Bernard Dicken and Peter Hook were
raised in 1960's Manchester. Close friends, they graduated together
from school at age 16. Barney, found a job at a cartoon studio,
whilst Hooky worked at Manchester docks.
Four years passed, the two young
men fell out of touch, and as their friends settled down, they had
no reason to expect their own lives to be any different. All of
that changed on July 20, 1976, when London’s foremost punk rock
band The Sex Pistols played the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
Peter decided to attend, inviting
Bernard and mutual friend Terry Mason along for the night. They
witnessed an amazing performance of something they had never seen
before. The boys, together with the other 40 or so people present,
were captivated by how much fun The Sex Pistols were having, despite
their sheer lack of musical talent. They decided to form a band
of their own, simply to liven up their spare time.
Barney bought himself a guitar the
next morning - a Gibson SG - togetehr with an instruction book and
an amplifier. Peter, beaten to his choice of instrument, opted for
an electric bass, whilst Terry Mason managed to finance a drumkit.
They found rehearsal space above the local Black Swan Pub, but still
needed a name and a singer for their band.
The name came fairly easily: they
called themselves The Stiff Kittens, a title given to them by local
rock heroes The Buzzcocks.
Finding a singer was a little harder. They left an advert in the
window of their local record store requesting a vocalist, and several
Mancunians responded, many of them excited about punk music after
viewing The Sex Pistols on the Granada TV programme 'So It Goes',
hosted by Tony Wilson. Everyone, it seemed, suddenly wanted to be
in a band.
Half a dozen applicants were turned
down, but a seventh, Ian Curtis of Macclesfield, was accepted without
an audition. The Stiff Kittens knew him as a friendly fellow Manchester
United fan who they’d met him at several gigs. He was in.
Ian knew a lot more about rock and
roll than his bandmates. His fiancée. Debbie Woodruffe, had turned
him on to lggy Pop’s music in 1975, and he started bringing his
favourite albums by lggy and The Doors to band rehearsals. He worked
days in a factory, but his heart was with poetry and literature,
and he spent his spare time reading books by J. G. Ballard, William
S. Burroughs, T.S. Eliot, and German and Russian philosophers. These
writers had inspired him to try his hand at poems, and as the lead
singer of The Stiff Kittens, he’d rearrange stanzas to fit the band’s
Early attempts produced cocky, blustery
songs like ‘Gutz’, ‘Tension’, 'The Kill’, 'At A Later Date’ and
‘You’re No Good For Me’, as well as improvised cover versions of
‘Louie Louie’. The tracks had little personality, they were unfocused
and frantic, but they allowed the group to escape to a world of
By the spring of 1977, The Stiff
Kittens felt confident enough to play before an audience, and promoter
Richard Boon booked them as support for The
Buzzcocks’ gig of May 29 at Manchester’s Electric Circus club.
On the day before the concert,
Terry Mason's nerves got to him and he decided he wasn’t good enough
to play in public. He became the band’s manager, and his first assignment
was to find a replacement drummer before Sundays concert. He discovered
a Didsbury resident named Tony Tabac, and within a few hours, taught
him the drum parts of The Stiff Kittens’ repertoire. It was a crash
course for Tabac, but he was prepared by showtime to join Dicken,
Curtis and Hook onstage at the Electric Circus.
With a new line-up, the Stiff Kittens
changed their name for the gig to Warsaw. The music they played
was too fast and unimpressive, however they looked the part in their
button-up shirts, ties and trousers. Barney Dicken wore an armband
(which immediately instigated rumours that he was a Nazi) whilst
Peter Hook donned a leather cap.
Their second gig was just as disatrious.
Scheduled to support punk rockers Fast Breeder at Manchester bar
Rafters, Warsaw were shocked when the headliners decided to go on
first and even more so when they didn’t finish until after midnight.
Warsaw had to take to the stage before a near-empty bar at 1:30am.
This sent Ian into a frenzy. He dived off the satge, smashed bottles,
and threatened to slice up the remaining clientele. Promoter Rob
Gretton was fascinated and later became their manager.
Tony Tabac left in June 1977 due
to personality conflicts, and was replaced by a friend called Steve
Brotherdale. The quartet met several times over the next month for
a series of intensive rehearsals and recorded a four track EP "An
Ideal For Living’’, pressing 5000 sub-standard copies. After an
initial delay of six months they eventually released the seven-inch
disc on their own Enigma label. It's reported the band members stayed
up all night folding single sleeves.
Brotherdale defected to local band,
The Panik, because he thought they would become more successful
than Warsaw. 19-year-old Stephen Morris, from Ian’s home town of
Macclesfield, replaced him..
In 1978, Ian Curtis changed the name
of the band to Joy Division. Taken from the Nazi concentration camp
book "House Of Dolls" the press soon nicknamed them 'Little
Hitlers'. (Joy Division was the popular euphemism applied by SS
guards to the prostitute's wing of a concentration camp). The band
did little to alleviate friction and obvious misunderstandings between
them and the moral music press especially when the cover of their
first single showed a photograph of an Aryan drummer boy beside
the words, Joy Division, written in bold Germanic script. Having
had these serious ramifications pointed out to them, their fans,
and everybody else, came to regard them with prejudicial suspicion.
Clearly the name is open to interpretation, just as Curtis suggested
his lyrics to be.
Joy Division made their public debut
on January 25, 1978 at Pip’s in Manchester, advertised as a Warsaw
concert to help fans make the transition from one name to the other.
Ian almost missed the gig, stuck in the toilet after having had
too many drinks.
Tony Wilson had recently formed a
partnership with Durutti Column
manager Alan Erasmus promoting concerts at Manchester’s Russell
Club, later renamed The Factory. He financed this project, which
quietly succeeded, with income from his daytime job at Granada Television
where he worked as a journalist.
In October 1978 Wilson and Erasmus
began concentrating their talents on the business of establishing
their own independent label, Factory
Records, which unlike its counterparts would never lease acts
to majors. The friendship between Wilson and Rob Gretton, Joy Division's
manager, enabled the band to move onto the label.
In 1979 Manchester’s music scene
was enjoying a spectacular Renaissance forefronted by Joy Division,
whose music reflected the mood of a nation going through hard political
times. With the possible exception of The
Smiths during the Thatcher years, no other music since has so
accurately captured the mood of its time nor so profoundly touched
on this city’s plight as did theirs.
Ignored in their early days as Warsaw,
Joy Division became the band of the moment in 1979 with the release
of their dauntingly powerful debut LP "Unknown Pleasures". Developing
from strength to strength they attracted a fanatical and devoted
Mancunian following, for whom the band could do no wrong. Joy
Division, however, remained aloof from this adulation and attention,
preferring to keep themselves to themselves.
It was their off stage introversion
and silence, coupled with their solemn on stage presence, that contributed
to Joy Division’s outwardly natural mystery. But as Tony Wilson
said, "to people they seemed a very gloomy band, but as human
beings they were the absolute opposite."
JFollowing the release of their amazing debut album 'Unknown Pleasures'
and the single 'Transmission' in 1979, Joy Division set upon a European
tour where their Mancunian poularity spread to cities like Amsterdam,
Berlin, Cologne and Paris.
.This was 1980 and Joy Division,
now unquestionably the new wave frontiersmen, seemed unstoppable.
Britain was waiting for them. They re-entered the sudio with
their producer Martin Hannett to begin work on their second album,
and a forthcoming single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart".
Ian Curtis suffered badly with epilepsy,
and as his health deteriorated the cancellation list on their UK
tour grew longer. Joy Division’s few live performances became restricted
to Greater Manchester and publicised only by word of mouth. Factory,
however had arranged British dates and a three week tour of America.
As the band prepared for America,
nothing seemed untoward. But for Ian Curtis the strain, together
with a combination of personal problems, proved too great. In the
early hours of Sunday 18th May, at his old home in Macclesfield,
he hung himself. The principal reason for his suicide was acute
depression, brought on by progressively worsening epilepsy and the
collapse of his marriage. He had apparently made two previous attempts
to take his own life. Part of the note he left read, "At this very
moment I just wish I were dead. I just can’t cope any more."
Although Ian Curtis had frequently
been ill and was often depressed, no-one seemed to have suspected
anything. Even those closest to the man himself could not have guessed
that something of this magnitude was about to occur. Appropriately
enough it was John Peel who brought unexpected confirmation to the
listening world: "Bad news lads. Ian Curtis of Joy Division has
'Love Will Tear You Apart' charted
a few weeks later at number 13. Joy Division's second album 'Closer'
reached Number 6.
Bernard, Peter and Stephen reformed
under the name New Order and
took the Stiff kittens, Warsaw, Joy Division story to new heights...