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My experiences of Tony Wilson music maverick media personality and mentor

The unthinkable has happened. Tony Wilson, Manchester's most influential music maverick and media personality has been struck down in the prime of an amazing life. Like most other people who know him, I am in a state of shock and despair. I was one of countless people in Manchester who was acquainted personally with Tony. He helped me out, and was an inspiration to me in many ways. Here are some of my own experiences of meeting and working with Tony Wilson.

In earlier years I saw Tony Wilson - alias Anthony H Wilson - on television, and at the Russell Club in Hulme, but it was only in the 1990s that I first met him.

In 1998 I did my first interview with him and his partner Yvette at their loft off Whitworth Street West.

See the interview in Eyewitness in Manchester, now archived on the Manchester Online website

I had been introduced to him via a mutual friend and he agreed to be interviewed by me, a compete novice.

In response to simple questions, Tony went on at length about every subject imaginable. It was fascinating, it took me several hours of hard work to transcribe and organise into a meaningful and readable piece. It to come.

Yvette was the warmest and most welcoming of interviewees as well as being strikingly beautiful. She spoke about many subjects including the annual In The City music convention, which she had co-founded with Tony.

The two of them formed a powerhouse couple who were having a huge and positive influence on the development of Manchester.

I was also struck by their beautiful home, a New York-style loft in the centre of Manchester. It was a dream of how I would have liked to live and still aspire to.

Later in 1998 I covered the In The City music convention, also in Liverpool 1999 and back in Manchester in 2000.

Highlights for me were Tony's interviews with John Cale and Holly Johnson at In The City 1999, and with Brian Eno in 2000.

At In The City, Tony was always endlessly organising, giving instructions, chatting, joking, talking on his mobile phone, rushing around to this panel or that, receiving, introducing or interviewing some celebrity guest or or other, always at the centre of things, always the inspirational driving force of the event.

Due to a new arrival in the family, I wasn't at In The City for the next year or two, but some time after, I met Tony again as I was crossing John Dalton Street. He was in stationary traffic sitting at the wheel of his classic Mercedes. He wound down the window and said 'Hi Aidan, how are you doing?', and shook my hand. I told him I thought he'd done a great job presenting the Channel 4 discussion programme 'After Dark' and he seemed genuinely pleased.

Not too long after, I got a phone call from him asking me to take some photos for his campaign for the North West Regional Assembly. I remember meeting him at Bauer Millett motors on Deansgate - site of the Hilton Tower - and chatting to him about the history of Manchester, showing him photos on my PowerBook G4 computer.

This was a subject I felt I could keep up with Tony, but on anything to do with music and popular culture, I felt left behind in that whirlwind of thoughts, remarks, reminiscences, comments, swear words and literary references that was Tony's typical mode of conversation.

I once dreamt up a comedy sketch mimicking the film 'Being John Malkovitch' in which an ordinary punter would have the opportunity of 'Being Tony Wilson' for a week. At the end of it, the punter would regain his own body in a state of complete mental exhaustion.

He was an exceptionally well-read person, highly intelligent, eloquent in a way that just left me gobsmacked. I simply could never keep up with him. But I felt that sometimes he could be rather black and white in his views. Some personalities, bands or cities would be heaped with praise, while others would be referred to using four letter words. I once unwittingly mentioned the name of a certain well-known personality he once worked with, only to receive a barrage of invective against the said person. Fortunately, I was his good books.

To co-ordinate the photography of the North West regional flag, designed by Peter Saville, he provided me with his phone number, which I still have. Occasionally I would send him a text message in response to hearing him on the radio, to which I would get a reply such as 'Thanks X'

I often speculated about the list of phone numbers stored on Tony Wilson's mobile phone. No doubt many of the world's leading and most influential music industry and media personalities.

I returned to cover In The City from 2004 onwards and occasionally was asked to do an impromptu photograph of Tony with some celebrity or other. At the end of In The City 2004 I noticed Tony was completely exhausted, with red watery eyes, which I corrected in Photoshop to make him look more presentable.

I invited him to the launch party in November 2004 at the Circle Club of our book 'Around the M60, Manchester's Orbital Motorway', not expecting him to turn up, but he did.

The most recent contact with Tony in on Saturday 5 May, 2007, was when he interviewed me along with Adele Lock, co-founder of The Gentry Grooming Company, and euro-MP Arlene McCarthy. He had just arrived back from New York and was looking frail.

I saw him again at the launch party for the Leonard Cohen exhibition at the Richard Goodall Gallery on 8 July. He looked even more poorly.

I lost my own older sister to cancer a few years ago, and now it feels like I have lost an older brother. I know that thousands of others feel the same way. He was a friend and mentor to all kinds of creative people. I am just one of many who are grateful to have had the privilege of knowing him.

I was hoping to tell him about some of my more recent projects, to which I know he would have given his full attention, but I didn't get round to it. I've lost one of the few people high up in the media who ever took an interest in what I am doing or gave me any encouragement or opportunity.

Manchester is a poorer place without Tony Wilson. He would have gone on to do many more great things and would have had a huge beneficial influence in myriad ways, touching thousands more lives.

All we can do now is to try and keep the spirit of Tony Wilson alive, and do the things he would have wanted us to do. Tony Wilson had a transformational effect on music, the media and Manchester, and though he is not physically with us, his influence will go on forever.

There is a group on Facebook dedicated to Tony Wilson. Go to www.facebook.com and search for the group: 'Tony Wilson 1950-2007 - A Tribute'. (Facebook membership required).

Read Paul Morley's brilliantly written and authoritative summary of Tony Wilson's achievements syndicated on the Sydney Morning Herald site.

From: Andrew Parker

I just want to mention how devastated I am about the loss of Tony Wilson. I grew up watching him on Granada Reports and have enjoyed many interesting programmes with him about Manchester and the north west. He was unique and put Manchester on the map, as well as create a fantastic music scene. God bless Tony!! R.I.P.

I totally agree, it is a devastating blow for Manchester to lose someone like this so prematurely. I feel so lucky to have known him.

From: Gordon Simpson

Hello Aidan Gordon Simpson here hoping you and your family are well. I have enjoyed reading your recent articles. Howevever there is one very good one which I would rather not have read. The one covering Tony Wilson. How saddened I am to learn of Tonys death and when his cancer was making progress, it's so ironic to learn he died of something else at such a tender age. I express my condolences to his partner Yvette and to his family, and know that Manchester will be all the poorer for his demise. Regards Gordon Simpson

Absolutely. Yvette is the nicest person you could ever meet. It shouldn't happen to someone like that. I am sending her a condolence card I got at St Augustine's Church, All Saints. Thanks and very nice to hear from you again.

From: Chris Lynch, Japan

It's so sad to read about Tony Wilson -- 'So It Goes' was extraordinary TV for the time.

I remember a Granada Reports interview when he cheekily asked Roger Daltrey about his hairstyle ('it's natural') for the release of 'Tommy' -- a movie I rented for Sloane House YMCA in NYC back in the summer of '83.

I even met him briefly on my way to see 'Alien' in Manchester in December '79 -- I was visiting my cousins who were studying at UMIST -- he was wearing a beige mac and was with a band who were too young to be Joy Division.

It's a great loss for Manchester and the NorthWest.

Thanks, my thoughts entirely

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-08-11

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