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.

You Took My Time And You Took My Money

New Order in the summer of 1987. I was seventeen and was listening to the True Faith single repeatedly that summer, thirty two years ago (Substance, the singles compilation came out in August 1987 too). The band played True Faith on Top Of The Pops and it rose into the top five the week after. They played live, as this clip shows, broadcast recently on BBC4’s re-runs of Top Of The Pops. The re-runs are deep into 1987- and it has to be said it was a year of largely terrible music on the nation’s favourite chart run down show- most of the episodes can skipped through in minutes with your finger on the fast forward button on the remote control. The week New Order appeared they shared the BBC canteen and dressing rooms with Sinitta and Spagna. This version is, as you’d expect, less sleek and produced than the Stephen Hague single with Hooky’s clanging bass more prominent (glorious as the single is) and has a truncated guitar break. I’ve posted this clip before but watching them the other night I thought it was worth doing again. True Faith is a song I don’t get bored of.

True Faith is a New Order tour de force, a single aimed at selling copies in large quantities- earworm keyboards and boom- bash metronomic drumming providing the rush, a song pitched in a sweet spot between pop, indie and dance. Hooky complains in his autobiography Substance that they’d left nowhere for his bass playing in the mix (but he found his way in) and that the only shot of him in the video is his left foot. Bernard was talked into changing a lyric to ensure radio play (altering ‘now that we’ve grown up together/now they’re taking drugs with me’ to ‘now that we’ve grown up together/ we’re not afraid of what we see’). The song feels like a group effort whatever everyone’s actual contributions were. I think I read somewhere that Deborah Curtis, Ian’s widow, said she couldn’t listen to New Order after Ceremony, it was too much following Ian’s death, but with True Faith she could listen to them again and enjoy it- which tells you something about the way the song was received and something about the distance travelled from 1980 and Closer to 1987 and True Faith. I love it- partly because at seventeen years old you’re so susceptible to these things and partly because it is in some way definitive New Order. It would make it onto any New Order compilation I’d put together.

Peter Saville created a beautiful sleeve, the falling leaf painted gold against the blue background, the leaf idea coming to him as he sat in his car and one fell onto his windscreen. The single was followed by a remix 12″ with an alternative Saville sleeve, a remixed version of the song, a different mix of 1963 and also this Shep Pettibone dub.

True Dub

New Order toured in 1987 too, at home and through the USA (the US leg being the scene of much Hook and Sumner debauchery). The graphic on the tour t-shirt below is very 1987.

Last year Denise Johnson, backing singing extraordinaire, released her own, more emotional reading of the song, done acoustically.