Twenty One

Today is our eldest’s 21st birthday. Isaac was born on 23rd November 1998 and, as some of you will know, from that point on has had a complicated and difficult time. Diagnosed with a serious, life limiting condition at eight months, multiple operations, deafness, physical and learning disabilities, all compounded by meningitis at ten years old (a result of the refusal of his immune system to grow back following two bone marrow transplants in 2000). Along the way he has refused to stop or slow down and brought joy and laughter to almost everyone he meets- questioning them about the motorways they use, the day their bins go out, the tram or train stations they use and the supermarkets they shop at. He is now in his second year at college and loves it (his college in Salford integrate the young adults with additional needs with the mainstream students on one campus). He goes out with his adult social services group, a service that has somehow survived repeated cuts by the Tory government and council over the last ten years. Things have been on a fairly even keel in recent years but you can’t ever really take things for granted with him (his immune system is still shot to pieces) so twenty one is an achievement, a marker, especially for a young man who more than once while in hospital wasn’t expected to survive the night. Happy birthday Isaac.

I only twigged recently that this event was also on the 23rd November, nine years earlier. The legendary night in 1989 when Top Of The Pops was gatecrashed by Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. At the time in ’89 I remember sitting in my student house, finger poised over the record button on the rented VHS machine. Happy Mondays came on first, miming Hallelujah, the lead song off the Madchester Rave On e.p. Hallelujah on the 12″ is a colossal, six minute piece of grinding Mancunian funk, produced by Martin Hannett pumped full of pills the Mondays gave him, not the kind of song to make the nation’s favourite chart show. The 7″ featured a Steve Lillywhite mix (The MacColl Mix) slightly smoothed out with Kirsty on backing vox. It still sounds like a groovy, out of sync, unholy racket, Shaun William Ryder wanting to ‘lie down beside yer, fill yer full of junk’.

Kirsty joined the band for the TV appearance, dressed down in double denim and trainers. The Mondays had been to Amsterdam before the show for some ‘shopping’ and were all Armani-d up. As the cameras began to roll Shaun asked the nearby cameraman ‘does me knob look massive in these strides?’ Bez apparently remembers nothing of the day at all.

The Stone Roses appeared shortly after having ridden into the top ten with a double A-side, Fool’s Gold and What the World Is Waiting For. The forty date spring tour and debut album saw them grow and grow, bringing more  and more fans on board, hair was lengthening and trousers widening. Fool’s Gold was a step on completely from the album, nine minutes fifty three seconds of liquid, ominous funk, John Squire’s guitar circling round and round, helicopter noises and wah wah bedlam, Reni and Mani were locked in tight. Over the top Ian Brown whispers about greed, the hills and the Marquis de Sade.

Thirty years ago today and still sharper than the rest.

Boom

Boom! Two booms today- I can’t remember exactly why either of these songs came into my head recently or if one sparked the other but I thought it seemed like a decent idea for a post.

Happy Mondays released Wrote For Luck in October 1988, a record around which an entire scene could be/was built, a riot of guitars and dance beats with Shaun Ryder’s surrealist swirl of words reaching a peak. The first 12″ release of Wrote For Luck with the famous Central Station sleeve had a B-side called Boom, a three minute extra that didn’t make the cut for Bummed. Boom opens with heavily reverbed drums and then that queasy musical stew the Mondays created in 1988, keyboards and guitars and bass all fighting over the same ground, the instruments all over each other searching for space. Shaun delivers more wisdom from the microphone, tales of cabbies and drugs and living in a box with cardboard socks. I don’t know if Martin Hannett produced Boom. He produced Bummed and this song sounds like it comes from the same place (a studio in Driffield, East Yorkshire with mixing done at Strawberry in Stockport).

Boom

In 1991 The Grid released a 12″ called Boom, progressive house, pianos, synth stabs and bleeps, thunderous bass and chunky drums heading for deep space. The single came with several mixes. The one here is the 707 mix, presumably named after the drum machine which powers it. Not much to say about this slice of Richard Norris and Dave Ball music other than it is very good indeed.

Boom (707 Mix)

As a postscript- and this only occurred to me while writing this post- in the same year the two came together, Happy Mondays remixed by The Grid, two tracks from their Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches album. It was a 12″ I didn’t get at the time- you couldn’t buy everything could you? I don’t own either of the remixes on CD or mp3 either so it’s Youtube only. One of The Grid remixes was of Bob’s Yer Uncle, Shaun’s dirty talking sex song (a song incidentally that Tony Wilson selected to be played at his funeral which must have caused a few sniggers). The other remix was of Loose Fit, a low slung, smokey vibe of a song with a snakey guitar line and Shaun muttering and growling about a loose fit being his way of life. The Gulf War features too- ‘gonna buy an air force base, gonna wipe out your race’. The Grid’s Loose Fix remix isn’t hugely different for the first few minutes, reworking the drumbeat and stretching everything out, gradually departing at the half way mark and going off into the distance slowly and hazily.

 

Sketches

Vini Reilly’s music as The Durutti Column is among the most special of all that makes up my record/CD/mp3 collection and there’s always more to discover, both in albums I already own and in the parts of his vast back catalogue that I haven’t uncovered yet. In January 1980 Factory released the first Durutti Column album- The Return Of The Durutti Column- a record made up of guitar parts Vini recorded, with bass and drums on some provided by Pete Crooks and Toby Toman, and then knocked into shape by Martin Hannett. Hannett played around with several new toys not least his AMS digital delay unit. The opening song on the record fades in with birdsong (in fact sounds created by Hannett using echo and delay) and as an intro to Durutti Column Sketch For Summer is all anyone needs- a beautiful, simple, almost mystical piece of music.

Sketch For Summer

The first 2000 copies of The Return Of The Durutti Column came with a free 7″ flexi- disc containing two tracks Hannett worked on, bending Vini’s guitar and his own experimental noises into new shapes. The second track on the flexi single is this one, all drones and delay at the start, bent strings and flutter and ambient noise with Vini’s guitar eventually coming out of the murk.

The Second Aspect of The Same Thing

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

Colours In The Air

While looking for something else I found a CD I’d forgotten I owned- Zero: A Martin Hannett Story 1977- 1991. It’s a compilation of songs recorded and produced by Hannett, from Boredom by Buzzcocks onward. Zero is a really good compilation, even with U2’s presence, showing the range and depth of Hannett’s talents and the importance of the man to the sound of some key bands. The final song on the CD is World Of Twist’s 1991 cover of She’s A Rainbow and it struck me that this week’s posts were developing a cover versions theme and that I should go with the flow.

World Of Twist are much missed in some corners not least round here- they got pulled along in the early 90s Manchester slipstream but didn’t really fit in with the sound or the look. Their cover of She’s A Rainbow was originally a B-side to their debut single The Storm and then re-appeared in 1992 in various guises and with remixes as the record label attempted to get a hit and some sales. The version here was one of the last songs Hannett worked on before his death in April 1991 aged just 41. In a way She’s A Rainbow was one of World Of Twist’s less interesting songs, a pretty straight cover version and it doesn’t really show Hannett’s peculiar production genius especially either. But it’s fun and fits in with the group’s aesthetic.

She’s A Rainbow

Hannett lost five years in the 80 to heroin addiction and the groundbreaking productions he did in the late 70s and early 80s especially with the Factory bands- Joy Division, New Order, Durutti Column, Section 25, ACR- was well behind him and unlikely to be equalled (although he really pulled it out of the bag with Bummed).

The original of She’s A Rainbow was on The Rolling Stones 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lightweight, pretty tune, sing-song psychedelia with la la la backing vocals, Nicky Hopkins on piano and some Brian Jones Mellotron. A most un-Stonesy single and song, coming at a mid-point between Paint It Black and Jumping Jack Flash.

She’s A Rainbow

 

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.

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