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…


Where Were You in 1983?

The British people had a lot on their minds in 1982, as the country divided on a war overseas and a class war at home.  Britain flexed its imperial muscle and won the Falklands War. Margaret Thatcher won a general election off the back of it; Labour were in turmoil and ditched Michael Foot for another lame duck – Neil Kinnock. Oh, and on a cold January evening in 1983 I went to see New Order in concert at the Students Union Hall in Cardiff.

fac51_new_order_1I was a student at the Poly of Wales, up the Taff Valley in Pontypridd. It was a 30 minute train ride to Cardiff, to see passing bands on UK tours…and always with one eye on the time so as not to miss the last train back. The Miners Strike was in full swing, and I spent some time (when not in lectures) driving minibuses of supplies collected from well-wishers up the valley to the picket lines. It was real in-yer-face full-on social conflict in those places affected, like the Welsh Vallies.

New Order TicketIt must have been a cold evening – Saturday 29th January – wrapped in my Bunnymen crombie coat with scarf, black drainpipes and mop of red bushy hair, I went with my mates to the gig. I had a notebook and pen, as I would report it for the student’s magazine, ‘Leek’.

I was a bit of a pseudy NME reader, hence my flowery language. This is what I wrote back then:

“ ‘The most superior, cleansing, active and informative music recorded recently’. Yes, NME writer Paul Morley does like New Order, but a great many more people have recently been opening their ears to their particular brand of techno-rock music.

New Order83“New Order rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Joy Division, following the suicide of Ian Curtis, and continue their work of re-defining the shape of contemporary rock music…opening with a compelling version of ‘In a Lonely Place’, they then played four new numbers [‘Blue Monday’ was showcased for the first time] before moving to more familiar ground. ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, ‘Dreams Never End’, and ‘Procession’ led up to an agonising climax…will they or won’t they? Yes they did! Returning on stage to the expectant roar of the audience they delivered an inch-perfect version of ‘Temptation’. The progressive population of Cardiff went home happy. A night to remember – a memory to savour.”

A moment in time, all the more memorable for that fact that ‘Blue Monday’ was a relatively unknown new number, and ‘Temptation’ was the big hit of their early set that fans wanted to hear. There’s been a lot written about how crap they were live in those early days, drunk and incompetent, but it sounded alright to me, and there’s still nothing like seeing your heroes on stage belting out the songs you buy and sing along to. Ian Curtis paid homage to with ‘In a Lonely Place’, before moving onto more upbeat newer stuff like ‘Blue Monday’ that was to cement their new image in the minds of their followers, the shift from rock to electro-pop, the affirmation of the New Order.