Gone but not forgotten

Unknown Treasures

One of the good things about being off work is that while you do things around the house at a Doctor’s orders sloth-like pace – cooking inventive new meals, the occasional trip to the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve the hoover every couple of days, a bit of ironing maybe, emptying the dishwasher, rearranging the record collection – you can listen to what you fancy at neighbour-bothering volume knowing that 1) the neighbours are at work so won’t be bothered and 2) the house is empty, save yourself.

The past week or so I’ve massively rediscovered Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It was played that often in my late teens it became embedded in the music section of my brain, hard-wired to be heard without the necessity of having to actually play it again. Long before Steve Jobs had thought of the iPod, I had my own non-tangible music file that could be recalled at will and played wherever I happened to want to hear it. Sandwiched between the back catalogues of The Beatles and The Smiths and an occassional Dylan and Bowie, it keeps esteemed company. Super Furry Gruff Rhys has said similar things about The Velvet Underground And Nico, so I know I’m not alone. It’s been a while since Unknown Pleasures was actually played though, and played at volume at that, so the past few days have been soundtracked once again by its cold, uninviting touch.

joy-division-cummins-1

I came to the album in a very round about way. Like many, I’d wager, I discovered New Order before I’d even heard of Joy Division. It’s an age thing – while Joy Division were initially thrilling those teenagers who were outside looking inside (that’s a wee label reference for any geeks out there) with their other-worldly post-punk, I was doing the Nutty Dance and ah-ha-eh-ha-ing my best Adam Ant impressions, but once I started reading about New Order and discovered they’d been a different band in a previous life, I was curious enough to look for a Joy Division record in Irvine Library.

Simultaneously, just as I was having my moment of enlightenment, Paul Young’s No Parlez album happened to be something of a popular record in my peer group at the time. Go on! Judge us all you want…

On Paul Young’s album he did a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, all rubberband fretless bass and other such 80s wankery. Being a trainspotter-in-training,  I noticed the writing credits on the label and put two and two together. So, if it hadn’t been for the unlikely bedfellows of New Order and Paul Young, I may never have got to Joy Division until much later in life.

joy-division-live

When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, it sounded other-worldly, claustrophobic and not entirely pleasant. But I stuck with it. Nowadays it’s synonymous with the record sleeve imagery and Kevin Cummins’ iconic, epoch-defining monochrome shots in the snow, graphics that mirror the cold intensity of the music created and played by these serious young men. It’s the drums that get me. While the guitar, a howl of electrified cheesewire, bites in all the right places and Hooky’s trademark bass meanders up and down the frets with determined focus, the drums sound both futuristic and olde worlde.

joy-division-steve

The rudimentary synth pads hiss like a steam-powered Victorian workhouse, military in precision, rhythmic, never losing the pace. It wouldn’t be long until Depeche Mode and Yazoo took the blueprint and ran with it in their own chart-chasing directions, but Joy Division were the originators. Or maybe that was Kraftwerk…

Eerie whirring sounds (on Insight) were the sounds of the actual lift inside Strawberry Studios, where the album was created. At one point, the density of I Remember Nothing is punctuated by a shattering glass. That used to make me jump, even after I’d heard it 10 or 15 times. The album still sounds quite like nothing else. Imitators have managed to spit out Tesco Value versions of the real thing ever since, but Unknown Pleasures is peerless.

joy-division-curtis

Every listen transports you back to the dark days of the end of the 70s. Now, to be clear, my end of the 70s was a brilliant time; Scotland had a decent football team, I was discovering pop music, I lived near a big field where we could play in safety, I was never off my bike, all my pals lived in the same street as me….being young at the time was magic. But Joy Division, a decade or so older than me captured the bleakness of their times perfectly. Set against a backdrop of social division, mass unemployment, strikes, Thatcher, the music becomes the only possible soundtrack. It’s much more sophisticated than Lydon’s “nO fUTuRe!” gobby snarl. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s war cry, but Joy Division did it far more artily. And I like my music on occasion to be arty and self-indulgent. Stick with it and it offers up greater rewards. A BBC4 documentary last year on the band had fast-cut, black and white film footage of inner city Manchester soundtracked by Shadowplay. And it was perfect.

Joy DivisionShadowplay

joy-division-bernard

The first copy I had of Unknown Pleasures was on a hissy C90 version I’d taped from that LP I borrowed from Irvine Library. For all its scrapes and scratches (every time I hear Day Of The Lords, I expect my CD or needle to skip half-way through, and it always throws me when it doesn’t), that record had real life in it. If you held it up to the light, it changed colour from black to a deep maroon. I borrowed it more than once, to play loudly – it sounded far better than the tape I’d recorded – but sometimes just to look at and impress any pals who may have shown half an interest. It never occurred to me that I could buy my own, pristine copy. It was enough for me to have a badly recorded version on tape. Certainly an original Factory release, Irvine Library’s copy would command a high fee well into triple figures if it was still around and up for sale. Makes you (or me, at any rate) wonder what other treasure – unknown treasures? – loitered unassumingly in their racks.

joy-division-hooky

Hard-to-find

Random Order

New Order. One of the truly great bands of the last 35 (!) years. That’s undisputed fact, but you know that already. Theirs is a history you’ll be well familiar with; the untimely death of a key member forcing their metamorphosis from the finest industrial grey post-punk act to a technicolour pop explosion, albeit with a heavy hint of the shading of yore.

new-order

If you can ignore the sad pantomime of claims and accusations that’s become synonymous with their brand over the past few years, and put up with some of the sub-par material they’ve put their name to in that time – due to the availability of illegal downloads, Waiting For The Siren’s Call was the first New Order album I didn’t buy on the day of release. It was a right clunker before it was even in the shops to buy and it’s still a right clunker now. Their most recent, last year’s Music Complete was a fine return to the heady rush of Technique and a sun-kissed late 80s Ibiza, so, y’know, you take the good with the not so good. Every band who’s been at it for this long are allowed the odd dip in form, are they not? Despite this, I’d wager that New Order are probably one of your favourite bands.

New Order, NYC 1981

Hidden at the back of their sparkling discography is 1981’s second single Procession. It popped up via the lottery of the iPod shuffle on the commute to work the other day, and it’s subsequently become my latest musical obsession. My play counts (I know, I know) currently show I’ve listened to it 14 times since Tuesday. It’s playing as I type and it’s likely to cross the 20 plays threshold before this piece is published. I’m still not fed up of it.

Ask a casual New Order fan to list their favourite tracks and it’s unlikely Procession would be one that makes the list, yet it’s beautiful and otherworldly, strange and obscure, soulful and hypnotic, arty, pretentious and in short, everything that makes New Order so unique.

New OrderProcession

new-order-bernard-81

It‘s the record that sees the band peek through the outer shell of the Joy Divsion cocoon, almost but not quite ready to fly as New Order. Bernard still has the Curtis-apeing vocals (and image – see above), all character-free one liners (in itself character) which he tries his best to sing from somewhere below his knees, but the band soars. Driven by Hook’s instantly-recognisable trademark bassline, it’s awash with synths, electronically-enhanced drums and a wheezing, clattering guitar that verges on the point of being in tune. The magic touch though is Gillian Gilbert’s call-and-response vocals in the ‘chorus’, the sweet yin to Bernard’s morose yang. It works a treat – one of New Order’s finest compositions.

Taken from the excellent Factory Records – Complete Graphic Album

In true band style, Procession never made it onto any New Order album at the time, such was the high standard bands like this set for themselves in those days. Procession was released in a multitude of sleeves (9 differently-coloured ones – collect ’em all, Factory fetishists) featuring some beautiful Italian Futurist artwork on the cover. New Order and Futurism, the perfect partners.

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Hook Lines

Majestic, magnificent, mid-80’s New Order. Is there anything better?

new order kev c13 ½ of New Order by Kevin Cummins 

Long before the running of the Hacienda that seemed to take priority over the music and the inter-band fights that ultimately led to their sorry downfall, the band were imperial. Their 3rd album, 1985’s ‘Low-Life‘, tracing paper sleeve ‘n all, is a high point in a full-fat discography choc-full of high points. It’s the album where post-punk morphed into dance rock – stadium house for floppy fringes and German Army surplus, if you like.

Side 1 closer ‘Sunrise‘ is New Order’s collected output in miniature; the elegant minor key keyboard swells in the intro giving way to one of those Peter Hook basslines that you kinda just always took for granted – fluid and high up the frets, and dripping with liquid quicksilver from the fingers of the Viking alchemist. It’s window cleaner-whistleable and never lets up the entirety of the song.

hooky kev cHooky by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

New OrderSunrise

Barney’s guitar is forever on the verge of being out of tune, playing a demented take on a Spaghetti Western twang, fizzing and wheezing its way through the song between vocal lines, crashing to a frantically-strummed crescendo somewhere around the 6 minute mark when the ‘F’-shaped chords rattle out like Nile Rodgers fronting the Buzzcocks. Even his vocals, never his strong point, let’s be honest, hang on in there, straining at the high notes before being drowned out by his furious strumming.

It’s a beauty.

Peter HookHeads down, no nonsense.

Even more of a beauty is last year’s homage to Anthony Wilson, St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson. The brainchild of Manchester poet Mike Garry who’d performed the poem, beat poet-style in Manchester’s hipper venues, it was offered to a local composer who added large elements of New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face‘ to the spoken-word track, creating a gorgeous, lush, string-laden track that runs an alliterative A-Z of all that makes Manchester great.

The Arndale…Acid House…Bez, The Buzzcocks, The Bouncing Bomb, The beautiful Busby Babes…. Curtis, Cancer, Crack…. Dance, Design, Durutti, Devoto… I could list it all, but it’s better to just listen to it and soak it all up for yourself.

St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson (Andrew Weatherall mix)

anthony h wilsonSaint Anthony himself

When it came out last August I was totally obsessed by it. Although the original version is the one I heard first, the Weatherall remix is a 9 minute monster. Motorik, relentless and repetitive, it’s the one you want to hear first.

Treat yourself to the vinyl or CD here. Go on!

New OrderYour Silent Face

*Footnote!

I’m no audiophile, but when the New Order back catalogue was re-released by Warners a few years ago, there was a huge outcry over the shoddy mastering of the music. For a band steeped in technology and futuresound, the music on the discs was tinny, weak and flimsy when compared to the original vinyl. My LP is currently spinning as I type and I can attest to this. Don’t let that put you off though – if you like the 2 New Order tracks featured here and are hearing them for the first time, just imagine how terrific they sound when played on the right format. In fact, you should probably pop down to your local record shop (every town has one nowadays) and buy them.