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Wilson and the Factory Girl

Submitted by on October 11, 2010 – 9:14 am2 Comments

As In the City starts again this week, a book by Tony Wilson’s ex-wife Lindsay Reade will be launched at Peter Hook’s Factory club on Wednesday. Former NME writer and music biographer Mick Middles helped put it together, and the man who once had his own graffiti at Piccadilly Station tells A Fine Lung what to expect.

Mick is a prolific brew-maker and lothario of high renown. In response to his critique of ‘the Don loves TV’ scrawl on a wall by Picc station in the 1980s, someone infamously sprayed ‘Who is Mick Middles?’ by it. He has never lived it down. He is, however, a very nice bloke, a good red and Lung reader. While Paul Morley was selling out and moving to London to make a living appearing on tedious documentaries about Factory records, Miggles has remained in the north west writing books with anyone from Mark E Smith to Les Dawson.

Mig knew Wilson personally and, contrary to popular belief, it was him who featured as the journalist in 24 Hour Party People, not Morley. We’re hoping to get him along to Course You Can Malcolm soon, so you can ask him questions about how The Farm once threatened to shoot him and what it was like spending a week on the razz with Viv Richards in the Caribbean.

For now, here’s Mig Miggles’s preview of Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl, which is launched on Wednesday night:

Tony Wilson. Who was he? Future generations may well ask, as they encounter his lively ghost in so many areas of Manchester culture; as they sense it in the sounds, the sights and the very feel and fabric of the place, they may be forgiven the question.

Who was he? What was he? A television presenter, although unlike any other. Journalist? Academic? Musical entrepreneur? Spokesman? Salesman? Chancer? Visionary? Loved and loathed with equal vigour, a man who relished every positive conflict.

As Tony Wilson’s shadow looms deeper and deeper into the future, that question will gain weight, rather than lose it. There will be a number of ways to find the answer, or, at least, part of the answer. In the three short years since his untimely death, a myriad of films, radio shows, press articles, websites and books have pondered his increasing enigma.

And from the unprecedented mythology of Factory Records, we now find a growing sub-genre, the Tony Wilson book.

There have already been a number of these. His own pacy and mischievous 24 Hour Party People was always much more than mere accompaniment to the film of the same name.

Then came David Nolan’s earnest and lovingly researched biography, You Are Entitled to Your Opinion and, on some distant horizon, a cerebral Paul Morley account awaits completion.

Now, however, sees publication of arguably the most illuminating of all the Wilson/Factory tomes as Tony Wilson’s first wife, Lindsay Reade, unleashes Mr Manchester And The Factory Girl.

Lively, courageous and beautifully told, it is a book that will surprise many. As with all the most astute biographies, it will undoubtedly ruffle feathers. Supporters and detractors are readying for debate, just as Tony would like.

I must declare, here, now that I am of the former. I declare also that Lindsay Reade is a close friend. We have even shared authorship of the book, Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis.

The book has been unfolding for many years. It was on its way long before the author herself even realised it. Many might point to the first half of the 24 Hour Party People film, which hangs on the volatile relationship of Tony and Lindsay as its primary theme.

Those who knew the couple from the early days of Factory Records, and many of them generously surface to offer comment within her text, witnessed the extraordinary relationship first hand. I didn’t. I knew Tony Wilson, back then and, in later years, Lindsay. But not together. Until now, that is.

During the research for Torn Apart, Lindsay interviewed Wilson on a number of occasions. I remember listening to those tapes, hearing the often barbed banter as it swayed back and forth. It wasn’t mere sexual spark, either. It had a rewarding energy, even when the banters seemed less than positive. I realised then, and only then, how important this must have been during Factory’s embryonic years.

I already knew that Lindsay’s story had been under-told, under-valued. Without question, the ever-competitive Wilson was guilty of down-playing her role, from her instigating the signing of Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark which would bring essential early funds to the label to her latter-day co-managing of The Stone Roses. This was clearly not a one-sided affair, even in aesthetic terms.

At first glance, I admit, the notion of a ‘wife’s tale’ might appear unholy. After all, we have seen so many similarly placed ‘celeb biogs’. But this is not a celeb biog. In fact, it’s not a biography at all. It is the story of a remarkable relationship, fractious and unique. Yes, the book does have teeth! It has to, if it is to meet the memory of Wilson’s engaging tirades with level intent.

There was a wonderful line in 24 Hour Party People, where Steve Coogan turns to the camera and exclaims, ‘This is not all sex and drugs and rock’ n’ roll. Although all those three are in it.’

Well, the same can be applied here, mercifully as it happens as this is certainly no sanitised account.

As stated, Lindsay and Tony’s relationship was often less than an easy ride. He sacked her from her lowly paid job running Factory’s overseas department, he abandoned her on a New York Street, he ignored her in public, she threatened to sue him for unfair dismissal!

Through telling this succession of events, it is a book where emotional surges are tempered carefully by the author’s obvious intelligence.

It also acknowledges the years of separation. The times when their state of loggerheads seemed irreparable and they seemed destined never even to meet, let alone revive that emotional spark. Living in different worlds, with different partners, different dreams and, for a while, different cities.

But Lindsay and Tony did grow close again during the later years. I might be wrong, but I like to feel that Lindsay’s work on Torn Apart helped to gently soften those edges. Initially sceptical of that book, Wilson notably softened following its publication and the radio interview he conducted with her at that point, seemed to contain a conciliatory air. In the end he was generous in his acknowledgement, his approval.

I am sure Tony would have heartily approved of Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl. It is honest, intelligent, literate and, in places, courageously awkward, rather like the man himself.

There are uncomfortable sections, not least the account of his final year. A truly harrowing period conducted in the full glare of local publicity and yet, despite obvious pressures, the tenderness between these two old friends and lovers is astutely recreated in these pages.

The reader would have to be icily detached, if not a savage foe, not to be moved by this heartfelt account.

Lindsay Reade didn’t always share Tony Wilson’s eclectic musical vision. Other writers may have been more studiously aligned with that aspect but none of them, I strongly suggest, has glimpsed so effectively beyond the enigmatic sheen of the man himself.

It is the book that, at last, provides the answers to those two opening questions. Time for the tale to be told.

Mr Manchester And The Factory Girl is published by Plexus, priced £14.99. To coincide with the launch of her book, Lindsay Reade will be joined by a celebrity panel, including Peter Hook and Elliot Rashman, to talk about the life and work of Tony Wilson on October 13 at Peter Hook and Aaron Mellor’s Fac251 club, The Factory Manchester.

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