I’ve never really been able to make up my mind about Tony Wilson. For sure, his heart was always essentially in the right place, and, speaking as a Mancunian, his dedication to my home city was admirable. He gave it significant cultural profile, invested a huge amount of time and money into the music scene and pursued a vision of the city as a northern artistic powerhouse.
However, there was an undeniable flipside. Although an entrepreneur, Wilson was also a dreamer who was infamously in awe of those who he believed held special creative talent. His unconditional championing of Happy Mondays was a case in point – a flaw which saw him allow the band to ravage, and ultimately ruin, the Factory Records finances in the recording of their second album. On a personal basis, Wilson could also be knuckle-chewingly pretentious, his conversations liberally sprinkled with references to obscure philosophers, vaguely known poets and avant garde concepts such as situationism. He needed people to know he was smart.
The eighth anniversary of Wilson’s premature death has been recognised in a poem by Mike Garry which has been put to music by Joe Dudell and advocated by a host of celebrities evidently keen to show their respects. It might seem churlish to express any negative ideas about a concept which is aimed at raising money for the Manchester’s Christie Cancer Hospital – surely the most noble institution in the city – but in many ways the video which accompanies the piece won’t necessarily have people rushing to the phone lines with their credit cards at hand.
No cliché goes unturned here. The poem makes much of the supposed edgy, swaggering nature of the Mancunian, but in reality that’s a fatuous generalisation – the residents of the city can no more be pigeonholed into behavioural stereotypes than those living in any city. The musical success stories of Manchester are dutifully chronicled, and, whilst it’s certainly true that the city has punched above its weight here, is it the case that being from Manchester has inspired the music or might the likes of Morrissey/Marr have found their way to the top no matter where they were born? The city’s propensity for violence – “cheap drugs, cheap guns” was a popular credo – is recognised with a smirk.
Of all the descriptions casually bestowed on Mancunians, the least likely might be smugness, yet this video is riddled with it. Professional Manc Terry Christian offers a self-satisfied grin set to turn the stomach as do several others. Larry Gott from James (I had to look him up) does that little swaggering dance thing to show that he’s really into it and Christopher Eccleston is seen walking in a circle, clearly invoking the spirit of method acting in order to show his dedication to the cause. Oh, and there’s Richard Madleley, although he did work with Wilson on Granada Reports. The presence of metropolitan journalist Miranda Sawyer is rather more difficult to discern.
I would ask, indeed beseech, anyone to give generously to the Christie Charitable Fund, but don’t put yourself through this six minutes of cloying self congratulation before you do so.