This Searing Light

I have recently read Jon Savage’s book about Joy Division- This Searing Light, The Sun And Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History. When I first heard about it I wasn’t sure an oral history, constructed from interviews old and new, was what I wanted from a Joy Division book by Jon Savage, one of the best writers of his generation. What I wanted was Jon’s writing, his thoughts and words, his insights. But within pages of starting the book I was realised I was wrong- the selection of quotes from interviews, the perspectives of the participants and eye witnesses, is exactly the way the story of Joy Division should be told. Some of the excerpts and quotes are familiar, from the Joy Division documentary from 2007, from interviews and articles I’ve read elsewhere. Some are taken from reviews and contemporary music press accounts. Some are new. The genius of Jon’s assemblage of the quotes is in the constant forward momentum of the story, told from within the band and from outside it, and the way he manages to make time shift. Clearly we all know the ending and some of the passages are from interviews with Sumner, Hook and Morris talking now about then, but despite them having the benefit of hindsight the book has a real immediacy, as if events are unfolding in front of your eyes. The shifting focus from one person to another, with interviews conducted at different points between 1978 and 2018, is really well done. The final few chapters, hurtling into 1980 and Ian’s increasing issues with his epilepsy and the side effects of the medication, the ongoing situation with Ian, Deborah Curtis and Annik Honore and the sense within the group that they should stop and give Ian a rest- while at the same time they’re making Transmission, Atmosphere, Dead Souls, Closer and Love Will Tear Us Apart- is brilliantly portrayed, heartrendingly so as the whirlpool sucks Ian further into it, and the loss of control by all involved. If you have any interest in the Joy Division story or the music they made, I can’t recommend it enough.

Fittingly, for a group so defined by the graphic presentation of the art and the beauty of Peter Saville’s work, it is a superbly put together book too, from the shiny reflective cover with the book title in the font used for Closer and grainy band photo, to the selection of gig shots and posters. There are a pair of quotes placed at the end of two of the chapters that are genuinely breathtaking, that make you stop, turn back a few pages and read again, so that the quote comes at you once more- one is from Tony Wilson, that gives the book its title (you should buy it, read it and enjoy that moment yourself). The other is from Annik Honore where she says ‘They made [the music] very naturally… and that’s why it was so good, because they were not self-conscious about it. I think it was coming from deep within them… it was spontaneous, it was not calculated, you know, not artificial; they had the light, the spirit.’ For a group that lasted only a couple of years and wrote and recorded no more than eighty songs, that had an enormous impact on those around them and in their audience at the time- Annik’s quote goes some way toward explaining their particular brilliance.

In 1978, before Factory existed, Joy Division got some studio time from RCA (who had an office in Manchester at the time). The session didn’t go very well and they almost walked out. It was suggested that they record a cover of version of N.F. Porter’s northern soul classic Keep On Keeping On. Hooky says they could never do covers, they never turned out well, they couldn’t work out the parts, but in this case they kept the guitar riff which became Interzone. It would be one of the ten songs that became Unknown Pleasures, recorded in Stockport’s Strawberry Studios with Martin Hannett in 1979. Hooky and Bernard hated Unknown Pleasures. Hannett took away their aggressive, punky live sound and made it something else, something with space and atmosphere and a doomy sense of things going wrong. Everyone else loved it. The rest, as they always say, is history.

Keep On Keeping On

Interzone

Ceremony

I’d forgotten until I posted Galaxie 500 last week that they did a cover of Ceremony, a B-side on the 12″ of Blue Thunder.

Ceremony

Galaxie 500 slow it down and make it a bit looser than the original. Dean Wareham’s guitar playing is stellar, just enough distortion and fuzz and the drums are less mechanical than Stephen Morris’ and avoid the tom toms completely.  It’s a slow burn affair, less quiet-loud-quiet than New Order’s versions of the song.

Ceremony was one of the last songs written by Joy Division and then New Order’s first single- it was released in two different versions in 1981, the first recorded in January and then re-recorded in September when Gillian Gilbert had joined the band, and then issued with two different Peter Saville sleeve designs but both versions were numbered FAC 33. Subsequent pressings saw either version put into either sleeve which seems typically Factory- an obsession with detail coupled with can’t be arsed. Famously when they came to record the song they couldn’t find Ian Curtis’ handwritten lyrics and had to work them out from the demo version, recorded onto cassette- some of Ian’s vocals were unclear and they had to put the tape through a graphic equaliser. Even then Bernard was guessing at some of the lines.

Ceremony

In June 1983 New Order played Chicago’s Cabaret Metro, a semi-legendary gig due to the heat knocking the power out and the synths and sequencers malfunctioning. Towards the end of the set they played Ceremony, rawer, faster and more ferocious. On fire in fact, as Galaxie 500 called their album.

San Pedro

Rikki Turner, former Paris Angel, ex-New Southern Elektrik and The Hurt, is a restless soul who just keeps moving- when one project ends another begins. His latest group is San Pedro Collective, named after the town in California that was home to Rikki’s favourite writer Charles Bukowski (and also home to Bagging Area favourites Minutemen). San Pedro are preparing for a release in July, an e.p. called The Demon Sessions, which will include this song (appearing here in a brief snippet and remixed by The Winachi Tribe).

The Things You See is a collaboration between Rikki and Suddi Raval, with a thundering acid house bassline, plenty of late night, dancefloor vibes and a sultry vocal from Millie MacBean. Also involved are Simon Wolstencroft (ex- Fall drummer), Antnee Egerton of The Winachi Tribe and Manc poet Karl Hildebrandt. The e.p. will feature the original mix of The Things You See and two further songs, San Pedro and A View From The Drowning Pool- the latter is a moody, electronic beast, bleeps and sirens over an 808 and Rikki’s street poetics, spoken word vocal.

Suddi Raval was one half of Together who made two records I hold dear. The first was 1990 rave anthem Hardcore Uproar, piano house, a Star Wars sample and the crowd sounds from a rave in a warehouse at the Sett End in Blackburn.

The second was an unfinished remix Together did of Durutti Column’s Contra-Indications. In 1990 Vini Reilly was experimenting with samplers and drum machines and his Obey The Time album chimed perfectly with the times. Together’s remix was unfinished due to the tragic death of Suddi’s partner in Together, Jon Donaghy, in a road accident in Ibiza. I’ve been coming back to The Together Mix for almost thirty years now and always get chills when I play it. Despite being unfinished Tony Wilson declared it magnificent and released it as a single anyway.

The Together Mix

Rikki’s former bands have all released songs that I’ve raved about here. In 2016 The Hurt released Berlin, a moody Scott Walker via Bowie, collar turned up against the falling Manchester rain.

Paris Angels were from Guide Bridge, near Ashton under Lyne, east of Manchester. Their first single is a legendary slice of 1990 Manchester, a marriage of acid house bass, jangly guitar lines and rattling machine drum with Rikki and Jane Gill’s dual vocals. I once bumped into Jane at the Boardwalk- literally- and she told me to fuck off. Which was probably fair enough- I wasn’t looking where I was going.

Perfume (All On You)

Perfume came out on indie label Sheer Joy and widely played and praised. They followed it with two 12″ singles- Scope and I Understand- before signing to Virgin (who re-released Perfume) and then put out an album called Sundew. Virgin was sold to EMI and a cull saw various bands removed from the label, Paris Angels among them (and PiL too). Which shows what major record labels know.

We Never Compromise

Mancunian artist LoneLady has released a cover of New Order’s 1981 B-side Cries And Whispers. Her sound and aesthetic are partially rooted in those early 80s New Order records and Manchester’s spirit of those times- her last album was inspired by walking round the concrete and streetlight spaces underneath the Mancunian Way (a section of elevated motorway that skims the southern edge of the city centre). I don’t always like covers of New Order songs but this is a keeper.

The original was one of two B-sides on 1981’s Everything’s Gone Green single, a song that skipped the group forward several paces, the moment when they combined rock and dance for the first time on disc and the last time they worked with Martin Hannett. The two songs on the flipside- Cries And Whispers and Mesh- were mislabelled on the disc and then again on Substance, causing confusion for years. One listen to this song, the synth sounds at the intro, the skittering rhythm, Barney’s bleak vocal, Stephen’s metronomic drumming and the swell of keyboards towards the end, should convince anyone that New Order were a class apart from around this point onwards and for most of the 80s.

Cries And Whispers

 

The History Of All Truth

Stephen  Morris is about to put his view of life in Joy Division and New Order into the public domain to put alongside Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook’s versions (for the record Barney’s was pretty disappointing, his account of his younger life growing up in Salford was interesting but after that it became a boring read. He skipped most of the 1980s because he thought people would find him describing how they made their greatest records dull and then spent the last two chapters detailing the collapse of relations with Hooky. Hooky’s books were scurrilous, entertaining and full of the sort of details that I did want to read but his frequent references to Bernard as Twatto show how big the distance between them is and put downs of Gillian were unnecessary).

Stephen Morris’ drumming is a massive part of the sound of his two bands. His travails with Hannett while recording Unknown Pleasures are well documented but clearly paid off. His synth drums on She’s Lost Control are wonderful and the drum sound and drumming on Transmission b-side Novelty are among the best I’ve ever heard. Early New Order singles and albums are full of brilliantly recorded drum parts, as much part of the NO sound as Hooky’s bass, the homemade kit keyboards and Barney’s vocals- all of which are perfectly demonstrated on this 12″ single from April 1984, a high point for the band, the record label and the 1980s as a whole.

Thieves Like Us

As if giving their fans a magnificent standalone single wasn’t enough they coupled it with a gem of a b-side too, opening with Hooky’s brilliant bass and some spikey guitar playing from Barney and another of his fragile vocals. Then the wall of synths come in. Lonesome Tonight, with it’s pisstake title, is a masterpiece.

Lonesome Tonight

The lyrics of Lonesome Tonight are classic early New Order, that mixture of written to rhyme with personal point of view suddenly switching into something portentous- check the change here in the first verse from ‘you turned your back on me’ to two lines later ‘the history of all truth’

I walk along the street
I look into your eyes
I’m pleasant when we meet
I’m there when you go home
How many times before
Could you tell I didn’t care?
When you turned your back on me
I knew we’d get nowhere
Do you believe in youth
The history of all truth
A heart that’s left at home
Becomes a heart of stone

Stephen’s take on events should be interesting. He often comes across as the most thoughtful and considered member of the surviving members of Joy Division. He’s doing a short book tour to promote it with a Q and A session conducted by Dave Haslam starting at the Dancehouse in Manchester next Thursday and then going to Liverpool, Hebden Bridge and Newcastle (which looks a bit like a New Order world tour itinerary from 1985). Tickets for the Manchester event are here if you fancy it. See you there.

Dave Haslam is a Manchester mainstay since arriving in the city in the early 80s- DJ at the Hacienda and the Boardwalk, gig promoter, journalist and author, record label boss (Play Hard) and cultural commentator. From 1980 onwards, if something was happening in the Manchester area, the chances are he was involved or present. His latest book Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor is out now in paperback. Well worth reading if you want to peek inside Manchester’s music scene as seen and lived by Dave from 1980 to the present. Someone described it as ‘the literary equivalent of a brilliant chat with your best mate’ which is a good take on it and it’s refreshingly ant-nostalgic too.

You Took My Time And You Took My Money

New Order in the summer of 1987. I was seventeen and was listening to the True Faith single repeatedly that summer, thirty two years ago (Substance, the singles compilation came out in August 1987 too). The band played True Faith on Top Of The Pops and it rose into the top five the week after. They played live, as this clip shows, broadcast recently on BBC4’s re-runs of Top Of The Pops. The re-runs are deep into 1987- and it has to be said it was a year of largely terrible music on the nation’s favourite chart run down show- most of the episodes can skipped through in minutes with your finger on the fast forward button on the remote control. The week New Order appeared they shared the BBC canteen and dressing rooms with Sinitta and Spagna. This version is, as you’d expect, less sleek and produced than the Stephen Hague single with Hooky’s clanging bass more prominent (glorious as the single is) and has a truncated guitar break. I’ve posted this clip before but watching them the other night I thought it was worth doing again. True Faith is a song I don’t get bored of.

True Faith is a New Order tour de force, a single aimed at selling copies in large quantities- earworm keyboards and boom- bash metronomic drumming providing the rush, a song pitched in a sweet spot between pop, indie and dance. Hooky complains in his autobiography Substance that they’d left nowhere for his bass playing in the mix (but he found his way in) and that the only shot of him in the video is his left foot. Bernard was talked into changing a lyric to ensure radio play (altering ‘now that we’ve grown up together/now they’re taking drugs with me’ to ‘now that we’ve grown up together/ we’re not afraid of what we see’). The song feels like a group effort whatever everyone’s actual contributions were. I think I read somewhere that Deborah Curtis, Ian’s widow, said she couldn’t listen to New Order after Ceremony, it was too much following Ian’s death, but with True Faith she could listen to them again and enjoy it- which tells you something about the way the song was received and something about the distance travelled from 1980 and Closer to 1987 and True Faith. I love it- partly because at seventeen years old you’re so susceptible to these things and partly because it is in some way definitive New Order. It would make it onto any New Order compilation I’d put together.

Peter Saville created a beautiful sleeve, the falling leaf painted gold against the blue background, the leaf idea coming to him as he sat in his car and one fell onto his windscreen. The single was followed by a remix 12″ with an alternative Saville sleeve, a remixed version of the song, a different mix of 1963 and also this Shep Pettibone dub.

True Dub

New Order toured in 1987 too, at home and through the USA (the US leg being the scene of much Hook and Sumner debauchery). The graphic on the tour t-shirt below is very 1987.

Last year Denise Johnson, backing singing extraordinaire, released her own, more emotional reading of the song, done acoustically.

 

Obeying The Time

After watching the footage of the Durutti Column playing in Finland in 1981 that I posted last week I went back to a couple of their albums. I’d read an interview with Stephen Street somewhere where he mentioned producing Durutti’s 1989 album (titled Vini Reilly) and I’d read a review of the triple CD re-issue of 1990’s Obey the Time album so there was a lot of Vini/Durutti in the ether. Plus I had another recently taken shot of the River Irwell taken from the same bridge but looking north to go with the one I’d used with the Finland post.

Stephen Street producing Vini Reilly was a consequence of him producing and co-writing much of Morrissey’s Viva Hate and then getting Vini to play guitar over much of it. Vini had a strop part way through the recording and claimed to have written all/most of Viva Hate which he apologised to Street for (but Morrissey uncharacteristically got the hump- if I remember correctly he removed Vini’s name completely from the re-issued versions of Viva Hate). But anyway, I’m not here to discuss Morrissey. Vini Reilly (the album) has one of Durutti Column’s most beautiful moments, one of Factory’s greatest releases, the song Otis, where Vini’s guitar and and his friend Pol’s voice combine with an Otis Redding sample to create an absolute masterpiece. Nothing else quite reaches those heights and the album takes in an array of styles from opera to Spanish guitar.

The following year’s release Obey The Time is a much more complete album, Vini recording with the Hacienda/acid house/Madchester explosion going on all around him and inspired by house music and inspired to use samplers and keyboards. In experimenting with the new technologies and sounds Vini was obeying the time. Usual drummer and Durutti partner Bruce Mitchell only appears on song on Obey The Time. The single that came with the album, where Together (of Hardcore Uproar fame) remixed Contra-Indications as the Together Mix is another DC peak but the one that caught my ears listneing to Obey The Time this time was the second song in, this one…

Hotel Of The Lake 1990

Opening with a Hacienda inspired bassline, some washes of synth and a little guitar flourish Vini takes us on a five minute after hours trip. Two songs later Home provides another for the DC top ten and Spanish Reggae is up there too (despite its admittedly unpromising title ). With several highlights the album works well from start to finish, sounding more complete and followed through than ’89’s predecessor. Hotel Of The Lake 1990 was given its title by co-manager, friend and record label boss Tony Wilson who was on holiday in a cottage by Lake Como that summer and Vini came to him short of song titles. All of which, let’s be honest, is perfect Sunday morning stuff.