Joy Division: A history part 1


Late 1976: Never Mind the Buzzcocks

This story begins on July 20th 1976, when the Sex Pistols played at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, supported by local bands Slaughter and the Dogs and the Buzzcocks (making their debut). According to legend, this gig inspired Joy Division to buy guitars and form a band. Although the truth may be less dramatic, there is no doubt the event did stimulate the Manchester music scene in general and the future members of Joy Division in particular.

Bernard Sumner (usually known as Barney) and Peter Hook went to the Sex Pistols gig with their friend Terry Mason. The three of them, who had been at school together in Salford, had seen the Sex Pistols at an earlier gig on 4th June and had decided to form a band. As Barney already had a guitar, Hooky acquired a bass. Terry attempted to play the drums, although his efforts were not very successful. However, the main thing they lacked was a singer.

Ian Curtis went with his wife Deborah to the gig. Ian and Deborah had been brought up in Macclesfield, although for a time they lived in Chadderton, near Oldham. Ian was interested not only in the music but also in lyric writing, and he too was trying to form a band without success. He already knew Barney, Peter and Terry from various gigs they had all attended in Manchester. When he made contact with them to enquire about the vacancy, everything fell into place.

On December 28th 1976 the Buzzcocks recorded their Spiral Scratch EP, produced by Martin Hannett and considered by many a major landmark in the development of Manchester music. Ian got to know the Buzzcocks, especially Pete Shelley and their manager Richard Boon, and was motivated to emulate their success.

Early 1977: Warsaw Concerto

Little is documented about the fledgling band in early 1977. During this period they used to rehearse at the Black Swan pub in Salford, among other venues. Although they now had a full complement, they were not ready for public performances. Neither did they have a name. The name Stiff Kittens was proposed by Richard Boon (the idea is also credited to Pete Shelley) but this was never adopted by the band. In fact they disliked the name, which was used only to publicise their first gig because they had to be called something!

The band were due to appear at Manchester's Electric Circus on May 29th 1977 on a bill which included the Buzzcocks. Just before this gig they decided on the name Warsaw, inspired by the song Warszawa on David Bowie's Low album. They had also managed to recruit a drummer, Tony Tabac. Their first performance earned them a mention (not entirely favourable) in the national music magazines.

At that time Martin Hannett was involved in arranging gigs for local bands, and he took Warsaw on his books. During June 1977 Warsaw made a number of appearances at The Squat and at Rafters Club in Manchester. The resident DJ at Rafters was Rob Gretton, who was also involved in the management of a couple of local bands.

From the start Warsaw set out to write their own songs. Their initial efforts were crude but enthusiastic, and were soon left behind as they became more practised. This meant that very little material from this early period survived long enough to be recorded. Prompted by Ian, the band's musical influences and ambitions inclined more towards the sound of The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop than towards "mainstream" rock.

Late 1977: An Ideal for Living

Tony Tabac, not really suited to a punk band, stayed for five weeks and half a dozen gigs. He was replaced by Steve Brotherdale, drummer with Panik, a band managed by Rob Gretton. Steve came just in time to participate in the recording of The Warsaw Demo on July 18th 1977 at Pennine Sound Studios. Although a powerful drummer, Steve also left after a short while. He tried to persuade Ian to follow him and join Panik, but Ian did not wish to leave Warsaw.

Once again Warsaw got a new drummer, Stephen Morris. Steve too came from Macclesfield, where Ian and Deborah Curtis were now living again, and he replied to an advertisement in a music store window. Unlike his predecessors, he blended well with the other three. The band now had the line-up that would find fame (but initially not fortune) as Joy Division.

On October 2nd the Electric Circus was due to close, and a number of Manchester bands played at two farewell concerts. A selection of recordings from these gigs were released as the Short Circuit live album. Warsaw's contribution, and their first appearance on vinyl, was At a Later Date.

In December 1977 they recorded four songs that later would be released on an EP as An Ideal For Living. This was very much a home-brewed affair, with the band members and their friends stuffing the records into their sleeves. The design (by Bernard) featured Germanic imagery which helped to fuel unjustified speculation about the band's politics.

Early 1978: Failures of the Modern Man

In January 1978 the band became Joy Division. In November 1977 the London-based group Warsaw Pakt had released an album, so Warsaw decided to change their name to avoid being confused with another band. They chose the new name from a harrowing account of life in a concentration camp during World War 2. This book, The House Of Dolls by Karol Cetinsky, is quoted by Ian in a spoken insert to the song No Love Lost. The Joy Division was the corps of young women kept in the camp for the pleasure of Nazi officers on leave.

Partly due to the name, Joy Division (and later New Order) often had problems with Nazi accusations spreading around in the press. These both puzzled and angered the band, and they did not wish to dignify them with a reply. Far from containing Nazi propaganda, their lyrics preach quite the contrary message. Many other punk bands used much more direct Nazi symbolism with much less press comment.

The first gig as Joy Division was played at Pips Disco in Manchester on January 25th 1978. It was not an auspicious start as fighting broke out in the crowd. Rioting became a feature of many later gigs, usually because the audience did not get to hear as much of Joy Division as they wanted.

At the Stiff Records Test / Chiswick Challenge at Rafters on April 14th, the band had an opportunity to impress not only Rob Gretton but also Tony Wilson, already a well-known presenter on Granada TV. During the evening Ian took the opportunity to harangue Tony Wilson for not giving Joy Division a slot on his TV show. The running order was rearranged so that Joy Division went on last. As a result the band were so wound up that both Tony and Rob Gretton were won over by the sheer energy of their performance

At the beginning of May Joy Division recorded material for what was intended to be their debut album. This was done in collaboration with Richard Searling (who worked for RCA and was also a soul DJ), Bernie Binnick and John Anderson. John Anderson decided to put synthesisers on the final mix in an effort to produce a more "professional" sound. The band were unhappy with the recording session and disliked the result (especially the mix of Transmission). As no-one could agree what to do about re-mixing, the album was not released and became a source for bootlegs, eventually surfacing as the Warsaw album.

Terry Mason, who had taken on the role of manager, was struggling to book gigs for the band. So around this time Rob Gretton became Joy Division's manager. Apparently Rob initially discussed this possibility at a chance meeting with Bernard, who invited him to attend a rehearsal and to talk to the band. Unfortunately Bernard forgot to tell the other members of the band about it until Rob had sat through the rehearsal session!

Late 1978: A Factory Sample

The Russell Club in Manchester had been taken over on Friday nights for gigs organised by Tony Wilson and friends. They called this venue The Factory. Joy Division's first Factory gig was on June 9th 1978. Peter Saville was asked to design the poster for the early Factory concerts, the first of many designs which became a feature of Factory's work in general and Joy Division's albums in particular.

In the summer of 1978 Joy Division were members of the Manchester Musicians Collective, which held court at the Band on the Wall. The band was now rehearsing at a disused warehouse, converted into a rehearsal studio complex by Tony Davidson, owner of the TJM record label (some accounts also involve Tony Davidson in the production of An Ideal For Living; in other versions he was approached but was not interested). The austere rehearsal room seemed to reflect and amplify the band's haunting sound, which was starting to move away from its punk roots.

Tony Wilson arranged for the band to appear on Granada TV on September 20th. They performed Shadowplay on the magazine program Granada Reports. A stark set, overlaid with bleak "centre of the city" shots taken from a Granada documentary programme, enhanced the impact of the music to make it a memorable performance.

Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus had decided to start up a record label. Like the Factory club, Factory Records was intended to encourage and promote local talent. Soon afterwards Peter Saville joined on a regular footing, and later Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett also became partners. Initially Factory's main band was Durutti Column, but when the new label decided to put together a sample of the work of several local artists, Joy Division were one of those asked to participate.

On October 11th they went into the Cargo Studios in Rochdale to record two songs for the compilation EP A Factory Sample. This was financed by Tony Wilson and sold out its only pressing two months after its release, in December 1978. This was the band's first session with Martin Hannett as producer, performing Digital and Glass.

Around this time there were rumours that Joy Division would leave Factory and sign for a major label. One rumour had them signing for RCA (Ian Curtis was a frequent visitor to RCA's Manchester office, where he was well known to the manager, Derek Brandwood). There was another rumour that they would sign for Warner Brothers (they recorded a demo with Martin Rushent for Genetic Records, a Warner affiliate). But in the end these came to nothing and the band decided to stay with Factory.

On December 27th Joy Division played their first concert in London, at the Hope And Anchor in Islington. Only 30 people paid to get in, although the price was only 60 pence! This gig was disastrous in other ways: Bernard was struggling with a bad attack of flu, and Ian had a violent fit when the band were travelling home after the gig. 


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