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.

A Double

In past years on music blogs October 25th was Keeping It Peel Day (October 25th being the day he died in 2004), a day to celebrate the life and music of the man. I remember this largely because October 25th is also my wife’s birthday.

This photograph/meme was doing the rounds a couple of weeks ago and I love it. In the spirit of the meme and for Keeping It Peel Day- Peel supported and loved both bands- I offer you a Joy Division song recorded by New Order in 1998 for a Peel Session.

Isolation

Isolation contains one of Ian Curtis’ most distressing lyrics. The second verse has for a long time seemed to me like where he knew he was moving towards the place he ended up in on 18th May 1980.

‘Mother I tried please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can.
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am’

Musically Isolation is immense, Stephen’s urgent electronic drums, Hooky’s driving bass and Bernard’s keyboards which bring a bit of light into the shade. The second half of the song receives a real shot of adrenaline when the ‘real’ kit and hi-hat come in, propelling it onward. On Closer, Joy Division’s second album, it is a breath of fresh air, a few minutes of aural relief following the claustrophobic, intense and unsettling opener Atrocity Exhibition. If you can ignore the content of the lyrics. The New Order version above is well worth your time, an update and upgrade, a merged musical version of Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, both black and pink.

And happy birthday to Mrs Swiss (Lou), a fan of The Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald’s dancing.

Hooky’s Technique

Peter Hook And The Light at The Albert Hall on Saturday night was a tale of three sets and a gig of two halves. Advertised as coming on stage at 8pm and opening with a short set of Joy Division songs the place was filled to burst downstairs from the way Hooky and the band took the stage. The Joy Division set was short and sweet, Hooky’s voice more than doing justice to the songs and he didn’t pull his punches. They started with Atmosphere and then played She’s Lost Control and gave us a marvellous, growly rendition of Heart And Soul. A spirited run through Love Will Tear Us Apart closed this section, the audience joining in and taking over on the chorus.

Peter Hook clearly loves doing this, he’s a part of the fabric of this place, a quarter of it’s most musically adventurous group, a huge contributor to the story of Manchester since 1977. Between 1978 and 1989 his band travelled further, and through more difficult situations, than most groups do. He’s got a band that can play the songs well and the audience love him. The breakdown in relations between him  and his former band mates is just part of the story now. The benefit for us is we get to see the songs played by one of the people that wrote them in smallish, atmospheric venues.

Off for ten minutes and then reappearing for part two the drum machine kicks into life and we’re into Fine Time. From that point on the whole place is jumping as a thousand middle aged New Order fans live out what is one of New Order’s peaks and their last truly great record, 1989’s Technique. It’s not quite a smooth and sleek as the album, which is to be expected- live music should carry a rougher edge, and Hooky’s voice isn’t always in exactly the right key being a very different instrument from Barney’s. But there’s so much to enjoy here as Technique gets played in order- All The Way, Love Less and Round And Round flying by, summoning up the summer of 89, a summer the vast majority of the audience lived through. The Spanish disco stylings of Mr Disco are sublime, filled here with the attack of two guitars, at times two basses, full drums, drum machine, samples. Vanishing Point- one of the best New Order songs not not have been a single lifts the roof of this old Methodist chapel further. Dream Attack. Boom.

Then a strange thing happens. They retire briefly and come back to play 1993’s Republic, every song, in order. You can’t go wrong with Regret and the three that follow are all decent New Order songs- World, Ruined In A Day and a pumped up Spooky. But after that the crowd visibly and audibly slumps and all that energy evaporates as Peter persists in the purity of finishing side 1 and then giving us all of side 2. I kind of admire the purity angle but Republic was a record made at gun point, trying to bring some cash in for an ailing record label. No one seems to have enjoyed making it or the circumstances surrounding it. Some of the songs I haven’t heard for a quarter of a century and I’ll be honest I didn’t recognise them and couldn’t name them- Liar, Chemical, Times Change, Special and Avalanche apparently.

So it’s a relief when it’s over and the eruption of enthusiasm and the fervour that greets the encore sends everyone home happy, delighted, singing in the streets outside. World In Motion, not everyone’s cup of tea, but it gets the crowd singing along and then three complete crowdpleasers- Blue Monday, Temptation and True Faith. Temptation is especially well received, a song we’ve all danced to, loved to, lived to for decades. We’ve all sung ‘I never seen anyone quite like you before’ and meant it.

Mr Disco

These Days

One of the free cable channels showed a New Order documentary on Saturday night followed by a gig from 2006 at Glasgow Barrowlands. The gig was pretty good, the band playing a fairly frenetic, guitar-led set (Hooky was still on the bass and Gillian yet to rejoin). Hooky’s bass runs through Regret were standing out and Bernard was on good form. In the middle they played These Days, a song Bernard said afterwards they’d only played live a few times.

It’s become a bit of a cliche to say that groups in the 1970s and 80s had B-sides that were as good as A-sides. There are bands I can think of from the recent past who have released multiple albums and headlined festivals who have never got anywhere near some of those B-sides. These Days is one of those B-sides, the flipside to Love Will Tear Us Apart, 3 minutes and 24 seconds of post-punk urgency and anxiety. From the choppy opening and Stephen’s busy drumming to Ian’s existential dread, everything processed and syncopated by Hannett. New Order’s move to the dancefloor is glimpsed in These Days and in Ian’s lyrics so is the end of Joy Division.

These Days 

The Longest Night

This 30 minute mix might just freak you out a little. Martin Glover (Youth) put it together for the solstice (a week ago now- and just think, it is several minutes a day lighter than it was this time last week). The mix takes Joy Division and Basement 5 as the source material, adds some spoken words and in Martin’s own words is an ‘experimental and eclectic journey through the longest night of Solstice towards the new dawn…hinged around a Joy Division incessant voodoo drum beat…buckle up’.

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.