The Man On the Telly is hosting the best chat show in the world. Ever. It’s more or less the same format he's been re-inventing on every late-night vehicle for himself over the past quarter of a century. What's On. So It Goes. The Other Side of Midnight. Content. Smartarse but casual, every one. Except for the rubbish student quiz show with Frank Sidebottom, they’re all pretty legendary. Which is a polite way of saying hardly anyone watched them.
Except, this time, he’s not on the telly, he’s not hosting a late-night regional arts programme, he’s part of a press conference. He's promoting a movie. He’s not the one asking the questions for once, but he's still doing all the talking.
A maverick, a pioneer, a champion of the arts, a man whose attitude to business can best be defined as ‘cavalier'. A man whose generosity towards the artist verges on the ridiculous. A motormouth, a chancer, a twat. Ladies and gentlemen, The Man On the Telly, Mr TonyWilson.
Wilson’s guests today are practically family. And just look at the state of them. There’s his ex-wife, some former business partners and a dead pop star who should've been bigger than any of them. A couple of filmmakers turn up too, just to keep things in order. Not that any of them can get a word in edgeways. The Man On the Telly's like that. All mouth, baggy trousers. A bit like the other man on the telly sitting next to him, taking the piss, as comedians turned actors are wont to do. Pure Alan Partridge is what it is.
The actor playing one of the business partners playing dead, Paddy Considine, is wearing a Joy Division t-shirt. which confuses things somewhat. Because, like most things that happen or don’t over the next few hours, truth and lies are indistinguishable, but somehow even better than the real thing. Nominally a bleary, tired and emotional Saturday morning after the night before press conference, it's actually a post- punk Stars in Their Eyes. Brit-flick actors Considine. John Simm, Lennie James and Shirley Henderson are all dressed down to tell us how it wasn't in 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's film of the myth of the crash-and-burn tragedy and farce that was Factory Records, the best record label in the world. Ever.
Started in punk's first, state-of-independence ﬂourish by a pseudo-situationist narcissist self-publicist. a bit-part actor and a chaser after dreams, Manchester’s Factory Records was cool. Too cool, at first. Think ice age. Bleak, industrial, dark satanic mills, winters of discontent: all that stuff. Overcoats and Nietzsche. Joy Division, mainly. Joy Division were the best band in the world. Ever. A shock to the system, they captured the imagination, turned out the lights and let it bleed. Then Ian Curtis, the singer, died, and the stuff of legend was theirs for the taking.
Factory built itself a club before urban regeneration had been invented, called it the Hacienda, and put on Madonna, William Burroughs and Bernard Manning. A virgin, a priest and a god. But even that unholy trinity couldn’t stop it being rubbish, and it died as well. Later, on Saturday night prime-time nostalgia hour, Wilson said Madonna, who made her British debut at the Hac, had been ‘dumpy’.
Very eventually, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Factory had fucked art, so let's dance, everyone else said, suddenly smiley. Leading the charge was Happy Mondays, a nouveau Dickensian Ant Hill Mob led by Shaun Ryder, a man for whom the phrase idiot savant has never been more appropriate. Yin to Curtis’ Yang. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb. lf Curtis was Dostoyevsky's Raskolinikov, Ryder was the Artful Dodger and Wilson his Fagin. Picking pockets.
In terms of faith, from Joy to Happy. with Blue in-between, from 24 Hours to 24 Hour Party People wasn't that big a Leap, and things changed. Music, drugs, clubs, Manchester, and soon, the world. A real life situation was on their doorstep, and the dancefloor had been democratised. The Society of the Spectacle made ﬂesh. And blood. Because. not so very eventually. it would lose control and pull a gun on them. Factory and its bastard progeny lived fast, died young, then called in the receivers. Except, once upon a time. before it had its thunder stolen by Ministry and Cream, the Hacienda was the best club in the world. Ever. And it paid for every second.
From the birth of punk to the death of acid house is how Tony Wilson, sometimes Anthony H, when he’s being poncier than usual, sees 24 Hour Party People. In it, his character, played by Steve Coogan, the other man on the telly sitting next to him, becomes the centre of the universe, the celebrity square-eyes equivalent of the Rover’s Return, around whom everything else revolves. A very Granada-land analogy, that. Know your place. wait your turn and drink tip when you're told. As reliable as Betty Turpin’s hotpot.
Wilson was the Cambridge grad daft lad with ideas above his station. When he read the news, you could see him sneer, and once he got himself a decent haircut and a show of his own, there was no stopping him. By that time, he and Factory, for whom he provided the necessary mouth, were in the thick of it, and he’d already provided crucial TV debuts for the Sex Pistols, Blondie and all the rest on So It Goes, the best punk rock show in the world. Ever.
We’re in a disused warehouse in Manchester a year ago. not so much too cool as freezing cold, and if the words ‘warehouse' and ‘Manchester' give you a nostalgic little tingle, you already know what happens next. Sean Harris, who plays lan Curtis, is a lanky bag of nerves. He says he first saw Curtis on telly when he was ten, and it looks like he's been haunted by him ever since. Wilson's fault, that. Then again. it might just be because Paul Popplewell, who plays Shaun Ryder's Our Kid Paul, has just lurched in, pulled open a can of Red Stripe and is babbling some impenetrable freeform gobshite, making a spectacle of himself. Very Happy Mondays, that, and a little bit Jerry Springer with it. Wilson’s put off his stroke a moment, but as displays of accidental method acting go, Popplewell’s is, well, appropriate. As too are the lipstick traces of a soggy stubbed-out joint nearby. Evidence.
Last night they filmed the last night of the Hacienda, or Sodom, or somewhere. Best party ever, by all accounts. Everyone was there. Twice, in some cases. Back from the dead in others. In the ﬁnished film. this scene is very near to. but not quite right at the end. Which is a shame, because anyone who’s anyone else knows that all the best picaresque post-modern romances finish with a party, a grand finale. where everyone goes what we now call mad-for-it. Like in O Lucky Man!,’ where Malcolm McDowell meets all the larger-than-life cartoon characters he's met on his travels, out of context and out of time, and loves each and every one of them because, after everything that's gone before, it all makes perfect sense.
What should've been the ﬁnal scene in 24 Hour Party People is a bit like that. Which is funny, because in Wilson‘s new book, also called 24 Hour Party People, but not the book of the film, there's a picture of him from the mid-‘70s, looking the exact spit of the young Malcolm McDowell. Bet he watched If… at Cambridgc too. Bet that‘s where he learned to sneer. Either from that or A Clockwork Orange. And you'll already know that Anthony Burgess had once been called Anthony Wilson from the book. Wilson's, that is, not the one by Burgess.
But tonight is the night after the last night of the Hacienda, and we make do with the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, or versions thereof. Hang on, though, didn't they knock the Hacienda down, turn it into flats? Truth is, they found another warehouse in Ancoats and rebuilt it. Even if you only ever went there twice in 1984 when it was rubbish like I did, you can see it’s identical in every way. Crap sound, even crapper lager. Plastic glasses crunching underfoot. Except, when you’re pointed towards the toilets, you push open the door, and there's nothing there except an ever-so Mancunian red-brick wall, and you can ‘t piss on that. Again, it’s appropriate.
I’m standing next to a Hacienda pillar with a lad from The Manchester Evening News, who turns out to be the same lad from The Manchester Evening News that Shaun Ryder very famously pulled a gun on. Another legend. Everyone here seems to have a story like that. Turns out he works next to the guy who covered Ian Curtis’ inquest. And his girlfriend once issued Alan Erasmus, one of the business partners, with a writ. Of course, they could be lying.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce is. He wrote 24 Hour Party People, and is from Liverpool. A Scouser. Wilson, like most Mancs, has a funny idea about Scousers. On the telly he always referred to Liverpool as the ‘Pool, and sneered the sneer like it was something he'd just trodden in. Which he probably had, because, without Liverpool, Factory and the Hacienda would never have been built. And if Wilson and Roger Eagle, who ran legendary ‘Pool punk club, Eric's, hadn't disagreed over what format a proposed joint venture should take, something entirely different would’ve happened instead, and we mightn’t be here today.
A Stone Roses tribute band have just been filmed playing Sally Cinnamon, but it didn’t make the final cut, so doesn't count. Earlier, they filmed Coogan as Wilson doing a piece to camera, Manchester's second biggest wanker playing the first, according to someone. He's got the walk, the voice. everything's spot-on, but a little bit Alan Partridge with it. In the end, this isn't used either. The Mondays are up next, a raggedy, half-arsed mess that falls apart halfway through. Which is weird. because in the far corner, the corner where he always sat, is the real Shaun Ryder, who didn’t die like Ian Curtis, but is a legend of the almost living kind instead.
The flyer said to dress like it's ‘86 or ‘89, but in the end it doesn't matter, because nostalgia’s not what it's about, apparently. Just listen to Wilson at the press conference, not just the Man On the Telly, but also the man with the best-known mobile phone number in Manchester, apparently. There he is, being wound up by some local hack with fake credentials who knows the score. banging on with his thirteen-year theory about pop music, and how we're due something that will blow us all away any day now. Still waiting, Tone. Despite the film.
Which, in its finished form, is full of post-modern disclaimers and Brechtian, Shakespearian, straight-to-camera asides. Extra-diegesis, if you will. Cheeky little cameos from the people who lived it first time round pop up all over the show. Look, there's Howard Devoto, who, when he was still Howard Trafford - just - put the Sex Pistols on in Manchester twice. Then, when he finally fully became Howard Devoto, formed the Buzzcocks and Magazine, who Wilson put on after the teatime news three nights on the trot.
And look. there's the Fall's Mark E Smith. a ghost of his former self playing his former self, and looking timelessly the same. The gang's all here, then. And there. Even I'm in there somewhere, if you look really, really hard.
To be honest, if we must, 24 Hour Party People probably isn't the best film in the world ever. But, as one-line jokes and situationist pranks go, for those of a certain age and disposition that swings between obsessive hedonism and hedonistic obsession, frankly it pisses all over High Fidelity.
Later, after ‘86 and ‘89 or whenever, are in the can. even though only about 30 seconds of it will end up getting used, the lad from The Manchester Evening News drives us around to Whitworth Street, where the preservation-ordered facade is all that's left of what used to be the real life Hacienda. A pilgrimage. A wailing wall. Perversely, it turns out that once 24 Hour Party People's done with, the other Hacienda, over in Ancoats, is going to be demolished as well. They're going to build flats there, apparently. Luxury apartments. And so it goes.
That night, in the faded grandeur of a Manchester hotel room, on the telly, of all places, I could swear it's the Hacienda. Which, of course, it is, in The Alcohol Years, a documentary by Carol Morley, who interviews everyone she ever used to know, friends, exes, one-night stands. or even just people she spoke to when she was a Manchester character and Hacienda fixture. There's Dave Haslam, some-time Hacienda DJ, who's already immortalised 24 Hour Party People in a book all his own. And there's Wilson, remarkably not saying much for once.
There's others too. Liz Naylor, who edited City Fun, possibly but not definitely the best magazine ever, which accused Factory of all sorts of things they couldn't mention for legal reasons. And there's Dick Witts, who used to be in a band called the Passage, and wrote a song called A Certain Way to Go, that slagged Factory off for seeming to have more style than substance.
After Wilson left What’s On, Dick Witts became co-presenter with a mad Scouse songstress called Margox, who, as actress Margi Clarke, makes a split-second cameo in 24 Hour Party People. Dick Witts is Richard Witts now.
He writes books about the arts council and Nico, a singer who went from one dead-end Factory town to another. Witts looks beetroot-faced embarrassed if you tell him you've got all his records. Real or imagined, Dick Witts isn't in 24 Hour Party People.
A whole year on, and The Man On the Telly's at it again, lapping it up on the bookshop chat-show promo circuit. In Glasgow, a New Order tape plays while we wait for Wilson. On the wall, behind a too-much-pine lectern, is a huge publicity poster for 24 Hour Party People, the movie. It's a head-and-shoulders shot of Coogan as Wilson, but still looking like Partridge. Another holy trinity. Across the bottom, in tabloid-size letters is one word, a legend. ‘TWAT’. Don't think they're overly concerned about the Hollywood market, somehow. It's a brilliant Factory moment anyway. A brilliant Wilson moment.
A brilliant moment like the time John Lydon. who used to be Johnny Rotten. who in another life Wilson ﬁrst put on the telly, refused to do a live web-link from New York at In the City, Manchester's annual music conference Wilson founded, after he’d already refused to ﬂy.
Then there's playwright Patrick Marber, who used to be the telly with Steve Coogan, naming his play Closer, after the second Joy Division album. And Ralf Little, who used to be in The Royle Family, playing Caroline Aherne‘s kid brother, Anthony. In 24 Hour Party People he plays Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, who in real life used to be married to Aherne, and who led the studio house-band, Hooky and the Boys, on her top light entertainment chat-show spoof, The Mrs Merton Show.
Or how about Mike Pickering. who went from Quando Quango and the Hac to M-People and Jamie Theakston‘s rubbish TV pop quiz, and still didn‘t know that New Order’s Blue Monday is the best-selling 12-inch single ever. Best of all is Kylie. showing off her tight little knickers at the Brits atop a giant CD singing the mighty Can‘t Get You Out of My Head backed perfectly in synch by the very same best-seller from 1983. From pioneers to pop perfection only took a lifetime.
Best, that is, apart from last year in a warehouse in Ancoats, when, in full ﬂow, the man with the best known mobile phone number in Manchester, who's sparring bitchingly with the comedian sitting next to him, is interrupted by his mobile phone. He looks to check the number, passes it across to Steve Coogan, who’s dressed like a parody of Tony Wilson. “It’s for you,” says The Man On the Telly. “It’s the wife.” And it probably was.
24 Hour Party People is on general release from Fri 5 April.
Section 25 -
Spent entire career supporting Joy Division and New Order. From Blackpool. The bit where the sun never shone.
The Swamp Children/Kalima - To a Certain Ratio what Section 25 were to Joy Division. Jazz-funk stuff. Like Level 42 with decent haircuts and the complete Penguin Modern Classics.
The Wake - Token Scottish connection featuring ex Altered Image Caesar and ankle-biting
Bobby Gillespie, who went on to another disastrous maverick label, Creation, but not before defecting to Factory-inspired Sarah Records.
Northside - Arse-end of baggy. Rubbish.
John Dowie - Edinburgh Fringe favorite. Alternative comedian before alternative comedy. Released single, lt’s Hard To Be An Egg. White vinyl. Yellow label. Genius.
The Wendys -
Token Scottish connection. From Edinburgh. Currently residing in Bendy Toy.
Crawling Chaos -
Prototype crusties making a racket that fell somewhere between Death Metal and Newcastle.
Crispy Ambulance -
Possibly the worst named band in the world. Sounded like Joy Division. Reformed last year. New album imminent.
They didn’t just do records, you know. Those crazy catalogue numbers in full
FAC 8: Menstrual egg-timer - Ingenious device patented by Linder Sterling, voice of rad-fem avant- jazzers, Ludus.
FAC 61: Hannett lawsuit - The legendary producer settles out of court for Joy Division/New Order royalties.
FAC 98: Swing - A hairdresser’s under the Hacienda.
FAC 99: Rob Gretton’s molar reconstruction - Dentist bill paid for by Factory after Joy Division manager beaten up by A Certain Ratio.
FAC 126: Alan Erasmus goes to Moscow - Factory’s first move into classical music aborted after label’s contact kicked out of country on suspicion of being KGB spy.
FAC 152: From Manchester With Love - T-Shirt To coincide with New Order benefit gig for Liverpool Labour councillors turfed out of the party by class traitor Kinnock. Bless.
FAC 202: Charity Balloons - BA event in Hyde Park.
FAC 215/216: Factory wine - 200 bottles each of red and white plonk. Label done by Peter Saville.
FAC 282: Flowers for Horse’s Wedding - Gift for Happy Mondays guitarist.
FAC 331: Temporary contemporary table - That table.
The List, March 2002