Not many bands have been described as ‘the missing link’ between Elvis Presley and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
But then not many bands have made such a massive impact on the music scene as Salford post-punk outfit Joy Division.
Believe it or not, it’s 45 years since school pals Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner formed the group after watching the Sex Pistols play their ground-breaking gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in June 1976.
Joy Division started out with the name Warsaw, influenced by David Bowie’s song Warszawa, but soon mutated to avoid confusion with London punk band Warsaw Pakt.
Many believe the Sex Pistols’ Manchester concert ignited the punk rock explosion of the 1970s. If nothing else, it proved a huge galvanising influence on the Manchester music scene.
Artists, and future artists, who attended the concert included Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall, and Mark E. Smith who later formed the Fall.
Presenter and impresario Tony Wilson, who created Factory Records and helped launch the Hacienda nightclub, was there too along with producer Martin Hannett and a budding young singer called Steven Morrissey.
For Sumner and Hook, the raw power and energy of the Sex Pistols proved pop stars didn’t have to be remote gods to be worshipped.
They were so inspired that Hook immediately borrowed £35 from his mother to buy a guitar. Terry Mason, also at the gig, bought a drum kit and joined the band. All they needed now was a vocalist.
An advert placed in the window of the Manchester Virgin Records store brought one reply. It was from Stretford-born musician Ian Curtis, who was working as a civil servant at the time.
Warsaw played their first gig at the Electric Circus on May 29th 1977. They supported the Buzzcocks and Manchester performance poet John Cooper Clarke.
New drummer Stephen Morris, from Macclesfield, joined the band in August 1977. The name Joy Division was chosen in 1978. It came from the sexual slavery wings of Nazi concentration camps depicted in the novel House of Dolls.
Joy Division’s first EP, An Ideal for Living, was recorded at the Pennine Sound Studio in Oldham in December on a budget of £400. A month later, the band played their first gig at Pip’s Disco in Manchester.
Rob Gretton, the future founding partner of the Hacienda Club and director of Factory Records, became Joy Division’s manager after seeing the band at Rafters club.
Presenter Tony Wilson was also impressed and vowed to include them on his Granada TV show So It Goes.
In September 1978, the group performed their song Shadowplay on TV and a month later provided two tracks for Martin Hannett’s compilation disc A Factory Sample.
The tracks prompted a reviewer to describe Joy Division as the ‘missing link’ between Elvis Presley and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The band then signed up for Factory Records – but as their musical career progressed, the health of vocalist Curtis deteriorated. He suffered his first epileptic seizure in December 1978.
Joy Division played a live session for DJ John Peel’s Radio 1 show in January 1979 and recorded their debut album, Unknown Pleasures, at Strawberry Studios in Stockport in April.
The band then supported the Buzzcocks on a 24-date tour before starting their own European tour in January 1980.
Their second album, Closer, was recorded at the Britannia Row Studios in London with Hannett as the producer. The single Atmosphere was then released on the French independent label Sordide Sentimental.
Curtis suffered more seizures, sometimes during performances, which led to the cancellation of several gigs in April 1980. The band’s final live performance was at Birmingham University on May 2nd.
Curtis committed suicide on May 18th, the day before Joy Division were due to leave on an American tour. He was 23 years old.
The iconic and haunting tune Love Will Tear Us Apart was released in June, reaching No. 13 in the UK charts. Its lyrics were inspired by Curtis’s marital problems and mental illness
Love Will Tear Us Apart has since been described by music magazine NME as the greatest single of all time. There could be no finer memorial to Curtis as a musician and artist.
The remaining members of Joy Division could not continue under the same name after Curtis’s death – so New Order was created.
New Order became one of the most influential bands of the 1980s. Their hit Blue Monday, released in 1983, became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time – and they even recorded with the England World Cup squad in 1990.
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