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... joy division - unknown pleasures
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Ian Curtis - Joy Division

"Wilson, you cunt! You bastard! You put The Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols and all those others on the telly, what about us?"
Ian Curtis introduces himself to Tony Wilson in 1978

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 music.

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 their own.

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 died."

'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...

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