Joy Division : The story

Part I - Origins (The Stiff Kittens & Warsaw):

In 1976, the punk movement erupted to wake up pop music from its apathy. The leading band was the Sex Pistols, whose famous anthems, like "Anarchy in the UK" or "God save the Queen", were the symbols of this "no future" generation. Most punk musicians could not play, but they did not see this as an obstacle to reach their goal: get on stage, and yell their rage at the world! Many of them were influenced by famous cult bands of the late 60's and early 70's: The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, The Stooges, Iggy Pop, The Doors, etc.

During the Anarchy in the UK tour, the Pistols played in Manchester on June 4 and July 20. In the audience were four young guys living around Manchester: school mates Peter Hook, Bernard Albrecht and Terry Mason plus Ian Curtis - who only attended the July gig. Right away, Peter, Bernard and Terry decided to start up a band, with Peter on bass, Bernard on guitar and Terry on drums, but they still needed a singer. They placed an ad in the Virgin record shop in Manchester and Ian answered it and became the singer of the band, called at the time the Stiff Kittens. He would also write the lyrics.

They rehearsed a lot during a few months, and wrote their first songs, in direct inheritance of punk. In May of 1977 the band's name was changed to Warsaw (linked to Bowie's "Warszawa") and Terry was replaced on drums by Tony Tabac, though Terry remained close to the band. Just a month later, Tony left and Steve Brotherdale was hired as new drummer. It was at the same time that Paul Morley of the NME and DJ Rob Gretton discovered the band and perceived its huge potential. Warsaw recorded a demo tape including five songs in the Pennine Sound Studios in July, but Steve quit a few days later. Finally Stephen Morris joined the band. In October, they played at the Electric Circus, which was due to close down, along with The Fall and The Buzzcocks. Some songs were recorded by Virgin as a testimony of the mancunian punk scene.

In December, they recorded four songs, which were to appear later as "An Ideal For Living". In January of 1978 the band changed its name to Joy Division to avoid any confusion with another group. They rehearsed intensely and wrote new songs. On April 14, they played along with 16 bands in a contest: Tony Wilson, who worked for Granada TV, and Rob Gretton were greatly impressed by their performance.

Joy Division
Photo © Kevin Cummins
reproduced with kind permission

Part II - Birth of the legend (Joy Division - Factory):

Joy Division came back in studio to record eleven songs with the RCA label. For the first time they did not sound just as another punk band. But they were not pleased with some musical changes made by the producer, and by the conditions of the agreement with RCA. On May 21, Bernard had the group to hire Rob as manager. On June 8, Tony opened a club in Manchester, called The Factory I - named after Warhol's Factory or simply after a sign seen in the neighbourhood by Alan Erasmus, a theatre actor, friend of Tony. Peter Saville, a young local artist conceived a poster for the event, and Joy Division appeared as full of promise to many reviewers.

They rehearsed during all summer which had the immediate effect to mature their music. With Rob Gretton's help, they managed to avoid the release of the RCA record (later known as the bootleg "Warsaw"). After many rehearsals and gigs they had considerably improved, and critics as well as audiences were more and more impressed. On September 20, they were invited on Granada TV for what would be a live appearance, and decided to play "Shadowplay", one of their recent songs. Another concert took place at the Factory where free copies of "An Ideal for Living"  were given to journalists. It was on that occasion that Martin Hannett and Joy Division were linked for the first time.

At the end of 1978, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus started up a record company called "Factory Records", which will happen to be the most celebrated and creative indie label of its time. Peter Saville was chosen to be the designer of the label, and Martin Hannett its producer. In October, Hannett produced two Joy Division songs, which appeared in a compilation named "A Factory Sample". During the following months, Rob Gretton organized concerts in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Canterbury, Bristol, York and London, and the band was starting to create a real follow-up. They had to face one serious problem though, as Ian was now having epilepsy fits.

On 1979 January 31, they recorded four songs for John Peel, the famous DJ on BBC Radio 1. This Peel session was broadcasted two weeks later, then followed by another gig in London, and a recording session of a few songs for a WEA label, and then again by some more gigs, along with The Cure. Joy Division shows had some special characteristics: they chose the songs they would play just before the concert, and they played with few light because of Ian's epilepsy.

Joy Division
Photo © Paul Slattery

Part III - Unknown Pleasures:

Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson agreed to produce the band's first LP. Joy Division rehearsed almost day and night during April, and wrote some fifteen new songs. Martin Hannet and the group worked on "Unknown Pleasures" most intensely. The ten tracks are remarkable, due to the music and the lyrics of course, but also to the aura Hannett managed to bring. The atmosphere and the sound of the songs are oppressing, dark and claustrophobic, but at the same time powerful, touching and vivid.

Then they were back again on the road in the UK, playing along with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and other groups, and recorded some titles for a local radio, Piccadilly Radio. Joy Division's impact and fame were growing quickly, even if they almost systematically refused interviews - believing that their music perfectly spoke for them. They had no marketing promotion: just concerts, concerts and concerts, mainly in the Manchester area. In July of 1979, "Unknown Pleasures"  was released, in its black cover, with just a black and white graphic on it. Peter Saville's design included no pictures of the band and no names either. The album enjoyed immense critical acclaim - named best album since the Doors' LA. Woman - and it was to stay long in the UK indie charts. Funnily though, they were still amateurs, having day jobs as well!

The drums sounded like gun shots, except when Steven delivered furious rolls, the bass was omnipresent, sometimes threatening, sometimes softer, but always used in a totally different way from its usual purpose in pop bands, having a most important part in the songs architecture and melody. The guitar often played along with the bass, in a kind of counter-point; its sound changing, distorted or clear, more or less aggressive, blurred or brilliant and surgically accurate. Ian's lyrics and singing brought the music even to a higher level: you could feel that Joy Division were not cheating, but revealing themselves. The anger or the fear you heard in his voice were merely the bare truth.

"I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand,
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?
..." (Disorder)

"I guess you were right, when we talked in the heat,
There's no room for the weak, no room for the weak.
..." (Day of the Lords)

"Corrupted from memory,
No longer the power,
It's creeping up slowly,
That last fatal hour.
Oh, I don't know what made me,
What gave me the right,
To mess with your values,
And change wrong to right.
..." (Candidate)

"Guess your dreams always end.
They don't rise up just descend,
But I don't care anymore,
I've lost the will to want more,
I'm not afraid not at all,
I watch them all as they fall,
But I remember when we were young.
..." (Insight)

"A change of speed, a change of style.
A change of scene, with no regrets,
A chance to watch, admire the distance,
Still occupied, though you forget.
Different colours, different shades,
Over each mistakes were made.
I took the blame.
Directionless so plain to see,
A loaded gun won't set you free.
So you say.
We'll share a drink and step outside,
An angry voice and one who cried,
'We'll give you everything and more,
The strain's too much, can't take much more.'
I've walked on water, run through fire,
Can't seem to feel it anymore.
It was me, waiting for me,
Hoping for something more,
Me, seeing me this time,
Hoping for something else." (New Dawn Fades)

"Confusion in her eyes that says it all.
She's lost control.
And she's clinging to the nearest passer by,
She's lost control.
And she turned around and took me by the hand
And said I've lost control again.
And how I'll never know just why or understand
She said I've lost control again.
And she screamed out kicking on her side
And said I've lost control again.
And seized up on the floor, I thought she'd die.
..." (She's Lost Control)

"I did everything, everything I wanted to,
I let them use you for their own ends,
..." (Shadowplay).

"What did you see there?
I saw all knowledge destroyed.
I travelled far and wide through many different times.
What did you see there?
The blood of Christ on their skins,
I travelled far and wide through many different times.
I travelled far and wide and unknown martyrs died,
What did you see there?
I saw the one sided trials,
What did you see there?
I saw the tears as they cried,
..." (Wilderness)

"Down the dark streets, the houses looked the same,
Getting darker now, faces look the same,
And I walked round and round.
Had to think again,
Trying to find a clue, trying to find a way to get out!
..." (Interzone)

"Get weak all the time, may just pass the time,
Me in my own world, and you there beside,
The gaps are enormous, we stare from each side,
We were strangers for way too long.
Violent, more violent, his hand cracks the chair,
Moves on reaction, then slumps in despair,
Trapped in a cage and surrendered to soon,
Me in my own world, the one that you knew,
For way too long.
..." (I Remember Nothing)

Upon this remarkable basis, Hannett's touch, including use of synthesizers and noises, plus an extraordinary work on the instruments sound (with engineer Chris Nagle) created a unique atmosphere of tension and chaos.

At the end of July, Paul Slattery photographed Joy Division in Stockport, and the band gave an interview to the NME. At the same time, they worked with Martin Hannett on two songs for a single. In August they toured again, mainly in London, with Echo And The Bunnymen and Orchestral Manoeuvres, and in Liverpool. Ian, Peter, Steve and Bernard could now quit their day jobs and dedicate themselves to Joy Division.

Their performance was highly praised at the Leeds Futurama One festival - where they played along other groups like Cabaret Voltaire, A Certain Ratio, Public Image Limited, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark ... - and in London at the Nashville Club. Invited by the BBC, they played two songs for the TV show "Something Else".

Another concert at The Factory I, and they were touring the UK as support band of The Buzzcocks: Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Bangor, Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester, Oxford, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Bristol, London, among others. Each night, the audience was stunned and moved by Joy Division's music and the intensity of their performance on stage. In Liverpool, the audience left just after Joy Division gig, as if they knew nothing could be as powerful as what they had witnessed. That included many people who had never heard of the band. In Bristol, the audience was literally drained after their appearance. Various reviewers, from the NME, Melody Maker or Sounds, shared exactly the same feeling. Of course, The Buzzcocks were rather jealous about Joy Division's success... In between the tour dates, they played around Manchester, and for the first time out of the UK, in Brussels.

The band was then contacted by Warner Brothers Records' vice-chairman, who offered them one million dollar to have them on his label. Rob Gretton and the group declined the offer.

On November 26, Joy Division recorded a second John Peel session with Tony Wilson, which was broadcasted a few weeks later on Radio One.

Joy Division
Photo © Pierre René-Worms
reproduced with kind permission

Part IV - Closer:

Rob Gretton scheduled a European tour for Joy Division in December of 1979 and January of 1980. Eleven gigs in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The first concert took place in Paris, at Les Bains-Douches: Bernard Lenoir, who could be thought of as the French John Peel, broadcasted the band live on the French radio; this was followed by a mancunian gig on New Year's eve, and the Paradiso show in Amsterdam, where Joy Division, having not been able to find a support band, played twice in a row!

The next gigs took place in The Hague, Nijmegen, Antwerp, Cologne - in an ancient church, Rotterdam, Brussels, Eindhoven, Groningen and Berlin. Back in the UK the band worked on new songs - including "Love Will Tear Us Apart" - and played five dates, supported by A Certain Ratio: London, High Wycombe, Preston, London again and Bristol. During the Preston gig, they experienced many technical problems, and Ian talked to the audience for a while, to have them waiting!

In March of 1980, they entered the Britannia Row Studios to record their second LP with Martin Hannett. Meanwhile they had recorded "Atmosphere" and "Dead Souls", wich appeared on the single "Licht Und Blindheit", in a French limited edition of 1578 copies. In this LP, "Closer", they tracked down further and deeper their inner thoughts and feelings. Once again, Martin Hannett's incredible work and talent offered Joy Division's brilliant music the perfect jewel-case.

After the recording, in April, the group was on the road again: in London, at the Moonlight Club, and at the Rainbow Theatre, where the lights, too strong, caused Ian a terrible epilepsy fit at the end of the gig. But the band had to play a second gig the same night, again at the Moonlight Club. After a furious start, Ian collapsed, unable to move or to sing anymore.

The band achieved a cult status, as all concerts were close to provoke internal and external chaos and riot: "Unlike The Fall, who make me want to go out and kick a cat, Joy Division convince me that I could spit in the face of God." (Neil Norman, NME).

Joy Division had to prepare their first US tour with The Buzzcocks, and eight gigs were organized for that purpose: as Ian's health was deteriorating, they finally played only five ot them in Malvern, Bury - where Ian quickly failed to sing, Manchester, Derby and Birmingham on May 2.

"Closer" was to be released shortly - Factory had in the meantime published a free flexi single with new songs, Joy Division were to tour the US - the tour had been booked by the late Ruth Polsky, who was to book New Order and many other British new-wave acts in the early 80s - and had been offered once again a one million dollar agreement, plus total artistic freedom, by Warner Brothers Records.

But Ian could not cope anymore: his health and sentimental problems were more than he could take. On May 17, he went back to his house in Macclesfield, watched Stroszek, a movie by Werner Herzog, the story of a singer, a loser, who finally kills himself, listened to Iggy Pop "The Idiot" album and on the morning of May 18 hang himself in the kitchen. He was cremated in Macclesfield cemetery on May 23.

John Peel announced Ian's death on Radio One on May 19, and payed his tribute to the band and the man with "Atmosphere", which very few knew at the time in the UK. Peter, Steve, Bernard, Martin, Rob, Tony and the others were simply devastated by Ian's suicide. "Closer" and the single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" were finally released at the end of June of 1980. The covers, which had been chosen months before, were as usual designed by Peter Saville: they included two B&W photos by Bernard Pierre Wolff, an amazingly gifted French photographer, taken in the Genoa cemetery, Il Staglieno: a dead Christ with mourners for "Closer", and a weeping angel for "LWTUA".

"LWTUA" included two versions of the song, because neither Joy Division nor Martin Hannett could decide which one they liked best. The song was number 5 in the Indies chart. A video of the song was broadcasted at the same time. In the beauty and strength of "Closer" converged the intense work of the band, the inner world of Ian just before it collapsed, and the visions and magic of Martin.

Strangely enough, a couple of books have been written on "Unknown Pleasures" but none on "Closer". Maybe because "Closer" goes where no other "pop" band ever ventured?

"Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside,
For entertainment they watch his body twist,
Behind his eyes he says, 'I still exist.'
This is the way, step inside.
In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life.
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more,
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.
This is the way, step inside.
You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face.
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.
This is the way, step inside.
And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years,
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release or repair,
Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be." (Atrocity Exhibition)

"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.
..." (Isolation)

"This is a crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I'd kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around,
Wondering what will come next.
Is this the role that you wanted to live?
I was foolish to ask for so much.
Without the protection and infancy's guard,
It all falls apart at first touch.
..." (Passover)

"A cry for help, a hint of anaesthesia,
The sound from broken homes,
We used to always meet here.
As he lays asleep, she takes him in her arms,
Some things I have to do, but I don't mean you harm.
A worried parent's glance, a kiss, a last goodbye,
Hands him the bag she packed, the tears she tries to hide,
A cruel wind that bows down to our lunacy,
And leaves him standing cold here in this colony.
I can't see why all these confrontations,
I can't see why all these dislocations,
No family life, this makes me feel uneasy,
Stood alone here in this colony.
..." (Colony)

"We fought for good, stood side by side,
Our friendship never died.
On stranger waves, the lows and highs,
Our vision touched the sky,
..." (A Means to an End)

A struggle between right and wrong.
You take my place in the showdown,
I'll observe with a pitiful eye,
I'd humbly ask for forgiveness,
A request well beyond you and I.
An abyss that laughs at creation,
A circus complete with all fools,
Foundations that lasted the ages,
Then ripped apart at their roots.
Beyond all this good is the terror,
The grip of a mercenary hand,
When savagery turns all good reason,
There's no turning back, no last stand.
Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can.
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand.
..." (Heart and Soul)

"So this is permanence, love's shattered pride.
What once was innocence, turned on its side.
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move,
Deep in the memory, of what once was love.
Oh how I realised how I wanted time,
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find,
Just for one moment, thought I'd found my way.
Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away.
Excessive flashpoints, beyond all reach,
Solitary demands for all I'd like to keep.
Let's take a ride out, see what we can find,
A valueless collection of hopes and past desires.
Now that I've realised how it's all gone wrong,
Gotta find some therapy, this treatment takes too long.
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway,
Gotta find my destiny, before it gets too late." (Twenty-four Hours)

"Procession moves on, the shouting is over,
Praise to the glory of loved ones now gone.
Talking aloud as they sit round their tables,
Scattering flowers washed down by the rain.
Stood by the gate at the foot of the garden,
Watching them pass like clouds in the sky,
Try to cry out in the heat of the moment,
Possessed by a fury that burns from inside.
Cry like a child, though these years make me older,
With children my time is so wastefully spent,
A burden to keep, though their inner communion,
Accept like a curse an unlucky deal.
Played by the gate at the foot of the garden,
My view stretches out from the fence to the wall,
No words could explain, no actions determine,
Just watching the trees and the leaves as they fall." (The Eternal)

"Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders,
Here are the young men, well where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber,
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in,
Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying,
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen.
Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration,
The sorrows we suffered and never were free.
Where have they been?
Where have they been?
Weary inside, now our heart's lost forever,
Can't replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase,
Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings,
Open then shut, then slammed in our face.
Where have they been?
Where have they been?" (Decades)

The songs seemed to come - more than ever - from a foreign world, with Ian's lyrics filled with doubts, restlesness and fears, Peter's droning bass, Bernard's jagged guitar riffs and Steve's hypnotizing drums, all of that once again refined by Martin's contribution (synthesizers, sound-work, etc., with the assistance of John Caffery and Michael Johnson).

"Closer" peaked at number 6 in the British charts, and critics were unanimous in praising it. "LWTUA" rose to number 13 in the singles chart and Joy Division raided the NME annual prize-list. Though their music did not sound as anything else, it was labelled as new-wave, cold-wave or gothic, but whatever its name, it influenced many new-wave groups (The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, U2, etc.).


Part V - New Order:

The band had agreed that if any member left, for any reason, Joy Division would cease to exist. Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Albrecht (now Sumner) formed New Order, soon joined by Gillian Gilbert on keyboards, Bernard becoming the singer. But from their gloomy debut album, "Movement" - still produced by Martin Hannett and still influenced by Joy Division - to their weird dance music songs, that is another story, which includes the biggest single ever sold in the world: "Blue Monday".

For more than a decade and a half, New Order almost never played Joy Division's songs - except the last two ones which were not recorded in the studio by Joy Division ("Ceremony" and "In A Lonely Place"). Since their return in the late 90s, they usually play a couple of Joy Division's songs at every concert.

In 1980 and 1981, Factory released the single "Atmosphere" and the album "Still", with rare tracks and the songs from the Birmingham gig of May of 1980, which rose to number 5 on the British charts. In 1982, Ikon released a video of Joy Division filmed in various gigs "Here are the young men", and in 1986 and 1987, the "Peel Sessions" were published. Factory released a CD called "Substance" in 1988, with Joy Division's singles and some previously unreleased songs, as well as another "Substance", for New Order that one. A video for "Atmosphere" was shot by Anton Corbijn, who had taken photographs of the band on several occasions.

In 1995, fifteen years after Ian had died, a new compilation "Permanent" was released, and in 1998 the 4-CDs box "Heart And Soul" was commercialized, followed in 1999 by the Preston concert, "Preston 28 February 1980". The Peel sessions were rereleased in the "The Complete BBC Recordings" CD in 2000, and the Paris gig "Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979" was issued in 2001. In the next couple of years several other records were released including the "Refractured BoxOne" and many semi-official records, mostly live recordings, but also "Martin Hannett's Personal Mixes". In 2007 "Unknown Pleasures", "Closer", "LWTUA" & "Still" were re-released with bonuses as double CDs but also as vinyls.

Many books have been written on Joy Division, New Order and Ian Curtis in different countries, including Ian's biography by his widow, Deborah, and another particularly interesting biography by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade, Tony Wilson's ex-wife.

The movie "24 Hour Party People" directed by Michael Winterbottom, one of England's greatest film maker, depicts the history of Factory, from the punk era to its bankruptcy with superb acting. In 2007, "Control," a biopic on Ian Curtis, directed by Anton Corbijn won several prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.

"Joy Division - A Documentary" by Grant Gee was also released in 2007 and is an excellent complement to the movies. Last but not least, 2007 was also the year of the release of the long awaited book of Kevin Cummins' photos of Joy Division, "Juvenes".

More books were published in the following months, some on Joy Division or Factory associates (Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton...) - some by or about the band members (Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook) followed by a new book of photos by Kevin Cummins in 2010. "Unknown Pleasures", an exhibition at Macclesfield Silk Museum celebrating Ian Curtis and Joy Division ran during the summer of 2010, with some 150 artefacts lent both by fans and members of the band, including original posters, flyers, artwork proofs, photos and letters.

Peter Hook opened a new club / live venue in Manchester, and performed a set of Joy Division songs including all songs from "Unknown Pleasures" on May 18 2010, with his new band, The Light. Peter Hook and the Light have since been touring on several continents, playing "Unknown Pleasures" and "Closer" in turn, culminating with 2 "Unknown Pleasures" + "Closer" gigs in Salford in November 2011. They have also recorded several Joy Division songs and started touring playing New Order songs as well.

Some new early songs - from the Warsaw period - have been unearthed and have made their way to the Internet or on bootleg ("Reaction", "Tension", "Lost"), one being recorded by the Light ("Pictures In My Mind").

As Joy Division had finally built a strong follow-up and achieved a cult-band status, many bootlegs have been listed, from the various band's gigs, in these days where music was created and played by men - not DJs or machines. Men who were not willing to compromise for fame nor money.

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Update 2019-09-04    Copyright © Michel ENKIRI