Me and Joy Division

I’ve been lucky enough to read an advance copy of This Searing Light, The Sun And Everything Else: Joy Division – The Oral History by Jon Savage. It’s ‘as good as a novel’ (far better, if you ask me…).
Joy Division played – second-billed out of four – at the first proper gig I ever went to. 2 August 1979. I was 15.
I say first proper gig because I’d been to one before (Magazine/Simple Minds), but it had been at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 2 May 1979 (the day before Thatcher became PM…). It was like going to the theatre. (I later saw 42nd Street there…)
But the Joy Division gig was AWESOME!
It was downstairs at the Prince Of Wales Conference Centre at the YMCA off Tottenham Court Road and it was the 1st time I’d been in a dark basement room with no windows and everyone standing with their backs to you when you walked in. It was prehistoric (in a Jungian sense…): men and women in a cave, performing a ritual…
How I’d come to be there was straightforward. Five months before (4 March 1979, which was I think was a Sunday) my sister (2 years older than me) had had a row with my parents and stormed out of the house…
She’d thought: I can’t go back for a while. What do I do?
So she’d gone, on her own, to see The Cure at the Marquee Club, Wardour Street. (The Cure were a ‘good band’, but nothing special, as far as I was concerned…) Supporting them were Joy Division.
She came back and said to me – in HER room, to which I used to gravitate – that she’d seen a great band last night. It was before Unknown Pleasures (which came out in June), but certainly we knew of Joy Division from John Peel, who had probably played A Factory Sample, and from Paul Morley in the NME.
I’d been waiting to go to a ‘proper’ gig for ages, ever since Ultravox! played at the Lyceum and no-one would go with me. (I was just 15 and not ready to go alone…) So when the Joy Division gig was announced, via an advertisement in the NME, we were ready. We asked Steffi, the German girl who was staying with our family, if she wanted to come, but she wanted to stay in and wash her hair and file her nails (she was into horses…). But my friend Marc came and so did (probably) Dinah, my sister’s inseparable twin (for that six months…). Marc, I remember, wore a short-sleeved shirt, which immediately made me think ‘damn’ for having (in my complete ignorance of ‘the weather’) put on my ‘best’ (for trendy purposes) grey sweater… (It was August…)
Fourth on the bill were a Liverpool band: Echo And The Bunnymen, who still had Echo (a drum machine). It was their 1st gig in London. I heard somebody shouting at Ian McCulloch: ‘Will the real Neil Young please stand up…’.
Third were ANOTHER Liverpool band: A Teardrop Explodes. They were GREAT! I promptly went out and bought their singles Sleeping Gas and Bouncing Babies. Julian Cope resembled a primary school teacher – though not long after that he started taking LSD ALL THE TIME, with predictably far-out results. I lost interest…
Second were Joy Division. (The 1st being, in a London-centric booking decision: Essential Logic, the band of the ex-X-Ray Spex saxophonist Lora Logic, which Peter Hook has conveniently forgotten in the timeline in his otherwise exhaustive book Unknown Pleasures. Why is Lora Logic unknown? She joined the Hare Krishnas…)
I’ve got a recording of that concert at the YMCA. The only thing Ian Curtis said was: ‘Turn the fallback up, please.’
I didn’t know him yet, but Kevin (with whom I ‘formed a band’ in January 1980 as a direct consequence of seeing the JDs, as we called them) had a friend called Andy – who was also a keyboard player, liked ‘the production’ of Shakatak and dressed a bit like a casual – who had a tape, and it was copied… The irony being – it having been 1st copied onto a TDK cassette, before being again copied onto CD by Kevin – that the tape was thrown away to make way for the CD that now no longer works… (But it – like everything else – is available on YouTube…)
They started (as they often did) with Dead Souls, which of course has a long intro. So I saw Peter Hook ducking and diving, Bernard Sumner standing still, Steve Morris hammering those drums and Ian Curtis doing that unique dance. And then he started to sing…
My life began again at that moment. I’d ‘been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand’. And this was it!

Every year since then, on 2 August, I’ve remembered it… My JFK experience, except ecstatic!
I thought – in a flash of insight: ART is what I’ve been put on this earth to do… (And it is – for better or worse – what I’ve done…)
They followed with: Disorder, Wilderness, Autosuggestion, Transmission, Day Of The Lords, She’s Lost Control, Atrocity Exhibition and – as an encore – Insight. A 40-minute set.
It was, writes Peter Hook, a ‘great gig, this one’.
I went out the next day and bought the LP.
My sister bought one as well…

So, I blithely walked into a great gig from the (to some authors, myself included) GREATEST BAND of that era…
And so good were they that I went again and again to see them: twice at The Electric Ballroom: my 3rd gig, 31 August (at which I met Marc’s sister, the even-more-significant, dead-of-cancer Amanda Lipman); and my 9th gig, 26 October. Both 1979. Once – my 4th gig – at the Nashville, 22 September 1979.
Next year, I saw them another 4 times. My 21st gig, at ULU, 8 February 1980 – 5 months after the YMCA, but already they had a new set and only played 2 songs the same. My 26th gig, at the Lyceum, 29 February 1980. And my 36th and 37th gigs, at the Moonlight Club, West Hampstead on 2 and 3 April 1980.
I saw them 8 times in the 8 months between 2 August and 3 April 1980. And in May 1980, Curtis was dead.
It could be coincidence. But I – in my synchronicity-obsessed, post-stroke state – think something deeper was involved…
Apart from anything else, after the 1st splurge (I went to 39 gigs the 1st year, from 2 May, and 45 the next, before I went to Oxford…) it put me off indie music. Everyone else was ‘showbiz’, if I think of other bands I went to see at the same time (The Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, A Certain Ratio…). By 18 November 1981 (my 18th birthday) I officially got ‘into jazz’, buying as my present from my parents a Keith Jarrett LP (the 1st of many…).
The following year I discovered Miles Davis – another great non-communicator. If it isn’t in the music, he seemed to say, you’re not going to find it by talking… I went to see him with my dad at Hammersmith Odeon.
Miles was the only other act I saw that was as single-minded. I saw him 9 times – one more than Joy Division. But it was over 9 years, not months…


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

One thought on “Me and Joy Division”

  1. Hi John – hope you had a bearable Xmas. I’ve been enjoying the blog posts a lot! Must get a visit planned soon – either we come to you or you come here. Let me know a weekend when you have sons (we could do that pub lunch thing and I could admire the swans…and geese!). Or let me know if you’d like a London escape and I’ll work out some good dates when the spare room is free and I’m not too frazzled.

    xx Saskia



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