In honour of what would be his 61st birthday.
Born July 15, 1956, the post-punk poet Ian Curtis spent his early years growing up as a rebellious youth- but one highly interested in art and music- in a working class family in Macclesfield. Looking back at his music, it is hard not to see the link between the sound and his adolescence in dreary, post-war Manchester. As Simon Reynolds describes in his book (link to sell) Rip It Up and Start Again, ‘Look at his lyrics and certain words and images appear repeatedly: coldness, pressure, darkness, crisis, failure, collapse, loss of control’.
It was in July 1976 when he fatefully encountered two childhood friends from school, Bernard Sumner (briefly Albrecht) and Peter Hook, at a Sex Pistols show. It was here that their band, Stiff Kittens, were discussed, and Ian immediately jumped at the opportunity to be their front man. This fabled show was attended by a whole roster of future talent that would go onto become huge names within the music scene. Whilst it is a contested subject, out of forty-two ticket holders there were member of the Buzzcocks, Morrissey, Mick Hucknall, Tony Wilson, The Fall and the foundations of Joy Division. As David Nolan puts it: ‘That was it: that was the day, that was the time, that was the year that was the precise moment when everything took a left turn’.
Two name changes and several drummers later, Joy Division morphed into the band that we would perceive them to be for years to come. In the early beginnings, there were numerous complaints from critics and audiences of their fascination of fascism, and punk-by-numbers approach to their work. ‘They had that faux anger that everyone in a punk band ought to have. They had PVC trousers and moustaches! They were just another band’ says Kevin Cummins, legendary NME and Joy Division photographer, when he was interviewed for Dr Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s book, Joy Devotion: The Importance of Ian Curtis and Fan Culture. But within the year, the band had seemed to come closer to finding their identity, but frustration of getting sidelined was getting to them.
So much so in fact, that in 1978 Joy Division took part in a battle of the bands at Rafters in London. Angry that they were due to play last on the bill, at 1:30 in the morning, they caught the attention of Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, but not necessarily for their music. The former was so astounded he sought to take on the role of their manager, and the latter was a local celebrity of sorts, and one of the co-founders of Factory Records and the Haçienda. Ian called him out before the show, shouting ‘You bastard! You put Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols and Magazine on the telly, what about us then’. He later signed the band to his record label, after their self-released 1978 EP An Ideal For Living– and another aggressive letter from Ian- caught his attention. Gratton persuaded the band to record locally within the city, the result ended fatefully working with the offbeat and eccentric producer, Michael Hannett. The band were initially critical of the sound, space and synths Hannett insisted on using, as opposed to the raw, rough punk feedback they wanted to hear. Tony Wilson would later go on to describe Hannett as able to visualize, sculpt and see sound. Joy Division had finally found its sound, reluctantly if anything, but everything was coming together. In 1979, their debut album Unknown Pleasures, with album artwork inspired by the aesthetics of sound waves by Peter Saville, was released.
It was during this time. Ian became known for his erratic dancing and behavior onstage- partly caused by his epilepsy. Unknown Pleasures shot to critical worldwide acclaim, but Ian’s health worsened. His depression in combination with his epilepsy left it increasingly difficult to perform on stage, and sadly he committed suicide in 1980, aged only 23.
The bands last album, Closer, was released two months after his death, but staying true to pact they made at the beginning of their formation, Joy Division disbanded. The remaining members reformed as New Order later in the year.
Jennifer’s book is available to buy at our online store here. Our window display paying homage to Ian Curtis will be on display in our Berwick Street shop from today until the end of the month.