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3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!

If I crane my neck out of the window over my right shoulder where I am currently writing, I can just about see the windmills at Whitelee Wind Farm, a massive 215-turbine development that is capable of powering over a third of a million homes and is very likely the reason these words make it beyond my fingertips and out into the great beyond. The wind farm is situated on Eaglesham Moor, a windswept, sparse and barren moorland that lies on the fringes of East Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire, just to the south of Glasgow. Before the motorway was extended close-by, it was often the route used by commuters who worked in East Kilbride and Motherwell. Using it in winter time was usually fraught with danger; single-lanes, sudden snowfalls, low-lying clouds of darkness. It was an imposing, unwelcoming part of the world.

Almost 80 years ago (May 1941), Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right hand man and orchestrator of much of the Nazi’s unforgiveable crimes against humanity, crashed his plane into the ground on Eaglesham Moor. Quite what he was doing flying solo over Scotland has never been satisfactorily explained, but common consensus would suggest that he was flying to meet the Duke of Hamilton – a well-connected figure – in an attempt to call an end to the Second World War. When his plane began running low on fuel, he began to bail out first his ammunition and then himself by parachuting before the inevitable happened.¬† A bang was heard as the explosives ignited, closely followed by the stuttering sound of his plane’s engine as it crashed nose-first into the peaty Scottish soil.

The locals of Eaglesham village, realising it was a German Messerschmitt that had come down, raced to get a closer look. First on-site was a pitchfork-wielding farmer, and it was he who Hess surrendered to. He was taken to the Home Guard in the nearby town of Busby, but it wouldn’t be until the following day, when military personnel began descending on the locality, that the pilot’s identity became apparent. Within a week, Hess was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was given the Prisoner of War number 31G-350125.

As you of course know, Joy Division‘s debut release, the An Ideal For Living EP featured dubious Nazi imagery. Alongside the band’s iffy name written in Germanic font, the sleeve shows a Hitler Youth drummer boy. Call it misguided, call it punk, but when the time came for the EP to be rereleased, it’s interesting to note that the drummer had been replaced by an arty shot of some scaffolding and the band’s name – still contentious of course – was printed in a much more agreeable font. The accusations of Nazi sympathy didn’t end though.

The opening track Warsaw – the band’s original name, after the city in Poland that the Germans laid siege on at the start of the war – began with a punkish shout of numbers, but not the enthusiastic and standard 1, 2, 3, 4! that countless bands have used to herald their giddy arrival. Warsaw begins with an enthusiastic “3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!“, not quite the number of the beast, but not far from it. Joy Division laid out their statement of intent by counting off with Rudolph Hess’s Prisoner of War number. And for good measure, they repeated the 31G prefix over and over in the chorus.

Joy DivisionWarsaw

Now, the mid ’70s was a time of Warlord and Victor comics, of Commando books and Sven Hassel novels, of best man’s fall in the playground. It was an era when you could ask your grandparents what they had done in the war and they still had the grey matter and compos mentis to tell you. Many cities bore the scars of bombed-out, shell-shocked destruction. Kids played on the rubble where former factories stood. For many in ’70s UK, the memories of the war were clearer and easier to recall than what they’d eaten for yesterday’s breakfast.

That Joy Division had something of an obsession with WWII was not that unusual. In fact, it was pretty normal. To put it into perspective, less time had elapsed between the Second World War ending and Joy Division releasing An Ideal For Living than the time between New Order’s Ceremony and their return-to-form of sorts album, Music Complete. Just let that sink in.

The track that brought Joy Divison to the world is an angry blast of prime punk; insistent, exciting and real, with a great wheezing, descending riff between the choruses and the verses. Even this early on, Stephen Morris’s drums have a slight tang of electronic treatment, rattling and reverberating between Ian Curtis’s punkish shout and Peter Hook’s solid slab of bass, as far removed from his signature sound as you could possibly get.

By all accounts, Joy Division were quite the thrill in the live setting, and, as self-producers, they captured just that on Warsaw and the rest of the EP. It’s essential listening and still thrilling even after all these years. You knew that already though.

8 thoughts on “3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!”

  1. Magic! Excellent writing on one of my two favourite bands of all-time. Love how you went from discussing a wind farm to relating the story of Rudolf Hess’s plane crash and on to Joy Division!

  2. It was indeed the Duke of Hamilton Herr Hess was flying to see. The Duke was staying in his summer abode at Dungavel House (which lies between East Kilbride and Eaglesham). The Duke of Hamilton normally lived in his palace… called… Hamilton Palace… in errr… Hamilton in Lanarkshire! However that night the Duke was working as Wing Commander at Turnhouse Airport, Edinburgh. Hess had got a mite disorientated trying to find Dungavel in the middle of Dark Lanarkshire & had to fly back over to the West Coast over Ayr, Prestwick and Irvine to re-orientate himself and then headed back to find Dungavel. But Hess was confused by the shape of Lochgoin Reservoir (Eaglesham) which looked like Dungavel Reservoir (his destination landmark) turned through 180 degrees. He was also panicked as he now had a few fighters on his tail from Prestwick. He bailed out, landed at Floors Farm, Eaglesham and arrested. He was detained first at Busby, then moved to Giffnock then on to Maryhill for the night. The Duke of Hamilton visited Hess the following morning & was allowed to ‘interview’ him alone at Maryhill Barracks. It was clear who Hess was. The Duke of Hamilton then flew down and met with Churchill at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire that night! Ditchley Park was gifted to Churchill to use as a weekend retreat by its owner, the MP Ronald Tree.
    Dungavel House is now used for detaining illegal immigrants and holding them in detention before shipping them down to London for dispatch to who knows where.
    The MP Ronald Tree fathered a daughter in 1949… Penelope Tree, the model and inspiration for Felt’s magnificent Cherry Red 7″-er.

  3. Oh! Thanks for all this – a wealth if I information. I found out tonight too that Hess was first spotted from a look out on the Billy Bing at Irvine Harbour, now a man made hill that formed part of the boundary where Oasis, Bjork, Supergrass and countless Radio 1 roadshows set up in the 90s.

  4. Another great article. Even though I am now in Australia, I know the area well, as was ‘winchin’ in Galston and used to travel up from Glasgow many a time. Although very familiar with the song, I didn’t know the significance of the numbers. I know JD tried to distance themselves from the Nazi element later on, however there is no denying it from the early stuff. Find it strange that they would use that imagery/references after Manchester was devastated during the war and Barney references it in his book. Oh and as far as I know Maryhill was up until recently still used to house high profile prisoners.

  5. The Wyndford Council Estate was built on the site of Maryhill Barracks after they were demolished in the 1960s. One of the high-profile prisoners who were housed at Wyndford from the 1980s until decade or so ago was none other than the great Scottish Minstrel & Troubadour Raymy whose “Skeleton at the Feast”, “Off Kilter” and “Oban & Gomorrah” albums are Scottish National Treasures. His “Leaving of Wyndford” track from the ‘Govanhill Candy’ album would bring a tear to a glass eye. I kid ye not. His Acid-Klezmer-Folk “Westenders” 7″ with The Tremens is a burning classic of Glasgow Wit and fire from the 80s.

    I think JD’s use of a Teutonic Font (with a blood drip from the ‘n’) was not any kind of alignment with Nazism. Nor was their name (drawn as it was from the prostitutes wing of concentration camps) any kind of smirking flirtation with Nazism. Merely ironically reflecting and cranking up a notch something of that Commando, Victor Comic savagery which kids were exposed to and sold every week at the newsagents. Like you say WW2 was still breathing hard down JD’s (and my) generation’s necks. JD despairing at the human condition… they didnt need to look any further than… Germany 1933-45 to see where it goes when unchecked… or their local newsagents where kids were still being sold it as comic entertainment. When Philip K. Dick wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” he wasn’t really advocating that kind of dystopian future through the symbolism and imagery that he was using in his work.

  6. Good post Craig and the comments are as illuminating as anything I’ve read anywhere this week. Bernard has talked about growing up in Lower Broughton in the shadow of the war, gas masks in cupboards, bayonets in the loft etc Add in the comics mentioned above that were everywhere in the 1970s and the World At War, fairly recent then and it’s easy to see why young men might have a fascination with the darker aspects of the war. The song itself is pure punk, speed and aggression.

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