Tony Wilson, 1950-2007

As I’m sure you’ve heard, music pioneer Tony Wilson died on Friday of a heart attack, a result of complications from his battle with cancer. He was 57.

Wilson’s enduring legacy is as the founder of Factory Records, which released the timeless recordings of Joy Division and New Order. In addition to serving as one of the driving forces in the English post-punk scene of the time, Factory would later go on to help establish the ‘Madchester’ scene and sparked the rave culture of the early ’90s with their nightclub The Haçienda, and released records from Madchester bands such as The Happy Mondays and James.

Arguably, his most important contribution to music history came on his TV show, So It Goes, which he hosted prior to the founding of Factory Records. After watching the Sex Pistols perform in Manchester to an audience of 42 (including future members of Joy Division and Morrissey), he invited the band onto his show. Less than a year later, the Sex Pistols were the biggest band in the world. So It Goes would go on to invite other up-and-coming punk rockers such as The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Jam and The Clash and exposed them to an even wider audience. The show was pulled off Granada Television after Iggy Pop’s expletive-strewn performance.

Despite his lasting impact, Wilson barely made a dime off his work – famously, his greatest success with Factory (New Order’s “Blue Monday” single, the best-selling 12” of all time) actually lost him money thanks to its expensive packaging. His steadfast intent on keeping Factory independent and in Manchester was costly, as were the operation costs of The Haçienda, where patrons on ecstacy drank water instead of buying drinks at the bar.

But the music lives on, of course, and Wilson’s passion for art at any cost resulted in some of the most significant albums of the era. Would that every label head had the same sense of integrity – not to mention the man’s fantastic taste.

Joy Division – “Atmosphere”: mp3