Saturday, 6 June 2015

In Search of Anthony H. Wilson's headstone

Back in February, whilst in Manchester for a funeral, I decided that the time had come to track down Tony Wilson's headstone. He is buried in Manchester's Southern Cemetery, and the funeral was due to take place at Manchester Crematorium, next door to the Cemetery. It occurred to me, the day before the funeral, that a recce to find the Crematorium would give me an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (if that is not an inappropriate metaphor).

Tony Wilson died in 2007, but his headstone was not erected until 2010. It was designed (in what might be seen as a Factory Records swansong) by Peter Saville, the designer responsible for the majority of the graphic design (posters, record sleeves, Hacienda decor) for Factory Records. It took him three years to arrive at a design that satisfied his own need for the memorial. Being no-longer resident in Manchester, I had never found the opportunity to visit the grave. I did some research (or what nowadays passes for research - I Googled it) and found some interesting online articles, as well as information about the locations of not only Tony Wilson's headstone, but also Rob Gretton's and Martin Hannett's graves, both in Southern Cemetery too. A very interesting fact to emerge from this 'research' (interesting to me anyway) concerns the Factory number of the headstone. Factory Records instituted a policy of numbering almost every artefact that they produced - FAC 1 was the poster, designed by Peter Saville, to advertise the opening night of the Factory Club in Hulme; FAC 51 was the Hacienda nightclub. When Wilson died, his casket was given the final FAC number, FAC 501, and his family decided that there should be no more. So even though it might have been apposite, not to say expected, that it should be numbered, his headstone was not given a FAC Number.

(Just to illustrate that not everyone in the world believes that the sun shines out of Tony Wilson's behind, the Creative Review blog published a post about the eventual arrival of the headstone. Somebody calling himself 'Shaun' (Shaun Ryder, lead singer Happy Mondays?) posted a comment:

"They could at least have fitted it with a mechanism whereby everything surrounding it disappears up it's own arse too.")


Anyway, armed with the information that Wilson's grave is in Plot B, Gretton's is in Plot G, and Hannett's is in Plot FF, I set out to Chorlton. After an hour wandering around in the drizzle and gathering gloom of an archetypal Manchester February day, I had to admit that it was not as obvious as I had hoped, and I left it for another day.

The next time that I had a chance, I determined to examine every headstone in Plot B (according to the info that I had, there are more than 1800 graves on Plot B). Sadly, a further hour and a half (on another drizzly afternoon) failed to turn up the headstone. I had to face facts - either I was looking in the totally wrong place, or the headstone had been stolen. (Not as outlandish as it might sound - the commemorative stone to Ian Curtis in Macclesfield Crematorium was stolen in July 2008). I needed more information.

Further research (Googling) found more-detailed directions, and a map of the cemetery (see above) showing approximate positions of the three graves. Closer inspection of the map showed me why I had so comprehensively failed to find Wilson's grave on the previous two visits - his grave is in a different Plot B to the one I had searched! Why would you have two different Plots B? One for the Catholics, and one for the Protestants, of course!

Well, now furnished with accurate information, I was in Stockport at the end of May. On my way home on Bank Holiday Monday, the fact that it wasn't raining persuaded me to take a short detour to the cemetery and try my luck for a  third time. Bingo! I found Tony Wilson almost immediately, and while taking a couple of snaps was approached by a woman (of about my own age) who regaled me with tales of the Hacienda in its heyday.

I then made the long walk to the north side to find Martin Hannett, which was trickier because he is in the middle of his Plot; and last but not least, back to the main cemetery to find Rob Gretton.

The story of Martin Hannett's headstone is a rather sad one. He died in 1991. In January 2008 Tony Wilson's first wife, Lindsay Reade, was visiting Wilson's grave in Southern Cemetery. She decided to call in on Martin Hannett and Rob Gretton as they were part of the reason Tony chose to be buried there. She had to get help from the cemetery office for location, but found them both, and was horrified to discover that Martin Hannett was lying in a totally unmarked grave. Her visit set off a chain of events which led to Martin getting a fitting memorial in December 2008. You can read more at the Joy Division Central website.

As it turned out, May 15th. was the anniversary of Rob Gretton's death, so his grave was rather overwhelmed with flowers. I still managed to get some picturess. I'm not sure of the fascination, because clearly I am doing it for me rather than the deceased, but I am pleased to have found (and photographed) the graves.

On the basis that one is never satisfied, I would like to go again when the light is better. Wilson's headstone, particularly, being highly polished, offers intriguing possibilities for reflections.

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