At 10am on the longest day of the year, two hundred handpicked creative individuals, the ‘talent’, gathered together in Manchester’s Hard Rock Café, nervously shuffling through their goodie bags and hastily consuming canapés, wondering what the Tony Wilson Experience was all about, and what the next 24 hours would bring.
Peter Saville, Elliot Rashman and Sir Richard Leese, well known ambassadors for the city in their various roles, also confessed that they, too, were not entirely sure what was in store but hoped that the event, held in memory of Anthony H. Wilson approximately a year after his death, would be ‘shambolic enough to be useful.’
And so it began. It was Steve Coogan and Peter Saville, with Alex Poots, director of Manchester International Festival, who first took to the stage in the giant tipi in Cathedral Gardens, tentatively discussing Tony’s impact on the city and themselves as professionals in their creative disciplines.
The first few hours continued in this rather formal fashion, with the ‘experienced’, the likes of broadcaster Stuart Maconie, property mogul Tom Bloxham, Hacienda designer Ben Kelly and Artistic Director of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture honour, Jayne Casey, sharing anecdotes about their experiences of Tony and the Hacienda, and the creative impact of Manchester on the global stage.
As confidence and beer consumption grew, however, the audience realised that a discussion about a past with which they could not identify was not the Tony Wilson Experience they had in mind, one plucky individual grabbing the microphone to state that as a person in his mid twenties, the Hacienda bears no relevance to his life and his experience of the city and the focus should be on Tony’s legacy and the creative future of the city and its residents.
How right he was. From that moment onwards, microphones flew around the room and the event finally became participatory and interactive, much to the evident delight of its organisers.
Quite frequently debates became furiously heated, such as Irvine Welsh and Paul Morley’s discussion about the possible trend of dumbing down of culture, or Kevin Cummins and Karen McBride’s vehement defence of the role of the professional photographer. The peak was Stella Grundy’s 3am interrogation of Shaun Ryder who retaliated by throwing a jug of water over the former punk singer turned actress.
Perhaps most invigorating was the wonderfully shambolic open mic session which saw the young talent finally taking over the microphone to share resources, finding out where in Manchester, for example, cheap art studios could be rented, or how to better promote spoken word performers.
The Tony Wilson Experience was decidedly ramshackle yet inspiring, sometimes pretentious and definitely motivating – undoubtedly an event Tony Wilson would have relished.