Anthony Howard Wilson died on Friday due to complications arising from the kidney cancer he had been battling for some time. As the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda club in Manchester and manager of bands like A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column, he was linked to John Peel’s Festive Fifty in more than a tangential way. He booked the Sex Pistols to appear on the second series of the Granada TV programme So It Goes (hmmm, name sounds familiar), thereby ensuring vital exposure for the fledgling punk scene: when he first saw them in concert, he described the experience as an epiphany.
He started a rumour that he signed Durutti Column and Joy Division in his own blood. Although not true, it has persisted to endemic proportions. FAC 13 (Transmission) was the first single released on Factory by the latter band, and established its dark, brooding but hypnotic and even danceable style (FF 1980 #10, 1981 #14, All Time 1982 #26, and All Time 2000 #28).
On Factory Records, every release had an FAC number, and this has led some fans to attempt to collect every item (rather difficult, when FAC 51 was the Hacienda itself, which was demolished in 1997, and FAC 259 was a staff Christmas party).
Joy Division metamorphosed into New Order, and it seemed that when Blue Monday took the charts and the club scene by storm, the future would be rosy. But Wilson was a socialist, not a hard-headed businessman. The Hacienda, although a mecca for the Manchester scene (and which led to Tony himself being dubbed ‘Mr. Manchester’ in recognition of his promotion of the scene), never made any money (reasons being that initially the bar was far too cheap, and later on the clubbers took ecstasy rather than booze). As he said, ‘some people make money and some make history’. Another prescient signing was James, whose clipped urgent musical style and unique vocal delivery were evident from this early release on FAC 119 (Hymn From A Village, FF 1985 #28).
The Happy Mondays released their first single on Factory in 1985, and the scene based on them and their antics became known as ‘Madchester’. Wrote For Luck (FAC 212, FF 1988 #48) took Shaun Ryder’s witty, pungent lyrics and made them into a condemnation of false friends backed by a thumping beat.
But the writing was on the wall. In the 90s, the Hacienda and Factory both folded, and Wilson was left to face a condition that he couldn’t even afford the drugs for. Musically, he left a huge legacy in the bands he saw a future in, and a slew of classic singles like this one (Electronic, Get The Message:FAC 287, FF 1991 #40):
The above band was a collaboration between Johnny Marr (The Smiths) and Bernard Sumner (New Order), and saw a fruitful commercial direction being followed (it also made the UK Top 10). However, it was all too late in the day for the label, and for Wilson. I remember him mainly for So It Goes (I only saw it briefly, due firstly to the fact that the first series was only broadcast in the Granada area, and secondly that it was on too bloody late) and introducing this: