ian-curtisI jump out of bed and get dressed as quickly as I can in a practiced routine, clothes laid out neatly on a chair before going to bed, knowing how cold it’ll be in the morning. I ignore the gloominess of the tiny terraced house, the cracked bathroom mirror, narrow corridors, treacherous stairs carpet. I quickly eat my toast and drink my tea with just a grunt of acknowledgement to my nan, pull on my great coat and head for the bus stop. I am a young man and this is my World.

Stamping my feet on the frosty pavement, I take a deep drag on my ciggy. It looks even bleaker in winter ‘round here. Macclesfield is a dump. Meeting her, though. Something to look forward to. I turn up the collar on my coat to deflect the biting wind from my ears – a bargain from the army surplus shop – and shuffle forward into the warm of the bus’s interior, finding a seat upstairs. To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you.

I’m glad I put that advert in the shop window to be a singer in a band. Wasn’t sure at first, but now I’ve met those mad lads from Salford, maybe something’ll come of it. It’s stimulated my creative juices and given me a reason to turn my poems into song lyrics. What can you write about living ‘round here? There’s little colour in this grey landscape. The factory owners have fled, leaving dilapidated buildings and forgotten people, wandering about searching for meaning in this post-industrial wasteland. The Germans didn’t bomb here – they didn’t need to.

But I’m meeting her. She makes me laugh, with her cheeky Scouse humour. Our tribal cousins and football rivals – Liverpool – a port city with people coming and going, plus the Irish influence that crept westward along the canals, rail and roads to Manchester. Hell, they built it all. But they brought laughter and music and a positive outlook, to mix in with us bleak mill workers. So now we can be both dour and happy. Light and shade, we live in the shadows, we play at being thinking, rational humans, and kid ourselves that we have a say in our destiny. A kind of shadow play. She makes me laugh, though.

I’m waiting for her in the caf in a department store. Busy, clean, bright. I’m scared though. Scared that my eyes will roll back, my body will tense, I’ll black out and end up on the floor, twitching, sending the kids running to their mums. I can’t control it. Confusion in my eyes that says it all, I’ve lost control. The drugs just make me feel shit, grumpy, moody. Here she comes. I break into a smile and stand awkwardly to half-embrace her, hands on her arms, a peck on the cheek. I need her positivity like a shot of caffeine. She’s a nurse, and sees the good in people; a reason to save them; a reason to save me. I feel like I’m in the sea, swimming up to the light, and she’s there, in a boat, pulling me out. To the depths of the ocean where all hope sank, waiting for you.

She chats madly, and I think I’m falling in love. The way she flashes her blue eyes at me makes me feel more than I am, more complete. I hand her the letter.  Concern is etched into her furrowed brow as she reads.  A treatment plan for  your epilepsy, Mister Curtis, a course of medication. She squeezes my hand across the table.  She understands.  She’s on my side.  She cares.  Still, my spirits sag, my mind reels. I feel my immortal soul is dying.  In my twilight moments I see them, from across the expanse of time, and hear them calling me.

She has to go – she’s on shift. Good luck with the job interview she says. I say it’s not an interview, just a check-in at the Labour Exchange. It does what it says on the tin – exchanges your labour for cash. I wander through the city centre and end up in the record shops, flicking through albums and singles. I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you. Will my songs be here one day? Sometimes I feel so alone, even in a crowded place, I want to curl up in the corner, arms around my knees, head down, thinking. In a room with a window in the corner, I found truth.

What do you want to do? he says, smoking and not minding where he blows it. Not bothered, I say, and then – but I like writing. Oh, a writer are you? Then maybe an office clerk. He smiles like a movie villain. Think I’ve got something here… As the assassins all grouped in four lines dancing on the floor. Maybe I can use that. I did everything, everything I wanted to, I let them use you for their own ends.

That evening it’s rehearsals. I bring my notebook with my scribbled thoughts. Hooky’s fooling around and Bernie’s sullen and moody. We need a new drummer, he says.   We need a new name, I say. Warsaw’s too bleak. Yeah? Says Bernie. What else is there ‘round here but bleakness? Them grey pictures of post-War Europe describe the urban shithole we live in, and our music mirrors that. It’s only a backdrop, I say, although we’re its products and we can’t escape ourselves, I concede. Our music is our way of rising above the gloom, Hooky chips in, and bursts into a manic bass riff. We can lie in the gutter and look at the stars.  One day…

In the shadowplay acting out your own death knowing no more… I sit at a table and refine my jumbled ideas into song lyrics. I’ve got a new song, I say, and laugh, which gets their attention, as it’s not something I usually do – laugh out loud, I mean. What’s it about?  The usual – you’re born, live in a shithole and then you die.

In between, try and live a little! someone says.

Yeah, after all, it’s been a good day.

If you like this, then try my new novel, Devil Gate Dawn…



Jostling fellow holiday-makers at Gatwick Airport – August 2015 – I thought I’d find a quiet corner and lose myself in the current issue of MOJO. Although Stones axe-man Keith Richard was hogging the front cover (with a free CD of his early blues influences – rather good as it happens), I was drawn to the interview with Bernard Sumner.

Joy DivisionThe usually media-shy New Order frontman was promoting the release of the first New Order album in the post-Hookie era, Music Complete. I had already waded through Sumner’s 2014 autobiography Chapter and Verse, and was interested to see what other insights he had to offer into the early days of Joy Division and the beginnings of New Order.

I wanted to know what he thought of Ian Curtis’s lyrics, particularly on Closer. “You never knew with Ian whether those lyrics were biographical or whether he was just writing about a character. We listened to the vibe more than the actual words, but when we did listen to them we assumed it was some sort of character from the past that he’d invented. That it wasn’t really about him…pre-epilepsy and drugs, he was just a cheery happy-go-lucky bloke, spouting out these heavy words. The lyrics didn’t sound like they were about Ian. After he died, we certainly re-evaluated everything. We should have listened, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. We did try and ‘cheer him up’ but of course it didn’t work. Even if we’d known the lyrics were about him, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference.”

More on Ian’s death, after he talks about his own battle with depression…“But it was different for Ian because he had epilepsy and he was on very heavy barbiturates to treat that and I think those tablets affected his mood, because he wasn’t like that all the time. Apart from that he obviously had relationship problems. He had epilepsy. Could he carry on with the band with epilepsy as bad as he had? He couldn’t really. We were all in denial about it, when you think back, the writing was on the wall. He couldn’t have carried on – he was too ill. Maybe he felt he was letting us all down. He wanted out, but he couldn’t bear letting us all down because we’d all fought so hard to make it a success. And that was tearing him apart as much as his relationships. Who knows? No one knows what was really going on in his head because he wouldn’t tell you.”

He fractiously side-stepped all questions concerning the bitter bust up with Peter Hook, and felt more relaxed talking about the new album and the early days. I remember seeing New Order in Cardiff (SU) in 1984, and they were pretty ordinary, apart from starting the set with In a Lonely Place (my fave B side and the ultimate funeral song for Ian) and half decent versions of Ceremony and Temptation. Here’s what Bernie had to say about early New Order:

“Well, under the bleak music of Joy Division we were just four guys having the best time of our lives, until it all went tits-up. And even in the early days of New Order, when we got to the east coast of America, we had a great time. It’s been a 30-year party really. I’m a lot more sober these days…I was my own worst enemy. Hungover, playing to 20,000 people, full of guilt [at another shit performance], feeling sorry for yourself when you just wanted to be in bed.

On poor performances with early New Order: “I probably didn’t want to be there. And I couldn’t get out of it. A good gig was invariably followed by a bad gig – we’d get shit faced and then face the next gig with bad hangovers. With the technology side of it, we were taking instruments that were designed for the studio out on the road. Rob [Gretton, manager] always insisted; “you’re not using f-ing tapes.” But Rob didn’t have to go on stage.”

Well, this makes sense to me, as I felt their performance was flat and relatively lacking in passion. Also, Bernie had a massive row with Gillian half way through the set. I had seen my idols, and bopped with the rest to a clunky version of Blue Monday, but it seemed they were reluctant performers, fulfilling just another tour date.

Interestingly, Bernie said that they were forced to play Blue Monday ‘live’ on Top Of The Pops, to which he objected: “A big part of the success of Blue Monday is that the production on it is really good. Danceable. So it didn’t seem logical to spend all that time on production and then leave it up to a sound guy on TOTP…it seemed illogical to put your future in the hands of that kind of attitude.” He goes on to say that often their record sales went down following a live TV performance.

For those of you reading this who like Temptation, well, turns out its Bernie’s favourite: “I think Temptation is my favourite New Order song. It’s got a spirituality to it. It’s really uplifting, without actually getting a specific message across. It was interesting to see that you could do that while being fairly abstract. I struggled with the literalness of my lyrics in the early days. I didn’t want to expose my inner feelings to the general public.”

So, the polar opposite to Ian Curtis, then, who poured his heart and soul out for all to see.

Bernie was then asked if he had a favourite Joy Division song: “It’s got to be either Love Will Tear Us Apart or Atmosphere. I can’t say one or the other. They both have that spirituality. Same as Temptation. They’re very moving in a spiritual way. The go beyond. I don’t feel like they came from us. I feel like they came from somewhere else, like they’ve been given to the band as a gift.”

So, almost an out-of-body experience…Bernie goes on to try and explain the underlying melancholy of many of his songs that yet have a euphoric uplifting feel. Where does it come from? “I think it came from a yearning for contentment and happiness. For a long time I wasn’t content or happy. I was having a laugh and being pretty hedonistic, but I wasn’t happy…I like to write lyrics late at night when I’m exhausted. A few glasses of wine, I’m tired and want to go to bed, then something like that will happen. It’s like it comes from instinct, your sub-conscious, that weird feeling between your shoulder blades that cannot be explained.”

So there you have it. The gate-way to the soul is when you’re tired and drunk.

His current favourite New Order song is Tutti Frutti (“a bit tongue-in-cheek, a bit silly”)…it’s like a weight has been lifted off the once young man’s shoulders…

NB It’s an excellent interview, and covers Bernie’s relationship with Johnny Marr in Electronic plus more on his new album and the re-formed band. I have taken a few liberties with quoting from the interview – shortening some sentences and altering some punctuation – MOJO, September 2015, interview by Andrew Male.