New Order/Joy Division drummer recalls life with the Factory legend

New Order’s Stephen Morris has spoken to NME.COM at length following the death of Tony Wilson.

The Manchester legend signed Morris’ first band Joy Division to his Factory Records label, and then continued to support the group and release its records after they became New Order following frontman Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980.

Wilson passed away on August 10 after battling with kidney cancer, something that the drummer admitted had shocked him.

“We were told that Tony had been given the last rites. And I didn’t think he was that bad,” he explained. “Then at tea time on Friday (10) I got a call from (Factory co-founder) Alan Erasmus, which was a shock anyway because I’d not heard from him in about 15 years. And he told me that Tony had just died. And I was shocked, double shocked.

“It was very fast. I saw him three weeks ago at a wedding, and I saw pictures of him at Coachella (where he introduced Happy Mondays onstage). He was obviously ill and he had a very ill-advised beard, but Tony was still there. We were chatting about Neil Young at the Palace Theatre, and he seemed alright. Which is why I’m quite surprised that it’s happened as quick as it has done really. I heard he was getting taken back to hospital, but that’s one of the things about cancer, it’s up and down a bit. The whole thing’s been really quick because he was only diagnosed just before Christmas.”

Morris then recalled the impact Wilson had on his bands and the first time he had met the local TV presenter turned record label boss.

“When it started out, everyone knew Tony because he was on telly, reading the news,” said Morris.

“He was the hippy guy who was kind of on your wavelength, and he did the ’What’s On’ programme. He was obviously listening to the same kind of music that we did. And then at a concert one night Bernard (Sumner) spotted him. Ian (Curtis) harangued him mercilessly for not putting us on television, because he’d had the Buzzcocks on, and I remember Ian really laying into him going ‘You’re a right twat Wilson, you are,’ and I think that impressed Tony more than anything. We gave him a copy of ‘An Ideal For Living’ (the band’s debut EP as Warsaw) and he played it on ’What’s On’. And the next thing you know… you can trace It all back to that one chaotic gig at Rafters. That was where it all started.”

Morris admitted that without Wilson’s input neither of his bands would have been likely to succeed.

“We definitely wouldn’t have become what we did, definitely not,” he declared. “I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt. So many other things wouldn’t have become what they are. Manchester wouldn’t have become what it is without him. Things would have been so different.”

For more of Stephen Morris’ tribute see this week’s issue of NME for a special look back at Tony Wilson’s life and musical legacy.

You can read Tony Wilson’s obituary along with a host of tributes led by New Order and Alan McGee on NME.COM now.

See the NME Office Blog for our Tony Wilson comment and tribute, then leave a comment with your own.