24 Hour Party People (2002) kept coming up in conversations I was having as I wandered around the UK, and so I have finally checked it out, although I am no fan of director Michael Winterbottom. This particular film with its super self-conscious po-mo ersatz drug patter is more like his A Cock & Bull Story(2005) than Wonderland (1999) – and let’s not even get into the puke-inducing television journalist-centred Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), or the pathetic ‘pop cultural’ 9 Songs (2004). Winterbottom’s 2002 effort focuses on Tony Wilson – a Manchester based television journalist, unsuccessful businessman and would-be hipster. It goes without saying that no matter how Wilson’s PR minions attempted to gloss his life story, it always ended up looking really boring to me.
What 24 Hour Party People rams home is how Tony Wilson suffered from terrible musical taste; and it is unfortunate that via Factory Records he was mildly successful at hyping some piss-poor tunes into the British pop charts. Aside from a clip of The Stranglers early on and Blackfoot Sue’s Standing In The Road playing in the background during one scene (Wilson had nothing to do with either act), all the music on the soundtrack is truly awful. From Joy Division via A Certain Ratio and New Order to The Happy Mondays, the ‘sounds’ Wilson promoted were uniformly dire (and let’s not waste time looking at Factory’s much-vaunted ‘design’, which was in reality a shower of shite, although it worked as pseudo-corporate branding).
Manchester produced its fair share of decent bands in the late-seventies – Slaughter and the Dogs, The Drones, V2 – but there isn’t any mention of them here (despite the involvement of Wilson’s business partner Rob Gretton with Slaughter); instead, when it comes to non-Wilson controlled musicians, we get the likes of Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Howard Devoto of The Buzzcocks and later Magazine. So if we’re not being subjected to unbelievably dull super-commercial crud by The Mondays, we get the relatively well-known end of the crap that would appeal to a pretentious ex-Cambridge University student like Wilson, rather than Manicured Noise or The Passage (who were just as bad but not half as ‘famous’).
Factory Records had about as much to do with rock and roll as Stalin did with human liberation. The exception proving this rule was their release of a record by New York’s incredible ESG – but there is no sign of them on the 24 Hour Party People soundtrack. But then I’d imagine that ESG, like the more interesting elements of The Hacienda that had been copied from New York clubs, reflect Rob Gretton’s tastes rather than Wilson’s. Likewise, the fact that there is no sign of The Royal Family and the Poor (supposedly the ‘weirdest’ act’ on Factory Records) in 24 Hour Party People, is illustrative of the way the movie is pitched firmly at the mainstream and will only appeal to those who dig Hollywood crapola (and simultaneously accounts for the one-line put-down of John The Postman, who may not have been a great singer but was a curious phenomena).
Anyway, rather than wasting your time on 24 Hour Party People (assuming you’re lucky enough not to have seen it), you’d do better Watching Paint Dry. But moving on, seeing the film reminded me of one of Wilson’s little scams pulled against yours truly. Tony Wilson was an impresario, and I found myself doing a panel talk with him, Mark E. Smith, and John King from the Gang of 4, at The Hacienda in 1996. When I arrived in Manchester I was shown a local newspaper by some of Wilson’s PR people, who were very pleased to have found a tame journalist who’d been fed made-up quotes falsely attributed to me in which I was erroneously reported slagging off their boss (I really wouldn’t have bothered while he was still half-alive, he enjoyed this sort of thing too much). It seemed to give Wilson a real kick to be the subject of fake vitriol attributed to me by the Manchester press.
Needless to say the panel talk I did with Wilson was a real bore, and I’m not sure the transcriptions of it now circulating on the internet are entirely accurate. Never mind, as 24 Hour Party People makes blatantly clear, Wilson preferred legends to factually accurate history…. let the dead bury their dead (Wilson died in 2007), we will blaze a trail to new modes of being… And if Wilson thought that what went on around him was a party, he’d have no doubt considered his own funeral a real ball had he been ‘conscious’ enough to enjoy it…
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!