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
"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
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
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
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
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."
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
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