Music pioneer, raconteur, thinker... and true Red. Tony Wilson’s life was a whirl of ideas and United was at the centre of it all. Luke Bainbridge recalled the wit and wisdom of ‘Mr Manchester’ for a piece in Inside United shortly after his death…
We built this city on rock’n’roll. And United.
Not forgetting the cotton industry, the world’s first computer and Betty’s hotpot. But mostly – for the last 30 years at least – we built this city on rock’n’roll and United. And in August 2007 we lost the man more responsible than any other for the former. He was also a huge fan of the latter; after all, he was ‘Mr Manchester’: who else was he going to support?
Along with Sir Alex Ferguson, Tony, Anthony – or Anthony H – Wilson was one of the true fathers of the city we know and love today. He was the force behind Manchester becoming the leading light of British music for the last quarter of a century, first with Factory Records, Joy Division and New Order, then with the Haçienda, Happy Mondays and ‘Madchester’, and latterly with music convention In The City.
The vision, ethos and aesthetics of Wilson and Factory inspired generations of Mancunians, and laid the groundwork for the regeneration of the city into the 21st Century. Even in the dark, dour days of the mid-1970s, at one of the city’s lowest ebbs, Wilson’s belief in Manchester remained steadfast.
He once explained to me at length how: “The idea of the city as an attractive vibrant place to be begins with rock‘n’ roll. Why is that even more true in cities like Liverpool and Manchester? When it comes to popular culture in these two cities, you’re talking world, global level.”
How could you be living in a dump, Wilson argued, if when it came to rock’n’roll, something you held so dear, your city was more important that Tokyo, Berlin and Paris? You couldn’t. Although most of Wilson’s public rhetoric revolved around music, he also felt strongly that United were hugely responsible for changing perceptions of Manchester around the world.