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Guest Column – The Passion(s) Of St Anthony Wilson by Mike Garry

Guest Column – The Passion(s) Of St Anthony Wilson by Mike Garry
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An Associate Fellow and Artist in Residence at the University of Westminster, a collaborator with Philip Glass, poet and proud Manchester resident, Mike Garry is paying tribute to Factory Record’s founder Tony Wilson with a musical adaptation of his poem St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson created with composer Joe Duddell (both pictured above). Released last week (14 August) – see Saint-anthony.co.uk for details, the accompanying a video (below) features the likes of Steve Coogan, Iggy Pop, New Order, Mike Pickering, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Madeley, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Shaun Ryder, Mark Radcliffe, Miranda Sawyer, John Cooper Clarke and more, reading lines from the verse. Explaining the project Garry has written Q a guest column on the importance of the TV presenter-turned-impresario, music, words and more…

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I read, write poems and I’m a qualified librarian. That’s probably the uncoolest introduction to an article you’ve ever read but if it’s cool you’re looking for, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Joy Division weren’t cool when they first started. They were a wannabe punk band high on seeing the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Then Martin Hannett got hold of them and created the Joy Division sound. Ask Hooky what he thought of Unknown Pleasures when he first heard it.

The Smiths weren’t cool when they first started. Morrissey wore National Health spectacles, cardigans and a hearing aid. I knew Morrissey. We were friends for a while. I worked with his dad who once asked me to “Have a word with him because all he ever does is sit in his bedroom writing poems…… like you” So I had a word with him. We shared poems. Then the Smiths exploded. It wasn’t my fault.

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I worked with Johnny Maher (as he was then) but later became “Marr” so as not to be confused with the drummer of Buzzcocks. We worked in Stolen From Ivor, a small chain of uncool boutiques selling cheap denim. He was known as “Johnny Marr – Superstar” due to the fact that he constantly told everyone how famous he was going to be because he had: “the greatest band in the world”. Smart lad that Johnny Marr. I always admired him. I still do.

That’s two bands born and bred within minutes of each other that have fundamentally shaped the direction of modern music. What I believe unites these two bands is “words” and a language that goes beyond language. A poetry.

I work with 10,000 young people a year in schools, colleges, prisons and Universities. I try to get them to fall in love with words. I try to emphasise the importance of language and expression by using poetry, literature and music as the catalyst to their understanding.

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Occasionally, I’ll use the lyrics of a song but present them as a poem, on paper and read aloud. We’d spend some time looking closely at the words, exploring sound, poetic technique and meaning. Then, I’d play them the tune. The words alone are usually powerful enough but when they hear it with music, they’re blown away. I see epiphanies on a daily basis where young people hear the words to a poem or a song that strikes a chord and changes their lives. Words have the power to do that. I receive emails on a weekly basis that all start with “You won’t remember me but you came into my school and read me poems and hearing those poems have changed my life”.

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I’ve worked with John Cooper Clarke for nearly five years, travelling the world doing a similar thing but on a different kind of stage. Our tour manager is Johnny Green, the legendary tour manager of The Clash and a great writer in his own right. We spend a lot of time talking about writing and why books, poetry and literature are so important to us.

I’m also lucky enough to work with Philip Glass. He came across my poetry when Bernard Sumner of New Order asked me to perform with him at the Carnegie Hall in New York as part of the Tibet House Benefit in 2014. I stayed with Philip when visiting New York in May. We are working on a libretto about Alan Turing, the inventor of the computer. He wasn’t cool. He was the original Geek. My favourite room in his house is an incredible library where I spend most of my time reading and writing. His mother was an English teacher and later went on to be the school librarian. It’s no coincidence. Philip’s music contains a different kind of language – a language that goes beyond words but if you listen carefully and in the right frame of mind, you’ll hear the words. I’m reading his autobiography at the moment, it’s called Words Without Music.

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Words. I keep coming back to words. Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, John Cooper Clarke, Philip Glass, Alan Turing and Tony Wilson. Tony Wilson was a TV presenter, the brains behind Factory Records and The Hacienda, a catalyst for the Acid House movement and the greatest youth worker I ever had! He loved words, books, libraries and literature. He studied English at Cambridge and quoted everyone, from his favourite philosopher Boethius to his favourite Lyricist, Shaun Ryder. He was a genius with language and knew that the ability to express yourself was key to success. A bit like Alex Ferguson (another great book lover) who constantly told his players to “Go out and express yourselves”.

Tony died on 10 August, 2007 and soon after he died Terry Christian, another lover of words and books, phoned me up and asked me to write a poem to celebrate his life and his achievements. I did and people liked it. Designer Peter Saville described it as “genius”.

Joe Duddell an amazing composer of classical music who’s worked with the likes of Elbow, Richard Hawley and New Order approached me and asked if he could put some music to it. He did and the result is St Anthony – An Ode to Anthony H. Wilson (above). If you get a chance have a listen – it’s really uncool. Cool. The greatest Oxymoron in the world.

Mike Garry@mikegarry

For more, including details of recent books and tours with John Cooper Clark, visit Mikegarry.co.uk. Plus listen to Q’s audio interview with Garry at last year’s Festival Number 6.


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