Archive for the ‘ian curtis’ Tag

The State of NME

joy division nme newspaper magazine cover 1980 ian curtis tribute

Ian Curtis tribute edition (1980)

You never listened to a word that I said
You only seen me from the clothes that I wear
Or did the interest go so much deeper
It must have been to the colour of my hair

Public image you got what you wanted
The public image belongs to me
It’s my entrance my own creation
My grand finale, my goodbye

Public image
Public image


Today the last printed edition of NME is being published. It played a vital role in many British teens’ lives at a certain point, especially during the dynamic days of Punk and Post-Punk. In many ways it was our internet.


It was the place to find out about gigs, get the latest band news, find upcoming talent, get hold of the most desirable records, get insights into the musicians that mattered.


It also nurtured a generation of writers from Paul Morley to Danny Baker, from Julie Burchill to Nick Kent. My friend & former colleague from Channel 4, Stuart Cosgrove, was among their ranks. His latest book ‘Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul‘ has just this week been shortlisted for the Penderyn Prize for Music Book of the Year, which the NME dubbed “The Mercury Prize of Books”. It’s the second book in the trilogy that began with ‘Detroit 67’ – he’s currently writing the third, ‘Harlem 69‘. It’s up against Cosey Fanni Tutti’s ‘Art Sex Music‘ which looks like formidable competition (though I haven’t read it yet).

Cosey Fanni Tutti was in Throbbing Gristle. I saw a then unknown Marc Almond perform a 15-minute version of the Throbbing Gristle song ‘Discipline’ at Hammersmith Odeon, supporting an emerging band called The Cure and headliners Siouxsie & The Banshees. Years later, down the road at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I saw Marc Almond (son of Leeds) perform Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter Comes Tears’, a Northern Soul classic. Stuart is an aficionado of Northern Soul, it’s from that passion that ‘The Soul Trilogy‘ springs. These are the threads that made up the text and texture of NME in its heyday when it was ENeMy of the state and friend of new musical expression.



Changing of the Guards: The Pistols meet The Dead – May 1977

The original NME Cover of the Clash from April 1977 By Chalkie Davies

The Crossroads: The Clash meet Fleetwood Mac – April 1977

keith levine guitarist public image limited PIL NME cover

The Tangled Web: Keith Levine of Public Image and The Clash – 1980

undertones nme cover

The Threads: The Undertones meet Siouxsie meets PiL

nme cover the slits

The Slits – September 1979 (one was married to PiL’s John Lydon)

the specials nme cover two tone

Two Tone: The Specials – August 1979


Mr Mojo Risin’ (Phase 2: Week 8)

I’m firing on all cylinders again. A really productive week’s writing. Was on a real roll tonight writing about Joan Littlewood and improvisation – her openness to the moment and to others’ ideas, from the renowned actors to the fella that swept the stage.

Yesterday had an illuminating chat with the Chief Exec of Channel4, David Abraham, about the nature of collaboration, in connection with When Sparks Fly. He was talking at one point about artists and creatives who are so gifted that they need not collaborate and who can afford to be difficult, rude or whatever. It drew my attention to the fact that I need to be very clear about what I mean by the collaboration which stems from openness and generosity. I’m not really focusing on collaboration in the narrow sense of A and B make a thing together. It’s more about circles of creatives who inspire, support and catalyse one another’s work. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – all responsible for at least one work of genius, all arguably good enough to be contrary fuckers, two out of three largely were – but this didn’t prevent a highly productive collaboration giving rise to a movement with influence across the decades. Tony Wilson, Joy Division/Ian Curtis, Peter Saville et al. What I’m mainly exploring is how peers nurture and champion one another to the advantage of all. As Ginsberg recognised, better a movement than a few disparate successes.

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

On other matters, had an inspiring evening at Google HQ in St Giles’s last night. It was a National Film & Television School event showcasing their Film Clinic initiative with Google. Producer Simon Chinn, of Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man fame, who I last chatted with on a roof top in Tel Aviv at the CoPro documentary festival, explained the genesis of Sugar Man and how he helped get it to happen on a grand scale. Between him and me was sitting former NFTS head honcho Dick Fontaine who was great fun. I was introduced to the founder of the Film School, Colin Young, by John Newbigin – Colin had great anecdotes about its early days. Alcohol seems to have played a key part. And to complete the set of NFTS grand fromages, enjoyed chatting again with Nik Powell, the current head. Seemingly he turned down Billy Elliot twice. The same can’t be said for my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross who execed it, and who yesterday announced her departure from Film4 after 11 years at the helm, culminating in this year’s Best picture Oscar with 12 Years a Slave. She has been very encouraging about When Sparks Fly and was tickled by the premise.

I’m due to go out to NFTS in Beaconsfield in a couple of weeks to do my annual lecture there to the TV students about Multiplatform.

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London



Brighton Beach Memoirs (Day 74)

Brighton beach England

By Day 74 there’s a danger of hitting More of the Same – most of my time today was spent working on the Terri Hooley part of the Music chapter. (BTW I’m writing this on the bus into Belfast to meet Terri at Good Vibrations).

I trained it to Brighton for the AGM of Culture24, of which I’m a trustee.

Brighton sea front England

First port of call Breakfast at Tiffanys caff in the Laines for a meeting about a creative enterprise that’s spun out of all this time reflecting on Creativity, with two collaborators of long standing, originally met through the means of personal networks. I chose the venue based on a Sign from beyond (that image of Audrey Hepburn from the movie – linked to my late sister-in-law Bronagh, a natural creative par excellence).

Hepburn, Audrey (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

I’m now on the couch at Good Vibrations (current incarnation on North Street, No. 11) waiting for Terri – his morning didn’t work out as planned (unexpected visitors), just as it should be.

Back in Brighton, second port of call Brighton Books on Kensington Gardens where I picked up that excellent book on Ginsberg, Pater Familias, at the outset of all this. This time got a copy of Debbie Curtis’s memoirs (wife of Ian, singer of Joy Division). In the back of it is a list of all Joy Division’s gigs. Yesterday I found my ticket for the one and only gig where I saw them, tucked into a Buzzcocks CD, which is who they were supporting at The Lyceum. The ticket had no year but combined with the book I should be able to confirm it (think it was ’79). I also picked up a Greil Marcus book which Jon King (Gang of Four) mentioned the other day – it was clearly waiting for me. It connects to the other previously mentioned spin-off music project. It turned out this copy belonged to the shop assistant who was very knowledgable on post-punk. I assured him I’d be giving his old tome a good new home.

Port of call three, a Red Injun jewellery shop where, as I picked up a little Crimbo something for the Mrs, Down by the Sally Gardens came on their sound system just as I lifted a particular piece, which I also saw as a Sign.

Port of call four, the beach between the piers where I whipped out the ol’ Mac Air en pleine air and tapped away, sipping fish soup from the Mills’ little ol’ shop.

As the rain started to penetrate the seafront shelter I’d retreated to from the brick wall on the beach when clouds threatened, I retired to a coffee shop for more tapping and thence to Culture24. There are now two publishers among my fellow trustees so good advice/contacts were received as the three of us travelled back to London together.


High Land, High Road (Day 64)

Roddy-Frame with Gibson 295 Scotty Moore 1953 guitar

Last night Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera played the whole of their 1983 debut LP High Land, Hard Rain at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. At one point he mentioned their break-through gig in Paisley when they opened for Teardrop Explodes. The reference point was that it was the day Ian Curtis’ death was announced. He made it clear that across three decades it remains a landmark moment in the youth and musical lives of a generation.

Doubling up to six decades and we get who stole the show to some extent last night. Frame’s yellow-gold 1953 Gibson 295 ‘Scotty Moore’ guitar. I don’t know anything about guitars but I do know it sounded sweet and distinctive (worthy of the Scotty Moore name) and it looked beautiful to boot. The last time I wrote about a particular guitar in Simple Pleasures pt 4 (back in 2010), The Man with the Boo Guitar,  it was Boo Hewerdine’s guitar and the maker, Alister Atkin down in Canterbury, kindly got in touch via comments.

Anyway, Day 64 was immersed once Moore in the world of Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson, Factory Records and Joy Division, key inspirers of the likes of young Roddy Frame, a 15 year old in an East Kilbride bedroom, intent on mixing the Manchester sound with The Clash and Wes Montgomery to come up with a fresh new vibe, which he brought down to London half-way through creating High Land (named after a street in Acton) to a soul-mate of Factory in the shape of Rough Trade records.

In terms of writing process I felt at a fork on this chapter in that I could continue going with the flow of my thoughts and store of research-based memories which is free-wheelin’ but risks losing control, or work my way now steadily through the research notes and integrate them into the emerging structure (which is largely how the Paul Arden chapter was written and yielded a perfectly good structure in the end). I decided to take the High Road of the free-flow and trust its own building logic and form will take it in a course which ultimately works.

1953 Gibson ES 295

1953 Gibson ES 295


Known Pleasures


Walked down the road last night to the Phoenix Cinema to a preview screening of Anton Corbijn’s new film Control about Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Corbijn came to England from the backwaters of the Netherlands in the late 70s as a photographer and spent his first 14 days here tracking down the band Joy Division to take their picture. He went on to direct videos for them and others of that generation like U2. He re-mortgaged his house to finance this film so it’s a real labour of love from a person with a first-hand perspective of the characters and events.

One of the characters showed up after the screening for a Q&A chaired by journalist and producer Paul Morley (who also has a first-hand perspective of the post-punk scene in Manchester – including having stood Joy Division up for an early recording session) – the character in question was the bassist Pete Hook.

Unlike today, as Hooky explained, not much of that classic era was recorded for posterity. People didn’t have the cash to film stuff so there’s hardly any footage from the early years after Warsaw evolved into Joy Division or when Joy Division disappeared off the scene for a while for a Robert Johnson-like moment and reappeared transformed with magical qualities.

The band didn’t even have the facilities to record the songs they composed in a matter of hours at Wednesday (2 hours) and Sunday (3 hours) rehearsals. Those great songs only existed in the heads of those four individuals until they got into the studio together, where laying them down was to a large degree an act of memory.

Morley pointed out the key role played by legendary producer Martin Hannett – not just in adding depth to the music but recording it in a timeless way so that Unknown Pleasures shows none of the aging signs of many other records of that era.

The scene that best captured the brilliance of Joy Division for me was the recording of Isolation with Hannett sitting at the mixing desk, fag in mouth and mad hair a go go, with Curtis behind him, alone in the glass booth, singing with sweet intensity.

I also liked the sequence where Curtis crosses the line from his epileptic dancing – which I saw for myself at the Lyceum in London when Joy Division supported fellow Mancs the Buzzcocks in around 1978/9, frankly an embarrassing spectacle at the time – from his epileptic dancing into an on-stage seizure as if brought on by his own intensity.

I know to use the word ‘seizure’ not ‘fit’ because I made a film for the British Epilepsy Association at a location in the very same high street as the Phoenix – entitled The Right Stuff. It was a drama and I had to accurately recreate a seizure with an actress from Byker Grove (who strangely enough I later came across working at the ticket office of the Phoenix when her thesp work was thin on the ground). My title graphics – like Corbijn’s – took their cue from the idea of electrical disruption.

In the same high street I bought, only last year, the copy of Atmosphere whose Pete Saville designed cover Hooky signed for me last night.

When asked which scene was most poignant for him Pete Hook said it was the one in the pub after Ian’s wake – he said it was the most true-to-life scene in the film. All the friends sitting around the table in shock, sorrow, anger and a discordant medley of emotions was very resonant for me too as it had strong echoes of the pub me, Stuart, Carol and co. visited in Southgate after the funeral of our friend Steve. Should we have spotted something? How come he was so up on the phone just hours before, making plans for the not too distant future? Hooky said: We should have known, just looking at the lyrics alone – but you choose not to, don’t you?

Now I’m a huge fan of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People and, for all the love that’s gone into this and the very impressive performances (the cast play many of the tracks), it’s not in the same class. This is mainly down to the script which hardly has a scene longer than a half-dozen lines of dialogue, which precludes it having much depth. The romance between Ian and Annik, for example, hasn’t much fire – although I liked the detail that when Debbie Curtis finds her rival’s phone number it’s scribbled on the gatefold sleeve of Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Join Hands. Icon is the great track on that top record and the Icon award is what Pete had just picked up at the Diesel music or some such awards before this cinema session. In the audience had been Debbie Curtis, Paddy Considine (24 Hour Party People), Sam Riley (Control) and various other real and fictitious characters from the Joy Division story. According to Hooky, something of a headfuck (he’s a Shameless curser). But a reflection of the dynamic where a largely unrecorded-at-the-time story is gradually pieced together as people work out what went down, an amalgamation of individual perspectives. Pete mentioned how interesting he’d found it watching the recent Joy Division documentary as he heard Bernard and Steve’s interviews – they’d never spoken toegther in that way. It was clear from the emotion in the auditorium last night that Ian’s suicide cast a long shadow.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Steve Simmons, with whom I shared some great adventures

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