Happy Mondays' Rowetta on Tony Wilson: 'He made you love Manchester'

As the single St Anthony: An ode to Anthony H Wilson, a celebration of the late legend debuts, Rowetta Idah, New Order’s Bernard Sumner and more remember the Factory Records pioneer

It’s eight years since the legendary music mogul, presenter and writer known as Mr Manchester left an indelible hole in the British music industry. Paying tribute to the late Tony Wilson this year are the likes of New Order, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Peter Saville and Phillip Glass, who appear in the video for St Anthony: An ode to Anthony H Wilson.

The single features words by Mancunian poet and lifelong Wilson fan Mike Garry, the compositional skills of Joe Duddell, who based the music on New Order song Your Silent Face, and artwork by Peter Saville. It is remixed by Andrew Weatherall and will be released on 14 August.

New Order’s Bernard Sumner, the Happy Mondays’ Rowetta Idah, journalist Miranda Sawyer and actor Christopher Eccleston shared their personal memories of the late pioneer with the Guardian:

Bernard Sumner

I think St Anthony is a very fitting and moving epitaph. I was very shocked by Tony’s death. He always seemed so young and enthusiastic in spirit. He had the attitude of a man in his 20s, which I thought was a great way to be. Tony Wilson who was no saint, but he was a good man who did good things by using his position in the media to help musicians, artists and poets to grow. He didn’t need to do that, and he didn’t do it for the money, he did it because he was trying to do good for the culture of the city he lived in and loved.

Most people will have had some experience of cancer either personally or via a friend or family member. I know I have. So it is fantastic that all proceeds from St Anthony will go to cancer research, and it’s also very moving to know that even after all these years, people are still thinking of him, Ian Curtis, Martin Hannett and Rob Gretton.

Rowetta Idah

In the morning, every morning, the first face I usually see when I’m at home is Tony’s, because I have a big picture of him at his best above my bed. It’s a comical picture but it’s iconic. I see it through my wardrobe mirrors, and it just gets me up for the day, and inspires me as he did when he was alive. He really, really got you going and made you love Manchester and everything about it, and he’s part of our home and our heritage and I’ll never forget him. He was a great mentor, a great inspiration, we all miss him, we all love him.

I’ve known him since 1990. I used to watch him on his programme on ITV, The Other Side of Midnight. His show was the first time I saw the Happy Mondays on TV, and it made me want to sing with them because he said they were the greatest band in the world, the same as he did in 1976 about the Sex Pistols.

We hosted an anti-racism event in Heaton Park, me and Tony, with Ice-T and his rock band. That was my favourite day with him actually – it was just fantastic. If you knew he was going to pass away, you’d want a day where you got him all to yourself, and I’m lucky I had one of them.

Miranda Sawyer

I’m from Wilmslow outside Manchester, very suburban, quite boring. But my life changed when I came into Manchester and went to the Haçienda. It was completely revolutionised. I didn’t really understand that Tony Wilson had anything to do with it because back then he was just a bloke on the telly for me. I just didn’t really connect the two.

The Haçienda was really brilliant. When I started going it was pre-acid house and it was full of things like fashion shows hosted by Frank Sidebottom and living sculptures on the walls and the jazz defectors doing amazing dancing.. It definitely changed my life: I met loads of people who didn’t want to talk about kitchens or Marbella, they wanted to talk about Yeats or music, or they wanted to have a good time in a different way from the people I knew in Wilmslow. It really did open my mind.

I left Manchester to go to university, but I kept coming back. Then I went to London and I got a job at Smash Hits and suddenly, because the staff there were all scared of Manchester, I was their Manchester correspondent. So I would come up and meet all these people that had changed my life – the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, New Order, Tony – and I suddenly realised all these people were like me. The Haçienda opened my mind first, because I found out there were interesting people in Manchester, and then meeting the people that were making the music and changing Manchester under the helm of Tony Wilson completely changed my life again. It made me realise that you could do anything.

Christopher Eccleston

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about this. Because I woke up and I thought, I’ve got to say something about Tony Wilson, and then I remembered that I watched him as a kid on the telly with his big hair and his big fat ties and his big fat suits. I thought of him as the man, really. I thought he was posh, but I’ve realised he was hiding in plain sight in a way. He was very anti-establishment.

Anyway, in about 2002 I was doing a drama in Manchester called Second Coming, and he came to interview me and I pretended that I wasn’t impressed – that I wasn’t being interviewed by Tony Wilson. I can’t remember what we talked about on camera, but I know we ended up talking about Nobby Stiles.

I wish he could come back. And if he came back I would talk to him about Nobby Stiles, I thought last night.

When I heard that he was ill, I was walking down Deansgate. And it had him by then – he was very thin and very ill, very poorly and I didn’t say anything to him. That was the last time I saw him. In 24 hour Party People, I played his favourite philosopher, Boethius, who basically put forward the idea of the wheel of fortune: sometimes it’s going to bring you up, and sometimes it’s going to bring you down. So I remember him when he was up, and I remember him when he was down.


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