Thursday, 16 August 2007

Anthony Wilson 1950-2007

Anthony Wilson died the other day. I was surprised how sad I felt about it.

I've never been a big fan. He seemed to have a certain vanity and his reputation as a godfather of Manchester music was a little irritating. I remember going to the Hacienda (never a big fan of that place either) and seeing a huge black and white portrait of Wilson hanging in the entrance/box office area. It struck me as an incredibly vainglorious thing to do. There's also the fact that the very best Manchester bands had nothing to do with Wilson or Factory records (The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Chameleons).

Having said all this, if there was a voice of Manchester music, it was Anthony Wilson. There isn't really any competition. He was enormously influential and made a massive contribution to Manchester music. He achieved so much more than I ever have/will and he certainly made his mark on the world.

Moreover, after Joy Division/New Order and The Happy Mondays, Wilson was still working to 'score a hat-trick' (his own words) by discovering a third original band and making them successful. To do this he looked to the young, black music scene in Manchester's notorious Moss Side area - and not many other prominent music industry types have done that. I also know that up until just a few months ago, he was still actively promoting Manchester music internationally. I think he'll be sorely missed.

Wilson's death has another significance. There hasn't been a really good or original, new band from Manchester for about 15 years. Oasis simply don't count, Badly Drawn Boy is a solo artist and (as good as they are) Doves, Elbow and I am Klute are all of my generation. After the recent renaissance of bands (Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park, Arctic Fire etc etc) a good Manchester contribution was conspicuously absent.

So where are the new Manchester bands? I have a theory, although I don't know how convincing it is:

Renaissance Manchester
While Manchester was known as a grey, bleak, post-industrial wasteland, bands had something to counter. Creativity can often flow from the unlikeliest sources. The Smiths for example made greyness and misery an art form. The Stone Roses made the most jubilant and celebratory music at the time of Tories and Recession. Since Manchester's 'renaissance', the scallies of north and east Manchester, Wythenshawe and Salford aren't really welcome in Manchester's trendy bars and clubs. For all kinds of reasons, I think there is a degree of separation between these Manchester people and the city centre's latest inhabitants. Is it a coincidence that the 15 years of Manchester's renaissance are the same 15 years of very few successful Manchester bands?

It's a thought. But I hope that Anthony Wilson's death isn't indicative of a wider decline in Manchester music. I suppose it only takes one new idea to spark something original and creative - maybe a new Manchester music movement is just around the corner.

And maybe the new Anthony Wilson is just round the corner too - but I think he was a one off. I didn't expect to feel like this but I'm sad he's gone.

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