Ian Curtis

Bernard Sumner - The Early Years

Bernard Sumner's life has been a mystery to many. Deeply private, even his real name has never been properly confirmed. Here, Bernard's biographer David Nolan unravels the mystery of Sumner's early years.

Although proud of his Salford roots, Bernard Sumner was actually born in the neighouring city of Manchester – Crumpsall Hospital to be exact (now known as North Manchester General) on January 4th 1956. The birth was difficult. Bernard's mother Laura had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair.

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere – including New Order's official MySpace – he was not born Bernard Dicken. Bernard took his mother's name at birth – Sumner – as he never knew his biological father. Later in life, his mother married James Dickin and Bernard's name changed to Dickin when John adopted him. “I hadn't really wanted my name changing from Sumner in the first place,” he later said. “ I had got used to it ... I was made to change it.” The name Dicken was an affectation that Bernard used later in life. He also used the surname Albrecht. There have been various claims as to the source of this: from the street name of the Gestapo headquarters – Prinz Albrecht Strasse – to the brand name of a photocopier. Sumner states is was actually a variation on the name of poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht which he'd misheard an announcer say on a TV programme.”I thought he had said 'Bernard Albrecht,” says Sumner today. “Nothing to do with the Gestapo I'm afraid.”

Growing up in Alfred Street, Lower Broughton – long since knocked down to make way for an industrial estate - he went to school at the nearby St Clements' C of E, before passing the 11 Plus examination to go to Salford Grammar School (now known as Buile Hill High). Friends he made here ... Peter Hook, Terry Mason ... would prove vital to his future.

When Bernard left school he had a brief spell at Salford Town Hall, before he got a job at the Stop Frame animation studios in Manchester, best known for producing the title sequence to the kids' show Rainbow. When Stop Frame folded, he and many of his fellow artists were taken on by a new company formed by two of its leading lights, Cosgrove Hall.

On June 4th 1976, Bernard along with his girlfriend Sue Barlow, Peter Hook, Terry Mason, former school friend John Berry and a man known only as 'Crazy Mike' went to see the Sex Pistols at the Lesser free Trade hall in Manchester. The gig had been organised by budding musicians Howard Trafford and Pete McNeish. The pair had hoped to support the Pistols with their band Buzzcocks, but weren't ready in time. Bolton prog rockers Solstice took their place instead.

Bernard was already a budding guitarist. But fired up by the Pistols' performance, Peter Hook and Terry Mason also took up instruments: Hook went for the bass ... Mason initially tried the guitar and then the drums. Rehearsals took place at Alfred Street – where Bernard's grandmother still lived - using a variety of people in their extended circle of friends as lead singer. The Pistols returned to Manchester in July. Ian Curtis from Macclesfield was at this gig though it's believed he never met up with the Salford lads. Peter Hook claims the first time he saw Curtis was at the Electric Circus venue in December. “He had a green military jacket on with 'HATE' on the back in white letters, which I thought was fantastic,” recalls Hook.

When Curtis tentative musical relationship with Wythenshawe guitarist Iain Grey ended, he threw in with Bernard and Peter. Better drummers than Terry Mason were found and he became their 'manager'. A plea for a permanent drummer was printed in Manchester fanzine Shy Talk. It was spotted by Steve Morris, also from Macclesfield. Early gigs as Warsaw followed. On January 25th 1978 they played Pips nightclub in Manchester under their new name ... Joy Division.

David Nolan is the author of Bernard Sumner: Confusion and of I Swear I was There: the Gig That Changed the World.

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