It seems inevitable that any band whose lead singer commits suicide at a young age is going to be surrounded by myth and legend. Joy Division were no exception.
But let's start at the beginning...
Who Were Joy Division?
Joy Division was the name of a band from the Manchester area, England, who released two albums and three singles between 1979 and 19801.
The band consisted of:
- Ian Curtis - vocals/lyric writer
- Bernard Sumner - guitar
- Peter Hook - bass
- Stephen Morris - drums/synthesizer
Prior to their first official release as Joy Division, the band had started life in 1977 as 'Warsaw' and having gone through some minor changes in line-up, they finally settled on the members that were later to become Joy Division.
As Warsaw they recorded and released an EP called An Ideal For Living. This was later released under the name Joy Division.
In January 1978 Warsaw changed their name to Joy Division.
Describing Joy Division's music is a near-impossible task. The band emerged out of the UK punk scene and much of their early material was very punk-influenced. However, they later developed a definite style of their own, characterised by Peter Hook's unique style of bass playing (he played it like a 'normal' guitar), Stephen Morris's driving drum beat and Ian Curtis' amazing vocal style (very deep-voiced, yet full of contrast and emotion). All of this was topped off by some searing guitar work by Bernard Sumner. The music has been described as 'depressing' by some, while others find it invigorating and uplifting. In fact, it's quite diverse, and ranges from slow, melodic and atmospheric to fast and furious.
Ian Curtis' lyrics were a vital part of the overall effect. Often poetic and drawn from literary sources, they sometimes took a lot of listening to, but were always well worth the effort.
As an example here is the lyric from the song 'Shadowplay'2.
To the centre of the city where all roads meet - waiting for you
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank - searching for you
Moving through the silence without motion - waiting for you
In a room with a window in the corner I found truth
In the shadowplay, acting out your own death - knowing no more
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor
And with cold steel, odour on their bodies, made a move to connect
I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left
I did everything, everything I wanted to
I let them use you for their own ends
To the centre of the city in the night - waiting for you
To the centre of the city in the night - waiting for you.
Unknown Pleasures (June 1979)
- 'Day of the Lords'
- 'New Dawn Fades'
- 'She's Lost Control'
- 'I Remember Nothing'
Closer (July 1980)
- 'Atrocity Exhibition'
- 'A Means to an End'
- 'Heart and Soul'
- 'Twenty Four Hours'
- 'The Eternal 9.Decades'
Transmission (October 1979)
Love Will Tear Us Apart (April 1980)
- 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
- 'These Days'
She's Lost Control (August 1980)
- 'She's Lost Control'3
Still (October 1981)
Substance (June 1988)
Permanent (June 1995)
Heart and soul (December 1997) - 4 CD box set
A New Order
On 18 May, 1980 Ian Curtis committed suicide4. After a period of mourning, the rest of the band recruited a new member - Gillian Gilbert. Bernard Sumner took over vocals and they changed their name to 'New Order'5.
There has always been a lot of mystery surrounding Joy Division, mainly because the band were considered to be 'faceless'. They never appeared on their record6 sleeves, instead preferring to use the innovative and often brilliant designs of Peter Saville.
The other main rumour was that they were fascists. This was due to their name which was taken from a book about the concentration camps of World War Two, The House Of Dolls by Karol Cetinsky.
In fact, if you listen carefully to some of the lyrics you will understand that the band were very far from being fascists and the rumour was totally unfounded.
Fortunately, the rumours do not seem to have done the band any lasting harm and for the people who love them, Joy Division continue to hold an important place in the history of popular music in the UK.