Manchester, So Much To Answer For.

Decades before Shaun, Ian, Liam & Noel reduced the common denominator to it's lowest possible level, Manchester used to produce bands that broke the mould instead of producing prospective mouldy old brokers whose ideas of fanbase/share option interfaces were only overshadowed by their mildly moronic lyrics. It wasn't always warehouse parties & mad for it gutter "poets" high on the ground-up pages of a thesaurus without the safety net of an English O-Level. Manchester used to have a pride in the music it created, Spike Island dragged that pride to the cross @ Golgotha & Knebworth banged in the nails with apathetic nonchalance.

To earlier generations, Manchester was a byword for integrity, commitment & invention. It produced catalysts whose influence & belief were strong enough to add substance to art skool angst, add flesh to the cynical bones of punk rock & re-position the spotlights trained on the capital to flood the smaller stages of the provinces. Every town was experiencing it's own revolution - the glamour obsessed icons of the mid 70's, at one time perceived as invincible, were finally being slaughtered by the dogs of class war - dragged kicking & screaming from the charts, the stages & the music press - pissed @ Warhol for ever for suggesting that 15 minutes was all some deserved.

London had The Roxy, Manchester had the Electric Circus - London had the Sex Pistols & Manchester had the Buzzcocks. In less time than it took Jimmy Page to tune his 12 string double necked guitar, the original Buzzcocks had recorded the incendiary "Spiral Scratch" EP, the legendary "Times Up" bootleg & lost Howard Devoto. Devoto had met Pete Shelley @ the 6th form deviants society of their local skool & found a shared love of "Trout Mask Replica", The Stooges, The Ramones & The Sex Pistols. They formed The Buzzcocks & soon had a set's worth of songs with which to brave the stage @ The Lesser Free Trade Hall. They were welcomed with open arms by a nascent nationwide scene but Devoto was no fan of scenes & had plans of his own.

Devoto was not one to suffer fools gladly or about to be glued to a scene he didn't believe in & soon walked to form Magazine, leaving Shelley to take lead vocals & remove some of the caustic edges from the Buzzcocks sound in pursuit of a hit single. Magazine spent the next 3 years recording some of the most challenging music to ever come out of Manchester. "Another Music In Different Kitchen", meanwhile, was the closest Shelley & The Buzzcocks ever got to the genius of the original line-up before settling down to become the Madness of punk-pop crossover with a sackful of fat hit singles collected for the world to swoon @ on, "Singles Going Steady". Magazine were to wait a further 20 years for their retrospective, the box set "Maybe It's Right To Be Nervous Now", & the single best of..., "Where The Power Is", released simultaneously on 2 October by Virgin. Essential to trivia.

Manchester had plenty of other protagonists stirring the bile of social unrest around their perspective cauldrons. John Cooper Clarke, stand-up poet & raconteur delivered the "Psycle Sluts" EP & 2 tracks on the "Short Circuit - Live At The Electric Circus" 10 inch blue vinyl lp on Virgin Records, along with The Fall, The Drones, The Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse & Warsaw ("At A Later Date"). Slaughter & The Dogs came on with the singles,"Cranked Up & Really High" & "Where Have All The Bootboyys Gone?", & an LP, "Do It Dog Style". The Distractions recorded for Factory along with John Dowie, The Durutti Column & Caberet Voltaire. Meanwhile, somewhere near Whalley Range (perhaps), a young Stephen Patrick Morrisey sat in his bedroom & polished his New York Dolls lps, possibly popping out to witness Stiff Kittens eventual metamorphosis, via Warsaw (debut 29/05/77 - Manchester's Electric Circus), to become Manchester's finest ever populist combination, JOY DIVISION (debut 25/01/78 Pips, Manchester).

Swathed in the mystery of ambiguous nazi iconography, Joy Division were named after the prostitution wing of WW2 German concentration camps. After 15 or so Manchester gigs as Warsaw, a name change & a further development of sound, the group delivered the "Ideal For Living" EP - "Warsaw", "No Love Lost", "Leaders Of Men" & "Failures" - on their own Enigma label (re-released on 12" by Anonymous Records) before being signed by erstwhile Mancunian entrepreneur & presenter of Manchester's "So It Goes" TV show, Tony Wilson, to the city's newest label, Factory Records.

Joy Division; Ian Curtis - Vox, Bernard Albrect - Gtr, Peter Hook - Bass, Stephen Morris - Drums.

In Curtis, Joy Division possessed a singer of haunting beauty. His deep & resonant voice could be tuneless to the casual observer but was widely regarded as angel's breath by their ever growing legion of dedicated fans. Prone to epilepsy from his teens, Curtis' manic on-stage persona was typified by his sharp, angular movements in the arc of the strobe light (which in itself was a great antagonist for sufferers of epilepsy). He pushed himself to the boundaries of expression, almost as if mimicking his disorders for the entertainment of the crowd. Alongside the taught guitar stabs of Albrect, the low slung lead bass action of Peter Hook & the minimalist drum patterns preferred by Morris, Curtis & Joy Division boasted a sound that was highly defined by the time they entered Cargo Studios in Rochdale to record "Digital" & "Glass" for the forthcoming Factory Records sampler, eventually released in January 1979.

In April 79 Joy Division entered Strawberry Studios in Stockport under the guidance of Martin Hannett to record their their debut Factory LP, "Unknown Pleasures". These sessions captured raw genius on the cusp of it's inception. "Unknown Pleasures" painted a desolate landscape of a failed & stricken urban wasteland.

INSIDE - She's Lost Control/Shadowplay/Wilderness/Interzone/I Remember Nothing OUTSIDE - Disorder/Day of The Lords/Candidate/Insight/New Dawn Fades

Here was a group with the awesome power hinted at by the Stooges being harnessed to something intrinsically darker than Iggy, Ron, Scotty & Dave ever imagined. The lp's distinctive black cover with minimal information & limited graphics echoed the harshness of Joy Division's music.

The following single, "Transmission", with it's insistent call for maximum airplay ("Dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio") was a Ginsberg howl compared to the power pap new wavisms of contemporary chartland. Recorded in July 79, again at Strawberry, "Transmission" appeared in November of the same year to clamorous critical appraisal. As the dawn of a new decade pointed the way forward for a new generation, only Joy Division shone a light on the path.

Joy Division's myth was further expanded with the release of "Atmosphere"/"Dead Souls" on the French label, Sordide Sentimental. Pressed as a limited edition of #1,578 with extensive text written by Jean-Pierre Turmel, a photo of the band by Anton Corbijn & a painting by Jean-Francois Jamoul, this release saw the band become darlings of the specialist collectors market & the true heirs to the throne of the expressive leftfield. In June 1980 sessions began at Britannia Row Studios in London for what would become "Closer". Again with Hannett producing, these sessions stretched the band's sound further than it had ever gone before & included the future posthumous single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

Atrocity Exhibition/Isolation/Passover/Colony/A Means To An End/Heart & Soul/24 Hours/The Eternal/Decades

By mid 1980 extensive touring commitments were posing a constant threat to Curtis' health, the chance of serious imminent stardom wasn't helping either. An affair with Belgian journalist, Annik Honore, threatened to estrange his wife & family. On the verge of a debut trip to the USA, Curtis was falling apart inside. As the shutters of the press prepared to click Curtis' personal problems were mounting & he was advised to seek psychiatric help which only served to push him further away from his young wife, Deborah. Back at his parents house & under observation, Ian had his last appointment at the epilepsy clinic on 6th May 1980. He saw a different doctor than he usually did & managed to convince him that he was in control & in no need of further help. Ian told his fellow band members things had been sorted out & that he was going to divorce Deborah. Arrangements were made for a lads night out before the Monday flight to the States but on Saturday 18th May Curtis called Bernard & changed the arrangements. He sounded calm & told Bernard he would meet them at the airport on Monday. He then called manager, Rob Gretton, and told him he was going to Macclesfield to watch Werner Herzog's "Stroszek", a film about a man who kills himself rather than choose between two women, that would have upset his father had he watched it with them. After the film, Deborah arrived @ Barton Street and tried to convince Ian it wasn't too late for them. High on industrial strength caffeine, Ian refused to let her stay the night & made her promise not to return to the house before his scheduled departure time of 10am. Deborah returned around midday on the Sunday morning to find Curtis hanging by a rope from the clothes horse in the kitchen, Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" still spinning on the record player. Ian Curtis was cremated on 23 May 1980.

In reality, Joy Division became a far bigger concern after Curtis' departure. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" became Factory's biggest release to date & the following lp, "Closer", was greeted by some of the most moving, affected & ironically positive reviews the group had ever received. The survivors took time out before becoming New Order, carefully carrying the myth along with them. Their early music seemed hollow & empty without Curtis, Bernard struggled to fill the void. It was no surprise that they would never achieve the intensity of Joy Division again.

Meanwhile back in his bedsit, Stephen Patrick fretted away the hours till the conception of the next great Manchester band happy in the knowledge that it was more than likely to involve him - but that, as they say, is a different story - only possibly in another kitchen.

Jean Encoule


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