Joy Division remain one of the most revered bands of all time.
Formed in 1976 after guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook attended a Sex Pistols gig, they were the architects of the post-punk movement.
Sumner and Hook were joined by drummer Stephen Morris and vocalist Ian Curtis, a civil servant from Macclesfield. It was perhaps the latter’s arrival that sent Joy Division to new heights; his appreciation of literature and ability to create dark, moving lyrics setting the band apart from so many of their contemporaries.
Few can match them in terms of influence, with the Joy Division sound present in much of the guitar music that has followed since their tragic demise. In May 1980, on the eve of their first tour of the US, Curtis took his own life, no longer able to battle the depression and epilepsy that had caused him so much suffering during his time in the band.
This year marked the 40th anniversary of Joy Division’s acclaimed LP Unknown Pleasures, a remarkable record that blends the band's energy and urgency with Curtis’ beautiful yet pained poetry. It remains one of the greatest pieces of work in popular music history.
However, it is arguably follow-up album Closer that showcases Joy Division at their very best. By this point, the band were working seamlessly with producer Martin Hannett, whose influence on their sound cannot be overstated, and Curtis’ lyrics were flourishing - his insatiable appetite for poetry and prose allowing him to reach new heights and secure his place in the pantheon off all-time great lyricists. Obsessed with the likes of William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Franz Kafka, Curtis was now going beyond the usual confines of rock lyrics and producing work of incredible power and beauty. He has few contemporaries.
The band’s trajectory is a story well told but what is perhaps not as well known is that Curtis was a City fan, as renowned photographer Kevin Cummins, whose images came to define the band, explains.
“Ian was the only member of the band interested in football,” he says. “We used to talk about it, and he was a keen Blue. Deborah [Ian’s wife] once told me they were looking for a house near Maine Road as he wanted to be near the ground.”
Cummins’ most famous Joy Division image is situated on the Epping Walk Bridge in Hulme. Shot in the snow in January 1979, it eschews rock convention and reflects the band's aesthetic perfectly: bleak, sparse and cold. Cummins explains that, but for a change to City's fixture schedule, the shoot may never have happened.
“We obviously joked about how the session wouldn’t have happened if Rotherham had played Barnsley in the 2nd round - the winners were due to play City in round 3 on 6 Jan 1979 - but because of the snow, their game kept being postponed and was due to be played on January 9th," he says. "Consequently it gave us a free Saturday (6 Jan 1979) to do the photos.
“I was restricted in many ways on the shoot as I couldn’t afford to spend much on film. If I used two rolls of film per session, then I would need to have a couple of photos published to make it worthwhile. I think if I had overshot, I don’t think the pictures would be as iconic as they became. I think the sparsity of visuals is what makes them so special.
“I had to wait for the right moment – for the picture on the bridge over Princess Parkway I took two shots - I had to wait for it to be right. Nowadays you’d shoot a hundred shots just to produce one. I didn’t have that luxury, so couldn’t afford to do that.”
After Curtis' suicide, the remaining band members – Sumner, Hook and Morris – were joined by keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and New Order were born. They would go on to create a unique blend of post-punk and electronic music and become one of the biggest bands of in the world.
They continue to innovate to this day. In 2017, they headlined Manchester International Festival, completing five nights at the iconic old Granada Studios (where Joy Division made their television debut), creating a wonderful setlist spanning their career. Working alongside visual artist Liam Gillick and composer Joe Duddel, the songs were rearranged and performed alongside a 12-strong synthesiser ensemble from the Royal Northern College of Music.
But for all New Order's ingenuity and brilliance, the beauty of Ian's writing can never be replaced. He left an indelible mark on music, and we’re proud to call him a City fan.
Main photo by Kevin Cummins