Electro-rock pioneers New Order are finally headed back to North America, 2012, albeit in slightly fractured form- largely because he’d already sounded off enough in the U.K. press — the group’s bassist, who has been revisiting seminal Joy Division material on tour with a new group called the Light, is still not part of the band for this NO tour, which already swept across Europe last year. (Tom Chapman fills in for him, along with additional keyboardist Phill Cunningham.)
This coming outing, New Order’s first since spring 2005, when the real thing played Coachella, is brief (seven dates in October), limited to major markets and launching on the West Coast. It kicks off at Oakland’s Fox Theatre on Oct. 5, then arrives at the Greek Theatre in L.A. on Oct. 7. After that comes stops at similar spots in Denver, Dallas, NYC, Chicago and Toronto.
Lollapalooza 2013 - Sumner was born at Crumpsall Hospital in north Manchester on 4 January 1956. His mother had cerebral palsy; he never knew his father. During his childhood, Sumner lived in his grandparents’ house in Lower Broughton, Salford, along with his mother and stepfather. His grandad, John Sumner, was an engineer. “He showed me how to do a few electrical things,” Sumner says. “This may have started my love of technology.”
At Salford Grammar, he befriended a pre-beard Peter Hook and they developed an interest in suedehead culture. For Sumner’s 16th birthday his mother bought him a record player, and his musical journey began. His first seven-inch was “Ride A White Swan” by T Rex. “I’d heard it on the radio and I liked the sound of the guitar - that lovely guitar lick,” he recalls. “It’s a great track, but it’s always puzzled me what the bloody lyrics are about. ‘Ride a white swan like the people of the mmm… mmm…’ I’ve been scratching my head ever since I bought it, but it’s a cool track. I entered music at a poppy level.”
An intriguing conversation with a Jimi Hendrix fan steered Sumner in the direction of more challenging material. At first, he thought “Voodoo Chile” was the sound of a washing machine falling down a flight of stairs, but after four listens on his Dansette, the penny dropped. “I realised it wasn’t about little catchy tunes,” he says, “it was what you could do sonically with a guitar.”
The first long-players to make an impression were the epic Ennio Morricone scores A Fistful Of Dollars andFor A Few Dollars More, which he still admires. An obsession with Neil Young followed after Sumner bought “Heart Of Gold”, leading him to the 1972 LP Harvest. “I played Neil Young to death,” he admits.A suffocating spell sending out rates bills at Salford town hall had Sumner frantically reassessing his career options. His CV, containing English and art O-levels, found favour with Stop Frame in Manchester, an animation company that would become Cosgrove Hall. For three years he was a tracer, assisting with the “up above the streets and houses” opening animation for Rainbow, among others. “I worked on this huge machine that… well, I don’t know what it did, to be honest. It was like a photocopier for celluloid. I loved the people there. When I left to form Joy Division, John Squire from the Stones Roses took my place.”
While Stop Frame was enthralling pre-schoolers with stop-motion inserts for Rainbow (Sally And Jake, Grandma Bricks Of Swallow Street), Sumner had already bought a guitar and was working through chord shapes. It was the second Buzzcocks-arranged Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976, attended by Sumner, Hook, Ian Curtis, Morrissey, Billy Duffy of the Cult and Tony Wilson, that awakened the Manchester music scene and heralded the start of the city’s break from its past. The next day, Sumner and Hook began their own punk band. It became Joy Division.
Through the angry, drug-addled production of Martin Hannett, Joy Division’s sparse sound was set, with Sumner’s Shergold Masquerader guitar replicating the bleakness of a rotting, rain-soaked Northwest conurbation, while Ian Curtis’ troubled lyrics, full of self-doubt, confusion and despondency, gave a dark tinge to Factory’s early output. Despite Joy Division’s depressive nature, the group was making dance music from the off. “No Love Lost”
on debut EP An Ideal For Living (1978) is a panzer of a track, and was tellingly picked up by LCD Soundsystem in 2007. James Murphy’s pounding update, sympathetic to the original’s raw edge, appears on the All My Friends EP and stands as the finest cover of any Sumner track to date. By the time of Joy Division’s final album, Closer, in 1980, Hannett’s inclusion of Transcendent 2000 and ARP Omni 2 synthesizers, plus digital drum effects, fitted Sumner’s growing fascination with Kraftwerk. “Isolation” and “Heart And Soul” set the benchmark for the following decade’s shift to synth-pop. Manchester increasingly found itself ahead of the game.
Kevin Cummins’ monochrome stills helped Joy Division establish an otherworldly aura, but behind the scenes, Factory’s inimitable way of finding itself in sitcom-like situations was making itself known. “We turned up at the rehearsal studio in Salford and Terry [Mason], our roadie, had organised a benefit screening for striking miners,” Sumner chortles. “There was a picket line outside our rehearsal room. ‘We’ve come to see the porno film,’ they said. I was like, ‘What porno film?’ Terry had forgotten we were rehearsing and he’d laid out chairs like a cinema. Terry said, ’I thought we were rehearsing tomorrow.’ So we were backing the miners, but it was a strange way of doing it. Minutes later, Ian Curtis turned up with a female journalist from Paris. So there he is, ‘Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Luc Godard, Nietzsche…’ the usual stuff, and he walks into the room and he’s like, ‘What’s going on? Oh God, we’ve got a journalist here! We’re supposed to be doing an interview! It’s not like this all the time! This is a one-off!’”
Paris might have appreciated the Pennine sound, but in London the press took little notice of the Manchester scene until Ian Curtis hanged himself in 1980. As Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks mentions in John Robb’s The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996, “Manchester was like the animals in New Zealand - they got on with developing because they were left alone.” After the death of Curtis, Sumner, Hook, Morris and recent addition Gilbert vowed to keep going under a new name, looking to New York to develop their sound. Joy Division had become New Order.
One of the unsung architects of the Manchester sound, the Salford stalwart has influenced every major musical movement of the past 35 years. Whether pioneering post-punk with Joy Division, melding rock/dance with New Order.
In Piccadilly Gardens, posters proclaim I❤MCR as a city unites against looters, while on Whitworth Street, the Victorian redbrick structures that providedJoy Division with so much inspiration have been spruced up and seemingly polished. Manchester’s changing - it’s electrically charged with positivity and excitement, the result of a modernisation process that began in the late Seventies with a group of strong-willed, straight-talking, intensely motivated people with a love of music and a God-given talent for wasting money.
There’s something devoutly cool about squandering cash, which makes Factory Records, the Manchester-based art experiment that existed from 1978-92, a fascinating business quirk. At the helm sat Anthony H Wilson - “Tone”, a Salford-born opinion generator with the unusual skill of being able to talk a great deal while being engaging at the same time. Factory’s prime investment was New Order, a culturally significant band that mixed traditional rock instrumentation with the synths and beats of New York and Germany.
Personnel included piratical bassist Peter Hook; dry-humoured drummer Stephen Morris; Morris’ wife Gillian Gilbert on guitar and synth; and reluctant front man Bernard Sumner, AKA Dickin, Dicken and Albrecht - a surname that changed through adoption, sensible alteration and, later, an interest in German culture, but he was born Sumner. Presiding over the band was legendarily gruff manager Rob Gretton, an ex-DJ who Wilson first encountered at Rafters on Oxford Road… Student: “Hey, can you play some Cure, mate?” Gretton: “Cure for what, sticky-up hair?” Student: “No, the Cure, mate. The group.” Gretton: “I don’t play no London s****, now f*** off!”
If you’ve seen Sidney Lumet’s 1965 war classic The Hill, concerning the clash of personalities in a North African prison for wayward British soldiers, this will give you some idea of how the internal dynamic of Factory worked: bold characters with short fuses and an ineluctable skill of annoying the hell out of each other. And yet, despite
the grief, raised voices and swearing, these fractured relationships brought results. Sumner, central to New Order’s output, is responsible for some of the finest pop moments this country has produced. Fans would listen to New Order and Electronic (the band Sumner later formed with the Smiths’ Johnny Marr) material with delirious anticipation, wondering where they were being taken next. “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, “Everything’s Gone Green”, “Blue Monday”, “The Perfect Kiss”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Temptation ‘87”, “True Faith”, “Fine Time”, “Vanishing Point”, “Getting Away With It”, “World In Motion”, “Get The Message”, “Regret” - these tracks epitomised their era. Joy Division, New Order and Electronic drove Britain’s musical direction for over a decade.
Bernard Sumner hangs up his yellow Helly Hansen waterproof and takes the weight off his Superdry Super Series Lo Tops. We’re camped in a side room of a Macclesfield recording studio, part of a 17th-century farm complex owned by Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert. Sheep have made way for synthesizers - although, if you listen carefully, you can hear the odd sampled ewe on “The Perfect Kiss”, “Fine Time” and “Ruined In A Day”. Staring ominously at Sumner is a Cyberman, while next door, where Morris is revamping “True Faith” for a gig, stands a silent Dalek. You wouldn’t want to be left here on your own.