Joy Division

by Chris Warren

Late 1976: Never Mind the Buzzcocks
This is the room, the start of it all

This story begins on July 20th 1976, when the Sex Pistols played at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, supported by local bands Slaughter and the Dogs and the Buzzcocks (making their debut). According to legend, this gig inspired Joy Division to buy guitars and form a band. Although the truth may be less dramatic, there is no doubt the event did stimulate the Manchester music scene in general and the future members of Joy Division in particular.

Bernard Sumner (usually known as Barney) and Peter Hook went to the Sex Pistols gig with their friend Terry Mason. The three of them, who had been at school together in Salford, decided to form a band. As Barney already had a guitar, Hooky acquired a bass. Terry attempted to play the drums, although his efforts were not very successful. However, the main thing they lacked was a singer.

Ian Curtis went with his wife Deborah to the gig. Ian and Deborah had been brought up in Macclesfield, although for a time they lived in Chadderton, near Oldham. Ian was interested not only in the music but also in lyric writing, and he too was trying to form a band without success. He already knew Barney, Peter and Terry from various gigs they had all attended in Manchester. When he made contact with them to enquire about the vacancy, everything fell into place.

On December 28th 1976 the Buzzcocks recorded their Spiral Scratch EP, produced by Martin Hannett and considered by many a major landmark in the development of Manchester music. Ian got to know the Buzzcocks, especially Pete Shelley and their manager Richard Boon, and was motivated to emulate their success.


Early 1977: Warsaw Concerto
Just passing through, till we reach the next stage

Little is documented about the fledgling band in early 1977. During this period they used to rehearse at the Black Swan pub in Salford, among other venues. Although they now had a full complement, they were not ready for public performances. Neither did they have a name. The name Stiff Kittens was proposed by Richard Boon (the idea is also credited to Pete Shelley) but this was never adopted by the band. In fact they disliked the name, which was used only to publicise their first gig because they had to be called something!

The band were due to appear at Manchester's Electric Circus on May 29th 1977 on a bill which included the Buzzcocks. Just before this gig they decided on the name Warsaw, inspired by the song Warszawa on David Bowie's Low album. They had also managed to recruit a drummer, Tony Tabac. Their first performance earned them a mention (not entirely favourable) in the national music magazines.

At that time Martin Hannett was involved in arranging gigs for local bands, and he took Warsaw on his books. During June 1977 Warsaw made a number of appearances at The Squat and at Rafters Club in Manchester. The resident DJ at Rafters was Rob Gretton, who was also involved in the management of a couple of local bands.

From the start Warsaw set out to write their own songs. Their initial efforts were crude but enthusiastic, and were soon left behind as they became more practised. This meant that very little material from this early period survived long enough to be recorded. The band's musical influences and ambitions inclined more towards the sound of The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop than towards "mainstream" rock.


Late 1977: An Ideal for Living
It's getting faster, moving faster now

Tony Tabac, not really suited to a punk band, stayed for five weeks and half a dozen gigs. He was replaced by Steve Brotherdale, drummer with Panik, a band managed by Rob Gretton. Steve came just in time to participate in the recording of The Warsaw Demo on July 18th 1977 at Pennine Sound Studios. Although a powerful drummer, Steve also left after a short while. He tried to persuade Ian to follow him and join Panik, but Ian did not wish to leave Warsaw.

Once again Warsaw got a new drummer, Stephen Morris. Steve too came from Macclesfield, where Ian and Deborah Curtis were now living again, and he replied to an advertisement in a music store window. Unlike his predecessors, he blended well with the other three. The band now had the line-up that would find fame (but initially not fortune) as Joy Division.

On October 2nd the Electric Circus was due to close, and a number of Manchester bands played at two farewell concerts. A selection of recordings from these gigs were released as the Short Circuit live album. Warsaw's contribution, and their first appearance on vinyl, was At a Later Date.

In December 1977 they recorded four songs that later would be released on an EP as An Ideal For Living. This was very much a home-brewed affair, with the band members and their friends stuffing the records into their sleeves. The design (by Bernard) featured Germanic imagery which helped to fuel unjustified speculation about the band's politics.


Early 1978: Failures of the Modern Man
I'll walk you through the heartbreak
Show you all the out-takes

In January 1978 the band became Joy Division. In November 1977 the London-based group Warsaw Pakt had released an album, so Warsaw decided to change their name to avoid being confused with another band. They chose the new name from a harrowing account of life in a concentration camp during World War 2. This book, The House Of Dolls by Karol Cetinsky, is quoted by Ian in a spoken insert to the song No Love Lost. The Joy Division was the corps of young women kept in the camp for the pleasure of Nazi officers on leave.

Partly due to the name, Joy Division (and later New Order) often had problems with Nazi accusations spreading around in the press. These both puzzled and angered the band, and they did not wish to dignify them with a reply. Far from containing Nazi propaganda, their lyrics preach quite the contrary message. Many other punk bands used much more direct Nazi symbolism with much less press comment.

The first gig as Joy Division was played at Pips Disco in Manchester on January 25th 1978. It was not an auspicious start as fighting broke out in the crowd. Rioting became a feature of many later gigs, usually because the audience did not get to hear as much of Joy Division as they wanted.

At the Stiff Records Test / Chiswick Challenge at Rafters on April 14th, the band had an opportunity to impress not only Rob Gretton but also Tony Wilson, already a well-known presenter on Granada TV. Joy Division were scheduled to appear last. As a result the band were so wound up that Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton were won over by the sheer energy of their performance

At the beginning of May Joy Division recorded material for what was intended to be their debut album. This was done in collaboration with Richard Searling (who worked for RCA and was also a soul DJ), Bernie Binnick and John Anderson. John Anderson decided to put synthesisers on the final mix in an effort to produce a more "professional" sound. The band were unhappy with the recording session and disliked the result (especially the mix of Transmission). As no-one could agree what to do about re-mixing, the album was not released and became a source for bootlegs, eventually surfacing as the Warsaw album.

Terry Mason, who had taken on the role of manager, was struggling to book gigs for the band. So around this time Rob Gretton became Joy Division's manager. Apparently Rob initially discussed this possibility at a chance meeting with Bernard, who invited him to attend a rehearsal and to talk to the band. Unfortunately Bernard forgot to tell the other members of the band about it until Rob had sat through the rehearsal session!


Late 1978: A Factory Sample
Our vision touched the sky

The Russell Club in Manchester had been taken over on Friday nights for gigs organised by Tony Wilson and friends. They called this venue The Factory. Joy Division's first Factory gig was on June 9th 1978. Peter Saville was asked to design the poster for the early Factory concerts, the first of many designs which became a feature of Factory's work in general and Joy Division's albums in particular.

In the summer of 1978 Joy Division were members of the Manchester Musicians Collective, which held court at the Band on the Wall. The band was now rehearsing at a disused warehouse, converted into a rehearsal studio complex by Tony Davidson, owner of the TJM record label (some accounts also involve Tony Davidson in the production of An Ideal For Living; in other versions he was approached but was not interested). The austere rehearsal room seemed to reflect and amplify the band's haunting sound, which was starting to move away from its punk roots.

Tony Wilson arranged for the band to appear on Granada TV on September 20th. They performed Shadowplay on the magazine program Granada Reports. A stark set, overlaid with bleak "centre of the city" shots taken from a Granada documentary programme, enhanced the impact of the music to make it a memorable performance.

Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus had decided to start up a record label. Like the Factory club, Factory Records was intended to encourage and promote local talent. Soon afterwards Peter Saville joined on a regular footing, and later Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett also became partners. Initially Factory's main band was Durutti Column, but when the new label decided to put together a sample of the work of several local artists, Joy Division were one of those asked to participate.

On October 11th they went into the Cargo Studios in Rochdale to record two songs for the compilation EP A Factory Sample. This was financed by Tony Wilson and sold out its only pressing two months after its release, in December 1978. This was the band's first session with Martin Hannett as producer, performing Digital and Glass.

Around this time there were rumours that Joy Division would leave Factory and sign for a major label. One rumour had them signing for RCA (Ian Curtis was a frequent visitor to RCA's Manchester office, where he was well known to the manager, Derek Brandwood). There was another rumour that they would sign for Warner Brothers (they recorded a demo with Martin Rushent for Genetic Records, a Warner affiliate). But in the end these came to nothing and the band decided to stay with Factory.

On December 27th Joy Division played their first concert in London, at the Hope And Anchor in Islington. Only 30 people paid to get in, although the price was only 60 pence! This gig was disastrous in other ways: Bernard was struggling with a bad attack of flu, and Ian had a violent fit when the band were travelling home after the gig.

Early 1979: Unknown Pleasures
Reflects a moment in time, a special moment in time

In January 1979 a picture of Ian Curtis adorned the front page of the New Musical Express. This minor triumph was coupled with major tragedy, as Ian was diagnosed as epileptic. Although his fits varied in frequency and intensity, epilepsy was an ever-present concern from then on. Not only did Ian have to take regular medication, but fits could be brought on by strobe lighting in some of the clubs. His experiences with epilepsy inspired him to write She's Lost Control.

On February 14th 1979 the band was played on national radio in the UK. The BBC's John Peel had recorded a session with Joy Division in January (later released on record as the First Peel Session). This gave the band the publicity they had been lacking, and on March 4th they played support for The Cure at the Marquee, a major London club venue.

In April 1979 the album Unknown Pleasures was recorded at Strawberry Studios, Stockport with Martin Hannett as producer. Martin Hannett's production toned down Joy Division's normal live performance to produce the low-key and haunting sound. The memorable sleeve design was the work of Peter Saville, based on an idea by Bernard.

Unknown Pleasures was released in June. The album received good reviews in the music press and it sold well, although sales were initially limited by Factory's inability to finance large production runs. By June 1982 sales had reached 100,000 copies, and it is still selling well today!

Live performances were curtailed while recording was under way, but picked up again in May and June. Also in June five tracks were recorded for Piccadilly Radio, giving fans an opportunity to hear two memorable new songs: Atrocity Exhibition and Atmosphere (then called Chance).


Late 1979: Something Else
A chance to watch, admire the distance

In July 1979 the band made further recordings with Martin Hannett, but only the Transmission single was released at that time. This received rave reviews, but sales were disappointing, possibly because Factory were reluctant to bring in any outside specialists in record promotion. The Factory Club was, however, the venue for an important concert in July (this was recorded and later featured on the Heart and Soul boxed set).

On July 20th the band made a second appearance on Granada TV, on the program What's On. They played She's Lost Control. On July 28th Joy Division performed brilliantly at the Stuff the Superstars festival at the Mayflower Club in Manchester. A trip to London's Nashville Rooms on August 13th was less successful. Not only was their performance below par, but the van they were travelling in was hit by a truck on the way home.

On August 31st they played at the Electric Ballroom in London in front of 1,200 spectators, the biggest crowd ever at a Joy Division concert. Other gigs in August and September included the Leigh pop festival and Futurama 79 in Leeds. On September 13th Factory organised an film exhibition at the Scala Cinema in London, called the Factory Flick. This event included two films featuring Joy Division.

On September 15th Joy Division made their first and last nationwide television appearance, in Something Else on BBC 2, performing Transmission and She's Lost Control. Ian's frantic stage style made a great impression on the audience visually as well as musically. The performance of Transmission, with all four band members in top form, has been screened many times since.

In October and November Joy Division supported the Buzzcocks in a 24-venue UK tour. Overall the tour was a great success. Although the Buzzcocks were the headline act, on many occasions Joy Division performed better and were received more enthusiastically. The two Manchester concerts (on October 27th and 28th at the Apollo Theatre) were videotaped and excerpts were later released on Here Are The Young Men. The tour ended on November 10th at the Rainbow Theatre in London.

At around this time a Belgian girl named Annik Honoré attached herself to the band and to Ian Curtis in particular. This may have happened when the band took a break from the Buzzcocks tour to perform at Plan K in Brussels (but this is not the only possible explanation, as Annik is said to have worked at the Belgian embassy in London).

On November 26th Joy Division recorded their Second Peel Session. One of the songs was Love Will Tear Us Apart which soon became the best known unrecorded song in Britain. It was played on the John Peel Show on December 10th, but until April 1980 it could only be heard in live performances.


Early 1980: Love Will Tear Us Apart
It's creeping up slowly, that last fatal hour

In January 1980 Joy Division toured in Europe, covering Holland, Belgium and Germany. Several gigs, notably that at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, became notorious as sources of bootleg recordings. When the band returned to the UK their reputation had grown to the point where many of their concerts here too were heavily bootlegged.

In March 1980 Sordide Sentimental released a 7-inch: Licht Und Blindheit in 1,578 numbered copies. Joy Division had recorded the songs (which included Atmosphere) with Martin Hannett in October 1979. Around this time Ian Curtis and Rob Gretton also took a hand in production, but for another Factory band: Section 25.

Ian's relationship with Annik Honoré began to undermine his marriage, already under stress from his lengthy absences on tour. Some of these stresses were reflected in his lyrics, for example in the material recorded for the new album and in the single Love Will Tear Us Apart. Perhaps Ian intended this lyric as an autobiographical lament, or perhaps it just reflects his talent for writing a meaningful song.

The album Closer, recorded in March at Britannia Row Studios in London, was hailed as another triumph for the band and for Martin Hannett even before its release. An American tour was planned, and further discussions were arranged with Warner Brothers.

On April 2nd, 3rd and 4th Joy Division gave four concerts in three days in London. These took their toll on the band, and particularly on Ian who suffered an epileptic fit on stage. On April 7th Ian took a drug overdose, possibly a suicide attempt but more likely a cry for help. His illness and other stresses were getting on top of him and he had even talked about leaving the music business. He was due on stage the next night but was clearly unfit. After two more gigs Ian was forced to take a break to recuperate.

Some live performances scheduled for April and May were cancelled, although the band were able to record the promo video for Love Will Tear Us Apart. The band refused to mime to the record, so the editors were left to match video footage of their live performance to the music.

On May 2nd Joy Division played what was to be their last gig at Birmingham University. Luckily that concert was taped and can be found on the second half of the Still double album. This was the only public performance by Joy Division of a new song called Ceremony, leaving to posterity a fragment of a lost masterpiece.

On May 18th 1980, two days before Joy Division were due to leave for America, and two months before his 24th birthday, Ian Curtis committed suicide. He returned to his home in Macclesfield, persuaded Deborah to stay the night at her parents' house, watched Stroszek (a film by Werner Herzog), listened to Iggy Pop, then hanged himself. Many reasons have been advanced for his suicide: depression caused by his epilepsy or by the drugs he was taking to control it, the break-up of his marriage, worries about the American tour, or a morbid desire to emulate those of his heroes who had died young.


Afterwards: The Eternal
Where will it end? Where will it end?

This story ends on 29th July 1980, almost exactly four years after it began, when Barney, Hooky and Steve gave their first performance without Ian at Manchester's Beach Club, and a new order began ....

In the months following Ian's death, Closer was released and climbed into the top ten album chart. By June 1982 the album had sold 250,000 copies. Love Will Tear Us Apart reached number 13 in the singles chart. In September 1980 Factory released Atmosphere as a single (after releasing it in the US as the B-side of She's Lost Control).

1981 saw the release of the double album Still, which included a variety of unreleased studio material (with some of the tracks over-dubbed by the surviving members of the band) and the live recording of Joy Division's last concert. The album title is thought to be a reference to bootlegging.

Despite their artistic success, the band did not become rich during Ian's lifetime, and Deborah Curtis had to work to pay the household bills. Factory did not pay advances to their artists, but instead offered them a 50/50 split of the profits. So the royalties did not begin to roll in until much later. As Factory's ideas on record promotion ranged from the eccentric to the abysmal, Joy Division's commercial success did not match their critical acclaim.

In 1988 Factory released a compilation album called Substance and re-released Atmosphere. The two Peel Sessions also became available on record. In 1992 Factory Records folded, and the rights to the Joy Division back catalogue were purchased by London Records. All the Factory albums were re-released in 1994 and are still selling.

The surviving members of the band found more fame and achieved more record sales as New Order, but still managed to lose money from their involvement with Factory and the Hacienda Club. Their musical tastes had also evolved to the point where little was left of the Joy Division sound. After dominating the dance music scene in the 1980s, New Order went quiet while the band members undertook solo projects, having hit records with Electronic and Monaco.

A new Joy Division compilation called Permanent was released in 1995. Also in 1995, Love Will Tear Us Apart had another Top Twenty outing as a single, and Deborah Curtis published a book about her life with Ian. In December 1997 London Records released a 4-CD boxed set entitled Heart and Soul. This contains all Joy Division's main studio recordings, and a selection of live material and rarities.

New Order have since re-united, but sadly their manager Rob Gretton died in May 1999. Tony Wilson is still in business, having revived the Factory name, and more Joy Division records have been released. NMC issued two live concert albums, from Preston and from Les Bains Douches, and the Complete BBC Recordings are also available.

In 2001 the Heart and Soul boxed set was finally released in the US. In 2002 Joy Division were among the artists portrayed in a feature film called 24 Hour Party People. Part fact and part fiction, the film is based on Tony Wilson's experiences with Factory Records.

So this story didn't really end back in 1980. Although Joy Division as a band are no longer with us, their story continues still ....

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