expensive production costs produced highly memorable artwork but meant releases rarely broken even and the Hacienda's clientèle preferred Ecstasy to booze, enriching the drug dealing bouncers rather than the clubs' owners. Factory survived 14 years until the combination of recording costs for The Happy Mondays and New Order forced it to close. The Hacienda continued for another 5 years before finally losing its license.

In The City:

Despite several attempts to resurrect Factory (the final attempt was F4 Records in 2005) none of the labels ever achieved the success of Factory. In 1992 he set up the hugely successful In The City music festival. Similar to Austin's SxSW festival, ITC is part conference, part trade show and part music festival, with hundreds of signed and unsigned bands playing in venues through out the host city (most often Manchester). He often appeared at music industry conference and events, sharing his unique view of the industry.

Politics and Philosophy:

A life long socialist, despite his love of champagne, designer suits and cocaine, Wilson supported the Labour party and was also a firm believe in the devolution of political power, lobbying for a regional parliament in the Northwest of England. He also was influenced by situationist ideas, which possible influenced several of his business decisions.

FAC501:

Factory Records famously had a delightfully idiosyncratic catalog numbering system, with FAC501 being reserved for Wilson's coffin. In 2006 he was diagnosed with cancer and, despite being a strong advocate of public health provision, was forced to receive private medical treatment to access drugs that he believed would help his condition. Due to the fact he rarely made any money from his business ventures, friends in the industry set up a fund to pay for this medical treatment. In August 2007, Wilson died of a heart attack brought on by his condition.

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