St Anthony. An Ode to Anthony H. Wilson.
On Friday 14th August 2015 Skinny Dog Records released a quite stunning single in tribute to Mr. Manchester, one Anthony H. Wilson.
The song works on two levels; it is both a history of the city of Manchester (good and bad) and of Wilson’s place in it, always at its beating heart.Tony’s influence on the city cannot be overestimated. From his pioneering work in exposing the youth of Britain to punk rock, to his sometimes serious/sometimes hysterical appearances on Granada television, Wilson was always there as I grew up and he led me and thousands of others on a variety of musical journeys; some fantastic, some downright weird, and some that I just didn’t get; but each voyage was always rewarding in some strange way.
As a young boy during those heady punky days, I found it somewhat incongruous that this plummy voiced television presenter was exposing my ears and eyes to the thrilling working class rush of punk. What could he possibly be getting out of this music that spoke to me about my life, sat there in his flash suits and with a permanently arched brow? The answer is an immeasurable amount. The man was passionate about both his city (a slight misnomer given he was born in Salford but we’ll let it pass) and his music. Like all great teachers it was his sheer enthusiasm that pulled me and my fellow travellers along.
Post punk was all about Joy Division, but following the darkness surrounding Ian Curtis’s suicide it seemed like the burgeoning dream of Manchester as a musical city was going to disappear into the ether. However, the remaining members of the band soldiered on and from the “What the fuck do we do now?” of early New Order, they emerged into something very special indeed. They moved away from the introspective self analysis of Joy Division and started injecting light into the city with some uplifting and shimmering party sounds. In doing so they brought joy to the city and paved the way for the Happy Mondays, who brought the Ecstasy. Their successes bankrolled (and lost shit loads as a result) The Hacienda, the epicentre of Madchester, well…until it all went tits up.
Wilson supervised and assisted New Order all the way(even in the ‘losing shitloads in the process’)before foisting the Happy Mondays upon an aghast and confused London media and then positively reveling in the controversy that the Mondays began to generate. I can hear him cackling as I write this. The success of New Order and the Mondays enabled Wilson to indulge in some of his more idiosyncratic tastes in artists like Vini Reilly ,who were allowed to plough their own musical furrows alongside the massiveness of his more famous charges.
Of course it was never going to end happily. The demise of Factory Records, the Hacienda’s well documented gang issues, and New Order’s understandable decision to switch labels were all greeted by Anthony H. Wilson as if it were part of his over-riding master-plan.
Following the bombing of Manchester by the IRA in 1996, he was one of the driving forces who saw the shiny possibilities that could emerge from a shocking act of violence, possibilities that have been realised in making Manchester what it is today. He loved the city. It was all he talked about. In every show he presented, be it music or politics, Manchester was never far from his mind. He was a product of the city, but by the end of his life, the city was a product of him.
Wilson’s demise was sad to witness because the filthy cancer that ravaged him was visible to all due to his continued media presence. His refusal to seek private health care was typical of the man, his morals and his ethics. Wilson made mistakes (which he always passed off with a cheeky smile, whilst readily acknowledging them) but again, he always somehow seemed chaotically in charge.
Now, whenever I pass by Palatine Road; cruise down Charles Street, sidle past Southern Cemetery, Tony Wilson is in my mind. He still stalks the city, you can hear his voice seeping out of the walls and see him in the towering majesty of Manchester’s regeneration. It is fitting that the culturally vivid HOME should have its address as Tony Wilson Place, but somehow you feel that more should be done to remember the man who helped moved Manchester from a dour industrial city to the vibrant and lively place it has become today.
Fool? He could be.
Pretentious? Him? Most certainly.
But always Anthony H. Wilson.
An Ode to Anthony H. Wilson is a wonderful tribute to a man who will always be fondly remembered in Manchester. I have written close to one thousand words here, but the song encapsulates the spirit of the man far more effectively and in less time. The song is not unlike Big Excellent Fish’s (Pete Wylie) Imperfect List, but inverted. This is a celebration of Manchester over some joyous music based on New Order’s lovely My Silent Face. Speaking of Pete Wylie, Wilson was to Manchester music what Roger Eagle was to Liverpool, and the song also reflects Wilson’s cheeky relationship with that city which he also had a fondness for. When the song utters “don’t talk to me about the Scousers…” you can imagine the wry smile and the glint in his eye. There is reference in the song to the Arndale, Anderton Engels, Marx, the IRA, Joy Division, Alexandra Park, Ecstasy, Pankhurst, Gretton, Judaism, Iggy Pop, Peterloo, Pride, Morrissey, Shaun Ryder, Bez, New Order, Richard and Judy, Salford, De la Salle School, The Roses, The Swagger, an Honest Northern Blagger. Mistakes, Manchester United, Warehouses, Yeats, Yorric and so much more. Perhaps the most important name check is for Christie’s Hospital, who will be the worthy beneficiaries of the funds raised from sales of the single. Very Tony Wilson that.
An Ode to Anthony H Wilson is a history lesson set to a glorious and uplifting tune and most importantly it is a song that, like it’s subject, has a cheeky smile on its face. The accompanying video is very moving, as a host of artists for whom Tony Wilson was a guiding light line up to mine the lyrics, interspersed with snapshots of Wilson’s Manchester. John Cooper Clarke, Bernard Sumner, John Robb, Richard Madeley, Gillian Gilbert, Steve Coogan, Shaun Ryder, Terry Christian, Rowetta, Mark Radcliffe, Paul Morley, Vini Reilly, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Andrew Weatherall all feature, and if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, well then, you are Made of Stone.
Via the excellent work of Mike Garry and Joe Duddell, Anthony H. Wilson has come back to life (although it feels like he never went away) because it could so easily be him talking excitedly over the New Order inspired song. It sounds just like him. Sober. Drunk. Stoned.
Imagine if he were here now. He would be talking about how the sinkhole on the Mancunian Way was some sort of divine sign that meant something special was going to be happening to his beloved city. This fitting tribute might be it.
An Ode to Anthony H Wilson can be bought here. Do the right thing. He always tried to.