A Day Out With Joy Division

By Alan Hempsall © 1980

[This interview was originally published in the Extro sci-fi magazine, Vol.2/No.5. Overlooked by about everyone, it's one of the most interesting Joy Division interviews ever, reprinted here with permission of the author. On January 8th 1980 Alan Hempsall interviewed Joy Division and their manager Rob Gretton, when the band and Martin Hannett were working on Love Will Tear Us Apart (original version, to be found on the B-side of FAC 23), These Days and The Sound Of Music, in the Pennine Studios in Oldham - Frank Brinkhuis
Notice: If you want to read a Portugese language version of this interview, called Um dia como Joy Division, check out Ricardo Augusto Fernandes' Electric Mind E-Zine. You can always translate it with Altavista's translation resources...]

It's Tuesday the eight of January, it's absolutely freezing and I'm standing outside Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall. I look at my watch, quarter to two it says. I've been standing here for what seems like an age. I'm supposed to have been picked up by Joy Division three quarters of an hour ago. My feet are going numb and I'm about to give up and go home when the sound of a car horn attracts my attention. Across the road is a mini-bus containing three members of Joy Division, Ian Curtis (vocals), Steve Morris (drums) and Rob Gretton (manager). Steve is behind the wheel. I dash over to them with my gear and, after Ian has wrestled with a very obstinate door for five minutes, I'm in.

"Sorry we're so late," starts Rob, "but we're late for everyone today. We are supposed to pick Bernard (Bernard Dicken, guitarist) up at ten to one."

Our ultimate destination is Pennine Studios where the band are recording the follow-up to their last single Transmission but first we have to pick up Peter Hook (bassist).

It is on the way to pick up Peter Hook (Hookey as he is known to his friends) that Rob informs me that they no longer do grant interviews so I feel quite honoured to be the exception. However, there are strings attached (aren't there always?) and Rob then tells me that he and the band would prefer it if I didn't use a tape recorder, the end result would be far superior. The informality idea seemed fine but how the hell would I remember everything. Oh well, may as well get down to it.

Joy Division, just a couple of weeks ago, had been to Belgium and Paris to play there. I ask Ian how it went.

"We really enjoyed it, we seemed to go down quite well. In Belgium we did this t.v. show, it was a compilation of various things. There was us, Cabaret Voltaire and William Burroughs who was reading from his new book The Third Mind. Afterwards we got introduced to him and I asked if he had any spare but he hadn't. As well as that there was these guys on the show making nasty noises on violins and shouting every so often, really awful."

Having been in Belgium myself I thought it a rather obscure place to play. Do their records sell there?

"Well in terms of straight figures I don't suppose they do but that's most because the rock market over there is minute compared to most other places. I mean you only need to sell about two hundred records or something ridiculous like that to chart, so, in retrospect, I don't think our album sold that badly there. What makes their rock market so small is the fact that everyone likes French ballad singers over there, all the record shops are full of albums by people like Edith Piaf and Sacha Distel.

The Belgian and Paris gigs were weird. The audiences were really reserved, just lively. We played this really select club where people queue outside in the street but you only get past the doors if you're famous or you look 'right', like Studio 54. After the gig they laid on a special meal for us upstairs and there were all these select people milling around and, believe it or not, the club even had a swimming pool that you could actually use."

The sound of Rob screaming his head off and trying to persuade Steve to run over anyone who gets in the way provides a cheerful, if somewhat noisy, backdrop to my conversation with Ian and in no time at all, it seems, we have picked up Hookey and are pulling up outside Oldham's Pennine Studios. The place looks quite odd too. Moved from its previous site some months ago, it now fits snugly into the shell of an old church, the rugged exterior belying the plush interior.

In enter the studio to find Martin Hannett, producer of most of Joy Division's work and other bands besides, a man whose work is admired by a great many people (good grief, this is beginning to sound like This Is Your Life). Someone has even come to interview him today. He is tinkering around on Bernard's synth and seems to be quite pleased with this new effect which he claims to have discovered.

Whilst Martin is demonstrating this to Rob, Ian leads me away to show me his guitar which he has recently acquired. It's a Vox, a fairly antiquated one too with push-button effects which are built into the body and are battery powered. He tells me he his learning to play and attempts to illustrate vocally some of the weird and wonderful sounds he can create with the effects on his Vox.

Soon Martin is ready to record the vocal tracks and we all move into the control room. Ian begins to sing. While Martin is busy at the mixing desk, Rob, Hookey and Steve busy themselves, criticising one another's ideas of mixing and producing which invariably subsides into a lighthearted, but nevertheless crushing, hurling of insults. Rob appears to be the instigator of these mock slanging matches and piss-takes and throughout the day the conversation is to be peppered with them.

At last Bernard arrives and, while Rob tells Ian how badly he is singing today, I ask Bernard what he thinks of working in studios.

"I'm quite please with this though. It's sounding o.k. Two of these three tracks we're working on today will be on the new single, the first one will be the 'A' side then it's a choice of the other two for the 'B' side, probably the last one. I'd like Factory Records to put it out as a 12" single but whether that will be possible or not, I don't know."

Well it certainly deserves to go out as a 12". Although it is already being recorded, it won't be released for at least a couple of months. The 'A' side is called Love Will Tear Us Apart, a bouncy number that treads new ground for Joy Division with its keyboard dominated sound. Then there is a song called The Sound Of Music which is a little more what we are used to from the band but not the worse for it. The last song on the tape, and this is the one Bernard tells me will probably be the 'B' side, is called These Days, and I thought this one was really something to write home about, this song would really benefit for being spread across twelve inches of plastic. It has a powerful beat and a good bassline strung together by a Morodor-esque rhythm created by what I thought to be a synth.

"Actually," says Bernard, "it's a guitar fed through a synth and that rhythm is created by passing the guitar's signal through a passage in the synth that only lets part of the signal through. So in effect, what the synth is doing with the signal is this..." (illustrates by tapping ends of his forefinger and thumb together).

When the vocal tracks are completed Ian goes to his mum's for a cup of tea while Bernard does some keyboard and acoustic guitar overdubs on Love Will Tear Us Apart.

While all this is going on Hookey is in the lounge watching t.v. sprawled across the settee. They'd recently been on tour with Buzzcocks, have just returned from Paris, and in two days they are off again to Holland and then on to Berlin. Mindful of this I ask about their day jobs.

"Yes, we gave up our day jobs some time ago," recalls Hookey.

Presumably then Factory Records must be supplying a living wage.

"Well the album is supplying the money, the sales and such. You couldn't exactly call it a living wage either."

Although the album, Unknown Pleasures, was well received by the press, there have been certain attacks levelled at them, some quite scathing. I wondered if that bothered him.

"No. It would have done about two years ago but not anymore. After you've met a few journalists you know better than to let it bother you because when they interview you, if you don't answer their questions the way they want you to they just don't listen. For instance they say 'What are your influences?' and we say 'We don't really have any,' and you can see them get annoyed or they look away disinterested. A couple I've met haven't been so bad, like Paul Rambali from NME did an interview with us once and he was o.k. but even with him it took us a while to get him round to our way of thinking. I find the whole situation of interviews rather clichéd anyway, don't you?"

That depends on your criterion of clichéd, I suppose.

"Well, they ask all the same questions time after time."

At this point the t.v. pours out the advertisements, the first of which is a Butlins ad. This distracts Hookey.

"I hate Butlins," he states, "I worked there once for three days as an assistant cook. I'd never cooked before in my life."

Soon Ian returns from his mum's and he and Hookey do the backing vocals after which Hookey takes me out in the van in search of a chips shop. Whilst he is driving I ask him how the band was formed.

"Well, me and Bernhard were the founder members and we used to see Ian around quite a lot a the first Sex Pistols gigs. Ian already had a guitarist and he wanted a bassist and a drummer whereas we wanted a vocalist and a drummer, so because of this guitarist of Ian's we didn't get together. Then Ian's guitarist left and we put an advert for a vocalist up and Ian answered, simple as that, but we auditioned about ten drummers before we found Steve."

Atrocity Exhibition

After eating our chips back at the studio we all decide it would be a good idea if we all went down to the pub. Rob, being in front of everyone else, announces that the last one to the pub buys the round and they all dash off. I was in the unfortunate position of being at the back and in my haste to gain some position all my money falls out of my pocket and onto the floor. However, all is not lost for I spend such a long time retrieving it that by the time I have someone else is buying the round.

Sitting down to drink I ask Ian about his liking for the work of J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs. I discover that he has read a good selection of both authors' works including Crash (my personal favourite), Terminal Beach, Atrocity Exhibition and High Rise by Ballard and Soft Machine, Naked Lunch and Wild Boys by Burroughs. He also has a small booklet by Burroughs called Apo-33 which he happens to have with him. I glanced through it and found it very interesting. I wonder if any of the books have influenced Ian's lyrics.

"Well, subconsciously I suppose some things must stick but I'm not influenced consciously by them."

What about that song the band perform called Welcome To The Atrocity Exhibition, surely that was influenced by Ballard?

"Actually no, I'd written the lyrics way before I read Atrocity Exhibition and I was looking for a title because sometimes I just can't think up a good title. Anyway I just saw this title at the beginning of one of his books and I thought that it just fitted with the ideas of the lyrics. Sometime after I wrote the lyrics and the song had been established in our set, I read the book and it is by pure coincidence that some of the ideas in the book are similar to some of the ideas in the lyrics."

Two drinks later we return to the studio to find The Old Grey Whistle Test with Cozy Powell on t.v. Powell's guitarist is midway through a solo when Bernard turns to me and says,

"Isn't that bloody horrible?"

Doesn't he like solos then?

"It's not that I don't like solos but my idea of an ideal song is one in which each instrument has an equal part, nothing comes to the fore above anything else, where everything is equal. Of course, there are always exceptions but generally speaking that's how I like it."

By this time, it's getting rather late and all that to remains is for Martin to mix down the songs. Whilst he is doing that we listen to a recording of John Peel's recent Public Image Ltd. session.

"When we played Leeds sci-fi Futurama," begins Ian, "I saw this lot and thought they were great despite the bad press they got. I've got Metal Box and I think it's superb, the only thing is, I have to put various amounts of weights on my stylus to stop the thing jumping. I liked the whole day at Leeds, I would have liked to have stopped for the second day but couldn't. I couldn't understand all the bad reviews it got."

As we listen to the Joy Division recordings for the thousandth time the subject drifts to their adventures abroad the other week.

"We were in this hotel," recalls Bernard, "and there were five of us sleeping in one room and about twenty people in the room next to us, one of whom was the caretaker of the hotel. He got pretty mad with us because he came out of his room in the night and caught Ian pissing in an ashtray and as if that wasn't bad enough he came into our room and caught me pissing in the sink."

Steven continues, "Yes, and my bed was shaped like this (makes upside down 'U' shape) so every time I turned over I fell out of bed."

This jovial mood caries on for remainder of the evening and, sometime later, Hookey has gone home so Rob, seeing he is no longer there decides to jump on him from a great height.

"Has Hookey gone home?" he enquires.

"Yes," replies Steve.

"Good, I couldn't stand any more of that moaning bastard."

Everyone is laughing now and, as they do, it occurs to me that not once today have I noticed any sullen expressions or any unwillingness to talk, points which the national music press always seem so keen in making clear. Maybe those features were all in the interviewer's imagination (on the way home I wonder how I'm doing to remember everything, Steve says "Just make it all up, all the others did.") and even if they weren't imagined, then perhaps the blame should be put fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the journalist with his clichéd questions and tape recorder.

In the van on the way home Bernard confides in me, "I didn't really like Pennine, I got used to it in the end but I prefer Strawberry in Stockport, it's friendlier."

Ian agrees.

A few minutes, and a few more jokes about the absent Peter Hook, later and the band drop me off near my home.

Make no mistake, this next single, from what I've heard of it, will make an admirable follow-up to the excellent Transmission. I only hope that it is released as a twelve inch single (are you listening Factory Records?). I went to bed humming These Days, a fine end of the day. Not so much an interview, more a day out with Joy Division.

Alan Hempsall, January 1980

[Postscript: The Belgian gig with Cabaret Voltaire and William Burroughs, referred to at the beginning of the interview, was the opening of the Plan K in Brussels, on October 16th 1979. The Paris visit was the show at Les Bains-Douches, December 18th 1979. The Leeds Futurama sci-fi festival, mentioned near the end of the interview was held at The Queen's Hall, September 8th 1979. A Futurama live compilation album was set for release on Factory but -like so many Factory live albums- never made it - Frank Brinkhuis]

This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1980 by Alan Hempsall.