RIP Tony Wilson
Even a 24-hour party can’t last forever: Tony Wilson, founder of the Factory record label that launched Manchester-bred acts like Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays died Thursday night at age 57, Sky News reported today. Wilson, whose life was depicted with a large grain of salt in the 2002 movie 24 Hour Party People , was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year, but the Manchester Evening News reported the cause of death as a heart attack.
“It’s very sad. He died as a result of something unrelated to his cancer,” said Professor Robert Hawkins, Wilson’s doctor at Manchester’s Christie Hospital. ”His cancer was responding well to treatment, but obviously did contribute to his poor health.”
Wilson was born near Manchester in Salford and attended Cambridge University. A former presenter for independent British TV network Granada, started Factory in Manchester in 1978 with partner Alan Erasmus. Its initial release, the January 1979 double-7” A Factory Sampler, contained songs from Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Durutti Column, and John Dowie. In May of that year, Factory released Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark’s debut 7”, “Electricity” b/w “Almost,” but the synth-pop duo left the label for Virgin Records soon thereafter.
Factory’s first LP was Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, featuring “She’s Lost Control” and “Disorder,” in June 1979. The following April, the group released the single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the morose, strangely transfixing song credited by many with starting the genre that became known as post-punk. The next month, just two weeks before Joy Division was scheduled to leave for its first U.S. tour, Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy, hung himself in his home near Manchester.
Factory re-released “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in June 1980, and it climbed to No. 13 on the UK singles chart. Joy Division’s second LP, Closer (“Isolation,” “A Means to an End”), followed in July. The three surviving members, guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris, elected to continue and re-christened themselves New Order, adding Morris’s wife Gillian Gilbert on keyboards.
New Order’s first release was the March 1981 Factory single “Ceremony,” which was originally composed for Joy Division. The album Movement followed in November, and the group’s next two singles, “Temptation” and “Everything’s Gone Green,” took New Order in a more upbeat, dance-friendly direction, and were significant hits on the club circuit. In 1982, Wilson and members of New Order opened the Hacienda nightclub in a converted textile factory near downtown Manchester, and the next year New Order’s extended single “Blue Monday” became an international hit.
In September 1985, Factory released “Delightful,” the first single from a local group named Happy Mondays, whose exuberant fusion of rock, soul, hip-hop and house music became the sound of the bourgeoning “Madchester” scene centered around the Hacienda and the vast amounts of Ecstacy its patrons were ingesting. The Mondays’ three albums, 1987’s Squirrel and G-Man 24 Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile, 1988’s Bummed and 1990’s Pills ‘n’ Thrills ‘n’ Bellyaches, were essential components of the rave culture that took British youth by storm in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Partially due to the chemical appetites of its artists, Factory constantly struggled financially, and its parent company declared bankruptcy in November 1992. The label’s last release was, appropriately, the Mondays’ swan song Yes, Please; a large part of the album’s budget was rumored to go toward lead singer Shaun Ryder’s growing crack habit.
The Hacienda closed in 1997, and Wilson became involved in municipal politics in Manchester, helped organize its In the City music festival and went back to television, where he presented (hosted) XFM Manchester’s The Sunday Roast show, as well as the sports-themed Ground Rules and talk show Oxford Road Station for the BBC.
Wilson is survived by partner Yvette Livesey and an unspecified number of children. – Chris Gray
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.