JOHN WALTERS: Here’s somebody I certainly didn’t get onto at the start, but you did…Joy Division, that are still, in a sense, a lasting force, Joy Division/New Order, of course, and I see we had a session in January 1979. The kids got onto it quite quickly…I remember walking by a big place like the Lyceum, and saying, ‘Who’s on tonight?’, there were crowds outside, and they said, ‘Joy Division’. I thought, ‘Joy Division?!?’…What was it? Was it the sort of gloom that attracted you?
JOHN PEEL: Well, they weren’t initially of course all that gloomy, their early things, some tracks on the Factory sampler and so forth…they had some tracks on a 10″ LP from Virgin…They weren’t by any means punky, and they’d moved away from that sort of thrashy…
JW: Do you know what I mean by gloom?…There is an aspect of teen life which is looking moodily into your bedroom mirror…and seeing yourself as gloomy, kind of as a rebel without a cause…Isn’t that almost something you’ve carried on into middle age in your own life, and…I wonder if it touched a chord as it did with the kids who went for Joy Division…with you?
JP: I suppose it might have done, I mean, it wasn’t something I was aware of particularly at the time…I always think of them in a rather romantic way as being introspective and rather Russian, although I have no Russian ancestry at all that I’m aware of…I read somewhere that that kind of introspection was classed as Russian…it always makes me feel at least slightly central European if I get into one of these what most people would describe as feeling sorry for myself…
JW: Did you get onto Joy Division because you thought, ‘Hello, there’s a bit of a buzz’, or did you hear some and think, ‘I don’t know who this lot are, but this goes’? What did your ears say to Joy Division?
JP: …The first of the post-punk bands did seem to be coming out of Manchester, which is something I deeply resented…I didn’t at the time think that Joy Division were a band that I was going to prefer above any other…they were just one of a whole handful of bands whose work I was quite enjoying at that time.
JW: They were not punky in the noise they made as I remember it, but they became a sort of seminal band just after, the first real seminal post-punk band…they influenced so many other people.
JP: Well, that’s true and obviously the death of Ian Curtis sort of mythologised them to a degree to which I think the surviving members of the band must have found very difficult to cope with…a very melancholy thing to have to live with. I still get demo tapes from America and from Europe by bands which are quite clearly influenced by nothing as much as they’re influenced by Joy Division. You get a bit fed up with it, really. [Peeling Back The Years, 1987].
When Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18 1980 by hanging himself in his kitchen after playing Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, John played Atmosphere (FF 1980 #2, FF 1981 #1, All-Time FF 1982 #2 and All-Time FF 2000 #1) in his memory:
John Peel announced Ian’s death on Radio One on May 19, and paid his tribute to the band and the man with Atmosphere, which very few knew at the time in the UK. [http://www.enkiri.com/joy/bio/jd_bio.html]
(It’s the song which Peter Hook claims is Joy Division’s best. Find out some interesting anorak facts about the song here). Ian’s lugubrious voice steals in quietly over a background of other-worldly synths and a drumbeat unusual for forgoing the snare drum entirely. It builds to a strong climax before ebbing away into the repeated sleigh bell motif, like the dying relationship the song documents.
The second track here was in the FF 1980 #64(!), 1981 and 1982 at #11, and was also #12 in the All-Time FF 1982. The structure is startling: the opening instrumental riff takes almost half of the entire song, and when the vocals do come in, they are always unexpected. The recurrent death theme that Joy Division were (in)famous for takes the form of a past-life regression.
Buy: Joy Division, Substance 1977-1980