Wedding Bells

My brother (the next one down from me in age, there are five of us pus two sisters) is getting married today in Manchester Cathedral, the building behind Joy Division in the picture. He lives in the centre of town so it is his local church. Good luck to the pair of you Z and C, may you be very happy together.

Back in 1987 LL Cool J released the single I Need Love. For hip hop loving B Boys like my brother I think this was the moment they parted company with Cool James. Have the intervening twenty nine years been kind to the song?

Nope.

If you want a much earthier, slinkier and more streetsmart rap love song you could do worse than Method Man and Mary J Blige’s 1995 hit I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By, a reworking of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s from 1968. Headnodding beats and Method Man’s delivery (‘I got mad love to give’) matched by Mary J Blige’s chorus. Does this still sound good in 2016?

Yes it does.

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We’re Changing Our Ways Taking Different Roads

We went to see Peter Hook And The Light on Friday night at the Apollo. Some friends had double booked themselves and gave us the tickets gratis. I’ve taken a purist line about New Order recently, holding the view that New Order without Hooky isn’t really New Order. I’m not sure where that leaves me re: Hooky playing without any other members of New Order but he’s got as much right to play those songs as anyone- his bass is as much the sound of Joy Division and 80s New Order as any other instrument, maybe more so. It’s a massive shame that Hooky and Sumner have got so far apart. I can’t help but feel that if Rob Gretton had lived he’d have banged their heads together and sorted them out. But it is what it is and the promise of both the Substance albums played in full and some good reviews was enough to go.

The first half was New Order working forwards through Substance chronologically, the dance influence building from Everything’s Gone Green and Temptation through to Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith. One of the highlights of the gig is seeing Hooky and co performing New Order songs that the original band haven’t done live for years- Thieves Like Us and Confusion are superb and The Perfect Kiss is enormous with its extended bass ending. Subculture and State Of The Nation both get welcome airings. First half set closer 1963 is almost better than the recorded version. There’s a rawness to this band that stands in contrast to the other group and it’s good to see and hear.

After a short break they return for the Joy Division set. Hooky tells us that the first time he played the Apollo was in 1978 supporting Buzzcocks and that the venue seemed a lot bigger then. He seems genuinely moved at the sight of a full house. There’s a lot of warmth for him here and a lot of older gig goers willing him on, plus a few youngsters who clearly want to hear Joy Divison songs done live. The Joy Division songs are rough and ready, David Potts’ guitar turned up loud and distorted, two basses (Hooky’s son on one of them) and Hooky now fully confident on vocals. The vocals on some of New Order’s songs are well out of Hooky’s range and former Monaco bandmate Potts fills in but Hooky’s gravelly voice is ideally suited to the JD material and he sings them like he means it. Inevitably after building a head of dance steam in the first half the tone changes as they work their way through early JD material, songs like No Love Lost, Komakino, Warsaw and Leaders Of Men, with a detour into a frenetic run through These Days. Things really get going again with Transmission and then the intensity of Dead Souls. Everyone knows what the last two songs will be- an emotionally charged Atmosphere (dedicated to the recently departed Alan Wise) and then Love Will Tear Us Apart (dedicated to  Ian Curtis, naturally). When the accounts are finally taken, the dust has settled and it’s all totted up Love Will Tear Us Apart will surely be this city’s anthem and it becomes a full on, audience joining in version. New Order have performed this song for decades now, reclaiming it from the dead back in the 80s. The Light with Hooky singing do it just as well as the current version of NO do. Hooky sings it better too. When the final chords ring out, guitars are dropped to the stage floor and a shirtless Hooky takes the applause before walking off to the dressing room, the crowd carry on the chorus for a minute or two, dragging the band back on stage for another bow. No encore. No need.

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Pennine Version)

To The Centre Of The City

Thirty five years ago today Ian Curtis brought his life to an abrupt and premature end. Ian’s suicide brought Joy Division to an end as well, though they found a way out eventually.

In 1978 Joy Division played live on Granada Reports, after Ian harangued Tony Wilson in a nightclub. This was Wilson’s response, their first TV appearance. The editor’s decision to superimpose footage of cars rushing along the Mancunian Way was inspired. In his autobiography Hooky recalls that each band member was given £2.50 by Rob Gretton to buy a new shirt for the occasion. Hooky also recalls being pissed off that Wilson said in his intro that the guitarist (Bernard) was from Salford (‘a important difference’) when he was a Salfordian as well and still lived there. It’s the little things that stick in the memory.

Disorder

That’s enough with the Johnny stuff for now.

I’ve been listening to Joy Division recently, not just the singles but Unknown Pleasures and Closer. I find I have to be in the right place, to be receptive, to listen to them. Closer especially. It’s difficult to listen to Closer and not dwell on the fact that, particularly with the lyrics, the man singing the songs killed himself in the few months between finishing recording it and it being released.

Both albums are masterpieces musically, a band punching its way out of punk, with the assistance and oversight of production genius Martin Hannett. But specifically I’ve been listening to Peter Hook’s basslines, which are in a class of their own. Entirely self-taught, he wrote more killer basslines than the rest of the post-punk bassists combined. Hooky borrowed and stole and then made something new. His look was cribbed from Paul Simonon’s extra long strap and his sound from seeing The Stranglers and then buying the same amp set up as Jean Jacques Burnel. The playing developed from his and Bernard’s discovery of how to play together. Unable to hear himself above Bernard’s riffing in the early days with poor equipment, he played the higher notes and gained a completely distinctive style. I think it also came from being self-taught and not having served any kind of apprenticeship in standard blues-rock bands. There are no walking basslines, no follow-the-guitarist-just-playing-the root-notes stuff. The basslines in many Joy Division songs are the songs, the lead instrument, the melody.

Digital is a thrilling descending and ascending three note riff. Isolation has a fast two note riff with two alternating high and low ones after the main phrase, set against Bernard’s toy synth and goes straight to heart of it, Closer’s most instant song. The bass notes to Disorder, the opener on Unknown Pleasures, set the tone of the whole record. Shadowplay’s bass riff is genuinely threatening, tense, menacing. A Means To An End is repetitive, circling heavy-disco before it grinds to an unsettling halt. Peter Hook- I salute you.

Disorder

Dub Transmission

This shot shows Joy Division sitting on a low wall near the cenotaph, in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. A cenotaph which the city council have recently moved several hundred metres away. Quite disorientating when you first encounter it unexpectedly, on foot.

Jah Division made/make dub versions of Joy Division songs- that’s a very niche interest. Even more bizarre is the claim that they are (allegedly) Russian Rastafarians. Hmmm. Their dubs are tense, wired, spacey versions of songs which were pretty tense and wired in the first place. Well worth giving a spin.

Transmission Dub

Oooh, have another one as a bonus.

Dub Disorder

Live Transmission

In chapter three of his autobiography (Chapter And Verse) Bernard Sumner describes the destruction of the street he grew up on in Lower Broughton and the displacement and resettlement of family, friends and neighbours to tower blocks and flats.

‘Everything had gone, even the school had been pulled down. It was as if someone was actively trying to erase my memories. All the parts you could feel, touch, even smell, they were all gone and would never come back…. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is when I got even more into music, because what happened around that time has really influenced the music I’ve made. I think that you can hear the death of a community and the death of my adolescence in my contribution to the music of Joy Division’.

With Joy Division the focus is often on Ian Curtis’ lyrics (and what they say about his state of mind) but clearly for Bernard the chord progressions and guitar lines had an actual content too, the guitar playing was about something. 

This recording of Transmission at Les Bains Douche, from December 1979, is astonishingly good- full of power and energy, Bernard’s guitar distorted and furious, Hooky’s bass pushing and pulling. Stephen Morris’ drumming has to be heard to be believed.

Transmission (Les Bains Douche)

Chapter And Verse

I got Bernard Sumner’s autobiography (Chapter And Verse) for Christmas. I haven’t read it yet but have spent some time flicking through it. Bits of it sent me off towards the record collection and to Youtube. Which is where I found this piece of footage from thirty years ago.

January 1984 and The Tube is filmed live from the Hacienda. Onstage are The Factory All Stars who play four songs- 52nd Street’s Cool As Ice, ACR’s Shack Up and New Order’s Confusion (all three together as a medley). Then Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart (sung by Caesar from The Wake). There are way too many people on stage, several singers and a multitude of musicians (including members of The Wake, Quando Quango, ACR, 52nd Street, Bernard from New Order and Marcel King). They all seem to be having a good time and yes, it is a bit shonky but it is very good fun too.

Later on the same evening and also on The Tube a young lady called Madonna will make her first British TV appearance, miming and dancing. There is a story that Peter Hook offered her some cash to dance in the dressing room but I’m sure that’s not true.