KEEP ON KEEPING ON
Steve and I were Northern Soul boys and had been since our school days, where we saved our paper round money to buy Levi jeans, Fred Perry shirts and imported soul 45s. The soul scene was a bit different from mainstream pop culture of the day and had an allure of cool. As we got to be 20-somethings towards the late 70s the soul scene was deteriorating and was losing its underground status thanks to disco divs and wannabees.
Once again we were looking for something a bit different; we liked Bowie and Roxy Music, Punk/New Wave had been interesting and the post punk era spawned a few electronic bands that we kind of liked; OMD, Tubeway Army and Human League (a band that was to morph from ‘Kraftwerk’ to ‘Abba’ within two years!) to name a few.
Steve had a Ford Capri and when he offered to take me and our girlfriends to see OMD at an open-air concert in Leigh it sounded good for a trip out. It was a decent day in Leigh at the rather poorly attended Zoo Meets Factory event. Big hitters OMD didn’t headline as they had to be elsewhere that night but played a good set to an appreciative but rather relaxed Sunday afternoon crowd.
Bands played, OMD came and went and as the sun set we faced the prospect of a two hour drive and (I think) work the next day when Steve said ‘Should we stay to watch the last band?’ I’d seen the name Joy Division in NME and in my ignorance held a notion that they were student navel-gazers and not a band for electronic beats and synths that was our current fancy so we decided to give JD a quick five minutes then go.
The stage lights were just beginning to have some effect in the quickly darkening field as the band took the stage looking just as I had imagined – about our age, shoe-gazing librarians (one even had a beard!) with guitars and a singer who at least had the bottle to look out into the crowd. These unlikely lads launched into their opening number, no doubt many of you experts will know what that song was but I can’t remember! What I do remember was Steve and I looking at each other and without saying anything the telepathy was instantly clear – this was finally ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ was!
JD’s brooding soundscape was dark and breathtaking somehow, soaring to unheard of highs and plummeting to unimaginable and unchartered depths – nobody had done this before. The jaded crowd were by now all on their collective feet and at the front of the stage for the first time that day. However, it appeared the singer wasn’t taking the moody magnificence and atmospheric forays very seriously; lapsing into a crazy dance routine for a bit of a laugh – or so it would seem. To the uninitiated like us, Curtis’ spasmodic, exaggerated whirling dervish routine seemed at first funny, then unsettling, then downright unnerving – but it all seemed to fit perfectly somehow.
Like everyone else we were blown away and stayed to the very last of the encores demanded from the now super-charged audience. In one of the subsequent JD films ‘Rob Gretton’ declares himself a Joy Division fan after one gig and that’s exactly how we felt – ‘allelujah! We talked about the performance all the way home; totally without irony or knowing anything about the band, Steve likened the way JD had galvanised and mesmerised the soporific crowd, to Hitler addressing the Nuremberg rallies! We laughed but there was some crazy kind of truth in the quip; we knew we had witnessed something quite extraordinary and unexplainable.
And so began a period of buying all of JD’s back catalogue on vinyl of course; we caught them again at Eric’s in Liverpool and I particularly remember being awestruck by ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from Closer which was to be on the forthcoming album. Early in 1980, Steve and I went to work in Germany during what became known as the Auf Wiedersehen Pet era and naturally I thought we would catch the band over there at a few venues. Alas it was not to be; when doing my weekly phone home my younger brother told me the bad news about Curtis. I came out of that Bavarian phonebox in tears; me a 24-year-old a rufty-tufty construction worker.
A lot of time has elapsed since those heady days of course; I have seen New Order once – which was great, but like the Beatles without Lennon or McCartney, it didn’t quite work for me. Nearly 58 now I literally don’t get out much so imagine my surprise when I saw an advert for Peter Hook performing Unknown Pleasures and Closer in my home town recently. Steve and I were quickly on to it and we had the best night out in many a year; hearing those tunes live again, seeing Hooky up close and personal; and watching my wife (that same girlfriend from the Leigh Festival) at the crush barrier, 54 years of age bouncing up and down among the young Goths!
What has followed has been a time of reflection and research about those days; I have discovered websites like this one where I was pleased and somewhat touched to find that people from all over the world and of all ages still appreciate what a superb band Joy Division were. All things considered, I found it necessary to finally embark on a journey I had been intending to make for a long, long time.
Accompanying me to Macclesfield Crematorium was my son (a big JD fan whose middle name is Curtis) to pay our respects. Steve didn’t come as he is recently widowed and I didn’t think it was an appropriate day out for him at present. I left a small tribute/momento among the others there, inscribed as follows: ‘Tears of sadness for you; But I remember when we were young’. A little thing I’d made many years before and had stored in the garage.
And so, still in reflective mood I have written this piece (is it a blog you would call it?) and have enjoyed putting down my personal thoughts about my favourite band. I hope some of you regular posters and enthusiasts might take some interest in it too, thanks for reading.