Joy Division Newcastle City Hall 4th October 1979 (supporting The Buzzcocks)
I am going to jump out of sequence a little here, as I have just realised that I haven’t written a piece on Joy Division, and in particular of seeing them in concert supporting the Buzzcocks at Newcastle City Hall on 4th October 1979. At the moment I am working on a chapter which discusses the roots of trance music, and I wanted to link that to Joy Division’s music, so writing about them here will help me do so. Anyway here goes.
My recollections of this 1979 concert are, in fact, more of support act Joy Division and of Ian Curtis’ unique, bizarre and compelling performance than of The Buzzcocks. It was generally accepted at the time, that “although Joy Division were the support act on the Buzzcocks tour of Britain, on several nights they completely out-performed the Buzzcocks” ( http://www.joydivisiondata.co.uk/joyd_concerts2.html ). I had seen Joy Division once before at an early gig in Newcastle Guildhall in 1997, when they were known as Warsaw, and I’d heard some of their album played at Middlesbrough Rock Garden. I’d also read reviews of the lp in the music papers which I bought each week; NME proclaiming that “Unknown Pleasures is an English rock masterwork” (Bell, 1979). So I was looking forward to seeing them again, and to experience the intensity of their performance.
Joy Division had just released their debut album “Unknown Pleasures” at the time of this concert, which was part of a nation wide tour as support for The Buzzcocks. The single “Transmission” was played quite a lot at the Rock Garden. This was before “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the original line-up was, of course, Ian Curtis (lead vocals), Bernard Sumner (guitar, keyboards), Peter Hook (bass) and Stephen Morris (drums). Jon Savage described the music on “Unknown Pleasures” as “a definitive Northern Gothic statement: guilt-ridden, romantic, claustrophobic” (1994). Oksanen (2007) writes of “The revival of the Gothic in late modern culture” and how “the subject feels isolated and alienated and is left with a trance-like dream reality” and that “the works of Joy Division and Diary of Dreams underline personal emptiness, ambivalence and dream states.”
I made a point of arriving at the City Hall early to see the support act, passing on a visit to the City Tavern or the downstairs bar. We had seats right down the front, and watched all of Joy Division’s set. Their music had developed a lot from the basic punk thrash that I saw at the Guildhall a couple of years earlier, and had become a dark, gothic, rhythmic, noise. The musicality of the songs impressed me and set them apart from their punk and new wave contemporaries. But most of all, I was transfixed by Ian Curtis, his blank expression, glaring eyes and crazy, manic epileptic dancing. It was clear that there was something awkward, different yet brilliant about the guy, which came through in his dark lyrics which painted dark images of alienation, his monotonic, snarling vocals and his manic, crazed dancing. The performance was intense, scary, compelling, and unnerving.
I found this great review by Adrian on http://joydivision-neworder.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/joy-division-newcastle-4-oct-1979-flac.html which describes the concert much better than I can, so I have reproduced it here:
“Joy Division in concert were simply astonishing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was 15 years old and into the post punk type of thing. I’d known for a while that Joy Division were coming to Newcastle and wanted to see them – I’d heard a few things on John Peel and caught the end of a TV appearance on Something Else some time earlier. The Buzzcocks were generally viewed as a pop band by this point, who often had good support bands.
My friends and I got to the City Hall late, and had just got to our seats as the hall lights went down. The stage was very dark I recall, and as they began to play, I wondered when the lights were going to come on properly (they never did!). The first thing that struck me was the power of the drums – I’d never felt such deep bassy drums at a concert, one’s whole body felt the beat. Ian Curtis was at the front of the stage, what seemed like the very edge – he appeared to be on a brink of a cliff. He couldn’t have been more than 25 feet from where I was sitting. The others were just figures in subdued light – maybe it was blue, I cannot recall.
When Ian Curtis started singing, it was loud and even deeper than the drums, and it caught you in the diaphragm – incredible feeling. I don’t think he did “the dance” until a few tracks into the short set, but when he did, staring into the audience, it sent shivers down my spine, and I realised that I was witnessing something extraordinary.
A few of us stood up out of our seats at that point (we had been told to remain seated), and bouncers attacked many of us, including my friend about three rows in front of us – the memory of a bouncer leaping over rows of seated people to attack my friend, while Ian Curtis did his dance above on the stage during “She’s Lost Control”, is something that will stay fixed in my visual memory forever.
Hooky was pretty animated on a few tracks, and I recall a broken bass string hanging down from his guitar – not something you usually saw at concerts. “Colony” also stood out as fantastic and alien-sounding. The set seemed to be over very quickly, and there was a feeling of…well, I suppose it was “shock” more than anything at watching Joy Division perform.
The Buzzcocks seemed to come on almost immediately to play their pop songs. When audience members stood up, unchallenged by the bouncers this time, I just walked out of the hall into the rain – it was October and sleety – down to the bus station. It didn’t seem right watching any other band, especially the poppy Buzzcocks, after what I had just seen.”
A recording of the concert exists; Joy Division performed the following songs: Disorder; Shadowplay; Colony; Day Of The Lords; Glass; Transmission; She’s Lost Control; Atrocity Exhibition.
Bell, M. (1979). Review of Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (Factory). New Musical Express (NME), 14 July 1979
Oksanen, A. (2007). Hollow Spaces of Psyche: Gothic Trance-Formation from Joy Division to Diary of Dreams. In Nostalgia or Perversion? Gothic Rewriting from the Eighteenth Century until the Present Day, van Elferen, I (ed.). Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Savage, J. (1994). Joy Division: Someone Take These Dreams Away. Mojo. July 1994.
Archive for the ‘Buzzcocks’ Category
Joy Division Newcastle City Hall 4th October 1979 (supporting The Buzzcocks)
Saw them at least three times in 1978. Newcastle Mayfair (support from The Slits) in March 1978. The City Hall (support Penetration) in May 1978. The City Hall again (support Subway Sect) in October 1978. And then again in 1979 at the City Hall with Joy Division support. All of these gigs were just great. They was an air of excitement at the time, we all felt that we were part of something new and exciting, and that music (and everything else) was changing, and fast. Although I had been brought up music-wise on The Beatles, The Stones, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, The Who, and was also heavily into Yes, Genesis, ELP and Floyd, and took to punk 100% and immersed myself in new wave music. Marie and I went to all the punk gigs in the North East in the early 70s, even though I was often the only person there with long hair. I remember reading about the Buzzcocks in the Sounds and NME, and hearing the Spiral Scratch ep but we didn’t get to see them play in the North East until they came to The Mayfair in early 1978, supported by The Slits. By then they had released their first album and the singles “What do I get?” and “I don’t mind”. My recollections of that early gig was of a set of great pure pop songs played in an almost shambolic manner at times. The next tour brought the Buzzcocks to the City Hall a couple of months later with support from local heroes Pentration. The ticket for this gig has no seat number, which suggests that seats weren’t allocated and you could sit wherever you wished. I remember sitting upstairs with Marie, and that the sound wasn’t too good up there. If you look at the songs they had assembled in those early days, there was a stream of classic pop: “I don’t mind”, “Ever fallen in love”, “What do I get?”, “Autonomy”, “Fiction Romance”, “Boredom”, “Love you more”. Their gigs were the same, tune after tune of classic hooks, often not sung or played anywhere near as well as the recorded versions, but Pete Shelley and the rest of the band were so engaging, and the crowd was so into it, that none of that actually mattered. My recollections of the 1979 concert were more of support act Joy Division and of Ian Curtis’ unique, bizarre and compelling performance than of The Buzzcocks. Looking at the ticket stubs, and the single programme that I have from those gigs bringsback such vivid memories: “Nostalgia for a time left to come”. Where did all the time go? Typical setlist from 1978: I Don’t Mind; Fast Cars; Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve); Get on Our Own; Sixteen; Moving Away From the Pulsebeat; Fiction Romance; Love You More; Real World; Breakdown; Noise Annoys; What Do I Get?; Autonomy; Boredom; Oh Shit! Laura and I went to see The Buzzcocks a year or so ago at Newcastle Academy, and they were still great. In fact, if anything the band were more together and the sound clearer than in those early days. I wish I’d gone to the recent reunion show in Manchester with Howard Devoto; I regret not doing so. Hope they do another gig together some day.
The Buzzcocks Newcastle Academy 18 Jan 2009
Laura and I decided to go along and see the Buzzcocks at the Academy last Sunday. I hadn’t seen them since their heyday in the late 70s; Laura had heard a few of their well-known songs on the radio and on punk compilations. The gig promised to be good; on this tour the Buzzcocks are playing their first two albums in their entirety alongside all their hits.
The Academy was pretty full downstairs; the balcony was not open for this gig. The crowd were quite mixed, a lot of them were old punks who were sporting Stiff Little Fingers, Damned and Exploited t-shirts. The support act was the Lurkers; another old name from the 70s. We arrived just as the Lurkers took the stage; they were pretty Ok actually; Laura recognised a couple of the songs, and I recalled seeing them in the late 70s in Sunderland at Finos (or was it Lees Club in those days?).
The Buzzcocks came on to a great roar from the crowd and launch straight Fast Cars the first track on their first album. What follows is a set of classic punk pop songs. I’d forgotten just how good they were. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle still look and sound great and the crowd are well into it right from the start. All the favourites are played : I don’t mind; Ever fallen in love, Promises, What do I get and some I’d forgotten: Fiction Romance, Nostalgia.
Laura counted 23 songs in 2 hours. Great. It doesn’t come much better than this, and gets us both in the mood for the Magazine reunion show, which we will be seeing at the London Forum in a few weeks time.