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

 

Shoes With No Socks In Cold Weather

In their fortieth year A Certain Ratio have gone all out and are set to release an anniversary box set in May, twenty eight tracks making up the singles and B-sides that weren’t included on any of their albums and sixteen previously unreleased songs. You can read about it here. Ahead of this they have just put this out, the semi-legendary results of the time in 1980 that ACR, Martin Hannett and Grace Jones assembled in Stockport’s Strawberry Studios to record a cover version of Talking Heads’ Houses In Motion. In the end Grace never completed her vocal for the track so Jez Kerr’s guide vocals are used instead (from a period when Jez wasn’t even ACR’s singer yet). How this has managed to lie unreleased for nearly four decades is something of a mystery but now it’s here and, as they say, better late than never, the Eno- produced New York funk of Talking Heads transplanted across the Atlantic to a side street in northern England at the start of the 80s. Taut bass, monotone vocal, congas and some stunning distorted, choppy guitar playing from Martin Moscrop before those wonderful, off key horns.

The video is completely new but fits the general vibe perfectly. The song is the from the vaults find of the year so far.

Box Set Go

I keep being reminded of this 1990 song from Manchester group The High. Box Set Go, chiming guitars, a sense of urgency and sweetly sung vocals, was their debut single recorded in Stockport’s Strawberry Studio with Martin Hannett at the desk. According to legend Hannett set drummer Chris Goodwin off playing, was puzzled about an issue with the overhead ambient mics, and then went to the pub for two hours (unknown to Chris who kept playing). Suitably refreshed Hannett returned to solve the problem- he kept the two mics part by wedging a cigarette end between them. Someone had used the wrong brand of cig butt- Embassy No. 1. Problem solved, drum sound fixed. Box Set Go is one of the minor gems of the period, not quite a lost classic but far off it, gently psychedelic guitar pop.

Box Set Go

Box Set Go opens the group’s debut album, the still wonderful Somewhere Soon, a record with three top drawer singles (Box Set Go, Up And Down and Take Your Time) plus some great album tracks (Rather Be Marsanne, PWA, Dreams Of Dinesh, A Minor Turn and the title track) and percussion from Pandit Dinesh that gives it something other guitar-based records at the time didn’t have.

The High signed to a major label after just one gig at The Ritz. Guitarist Andy Couzens had been pushed out of The Stone Roses by manager Gareth Evans before the release of Sally Cinnamon, his guitar playing inspired by the twin influences of Steve Jones and Roger McGuinn. He put the band together with drummer Chris (both had played with Buzzcocks FOC), bassist Simon Davies and singer John Matthews (from One Summer). The songs came together quickly. In the great indie guitar group boom of the early 90s the pressure to have hits was intense and despite endless touring and singles of the week in the music press, the big hits never really came. More’s the pity in a way because there were lesser groups who sold more records but this album remains a wonderful, less well known snapshot of the time and still stands up today. This footage of the group at Strawberry is good, the Hannett version of Up And Down ringing out and Hannett engrossed in an instruction booklet about DAT.

Things went awry afterwards. The single More…, a should-have-been-a-smash follow up to Somewhere Soon, was derailed by allegations of chart rigging. John Matthews was hospitalised after an incident with an industrial quantity of psychedelics. An ill advised second album with a heavier American rock sound was released but the momentum had gone and they parted company. And despite the stories of failure or missing out, the songs remain and in the end that’s what matters the most.

Double Double Good

2019 is going to be a year of 30th celebrations marking three decades since various albums and singles were released that shaped popular music and culture. By 1989 things were starting to happen for Happy Mondays. Bummed, their masterpiece, came out in November 1988 and sold slowly but steadily. From it’s Central Station Design cover to the nude on the inner sleeve, from Martin Hannett’s echo and delay drenched production to Shaun William Ryder’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Bummed looked and sounded like no other record (although plenty of other records would soon be released that were inspired by Bummed).

The penultimate song is Do It Better and at only two minutes twenty-nine seconds it’s the shortest song on the album. Musically it is miles from late 80s indie, Mark Day playing chords that other guitarists wouldn’t even consider and Paul Davis’ tinny keyboard swirling around over some drums that sound like they were recorded in a different room through an open door. Over this unholy stew Shaun chants ‘On one, in one, did one, do one, have one, in one, have one, come on’ before letting loose with…

‘Swapped the dog for a cold cold ride
It was deformed on the in but deformed on the outside
Stuck a piece of crack in a butcher’s hand
Demanded he give me my cat back
Don’t purchase me coz I won’t work
I gave away my oil and the seeds in my boots
There was a boom in the room as the papers marched in
He built himself together then sat down’

There’s a second equally surreal verse before he goes back to the ‘on one’ chant but this time extending it – ‘have one, have two, have three… good good good good, good good good good, good good good good, double double good, double double good’. Before being called Do It Better, the song’s working title was E.
Do It Better

Do It Better was a live favourite, a monstrous, circling stomp. Thirty years ago today the group went into Maida Vale studios to record a session for John Peel, putting down versions of Do It Better, Mad Cyril and Tart Tart (broadcast a week later, 28th February 1989). For some reason, despite buying every Mondays single during this period I never bought the Peel Session and don’t have an mp3 of it either. It’s thirty seconds longer with Shaun’s tambourine shaking away and the keyboards leading the groove. Double good.