Born in 1950, the Mancunian maverick, Granada TV personality, Factory Records creator and talent discoverer (to name but a few of his titles), justifiably deserves to take centre stage here on First Street at Tony Wilson Place.
After graduating from Jesus College, Cambridge Tony began work as a TV presenter. Heading up Granada TV’s 1970s music show, ‘So it Goes’ Tony brought the punk rock movement into people’s living rooms. Bands such as Joy Division, New Order and the Sex Pistols became household names thanks to Tony’s legacy; a legacy that has left a perpetual mark on pop culture.
Tony loved Manchester and loved making things happen. Manchester has always been a city for experimenting, for pushing boundaries and striving to find out what the next big thing is and Tony’s personality matched this perfectly. He made Manchester exciting.
He was a fascinating, fearless character with a charming persuasiveness. Combining his industrious ethic, charismatic arrogance and voracious Mancunian pride Tony was a constant source of erupting ideas that would shake the very cultural industry in which he was so immersed.
Tony’s optimism and eye for talent saw him introduce acts that hadn’t been seen before. The Stranglers, The Clash and Mancunian grown The Buzzcocks all featured on ‘So It Goes’. A notable performance by Iggy Pop had to be cancelled by ITV due to his outrageous swearing.
The infamous 1976 Free Trade Hall gig is just a small fragment that contributes to the Tony Wilson legacy. The performance, attended by only 40 people and at 60p a ticket marked a significant moment in musical history. It was here that Tony gave the Sex Pistols their break and sparked the beginning of the punk era, and is also where he met Joy Division’s Ian Curtis who he would later sign to Factory Records.
In 1978 Tony Wilson established Factory Records and in 1982 the Haçienda, which Tony founded and manged, opened its doors giving birth to “Mad-chester”. The “Mad-chester” scene may be over but Tony has had a lasting impact on the city.
Not only was Tony a mesmerizing spokesperson but he was an inspirational, self-proclaimed leader and innovator who engaged with and influenced the hearts and minds of his audiences. Rather than move to London he remained with his fellow Mancunians and encouraged many to be aware of the contributions they could make from the North. Peter Saville, Factory Record’s co-owner, said: “Tony created a new understanding of Manchester; the resonance of Factory goes way beyond the music. Young people often dream of going to another place to achieve their goals. Tony provided the catalyst and context for Mancunians to do that without having to go anywhere."
Today Manchester has a number of annual literature, arts and music festivals. Tony had a flair for recognising the talent and inventiveness of others. His “In the City” Festival and international music convention not only brought light to his budding discoveries but educated the council in recognising that these socio-cultural events would bring investment in the city – culturally and financially.
With millions of visitors each year, Manchester is a must-see for tourists. With so much investment being made in the North if Tony were alive today we’re sure his busybody antics would be prevalent. For it was through the sheer genius, confidence and personality of ‘Mr Manchester’ that the momentum was generated to put Manchester firmly on the UK’s cultural map.
Every city needs a believer and Tony Wilson, the local hero, has become engrained in the very history that was the blueprint of all that enticed him.
It is only fitting then that we named our prominent central plaza (aptly located next HOME, the centre of international contemporary art) after one of the greatest 20th century northern figures. Not only has he left his mark on Manchester, but his name resonates in the very institutional fabric of all that makes the North great.