Lost All Reason And Belonging

A month ago JC, The Vinyl Villain, posted some songs from the first flush of Ian McCulloch’s post- Bunnymen solo career, a single from late summer of 1989. It’s here, a comprehensive post about Faith And Healing, Candleland and it’s B-sides. I was about to post something very similar so pushed my post back a bit and then re-wrote it. I have a lot of affection for Candleland, an album that JC notes sold fairly well and got good reviews but came and went very quickly. Tastes were changing quickly in the autumn of 1989, in the world of guitar bands very quickly indeed, and at the ripe old age of thirty Ian was looking like one of yesterday’s men.

Candleland stands up as a decent collection of Ian McCulloch songs, some have a late days Bunnymen feel, not least in his voice and the lyrics. The single Faith And Healing is a particular favourite, sounding as it does like Mac fronting late 80s New Order. It’s nothing groundbreaking, nothing out of the groove he was in by that point, it’s just pushes my buttons (in a good way). The flow of words and themes remind me of The Game re-worked for ’89.

Faith And Healing

Ian did a Peel Session in December 1989 with his new band, The Prodigal Sons. The session version is very different from the album one, the New Order synths and bass sound removed and the fuzz guitars turned up, sounding alive and tuned in. The whole session is much rawer, rehearsal room stuff rather than the more smoothed out sound of the Candleland album and thirty one years later these versions sound fairly fresh.

Faith And Healing (Peel Session)

The Flickering Wall (Peel Session)

Damnation (Peel Session)

Candleland (Peel Session)

The 12″ release of Faith And Healing came with several remixes. This one, The Carpenter’s Son Mix (by Mark Saunders), is a typical late 80s remix- extended with the guitars and bass separated and moved around.

Faith And Healing (The Carpenter’s Son Mix)

18th May 1980

Ian Curtis died forty years ago today. The details are public knowledge- found by his wife in his kitchen in Macclesfield, a cord around his neck tied to the clothes drying rack,  Iggy’s The Idiot on the turntable, a Werner Herzog film the last thing he watched.

The Ian Curtis death cult is a bizarre thing. You can find it easily on the internet, people from all over the world who have taken on the view first expressed by Paul Morley at the time, that ‘he died for you’, that he was too pure a soul for this world. Anton Corbijn’s 2007 film Control, made with the full co- operation of family and bandmates, has fed into this myth- beautiful, romantic, poetic, doomed Ian. It’s a stunning bit of filmmaking and the performances are sincere and sympathetic. I’m not sure though that it’s healthy to portray suicide this way. It’s pretty clear that Ian’s suicide has had a huge impact on those he left behind. His widow Deborah couldn’t stand to listen to New Order between Ceremony and True Faith. His daughter Natalie grew up without knowing her father. Bernard has said the suicide has affected him ever since. Hooky has often referred to the shadow Ian’s death has cast. This isn’t the ‘romantic’ side of suicide. It’s people left behind not knowing why he did it and the guilt that they could have done more to prevent it. The Joy Division industry and the endless Unknown Pleasures merchandising is a spin off that I don’t think anyone on the evening of 18th May 1980 would have seen coming.

Joy Division Oven Gloves (Peel Session)

The Joy Division publishing industry has given us the autobiographies of the main players- Bernard Sumner, Deborah Curtis, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. So many other people around the band have also now passed away- Rob Gretton, Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson- who would surely have written their versions had they lived. Wilson wrote the book version of Twenty Four Hour Party People which also covered the events.

All of which sometimes overshadows the sheer dark brilliance of Joy Division and their music, a band who were more than just Ian Curtis and three mates despite what Hannett said about them being ‘a genius and three Man United fans’. Ian’s untutored voice, Bernard’s rhythm guitar, Hooky’s melodic bass and Steve’s lead drumming, perfectly balanced, each contributing 25% to the whole and Hannett’s production giving them that extra quality, the dark stardust. The fact that Ian’s death is now forty years old underlines just how young everyone involved was and maybe how difficult it was in 1980 for anyone around to have been able to do anything to stop him as his marriage collapsed, his illness got worse and his medication exacerbated his problems, and the US tour loomed. Recent gigs had been chaotic as he had seizures on stage. Mental health services in 1980 were not like they are today. Young men didn’t talk about these things. They didn’t even take his lyrics at face value despite Closer reading like a forty minute suicide note.

R.I.P. Ian. Remember him, listen to the music, dance to the radio but let’s not fall into the trap of the romantic suicide. It’s a dead end with no way out for those left behind.

This is a dub cover version of their most famous song by a New York group called Jah Divison. This isn’t a novelty cover by any means.

Dub Will Tear Us Apart

This is She’s Lost Control, live on Something Else in 1979, the real thing, northern post- punk, a reflection of the post- industrial city they were formed in and formed by, what Wilson called ‘the last true story in rock ‘n’ roll’.

 

Slo Bird Whistle

Warp are celebrating thirty years of releasing records. One of the releases for this landmark is Aphex Twin’s Peel Session from 1995, four tracks from Richard D. James including this one…

Making music that is weird or odd is relatively easy. Making music that is weird or odd and also shot through with brilliance and sounds genuinely timeless is less easy. Slo Bird Whistle sounds like nothing else and if you have a cat is likely to sent him/her on edge too.

Right Now, Right Now, It’s Time To…

The MC5, possibly somewhat refreshed, with a jam kicking motherfucker session live on TV for a full eight minutes and thirty eight seconds.

The MC5’s debut album gained mythical status when I was younger, much mentioned but never heard. No re-issues back then, no Youtube. Just hunting for a second hand copy. Eventually I found one. It was all very rockist- maybe that’s stating the obvious- but over time it’s power and energy became clear and never less so than on the title track which comes across like a call to arms for an entire generation. The lyrics to the title track are pretty loose, not really about anything political other than the power of electric guitars and loud drums and the feeling that they provoke, but they feel revolutionary. More than enough in 1969.

Two decades later, in 1991, Manchester’s World Of Twist recorded a version for a John Peel session which shows what a ferocious live band they could be too.

Kick Out The Jams (Peel Session)

 

Bring It Home To Me

On a Factory tip recently I dug out my double disc re-issue of A Certain Ratio’s Sextet, their second album, released in 1982 and their first without Hannett at the controls. Hannett was dumped as producer by New Order, Durutti Column and then ACR too which can’t have done much for his state of mind. Sextet- so called because they’d recently become a six piece band- is full of good songs, heavy noir vibes and that Mancunian funk. The song that leapt out me was Knife Slits Water, a single from the same year and on CD 2 it’s long B-side Kether Hot Knives. I’ll save the B-side for another time.

Knife Slits Water takes the group’s dark funk, particularly foregrounding Donald Johnson’s drumming, a large dollop of echo on the kick drum creating a very futuristic dance sound, some busy bass and the distant but tough vocals of Martha Tilson, lyrics she wrote about sex and sexual politics. Tony Wilson’s vision of ACR as white boys playing funk, clad in ex-army khaki with short back and sides and whistles, is perfectly realised here. In 1981 the group had done a Peel Session- Skipscada, Day One and Knife Slits Water- and that’s the version I’m posting here. They were years ahead in ’81 and still sound like that now.

Knife Slits Water (Peel Session)

The other Factory album that I was rediscovering was Section 25’s From The Hip album, a Bernard Sumner produced 1984 lost classic and it’s single Looking From A Hilltop, one of the greatest of all Factory’s releases. But again, let’s leave that for another day. The pictures above were taken in Section 25’s hometown Blackpool on Sunday afternoon, the modernist arches of the amusements centre in brilliant Fylde coast sunshine.

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.

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.

Watch Out Below

Back in 1983 Echo And The Bunnymen were stung by some of the reviews of their third album Porcupine. In response they started writing again and used a Peel Session to try out some new songs, broadcasting Nocturnal Me, Ocean Rain, My Kingdom and Watch Out Below. Not a bad night’s work I think.

Watch Out Below (Peel Session)

Watch Out Below shimmers and glowers, acoustic guitars to the fore. Over time it would gain new words and a new title- The Yo Yo Man. This version with the refrain Watch Out Below fits in with the maritime theme Ocean Rain was developing and the line Mac wails from the title track of ‘The Greatest Album Ever Made’, ‘screaming from beneath the waves’.

Porcupine, for what it’s worth, is a funny album and the criticism of it is partly justified. Out of the first four ‘classic’ lps they made, it comes fourth for me. Despite opening with two of their very best songs (and singles) The Back Of Love and The Cutter it fades after that, too similar in tone, too dour, not enough drama and variation. It’s not a bad album but the one before it (Heaven Up Here) and the one after it (Ocean Rain) are better.

Oh My Darling Who Wants To Be Free?

Valentine’s Day is approaching. In 1977 The Slits turned the punk boys club upside down a little and lyrically turned listeners upside down a lot. Love and Romance is about male possession of women and how relationships can lead to loss of freedom with some killer lines- ‘I’m so glad that you belong to me, oh my darling who wants to be free?’ and ‘loves a feeling and so is stealing’ among them. Not traditionally how song writers approached the subject of love.

Love And Romance (Peel Session)

 

A Given End To Your Dreams

More early New Order. Movement was released in December 1981 and was by all accounts a difficult album to make. The group were unbalanced and their way of working was broken (during the Joy Division days the group would jam and Ian Curtis would spot the good bits which would then be worked into songs). No one especially wanted to sing and none of them could play and sing at the same time (this would become part of their sound in the 80s- Barney’s guitar playing filling the bits where he’s not singing and Hooky frequently carrying the melodies. Weaknesses become strengths). Movement was produced by Martin Hannett but the relationship between the group and the producer had broken down. According to Hooky ‘Hannett would lock himself in the control room, saying ‘Start playing, I’ll come out if I hear anything I like’. He never came out’. Hannett was also suing Factory at the time which can’t have helped.

Out of this came an album which sounds a bit like Joy Division but without Curtis, trying to move forward but not really managing it. The real movement would come with the singles- Everything’s Gone Green, Procession, Temptation and the second album. Having said that time has left some highlights- Doubts Even Here, The Him and ICB all have glimmers of the future and the sounds are becoming more varied. The peak is the opener, the only song on the album which is just guitar, bass and drums and the one that Hooky sings. Dreams Never End is a properly exciting song, from the intro of driving bass and guitar lines playing around each other onwards.

Dreams Never End

Peter Saville’s cover art, Italian futurism again, is beautiful.

As a bonus here’s a lost child of the New Order story. In 1982 New Order recorded a second Peel Session. Two of the songs would later appear on Power, Corruption And Lies, an album which redefined them and their music. The two other songs were a cover of Keith Hudson’s dub reggae song Turn The Heater On (an Ian Curtis favourite and recorded for him, I’ve posted it before) and Too Late.

Too Late is a moody song, synth drums, beautifully distorted bass and glacial pace, haunting and the equal of most other songs from around this time. According to Hooky when they were having a go at recording it Bernard had nipped out of the studio. The other three put some backing vocals down. When Barney returned he showed his disgust at this and walked out. It was never finished. And in Hooky’s view this was one of the starting points for Bernard grappling for control of the band. As a result of this Too Late would only ever appear as the Peel Session version.