Watching the two halves of New Order (well the 3/4 and 1/4) tear themselves apart has been painful for lifelong fans. And now with both factions touring, colours need to be nailed to masts. I’m firmly in the Hooky corner – seeing ‘New Order’ without his lo-slung bass dominating left of stage is something I just couldn’t stomach.

But I was still wary of what was billed as ‘a celebration of Joy Division’  fearing at worst a bad tribute act. I needn’t have worried. I always suspected that PH was closer to the spirit of Joy Division than the rest of New Order, and the passion displayed in tonight’s performance bore this out. There was none of Barney’s flippancy, screwed up lyrics,bum notes and drunken uncle at a wedding dancing. Hooky played it with heart and soul.

The set began (at a ridiculously early 8.20 – what is it with gigs these days) with a couple of Warsaw songs, moved up a gear with Glass and Digital then the band performed the whole of Unknown Pleasures in album track order. I got my first neck shivers of the night at the intro to Disorder. The ‘big’ tracks – New Dawn Fades; She’s Lost Control; Shadowplay were huge – the two battling bases were so loud on Shadowplay I thought I was going to have a nosebleed. Even the ‘down’ tracks on the album (the ones I usually skip on the ipod these less angst filled days) didn’t drag like I thought they might.

The band he’s put together are so tight – his son Jack is a dextrous bassist in his dad’s mould; the guitarist was awesome and the drumming was as crisp and powerful as Steve Morris’.  They made me realise how truly awesome New Order could have been live if they hadn’t pissed around (and they were mostly pissed) with half hour sets, bum notes, no encores and general ‘couldn’t give a toss attitude’.   Hooky and his band play these songs with passion, treating them with the respect they know they deserve and the reverence they know the audience holds them in.

The first encore raised the tempo and temperature with an anthemic Transmission; a pounding Isolation; a hypnotic Dead Souls and a beautiful version of Decades – with Hooky even taking up the melodica for the final haunting refrain. The final encore began with Warsaw – reminding us on Jubilee day that Joy Division started out as a punk band – before bringing old men to tears with Love Will Tear Us Apart. But that wasn’t the end. as if to remind us that the New Order legacy is also his legacy he finished the set with probably the best live version of Ceremony I’ve ever heard.

The night brought more joy to a room full of ageing men than a hooker in an old folk’s home.

Barney who?

When I was a raincoat wearing student, way back when, I’d spend far too many evenings hunched over a pint in a seedy north London pub arguing with my mate Nigel about which was the best debut album, Crododiles or Unknown Pleasures. Sometimes things would get a bit heated. God knows what the old soaks in the pub made of two floppy haired fops getting emotional in the corner. But for some reason this seemed really important. Hell, it still does.

I was reminded of this tonight when All that Jazz came on the radio as I was doing the washing up.  Its still sounds good, better than good, brilliant even. My God – was I wrong? Have I been wrong all these years?  I’ve always been such a  fundamentalist in my steadfast belief that Unknown Pleasures was, is, the best debut album by anyone ever. But is my faith as blind as that of an ayatollah?

So I went back to the beginning, or tried. I revisited both albums as if I’d never seen or heard them before.

It had to be the vinyl versions. Unknown Pleasures was easy to find, sitting as it always has at the front of my record collection. Year zero. But where was Crododiles? Where were the Bunnymen in my order of merit? Behind the Fall – no. After Cabaret Voltaire – no, not there either. Surely not behind Theatre of Hate? Further and further back, until lurking behind The Doors I found it. As if to prove a point I’d hidden it at the back of my collection.

I held them both, examined the covers, trying to get in touch with my 16 year old self handling them for the first time. Both strike a cord with my impressionable young self. Crocodiles for Mac’s  pose and his thousand yard stare, and the coats, always the long coats. Unknown Pleasures for the iconography and mystery. Both bands were myth-making, even then, consciously or not.

I drop Unknown Pleasures onto my dusty turntable. Outside first, of course. The opening drum, bass and fractured guitar of Disorder sounds as good as it did in the dark bedroom where I lay and listened to it  30 years ago. Insight, New Dawn Fades, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay, right through to I Remember Nothing , still sound as vital, claustrophobic and starkly beautiful as they did then. More so,maybe.  Hannett’s production sharp as razor-wire.

So to Crocodiles. Side one starts strongly with Going Up and builds to a crescendo with Monkeys and Crocodiles. Side two is even better – Rescue, Villiers Terrace, Pictures on My Wall and All That Jazz, classics all. Only the last track, Happy Death Men is a disappointment.

So what have a learnt in the 30 years since both albums were released? That they are both classics and arguing over which is the best is as futile as trying to choose between Picasso and Michelangelo, Pele and Cruyff, Kylie and Dannii.

I can only thank God that I grew up in a time when these two great works of art were created.

It was 30 years ago today that Ian Curtis died. I remember it all too well. John Peel announced to the world -“bad news folks, Ian Curtis has died” then he played The Fall’s In My Area, one of Ian’s favourite songs. The NME was on strike, so Paul Morley had plenty of time to perfect the obituary. He’s been re-writing it ever since. I still have the copy stashed away, yellowed now. Malcolm Owen was in the same issue, reminding us that Ian wasn’t rock n roll’s only victim. Most eulogised perhaps.

So many words have been written since. Films have been made, myths created. And shattered. That we still seem to care says it all really. Play Atmosphere or Decades or 24 Hours and you remember why.

The usual Tuesday evening in the Indieanorak household: 40-something dad facebooking, you-tubing, googling; teenage daughters watching latest teen hormone vampire thing. Suddenly my ears prick up. Isn’t the theme to Vampire Diaries a cover of Temptation? 40 something dad now animated; teenage daughters bemused/embarrassed. I quickly google “New Order Temptation cover” and up pops Moby. I knew the vegan elf had done a rather drab version of New Dawn Fades but I didn’t know he’d done a version of NO’s finest hour. And a rather lovely version at that.

It got me thinking that there really aren’t many great, or even good cover versions of Joy Division and New Order songs. No-one has done what Johnny Cash managed  with Hurt. Pity Rick Rubin didn’t get him to cover Atmosphere.

It started badly with Paul Young’s desecration of Love Will Tear Us Apart. Grace Jones’ version of She’s Lost Control is more about Grace than the original – although anything with Sly and Robbie will always be decent. I like Therapy’s version of Isolation, but prefer the Smashing Pumpkin’s. Neither match the beauty of the original. The Killers’ version of Shadowplay is OK too and Radiohead’s note perfect rendition of Ceremony is from the heart.

I google ‘Joy Division covers’ and see on the splendid Joy Division Central that there have been hundreds:some by fellow Factory friends – ACR; The Names; Section 25; some surprising ones – The Divine Comedy doing Atmosphere; and some plain bizarre – PJ Proby singing Love Will Tear Us Apart.

LWTUA seems to be the most frequently covered JD song – from Jah Division’s dub  to Susanna and the Magical Orchestra’s acoustic. I used to like Frente’s acoustic version of Bizarre Love Triangle and and Flunk’s acoustic cover of Blue Monday too, but the novelty quickly wore off.

The truth is, whenever Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Ian Curtis got together in a studio, especially if Martin Hannett was at the controls, then something alchemical happened. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts and that magic will never ever be replicated. No one will ever obsessively create his own aural universe like Hannett did, or suffer for his art like Ian Curtis. Even without the two of them New Order managed to retain the spark that made them special.

There is one cover version I’ll always cherish though. My 30th birthday bash above a pub in Camden. A band called Pullover, friends at the time, finished their set with Bizarre Love Triangle just for me. Lovely.

My Joy Division moment

January 30, 2009

It was a warm spring evening – why when you look back, does it alway seem to be spring. A six form party. The boys watch football – FA Cup final replay, Man City vs Spurs and that Ricky Villa goal- the girls dance. Later the boys (well some of them) dance too. Someone has the new Joy Division album. I borrow it, take it home. Head spinning a little from drink – still not quite used to it. Randomly pick a side. Heart and Soul -what will burn? 24 Hours and a baseline that makes we want to weep, (still makes me want to weep). The Eternal – which I skip, still do. Then Decades starts with a noise  like two metal bars being banged together in a distant universe. The song ends. I play it again. And again. And again. 

I’m still playing it.

the lead singer’s good

January 30, 2009

Me and my best mate Ed (used to have a great quiff – now bald and looks like Ray Wilkins) were always trying to outdo each other by getting into the most obscure bands. We’d usually go through NME or Sounds and pick a name from the gig list at the back and that would be the band we’d be into until we dropped them for the next one. One week Ed decided he was a Crispy Ambulance fan – a band with a name that bad had to be good. He even managed to find one of their records on a market stall. I decided that I’d like Joy Division. I asked another mate who went to loads of gigs if he’d heard of them. Amazingly, he’d not only heard of them he’d seen them supporting Buzzcocks. “Their music’s crap” he proclaimed, “but their lead singer’s good”.

Another light was turned on