18th May 1980

Ian Curtis died forty years ago today. The details are public knowledge- found by his wife in his kitchen in Macclesfield, a cord around his neck tied to the clothes drying rack,  Iggy’s The Idiot on the turntable, a Werner Herzog film the last thing he watched.

The Ian Curtis death cult is a bizarre thing. You can find it easily on the internet, people from all over the world who have taken on the view first expressed by Paul Morley at the time, that ‘he died for you’, that he was too pure a soul for this world. Anton Corbijn’s 2007 film Control, made with the full co- operation of family and bandmates, has fed into this myth- beautiful, romantic, poetic, doomed Ian. It’s a stunning bit of filmmaking and the performances are sincere and sympathetic. I’m not sure though that it’s healthy to portray suicide this way. It’s pretty clear that Ian’s suicide has had a huge impact on those he left behind. His widow Deborah couldn’t stand to listen to New Order between Ceremony and True Faith. His daughter Natalie grew up without knowing her father. Bernard has said the suicide has affected him ever since. Hooky has often referred to the shadow Ian’s death has cast. This isn’t the ‘romantic’ side of suicide. It’s people left behind not knowing why he did it and the guilt that they could have done more to prevent it. The Joy Division industry and the endless Unknown Pleasures merchandising is a spin off that I don’t think anyone on the evening of 18th May 1980 would have seen coming.

Joy Division Oven Gloves (Peel Session)

The Joy Division publishing industry has given us the autobiographies of the main players- Bernard Sumner, Deborah Curtis, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. So many other people around the band have also now passed away- Rob Gretton, Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson- who would surely have written their versions had they lived. Wilson wrote the book version of Twenty Four Hour Party People which also covered the events.

All of which sometimes overshadows the sheer dark brilliance of Joy Division and their music, a band who were more than just Ian Curtis and three mates despite what Hannett said about them being ‘a genius and three Man United fans’. Ian’s untutored voice, Bernard’s rhythm guitar, Hooky’s melodic bass and Steve’s lead drumming, perfectly balanced, each contributing 25% to the whole and Hannett’s production giving them that extra quality, the dark stardust. The fact that Ian’s death is now forty years old underlines just how young everyone involved was and maybe how difficult it was in 1980 for anyone around to have been able to do anything to stop him as his marriage collapsed, his illness got worse and his medication exacerbated his problems, and the US tour loomed. Recent gigs had been chaotic as he had seizures on stage. Mental health services in 1980 were not like they are today. Young men didn’t talk about these things. They didn’t even take his lyrics at face value despite Closer reading like a forty minute suicide note.

R.I.P. Ian. Remember him, listen to the music, dance to the radio but let’s not fall into the trap of the romantic suicide. It’s a dead end with no way out for those left behind.

This is a dub cover version of their most famous song by a New York group called Jah Divison. This isn’t a novelty cover by any means.

Dub Will Tear Us Apart

This is She’s Lost Control, live on Something Else in 1979, the real thing, northern post- punk, a reflection of the post- industrial city they were formed in and formed by, what Wilson called ‘the last true story in rock ‘n’ roll’.

 

National Shite Day

In this bold new world we are now living in, the bright sunlit uplands of Brexit Britain, it seems appropriate that we find a new national anthem, a song with a stirring tune that we can all sing together, a song with words that celebrate our newfound independence, a song where the people, all 52% of them, can all join in, put their arms around each other and raise their voices to the heavens… Nigel Farage, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees- Mogg, Anne Widdicombe, Ian Duncan Smith, Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove, Mark Francois, Dominic Raab and all the rest, this one is very much for you…

‘Pulling the ice axe from my leg
I staggered on
Spindrift stinging my remaining eye
I finally managed to reach the station
Only to find the bus replacement service had broken down

After wondering to myself whether it should actually be called a train replacement service
I walked out onto the concourse and noticed the giant screen seemed to have been tampered with
Probably by a junior employee
Disgruntled commuters were being regaled with some dismal TVM
Involving a tug-of-love-custody-battle
Stockard Channing held sway
Down in the High Street somebody careered out of Boots without due care or attention
I suggest that they learn some pedestrian etiquette
I.e. sidle out of the store gingerly
Embrace the margin
Fat kids with sausage rolls
Poor sods conducting polls
There’s a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets
I try to put everything into perspective
Set it against the scale of human suffering
And I thought of the Mugabe government
And the children of the Calcutta railways
This works for a while
But then I encounter Primark FM
Overhead a rainbow appears
In black and white
Shite Day
I guess this must be National Shite Day
This surely must be National Shite Day
Don’t tell me, it’s National Shite Day
Float… float on
Float… float on
Barry… Herpes
I got a letter from Stringy Bob
Still on suicide watch
Screws not happy
Spotted a Marsh Fritillary during association
Was roundly ignored
”What news you?”
I felt sorry for him
He’d only been locked up for public nuisance offences
One of which saw him beachcombing the Dee Estuary
Found a dead wading bird
Took it home, parcelled it up, and sent it off to the rubber-faced irritant Phil Cool
With a note inside which read: “Is this your Sanderling?”
Another time saw him answering an advert in the music press
“Keyboard player required: Doors, Floyd, etc.
Must be committed, no time wasters”
You can guess the rest
I always imagined he would simply wander off some day into the hills
To be found months later
His carcass stripped by homeless dogs
His exposed skull a perch for the quartering crow
I folded away the letter and put it in my inside pocket
All of a sudden I felt brushed by the wings of something dark
May the Lord have mercy on Stringy Bob
Shite Day
I do believe it’s National Shite Day
It all points to National Shite Day
Someone’s declared it National Shite Day
Shite Day
My birthday! On National Shite Day
No bogroll, it’s National Shite Day
Cue drumroll, it’s National Shite Day’

National Shite Day

Still, blue passports eh?

Authentic Celtic Band

It’s December tomorrow and, unavoidably, the start of advent. Half Man Half Biscuit have a line for most occasions and today’s is from 2009’s Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo’ (the owner of the limb in question is pictured above, either Pete Doherty or Carl Barat, or both). Nigel Blackwell takes them to task for many things, not least this-

‘Advent on the high street
I point and sing
Busk when it’s Christmas
You only busk when it’s Christmas’

Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo

Achtung Bono, the album this song is from, is peak HMHB. Every song, all fourteen of them, is a laugh out loud funny, damning indictment of modern life. In Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo Nigel Blackwell deals with The Libertines-

‘I could have put my head in a bucket full of porridge
And moaned about the hospital parking scheme
I would have saved fourteen pounds
That I just splashed out on your second album
For that’s what it’s akin to
And furthermore
You’ve got a shit arm, and that’s a bad tattoo’

The word ‘furthermore’ isn’t used enough in popular music.

Then he takes to task people who put the letter S onto the end of the Book Of Revelation (and those who do the same to Mary Hopkin). Unfortunately Pete and Carl do this in What A Waster-

‘When she wakes up in the morning
She writes down all her dreams
Reads like the Book of Revelations
Or the Beano or the unabridged Ulysses.’
Just before the guitar solo he sings ‘authentic Celtic band’. I’ve always assumed this is also a tattoo reference but it could be a musical group I suppose.
No Christmas songs here, not yet anyway.

You Been Running Round The Race Track

I’ll stop wittering on about Italy now (although I can’t promise I won’t post more photographs in the future). I found this picture on the internet a few weeks ago and it seemed to good not to use- everything about it is wonderful, from the psychedelic font to the photo and the lad’s expression to the strapline and the other story above the masthead.

This is one of the most Madchester songs, a celebration of complete hedonism through the lyrical lens of Shaun William Ryder and the twisted guitar funk of Happy Mondays. As Shaun puts it ‘Why don’t you join in with the 24 hour party people, plastic face can’t smile, white out?’

24 Hour Party People

The bard of Birkenhead, Nigel Blackwell, used it as starting point for his lament for those poor souls working in the all night garage. Opening with the unforgettable lines ‘I fancy I’ll open a stationers, stock quaint notepads for weekend pagans, while you were out at the Rollright Stones I came and set fire to your shed’ Nigel goes on to describe the tormenting of the all night garage employee, sending him round the shop looking for ever more obscure articles to buy- 2 Scotch eggs and a jar of Marmite, 10 Kit Kats and a motoring atlas, a blues cd on the Hallmark label- before finishing with a diversion into the pines.

Twenty Four Hour Garage People

Alehouse Futsal

There’s a new Half Man Half Biscuit album out today, always a cause of celebration. The lead track Alehouse Futsal appeared online a few weeks ago. It’s business as usual lyrically, that is, moments of laugh out loud genius punctuated with insight and references to popular culture and history…

‘Your softly spoken friends
Their fortnight in the Fens
Your time slip stories I avow
Are boring the arse off me now
I’m gonna put up a wall in your through lounge
My animosity knows no bounds
I’m gonna give you alehouse futsal’

And this part from the middle eight…

‘Picnics with craft beer
Elbow in Delamere
Your brand new 10K PB
Haile Gebrselassie’

No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fucking Hedge Cut is out today, available from Probe Plus. I am especially looking forward to the songs Man Of Constant Sorrow (With A Garage In Constant Use) and Knobheads On Quiz Shows.

Run Run

A friend posted this tune on social media yesterday. I could place the title but not how it went. A lot of Bandulu’s mid 90s techno worked very well at the time but does sound, two decades later, very thump-thump-thump techno. Bandulu were also capable of moments of ambient magic and Run Run is one of them, a righteous piece of ambient dub from their 1994 ep Presence (and 1994 album Antimatters) with a vocal from John O’Connell. The dub swirls and storm clouds gather. A piano fades in and out. Smoke bubbles. Half time, off beat rhythm. Seven minutes where all is good.

Run Run

The picture was taken on a visit the other weekend to Mellor, in the hills above Stockport. I read a reference to an iron age hill fort and burial mound up there, out beyond Marple Bridge but before you get to New Mills (Half Man Half Biscuit once told us ‘No frills, handy for the hills, that’s the way you spell New Mills’ and this caused some excitement when we detoured through it, as you can imagine). The photo was taken within the boundary of the hill fort, partially excavated, looking back towards Manchester. You can see for miles, way beyond the city and out to Cheshire and Merseyside. A 5 minute drive away, down the dip and up again, is the field where the barrow is (sadly on private land so not accessible but visible). We stood on the hillside looking at the same landscape, give or take a large city, that local people 10, 000 years ago would have been looking at.

There’s No Sense In Trying

Factory Friday, in response to Dirk, The Swede and others and because it could be fun. Crispy Ambulance signed to Factory in 1980. I was going to post Deaf but I’ve done it before (years ago admittedly and it is a great song). Dirk mentioned The Presence so I’ve gone for that, all thirteen minutes of it. At first listen you should be able to spot Martin Hannett’s unmistakeable production. Singer Alan Hempsall intones over a proper post-punk sound- gloomy maybe, grey raincoats possibly but with a brightness too.

The Presence

The Presence was the A-side of Live On A Hot August Night, released on Factory Benelux in June 1981. You can fit all of Crispy Ambulance’s back catalogue onto one compact disc and I think you probably should. After signing Crispy Ambulance and failing to sell them in any decent quantities Tony Wilson declared ‘no more bands with stupid names’. Then he signed Stockholm Monsters. Factory’s failure to sell records in the first half of the 80s by anyone except New Order may have had more to do with their refusal to use pluggers. Or buy advertising. But we wouldn’t have it any other way would we? Crispy Ambulance are also immortalised in Half Man Half Biscuit’s epic account of shit gigs and band rivalries.

Running Order Squabble Fest