Isolation Mix Thirteen

Lockdown ends today- at least, that’s how the government and the media have been portraying it with occasional reminders that social distancing and a 2 metre gap might be important. The government have largely dropped the daily infection figures and death toll from their bulletins. You don’t want to be depressing people at this stage of proceedings with doom and gloom, not when there are pints to be drunk! The media have been splashing stories about Super Saturday, Independence Day and the End Of Hibernation. It does look like they deliberately chose July 4th so they could call it an Independence Day. Meanwhile, Leicester is in lockdown, the R rate in London is apparently creeping above 1, there are Covid hotspots around the country, the deaths are still well over one hundred every day, and lots of people are talking about a second wave and a second spike without the people in charge actually wanting to do anything about it. We are still shielding, the medical advice we received this week is that due to our son Isaac being in the extremely vulnerable category we should stay in isolation until August 1st. Despite a few minor changes to our lockdown lives, we are still very much in isolation.

This mix is an hour and eight minutes of music with a folky, ambient, pastoral tinge with some Balearica and guitars thrown in, some old stuff and some brand new- some birdsong and synth ambience to start and finish, blissed out tracks from Seahawks, Apiento and Ultramarine, Green Gartside solo and as Scritti Politti, acoustic guitars courtesy of Nancy Noise, Michael Head and Barry Woolnough, some understated brilliance from The Clash and Sandinista!, Julian Cope covering Roky Erickson, Thurston Moore covering New Order and Jane Weaver’s cosmic/folky weirdness.

Tracklist-
Stubbleman: 4am Conversation

Seahawks: Islands

Nancy Noise: Kaia

Green Gartside: Tangled Man

Barry Woolnough: Great Spirit Father In The Sky

The Clash: Rebel Waltz

Thurston Moore: Leave Me Alone

Julian Cope: I Have Always Been Here Before

Jane Weaver: Slow Motion (Loops Variation)

Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band: Picasso

Scritti Pollitti: The Boom Boom Bap

Apiento: Things You Do For Love

Ultramarine: Stella (Stella Connects)

Stubbleman: 6am Chorus

I Said I Couldn’t Hit It Sideways

Sister Ray is a seventeen minute, recorded in one take avant- rock dance song that completes their 1968 album White Light/ White Heat. Lou Reed said that it was done ‘as a joke- no, not as a joke… but as a scene of total debauchery and decay’. It was intended to be confrontational. The group agreed to keep playing for the duration and leave in whatever mistakes were made. The engineer pressed record and then walked out. Reed and Sterling Morrison batter the fuck out of the riff and John  Cale plays organ hooked up through a distorted guitar amp. The guitar playing is simple and percussive and completely overloaded and the organ is completely in the red, distorted and wailing.

Sister Ray

Lou Reed had written a lyric about ‘a transvestite smack dealer’ and in the song a bunch of drag queens take some sailors home… and start shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear’. In the song Lou’s characters include Doc and Sally, Rosie and Miss Rayon, a sailor who’s dressed in pink and leather, Cecil with a new gun with which he shoots a sailor and makes a mess of the carpet and amongst all this Lou drawls about  ‘I’m too busy searching for my mainline/ I couldn’t hit it sideways’ and ‘she’s too busy sucking on my ding- dong’.

While this is the noisy side of The Velvets at their most extreme the song when played live was often the one that would get the audience up out of their seats dancing. There are multiple live versions out there lasting for up to and beyond half an hour, like this one recorded live at The Matrix in San Francisco in 1969. Starts out slow and sparse and builds but with a noticeably different feel compared to the album version.

Sister Ray (Live)

I’m fairly sure though that the first version I would have heard of the song would have been a cover, probably this one by New Order at Glastonbury in 1987. They had played Sister Ray live as Joy Division and there’s a version on Still which I might have heard earlier but I know I had a tape of the 1987 Glastonbury set because it was recorded by Radio 1 and transmitted as part of their Live In Concert series and I taped the set straight from the radio. New Order’s version is a comparatively short eight minutes and is a bass, guitar, drums finale after a set chock full of mid 80s dance- pop brilliance that opens with Touched By The Hand Of God and takes in Temptation, True Faith, Your Silent Face, Every Little Counts, Bizarre Love Triangle, Perfect Kiss and Age Of Consent. The group kick up a solid racket, sounding quite like Joy Division in parts, Hooky’s ascending and descending bass riding in and out of the mix and Bernard making up the words as he goes along and then sampled voices being dropped in at the end. It captures the spirit and intention of Sister Ray as Lou and The Velvets set out to I think.

Sister Ray (Live at Glastonbury 1987)

50

I am fifty today. When we were young, people who were fifty seemed to have reached an old age but I don’t know if I now feel as old as they seemed then. It’s just a number I suppose, and I’ve been to quite a few 50ths in the last year and none of those people seem old, but reaching the half a century mark makes it sound quite old. Lots of aspects of the world of 1970 do seem like a very long time ago. I haven’t really been much bothered about this as the months and weeks have shortened and there have been lots of other things that have been more pressing and more important but I did wake up yesterday morning thinking, ‘fuck, this is the last day of my forties. Fuck’. Any way it’s here, I am fifty.

Factory Records numerical cataloguing system is a good place to stop in today as any. FAC 49 was a single by Swamp Children, produced by Simon Topping. It’s successor, FACT 50, came out in November 1981, New Order’s first album- Movement. The sleeve is a beautiful Peter Saville design with the sideways F at the top (F for Factory) and a sideways L at the bottom (L being the Roman numeral for 50). The design was borrowed from an Italian Futurist poster by Fortunato Depero. In the US it was released in a brown and ivory sleeve.

The cassette cover, the most throwaway of format artefacts, was beautiful too. I always liked how Factory placed the barcode down the spine on their tapes. Post- modern, probably.

The album isn’t much rated by the band and they admit to being confused musically, off balance due to the loss of Ian’s presence, voice, lyrics and ear for spotting riffs. The position of being singer had been resolved to some extent although Hooky sings lead vocals on two songs. Gillian had joined enabling Bernard to sing and play guitar, something he couldn’t do simultaneously at gigs, and she’d add depth on guitar or keyboards. They also found themselves at odds with Martin Hannett, who was deeply affected by Ian’s suicide and deeply into a mess of drink and drugs. They produced themselves after Movement. There are some really good sounding guitars, bass, keys and drums on Movement but the songs on the whole don’t stick long in the memory after playing them. There are hints at their future sound and brief flashes or moments but nothing that really matches the songs released as singles and B-sides before it, Ceremony, Procession, Mesh, Cries And Whispers and Everything’s Gone Green. Except the opener, the only genuine moment of greatness on FACT 50, three minutes of post- Joy Division perfection. Bernard and Hooky’s echo- laden guitars wrap themselves around each other, up and down and in and around for the intro. Stephen comes in drums adding momentum before they all lock in and take off at 53 seconds and then it really is post- Joy Division New Order in full flight. Hooky’s vocals suit the song too, indebted to Ian but looking for a way out.

Dreams Never End

Isolation Mix Six

I got this dramatic shot of the sky over the Mersey on Thursday night. One habit I hope I manage to maintain once this is all over, whenever that is, is taking regular walks. You miss so much sitting inside and even the most familiar and mundane places can look different when caught at a particular time. This week’s Isolation Mix is a dubwise and post punk excursion from The Clash, some dubbed out Joy Division covers, Bauhaus, The Slits, Killing Joke remixed by Thrash, a bunch of Andrew Weatherall dub versions and some On U Sound from Dub Syndicate.

The Clash: The Crooked Beat

Steve Mason: Boys Outside (Andrew Weatherall Dub 2)

Jah Division: Dub Will Tear Us Apart

Jah Division: Dub Disorder

Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi’s Dead

The Slits: I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Dub Syndicate: Ravi Shankar Part.1

Sabres Of Paradise: Ysaebud

New Order: Regret (Sabres Slow ‘n’ Lo)

Lark: Can I Colour In Your Hair (Andrew Weatherall Version)

Killing Joke: Requiem (A Floating Leaf Always Reaches The Sea Dub Mix)

On A Thousand Islands In The Sea

Thurston Moore is going to release three 7″ singles in November and each one will have the same B-side, a cover of New Order’s Leave Me Alone. I’ve said before that I’m not a massive fan of covers of New Order songs. Lonelady’s recent cover of Cries And Whispers and Galaxie 500’s slow burning take on Ceremony are two of the few exceptions. Thurston’s cover will join those ranks, a rather lovely and chilled out take on the song, starting out quite Byrsdy and ending with a restrained squall of acoustic guitars and feedback. Thurston recorded in his version in Salford, Sumner and Hook’s hometown, dipping his scuffed Converse into the River Irwell and coming up trumps.

New Order recorded the original at Britannia Row in Islington in 1983 and it closed their Power, Corruption And Lies album, a quantum leap forward from 1981’s Movement. Hooky’s divine bassline and Bernard’s acidic guitar spiralling around each other for ages before Bernard starts singing his plea for solitude. People often cite Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face as the singles that Factory should have released from Power, Corruption And Lies if Factory and New Order had been in the business of something as mundane as releasing songs as singles that had already appeared on albums. Leave Me Alone is right up there with those two songs, a gem surrounded by jewels.

Leave Me Alone

I Like Walking In The Park

New Order’s Lowlife album of 985 remains a career highpoint, as a full studio album only really matched by 1989’s Technique. Lowlife is a perfect synthesis of rock and dance, Hooky’s metallic bass and the synths and Stephen’s metronomic drums all vying for space, matched by Barney’s growing confidence as a singer. The nervy early steps, getting to grips with technology, finding a way out after Ian’s death, the experimentalism of Power, Corruption And Lies, and then the increasing boldness of Temptation, Thieves Like Us and Blue Monday led to Lowlife.

The penultimate song is Subculture, a peak on an album that features several other peaks, songs like Love Vigilantes, The Perfect Kiss and Elegia. In October 1985 the group released a single version of Subculture, a version remixed by John Robie. Robie was a fixture on the 80s New York electro club scene and turned in a version of Subculture which it is fair to say splits opinion. His remix is aimed squarely at clubland, the shonky vocal of the album version replaced by a new one (for the record I love the shonky, all over the place vocal of the album version, the ways it works against and with the synth riff, massive sound and glittering production). Robie’s version is much more electronic, added some female backing vocals and then layering more and more sounds. Some people hate it. Peter Saville refused to design a sleeve for it.

In 1986 a new mix of Sub-culture appeared, one song on a four track 7″ single given away with Record Mirror magazine (a now long defunct British music magazine). As well as the new exclusive mix of Sub-culture were songs by Raymonde, Hipsway and The Adventures. Robie got the credit, mistakenly or otherwise, but this new remix was by Joseph Watt, a member of the Razormaid! a remix service who worked out of San Francisco in the 80s to produce exclusive versions and edits of songs for subscribers (usually DJs). I’m guessing that the Watt remix came via Robie. It leans back to the Lowlife version with the synth riff and bassline, adding harder drums and percussion. Hooky’s bass runs are centre stage before the vocals come in, alternating with extra keyboard parts, building for several minutes before we even hear Barney. When he does come in his voice is harking back to the album cut, detached and human, a bit exposed, singing the words apparently inspired by the groups visits to Skin Two, a London fetish club- tied up in chains so tight, being unable to shaft without someone else, having to submit, it having to hurt you a little bit. A dissonant pumping synth sound comes in and the sound toughens up again, pitched somewhere between the Lowlife song and Robie’s single remix.

Sub-culture (Exclusive Remix Record Mirror)

In 2017 New order played a series of shows at the old Granada TV Studios on Quay Street as part of the Manchester International Festival, organised by Dave Haslam. They went back through their catalogue to play songs they’d not played for years and to make it more interesting/difficult for themselves recruited some young musicians from the Royal Northern to form a synth orchestra. The famous synth riff on Sub-culture was played originally slowed down and then sped up for the recording. The group, minus Hooky of course, marvelled at these young geniuses who could not only play the riff but at the correct speed too. Taking from both the Lowlife and Robie versions it’s pretty magnificent, despite the absence of the most distinctive bass player of the 1980s, and the wall of synth players is visually and sonically great. The video won’t embed but you can find it here.

I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite Like You Before

On visiting the above building, phare de la Coubre (a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast of France near Royan) I walked along a path looking at the floor and was stuck by these adjoining pieces of gravel.

They reminded me of Peter Saville’s sleeve for New Order’s 1981 masterpiece Temptation.

You may say, as a friend has suggested on social media, that my interest in New Order ‘may have spilled into less than healthy territory’ but in response I say ‘yeah but it does look a bit like the Temptation sleeve’.
Temptation was the moment New Order escaped the shadow of Joy Division- previous single Everything’s Gone Green was a quantum leap into dance music with some dub production techniques (learnt from Hannett, now abandoned as they produced themselves) but it still had Joy Division’s DNA running through it. Temptation was brighter, the synths right at the fore, Hooky’s bassline and Bernard’s choppy disco guitar leading the charge along with the ‘ooh ooh ooh ooh’ vocal intro. It is also the first New Order song that is distinctly New Order lyrically, a step away from the portentous, Ian Curtis indebted lyrics of the band’s songs up to that point. It’s fair to say that Temptation’s lyrics Curtis couldn’t have written anything like Temptation- it’s got a lightness, an optimism and a simplicity he wouldn’t have come up with.
Hooky talks about the famous ‘eyes drop’ in his autobiography, a moment guaranteed to stop hearts and turn gigs. In some ways it could be their greatest song and their greatest single- I know some people think it is. It certainly pointed to the road ahead and the way out of the abyss. They’ve recorded and released it in various versions. The original 12″ from 1981 is still the go to version for me, miles better than the 1987 re-recording for Substance (which has its merits but feels smoothed out).
They re-did it in 1998, flushed by getting back together. The ’98 version came out on the extra disc on the Retro box set. It’s a decent updating of the song, modernised without losing the ramshackle charm of the original, with Bernard’s guitar’s well up in the mix and his voice clearly more used to singing than he was in the early 80s. By this point the song had found a new life in the scene in Trainspotting where Renton withdrawals and Kelly McDonald sings to him in a cold turkey dream at the end of his bed. ‘Oh you’ve got green eyes, oh you’ve blue eyes, oh you’ve got grey eyes’

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

 

The History Of All Truth

Stephen  Morris is about to put his view of life in Joy Division and New Order into the public domain to put alongside Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook’s versions (for the record Barney’s was pretty disappointing, his account of his younger life growing up in Salford was interesting but after that it became a boring read. He skipped most of the 1980s because he thought people would find him describing how they made their greatest records dull and then spent the last two chapters detailing the collapse of relations with Hooky. Hooky’s books were scurrilous, entertaining and full of the sort of details that I did want to read but his frequent references to Bernard as Twatto show how big the distance between them is and put downs of Gillian were unnecessary).

Stephen Morris’ drumming is a massive part of the sound of his two bands. His travails with Hannett while recording Unknown Pleasures are well documented but clearly paid off. His synth drums on She’s Lost Control are wonderful and the drum sound and drumming on Transmission b-side Novelty are among the best I’ve ever heard. Early New Order singles and albums are full of brilliantly recorded drum parts, as much part of the NO sound as Hooky’s bass, the homemade kit keyboards and Barney’s vocals- all of which are perfectly demonstrated on this 12″ single from April 1984, a high point for the band, the record label and the 1980s as a whole.

Thieves Like Us

As if giving their fans a magnificent standalone single wasn’t enough they coupled it with a gem of a b-side too, opening with Hooky’s brilliant bass and some spikey guitar playing from Barney and another of his fragile vocals. Then the wall of synths come in. Lonesome Tonight, with it’s pisstake title, is a masterpiece.

Lonesome Tonight

The lyrics of Lonesome Tonight are classic early New Order, that mixture of written to rhyme with personal point of view suddenly switching into something portentous- check the change here in the first verse from ‘you turned your back on me’ to two lines later ‘the history of all truth’

I walk along the street
I look into your eyes
I’m pleasant when we meet
I’m there when you go home
How many times before
Could you tell I didn’t care?
When you turned your back on me
I knew we’d get nowhere
Do you believe in youth
The history of all truth
A heart that’s left at home
Becomes a heart of stone

Stephen’s take on events should be interesting. He often comes across as the most thoughtful and considered member of the surviving members of Joy Division. He’s doing a short book tour to promote it with a Q and A session conducted by Dave Haslam starting at the Dancehouse in Manchester next Thursday and then going to Liverpool, Hebden Bridge and Newcastle (which looks a bit like a New Order world tour itinerary from 1985). Tickets for the Manchester event are here if you fancy it. See you there.

Dave Haslam is a Manchester mainstay since arriving in the city in the early 80s- DJ at the Hacienda and the Boardwalk, gig promoter, journalist and author, record label boss (Play Hard) and cultural commentator. From 1980 onwards, if something was happening in the Manchester area, the chances are he was involved or present. His latest book Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor is out now in paperback. Well worth reading if you want to peek inside Manchester’s music scene as seen and lived by Dave from 1980 to the present. Someone described it as ‘the literary equivalent of a brilliant chat with your best mate’ which is a good take on it and it’s refreshingly ant-nostalgic too.