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Pop Stardom is Murder: Early Smiths interview by Tony Wilson, 1985
04.28.2014
09:55 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Morrissey
The Smiths
Tony Wilson


 
Tony Wilson was a multi-media Renaissance man, a co-founder of Factory Records, a TV reporter, journalist and host, and the man who helped make Manchester a city of cultural and musical importance during the seventies, eighties and nineties with such bands as Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column and Happy Mondays. Wilson may have been Manchester’s “Mr. Music” but he was also known as the man who didn’t sign The Smiths.

Like all tales of regret and lost opportunity, there are multiple versions as to why Wilson didn’t sign “the ultimate Indie band,” and this is the one he gave to Ian Watson in 2003:

Watson: Did you ever try and sign The Smiths?

Wilson: “No. I was very close to The Smiths. I was very close to Morrissey. Morrissey was part of that little punk scene until 77 and there was a social whirl around a house called 35 Mayfield Road where Steven partially lived and where Linder lived, who was Howard Devoto’s girlfriend and also still today is Morrissey’s best friend. But I treated Steven, he was our genius writer. He was the speccy kid in the corner, the clever little swotty outsider boy, and very brilliant. My first contact with him was when he sent me as a schoolboy, a battered New York Dolls album sleeve and said ‘Dear Mr Wilson, why can’t there be more bands on television like this?’ so I knew him and I actually was encouraging his writing. He wrote a fantastic short play about eating toast and I think he gave it to me and I lost it.

“Then, at some point, whenever it was in 1980, he phoned me up and said would you come and see me. I drove out to King’s Road, Stretford, to his mum’s house, went to his bedroom upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed while he sat on the chair, surrounded by James Dean posters and he informed me that he’d decided to become a pop star. I sort of went ‘well Steven that’s very interesting’, and inside I was thinking ‘you must be fucking joking’. The least likely, you’re off your fucking head. Completely in my mind, absolutely, the least likely rock n roll star imaginable in the universe.

“So then obviously we were all part of a group of mutual friends and I can remember saying this same thing to Richard Boon, my mate who manages the Buzzcocks, and about four or five months later the two of us went to a gig in the Manhattan Club in Manchester. I think it was probably the Smiths’ first or second gig and as we walked out, I was blown away, it was fantastic, and he said ‘what do you think?’, and I said ‘I take it back completely, he’s amazing’.

“However, at that point in time Factory had gone through its wonder days of 78, 79 and we were now in late 1980 and into early 81. This is pre ‘Blue Monday’. We weren’t selling records, we were useless, we’d lost our plot and I was very depressed by the company. I had a band called Stockholm Monsters, I couldn’t sell Stockholm Monsters records and I thought fine and my honest approach was, I’m not going to saddle Steven with this pile of shit, with Factory when it’s shit. So I didn’t even pursue it. I said to him ‘I wouldn’t be any use to you’.

“That was my version of why I didn’t sign the Smiths. I know the Smiths have their version. Everyone has.”

Morrissey is not the kind of man to let a grievance go untended, and in his autobiography he relates how The Smiths had revenge on Wilson in 1986, when he asked the band to play on the bill of “Festival of the Tenth Summer” at the G-Mex in Manchester. This was a music festival to celebrate Manchester ten years after The Sex Pistols had played the city’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Having originally said “no” to playing the festival as the ticket prices were too high, Morrissey was swayed by a letter from Wilson urging The Smiths to take part, which they did.

In fact, the G-Mex event is a great day, and theatrician Wilson is at his best master of ceremonies scarf-flowing staginess. He calls everyone ‘dahling’, but it’s all a part of the public relations aspect of his showboat routine and not at all disingenuous. Before the Smiths go onstage, film-maker Derek Jarman is brought into the dressing room and is introduced. Johnny says ‘Hello,’ and then turns sideways to vomit. It is certainly a moment, but unfortunately it wasn’t caught on film.

Onstage, the Smiths are received as a life-giving source, and this begins to enrage Wilson so much that he flutters and fumes backstage, demanding to technicians that the Smiths’ power to be cut off. No backline crew will comply with Wilson, who is effectively gagged at his own festival. At the base of it all, general opinion assessed Wilson’s rage to be the blustering fury in realizing that the Smiths had meant more to the crowd than his nurtured proteges New Order. Suddenly Wilson’s divine right to be Mr. Manchester is scuppered, and he spends the remainder of his life with a Morrissey-Smiths wasting disease of the lower limbs, whilst oddly admitting that his big mistake in life was that he didn’t sign the Smiths to Factory.

Yes, well, there we go.

Back in the knife drawer, Miss Sharp.

Of course, history is always written by those who outlive their rivals, and Wilson sadly died in 2007, so we won’t hear his account of this supposed “blustering fury,” but so it goes.

Long before this, Wilson promoted as many bands as he was able through his show So It Goes and innumerable insert reports on Manchester’s evening news program. This then is Mr. Wilson dropping in on The Smiths as they rehearsed for a tour in 1985, during the week their second album Meat Is Murder went straight to number one in the UK album charts, and the band was voted “Group of the Year” in an NME poll. Wilson interviews drum & bass players Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, before strumming a few questions with Johnny Marr, and then there’s a minor clash of egos with Morrissey, when Wilson asks him why he ever wanted to become a pop star in the first place?

Perhaps a similar question could have been asked of Mr. Wilson?
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Punk 1976-78: The Best of Tony Wilson’s ‘So It Goes’

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I miss Tony Wilson. I miss the idea of Tony Wilson. Someone who had an enquiring mind and was full of intelligent enthusiasms, like Tony Wilson. And who also didn’t mind making a prat of himself when he got things wrong. Or, even right.

I met him in 2005 for a TV interview. He arrived on a summer’s day at a small studio in West London. He wore a linen suit, sandals, carried a briefcase, and his toenails were painted a rich plum color - his wife had painted them the night before, he said.

Wilson was clever, inspired and passionate about music. He talked about his latest signing, a rap band, and his plans for In the City music festival before we moved onto the Q&A in front of a camera. He could talk for England, but he was always interested in what other people were doing, what they thought, and was always always encouraging others to be their best. That’s what I miss.

You get more than an idea of that Tony Wilson in this compilation of the best of his regional tea-time TV series So It Goes. Wilson (along with Janet Street-Porter) championed Punk Rock on TV, and here he picks a Premier Division of talent:

Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Penetration, Blondie, Fall, Jam, Jordan, Devo, Tom Robinson Band, Johnny Thunder, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Siouxie & the Banshees, Cherry Vanilla & Magazine….. The tape fails there!

The uploader ConcreteBarge has left in the adverts “for historical reference” that include - “TSB, Once, Cluster, Coke is it, Roger Daltery in American Express, Ulay, Swan, Our Price, Gastrils, Cluster & Prestige”.

So, let’s get in the time machine and travel back for an hour of TV fun.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Best of ‘So It Goes’: Clash, Sex Pistols, Iggy The Fall, Joy Division and more


 
With thanks to Daniel Ceci
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Sex Pistols: ‘I Swear I Was There - The Gig that Changed the World’

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It’s been described as one of the most important gigs of all time, one that saw hundreds, even thousands of people claim they were there. In truth only around 30-40 people saw The Sex Pistols perform at the Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976. But of those who did, most went onto form a generation of legendary bands - The Fall, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths.

Also, allegedly in the audience were such future ambassadors of taste as Anthony H. Wilson, who would co-found Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, and nascent journalist/writer Paul Morley.

Culturally, it was an event akin to the storming of the Bastille, for it unleashed a revolution.

I Swear I Was There tells the story of that now legendary night, and talks to the people whose lives were changed by The Sex Pistols.
 

 
With thanks to Graham Tarling!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Joy Division: In Concert and On Film

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No pix just sound. Joy Division live at the Bowdon Vale Youth Club, Altrincham, England, March 14th 1979. Close your eyes and you’re there.

Set list:

01. “Exercise One” 0:00
02. “She’s Lost Control” 2:54
03. “Shadowplay” 7:11
04. “Leaders Of Men” 10:58
05. “Insight” 13:23
06. “Disorder” 17:04
07. “Glass” 20:36
08. “Digital” 24:03
09. “Ice Age” 27:00
10. “Warsaw” 30:15
11. “Transmission” 32:37
12. “I Remember Nothing” 36:07
13. “No Love Lost” 42:40
 

 
Pix and sound. Grant Gee’s impressive 2007 documentary Joy Divsion definitively brings together all the elements of the band’s story (some parts of which has been heard in other films, in other documentaries) together into one complete and engrossing film. Written by Jon Savage and containing interviews from Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, Peter Saville, Anton Corbijn, Genesis P. Orridge, together with archive footage of Joy Division, Martin Hannett, John Peel and Ian Curtis.

This version is in English with sub-titles in Spanish.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Best of ‘So It Goes’: Clash, Sex Pistols, Iggy, The Fall, Joy Division and more


 
This Channel 4 UK program from the mid-80s compiles some incredible performances culled from Tony Wilson’s late 70s Granada TV series, So It Goes. Includes the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop (with horsetail sticking out of his ass and saying “fucking” on 70s TV), The Fall, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Penetration, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Tom Robinson, Magazine, John Cooper Clarke, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sham 69 and ending with the classic clip of Joy Division performing “Shadow Play.” Many of the groups represented here were making their TV debuts on So It Goes, a regional tea-time program.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Clash live in Manchester, 1977


 
Before he started Factory Records or the Hacienda nightclub, as the host of And So It Goes on Granada Television, the late Tony Wilson was personally responsible for some of the most iconic punk bands getting preserved on film and videotape. The Sex Pistols, Magazine, The Buzzcocks, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The Banshees, The Fall, The Jam and many other performers found a TV outlet on And So It Goes that they wouldn’t have had elsewhere.  It ran for two years until a foul-mouthed moment by Iggy (wearing a horse’s tail, I might add) got it canceled.

This And So It Goes footage of The Clash playing at the Elizabethan Ballroom in Manchester on November 15th, 1977 is probably the best footage of the Clash that there is. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a helluva lot of it. The camera placement is perfect for showing what utter havoc and mayhem the band could cause. You can practically feel the gob in the air that night. According to The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town by Marcus Gray (highly recommended, btw) fans queuing up for the show got rowdy and pushed the door in causing quite a bit of damage.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids were not in fact the opening act. The were replaced at the last minute by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Note ticket price!

During “What’s My Name?” Strummer sings “Here we are on TV. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? FUCK ALL!”:
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The night The Smiths stole the show at The Hacienda and changed music

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On February 4th 1983, The Smiths were booked to play the Hacienda in Manchester, England, as support to 52nd Street, a funk band signed to Factory Records. The audience was there to see the headliners, but it was the best band that Tony Wilson never signed who stole the night.

The show was a milestone in The Smiths career, a night when they went from interesting local band, to next-big-thing, and beyond.

As the band took the stage Morrissey greeted the audience by saying “Hello… We are the Smiths. We are not ‘Smiths’, we are the Smiths. ‘These Things Take Time’....” Following the latter set opener he simply said “Oh thank you” then the band launched into “What Difference Does It Make?”. Within a year the song would be released as a single and make it onto the band’s debut album. At this point it was played slower and featured slightly different lyrics. For example instead of “I’m so sick and tired” (album) or “I’m so very tired” (Peel session), Morrissey simply sang “I’m so tired”. Also, Morrissey sang “Oh my sacred Mother in falsetto at the end, instead of the more familiar “Oh my sacred one”.

Next up was “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” and it was introduced by Morrissey with a simple drop of its title. This song also featured different lyrics to the version which would be released on the band’s debut album. The outro of “as long as there’s love / I did my best for her” was absent and a line was then sung as “your mother she need never know”. Right before “Handsome Devil” Morrissey said: “I repeat: the only thing to be in 1983 is handsome… ‘Handsome Devil’.” The next track was probably seeing its live debut and was simply introduced as “Jeane!”. Strangely it would not be performed for long, it was soon to be dropped from the setlist until the Smiths reinstated it when touring the debut album more than a year later.

The performance of “What Do You See In Him?” was a very passionate one. The song would not remain in the Smiths’ set for long. After being dropped for a few months it would re-emerge in June as “Wonderful Woman”, with the same music, but different lyrics. The song that would become the Smiths debut single was then introduced with a slowly articulated “Hand. In. Glove.” It was also performed very passionately, and seems to have woken the audience into paying attention to the yet unknown opening band. The song was well received and this prompted Morrissey to shyly say “Oh you’re very kind… thank you…”

The evening’s final number was then announced twice as “Miserable Lie”. The song’s early lyrics didn’t yet include the line “I know the wind-swept mystical air” while the line “I recognise that mystical air” was sung twice. Instead of “I’m just a country-mile behind the world” Morrissey sang “I’d run a hundred miles away from you”. After the song Morrissey simply said “Bye bye…” twice and the band left the stage while a few new converts cheered and whistled.

A review written by Jim Shelley and published in the NME a month and a half later had only good words for the Smiths, comparing them to Magazine, Josef K and The Fire Engines.

 

 
More from The Smiths at the Hacienda, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
William Burroughs performs live at The Hacienda, 1982

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According to the gospel of Saint Anthony H. Wilson, Manchester, England, was the center of the universe during the 1980s and 1990s. Not only for its music, its talent, its imagination, and sheer brass neck, but also because it had the Haçienda, the fabled night club where you could see Madonna one night and William Burroughs the next.

Designed by Ben Kelly, The Haçienda opened its doors on Friday May 21st 1982. Owned by Factory Records and New Order (the latter plowed most of their earnings into the venue), it was given the Factory catalog number FAC51. The mix of who played there reads like an A & R man’s wet dream and included, New Order, The Happy Mondays, The Smiths, OMD, The Birthday Party, Husker Du, The Stone Roses, Oasis, James, Echo and The Bunnymen, A Certain Ratio, and Divine, amongst others. Mike Pickering, Graeme Park and Dave Haslam were host DJ’s, and in the late 1980s and 1990s, the club was the catalyst for Madchester - the music and drug fueled Second Summer of Love.

Yet, as it is said, all good things must end and the Haçienda closed down in 1997; and the club was demolished to make way for “luxury apartments” in 2002.

When Peter Hook (legendary bass-player with Joy Division and New Order), guest-blogged on the NME back in 2009, he recalled his top 10 Haçienda memories. At number three, was William Burroughs performance at The Haçienda, October 1982, of which Hooky wrote:

“That was one of those nights when there was hardly anyone in but it was quite intense because of what William Burroughs was doing. The funny thing was that one of Joy Division’s first gigs abroad was with William Burroughs, a William Burroughs evening in the Plan K in Belgium so we had a little bit of history with him ‘cos he’d told Ian to fuck off when he asked for a free book. Even at The Haçienda I didn’t ask for a free book either. I was as scared of William Burroughs as he was.

Burroughs was always impressive when presenting his work on stage, and this clip, posted by orange object, is a great piece of pop and literary culture.
 

 
Previously on DM

Divine performs in front of stunned punks in Manchester, England, 1983


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s headstone designed by Peter Saville and Ben Kelly

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via Creative Review:

In death as in life: Peter Saville and Ben Kelly’s memorial to their friend and collaborator Anthony H Wilson is three years late, but it was worth the wait. Factory Records founder Anthony H Wilson died in August 2007. Just over three years later, a memorial headstone designed by Wilson’s long-term collaborators Peter Saville and Ben Kelly was unveiled in The Southern Cemetery in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester. The headstone carries a quote from The Manchester Man, the 1876 novel by Mrs G Linnaeus Banks (aka Isabella Varley Banks), the story of one Jabez Clegg and his life in Victorian Manchester.

And yes, there is a FAC catalogue number involved ! According to a comment on the Creative Review site his casket has the FAC number 501 and his estate has vowed that would be the last thing cataloged.
 
Close-up on the quote after the jump…

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment