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The Tony Wilson Experience

Sean Smith makes order out of chaos at the 24-hour debate

Published on June 26th 2008.

The Tony Wilson Experience

12.09pm: Sir Richard Leese says that today’s event is a no-lose situation: “Even if it goes wrong, it goes right.”

Peter Saville reminds us that the Tony Wilson Experience is “not a 24-hour lecture. It’s a 24-hour discussion.”

"Actress and former Intastella singer, Stella Grundy, has a question: “I just wanted to know if Shaun ever regrets ripping bands off and generally being a bit of a twat?”"

12.20pm: “There’s a forthright honesty and an economic, poetic eloquence that northerners, and especially Mancunians have,” says Steve Coogan. “It’s that thing of saying a few words and saying an awful lot.”

1.05pm: Stuart Maconie sums up Wilson’s influence thus: “If you have an idea, even if you don’t know where it’s going, just do it. Put your head above the parapet.”

2pm: Coogan returns to further discuss his role in 24 Hour Party People – which he describes as “the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done.”

It wasn’t a difficult role: “He was a larger-than-life character. He was very physical, he would wave his arms about. There was always an element of theatricality in everything he did.”

Coogan isn’t sure that Wilson really was ‘the architect of modern Manchester': “The regeneration of the city that we see around us, there’s a lot of glass and stainless steel but the creativity that Tony championed came from a dirtier and grimier Manchester.”

5.05pm: Christened at the Hacienda, babysat by Shaun Ryder, holidaying with New Order in Ibiza, Olly Wilson grew up in the eye of the Factory storm.

“Today isn’t about the people on this stage,” he tells us. “It’s about the people out there. So if there are a load of boring old farts going on about the old days up here, stand up and tell them. Get involved.”

5:30pm: Elliott Rashman suggests that Jayne Casey could set up an Independent Quarter in Manchester, similar to the one she has set up on Jamaica Street in Liverpool, prompting Sir Richard Leese to pop his head inside the tent and ask; “How many warehouses do you want, Jane?”

A question from the floor about the loss of the Free Trade Hall and the Hacienda results in angry exchanges but the council leader acquits himself well, saying that the city shouldn’t be turned into a big, cultural museum-piece. Unimpressed, the questioner tells him to fuck off anyway.

8.05pm: These seats aren’t getting any more comfortable. John Robb observes that the fictional Peter Hook got many of the best lines in Anton Corbijn’s Joy Division movie Control.

The real Peter Hook begs to differ: “I’m much fucking funnier than that.”

Watching Control’s Cannes premiere, Hooky says he “knew it was a good film when only two people got up to go to the toilet. One of them was 75 and the other one was Bernard.”

9pm: Paul Morley talks to Irvine Welsh about the fact that, “Something terrible has happened to literature in this country.”

“We moved from a culture-based society to an entertainment-based society,” says Welsh, looking every inch the ex-pat boho. “There’s been a massive expansion of writing but it’s actually just an expansion of the entertainment industry.”

Morley goes into an expletive-ridden '30-second rant' about the idiocy of TV programmes complaining about “fucking chickens’ living conditions.”

“Why can’t we have an hour on television given over to the lack of free-range ideas?”

11pm: Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris talk about life as ‘the other two’.

Someone asks Gillian Gilbert what it was like as the only woman in Joy Division. “Pretty awful,” she replies. “I just had sisters, no brothers. And then I went to an all-girls school. And then I went into Joy Division, which was an all-male environment. It was a bit weird.”

Morris: “The fart ratio went down a bit. But not much.”

12am: Being Salford’s most famous poet is, says John Cooper Clarke, “a millstone around my neck. People think they don’t like it – poetry. I wanted to be an all-round entertainer. I really wanted to sell-out at the earliest opportunity.”

Alan Wise asks him if there’s anything he wants to say to “the kids” in the audience? “Stay away from my car,” he replies.

2.20am: Mosaic artist Mark Kennedy arrives onstage. Talking about the removal of his Manchester icons murals from Affleck’s Palace, Kennedy says that, “Nostalgia is the death of hope. When the mosaics were taken down, I was miserable for a day and then I thought, fuck it.”

Photographer Kevin Cummins wants to tackle Kennedy about what he sees as the mosaic artist’s unauthorised use of his work as source material for several panels of the Affleck’s wall.

Kennedy tells Cummins: “I don’t value photography.”

“You’ll fucking nick it though,” says Cummins.

3.10am: An uncomfortable-looking Shaun Ryder, sporting a mohawk and very white teeth, gives a series of shrugs and one-word answers to John Robb’s questions. “I can’t be mithered,” he tells Bez.

Actress and former Intastella singer, Stella Grundy, has a question: “I just wanted to know if Shaun ever regrets ripping bands off and generally being a bit of a twat?”

Bez speaks up in defence of his friend. Grundy makes for the stage. Ryder snaps, stands up and drenches her in the contents of a water bottle. It gets ugly.

5am: Matt Dennerly, 22, from Gorton, one of the invited creatives in the audience, describes a “fantastic” open-mic session.

“There was this girl, bless her, all she wanted to do was read what she’d written on this piece of paper. She was getting so distraught because she thought that she wouldn’t be able to read it. And when she did – basically, it was about having a massive sense of civic pride – everyone who was left really connected with it. That kicked it off.

“I got up, eventually, and said my piece, my poem, and it went down ridiculously well, actually. I was really surprised and extremely chuffed about it.”

He tells me that next month, the people who took part in the session are going to get together and go down to Piccadilly Gardens, “just to say some shit.”

11am: Professor Brian Cox is a Manchester University experimental particle physics researcher (and former D:Ream keyboard player) helping to reveal the secrets of the universe in his work on the CERN particle accelerator project in Switzerland.

He tells us about string theory: “It’s driven by a belief that the universe is beautiful. And for some reason, it holds up. Why is beauty a guide for truth? Nobody knows. But it seems to hold up.”

“We’re getting into Michael Moorcock territory here,” says Bob Dickinson.

“Dr Who, really,” decides Stephen Morris.

12.02pm: Mike Garry steps up to deliver a stirring eulogy to the man whose passions, interests and beliefs have so consumed our thoughts for the last day. It’s a beautiful moment.

But I’m glad it’s all over.

“The first phrase I heard yesterday was ‘shambolic enough to be useful’ and it couldn’t be more true,” an exhausted but exhilarated Matt Dennerly tells me. “As it progressed, more and more people managed to pluck up the courage to say something. And that’s when it started to get interesting.

“I feel privileged to be a part of it. I learned new things from every speaker I heard. I’ve probably forgotten it all – because I’ve been up all night – but still, what sticks, sticks.”

A more fitting tribute to this remarkable man, I can’t imagine.

No statues required.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Ben JacksonJune 26th 2008.

I'm sorry but the whole event sounds naff. It wasnt opened out to Joe Pubic but so called creative guru's who probably stood around trying to look cool in their best free loading mode.If you want to celebrate Tony Wilson's life put a free gig on in Platt Fields with Manchester DJ's and bands and forget this 24 hour malarkey.

eddy rheadJune 26th 2008.

"I learned new things from every speaker I heard. "I wonder what he learned from Shaun Ryder?

David DevalleJune 26th 2008.

This is a a rather odd account with respect to the 'exchange' I had with Sir Richard Leese around 5.30pm in the context of the cultural heritage of Liverpool. Jayne Casey encouraged Sir Richard Leese onto the stage, he declined but proceeded to inform us about what we should be doing with the roving mike.As Sir Richard Leese exhorted the audience and how the council would respond. I shouted said 'Reclaim the Radisson'. He retorted with his bizarre response about the Free Trade Hall having poor acoustics and 50's rip off building. No doubt believing I wished to enshrine some tacky memorial to the Sex Pistols or something rather than the betrayal by the council in terms of ownership and meaning of Peterloo. I did not direct any insults to Sir Richard Leese I simply said **** rock and roll - what about the history! He said something else...and I said He had Sold out to capital. He then turned his back...A wiser report of the exchange is in MEN and you can watch the video to support this account.

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

When I first heard about this event I was really excited by the potential an event of this kind could have on not only promoting Manchester creatively, but also in encouraging creative talent within the city and thus celebrating it. Maybe it is just the style of the write up, but it seems to me that this was just a talk, badly advertised, between already established creatives. It appears to have more resemblance to a dinner lady gossip complete with self congratulatory pats on the back and a pinch of bad punch lines for good measure while everybody struggles to compete in the out dated competition of ‘Coolest Creative Who Gives A ****’.I have a lot of respect for the participants at this event and feel each rightly has their place, but there are a lot of people within the city doing things that could have participated, but were unaware the event was taking place. And as opposed to them missing out I feel the organisers of this event missed out.For a start asking people to apply by downloading their creative worth is patronising. Ask them to say why they’d like to participate or attend and you might have had a more genuine response.There is a lot of good will in the city towards Tony Wilson, what he did and the way he actively encouraged raw talent and I would say that almost everyone I meet on the street knows who he is and what he did. Ask them about this event and it’s a different story. And my question is ‘Why?’

CheeseyJune 26th 2008.

As an event it cost quite a bit to put on and took no cash. Now that was very Tony Wilson. The guy from Urban Splash talking about ‘inventing’ the idea of turning historic buildings into factory outlet malls was outstandingly off mission. A big free gig would have meant more.

John WareJune 26th 2008.

The situationist session was shambolically hilarious. The panel didn't seem either qualified or bothered to talk about it (albeit, it was 4.00 am) while the audience was chomping at the bit. They were going to get shouted down no matter what.

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