Friday, 26 July 2019

Dance to the Video

Earlier in the month I attended Orchestral Joy Division at the Royal Albert Hall, an event that was organized by the band’s old bass player, Peter Hook, in conjunction with Tim Crooks, conductor with the Manchester Camerata. There were three guest vocalists, one of whom, Bastien Marshal, became an Ian Curtis impersonator for the night. He had Curtis’s look and idiosyncratic dancing moves spot on. Is struck me, though, that Marshal is young and has grown up in a world in which he been able to access footage of Joy Division at the same time as he been able to access their sound recordings. This was not the case for me growing up. I first heard Unknown Pleasures not long after it came out. I heard Closer when it was released. Throughout this time I had not seen the band perform, though. I was too young to see them live and I had missed their three appearances on television. Two of these took place on the Granada network, so (I think) they were restricted to the north of England only (I was in the midlands). The third was on BBC2’s Something Else. This was a programme that I did see occasionally, but I missed this particular episode. In fact, I can’t remember when I did first see the Joy Division clips. It probably wasn’t until the end of the 1980s, when the first documentaries on the band began to appear. Three things follow on from this. The first is that what has become an ‘iconic’ dancing style, simply wasn’t so at the time. Most of the people buying and listening to Joy Division records didn’t get to see Curtis’s moves. The second is that the ‘iconic’ sleeves of the records took on even more weight. The sleeve to Unknown Pleasures in many ways was Joy Division. There were also key photographic images, but in contrast to Curtis’s manic dancing, these were stills. Conversely, the third thing is that is that if you did manage to see television clips in the pre-MTV and YouTube age, they did tend to stay with you. You had to register them whole. Johnny Marr suggests in his autobiography Set the Boy Free that Curtis cribbed his dance moves from David Bowie, via a one-off television appearance on the Dinah Shore Show in 1975. The evidence does appear to be telling. The question, though, is how did Curtis get to see this American programme?

Another thing that struck me about Orchestral Joy Division, and which also struck me when I saw Peter Hook and the Light at the Round House in 2017, is what a towering song ‘Ceremony’ is. If anything, it is even more powerful musically (but not culturally) than ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It’s an unusual late twentieth century song, however, as it doesn’t have a definitive recording. The surviving members of Joy Division issued it as New Order’s debut single. This almost felt like a cover of Ian Curtis’s intended version. Then, when the studio recording by Joy Division was released on the Heart and Soul box set in 1997, this didn’t seem like it was the ultimate version either. Maybe, it is this situation makes the song so redolent live. It can only be completed by Joy Division fans.

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