Joy Division: A history part 2


Early 1979: Unknown Pleasures

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).

Strawberry Studios
Strawberry Studios (C) Grant Sullivan

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. Terry Mason was now acting as Joy Division's road manager and sound engineer, making an important contribution to the success of the band's live appearances. 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

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. During August and September the band made several visits to London. After an appearance at the Nashville Rooms they had an eventful journey home when the van carrying their equipment was hit by a truck.

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.

By now a young Belgian woman named Annik Honoré had attached herself to Joy Division and to Ian Curtis in particular, both as a fan and as an interviewer for a Belgian magazine. Annik worked at the Belgian embassy in London, but was also involved in arranging for British bands to visit Belgium. She helped in some way when the band took a break from the Buzzcocks tour to perform at Plan K in Brussels.

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

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, then persuaded Deborah to stay the night at her parents' house. After watching Stroszek (a film by Werner Herzog), and listening to Iggy Pop, Ian hanged himself in the kitchen, to be found by Deborah when she returned the next day.

Many reasons have been advanced for Ian's 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. People who were with him shortly before his death give conflicting accounts of his state of mind. It appears that Ian had a secretive nature, concealing his feelings from others (he even managed to conceal his epilepsy until he actually had a fit), so the true reason for his death will remain obsure

Afterwards: The Eternal

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 later re-united, but lost their manager Rob Gretton, who died in May 1999. Tony Wilson also continued in business, attempting to revive the Factory name, and more Joy Division records have been released. NMC issued two live concert albums, from Preston and from Les Bains Douches. In 2001 the Complete BBC Recordings became available on CD, and 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 and the soundtrack naturally features Joy Division. In July Joy Division's BBC Recordings were packaged with a New Order BBC concert under the title Before and After. The "before and after" theme continued throughout 2002, with New Order regularly featuring Joy Division songs in their live act.

The 25th anniversary of Ian's death in 2005 was marked by a number of commemorative events in Manchester and the surrounding area. A new biography of Ian Curtis, by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade, was published in 2006. A feature film portraying Ian's life was commissioned, based on the earlier biography by Deborah Curtis. Called Control, the film was directed by Anton Corbijn and was released in 2007, accompanied by a soundtrack album.

The renewed interest in Joy Division and the Factory era was stimulated by the record companies, with another flurry of Joy Division re-releases, and by documentary makers, but sadly it coincided with the death of Tony Wilson in August 2007. One thing is clear: this story did not really end back in 1980. Although Joy Division have not performed together for many years, their story, like their music, continues still ...


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