Friday, 21 December 2012

RICHARD FREEMAN: Peter Hook live in Exeter


I always had a feeling I was born a few years too late.  A large portion of my favourite bands flowered and died before I was old enough to appreciate them. A minority, such as Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure are still together and touring. The Teardrop Explodes had disbanded before my time but Julian Cope still tours and I’ve seen him perform all of the Teardrop’s songs. Bauhaus, A Certain Ratio and Visage are long gone and Klaus Nomi is dead. But the one band I regretted not seeing more than any other was Joy Division. I was a relative latecomer to this band, not really discovering them until my late twenties some twenty years after they split.

I listen to them now almost obsessively. I love their beautiful bleakness and have said that if they were a part of the world Joy Division would be Siberia. Their music affects me in a way like that of no other band. It seems to trigger some half remembered, lost thing from my past, a thing that almost certainly never existed. Trying to express it or grasp at it is quite pointless and effectively imposable. The closest I can come to it is a feeling of loss as to something I should have done or someone I should have been without knowing what that something or someone was. And odd sort of unfocused melancholia/nostalgia for some alternative that never was. Perhaps it is that there songs are so exquisitely nihilistic (making The Smiths look like the Baron Knights) and the vocals of Ian Curtis so unearthly and haunted.

When I heard about Peter Hook, former bassist and backing vocalist, on a new tour and singing just Joy Division songs I leapt at the chance to see him perform. It was the closest I would ever get to the band. I have to admit that I had some doubts.  I’ve followed the Bunnymen for years. Lead singer Ian McCulloch briefly left in 1988 he was replaced by Noel Burke for one album. I saw the Bunnymen with Burke and they were just not the same band. Thankfully Mac returned and the Bunnymen are still together.

Peter Hook’s vocals were good. He started of a tad shakily but he seemed to get into his stride fairly soon. He did not and could not equally Ian Curtis’ ghostly vocals, but then again no one ever could. Peter had given himself an imposable task and considering that it was impossible by its very nature he did a commendable job.

Most of the classics from the bands’ two albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer were preformed. I never actually thought I would hear songs such as Shadow Play, Something Must Break or Dead Souls being sung by an actual member of Joy Division. For a while at least I could imagine being transported back in time to a venue in Manchester in the late 1970s

Casting my eyes around the audience I was surprised at how young so many of them were. Sure there were older folk who may have seen Joy Division back in the day and lots of people of my own age but them there were students and teenaged kids. It was heartening to see this. It means that the music has not been forgotten. It’s a living, ongoing thing, not just the preserve of older generations. I think that once the music of Joy Division gets its hooks into you, it never lets go. Its cult appeal will assure it immortality.

More than any other gig I’ve been to I felt a sense of belonging, a clannishness bound together by this band and this music. Everyone song along and knew every word to every song. Peter Hook’s current band is called Light. When playing these songs they should be called Joy Division.

I’ve often wonder how the band would have developed and what they would have done if Ian had not killed himself on that awful day in May 1980. Stopping to remember he was only 23 at the time is shocking, not only for it being a terribly young age to die but an unbelievably young age to have produced the music and lyrics that he did. His genius is unquestionable. But perhaps it is part of the band’s mystique that they did not make it big. They did two stellar albums that will last forever.

In spirit if not on paper I feel I can say I saw Joy Division, or an echo of them. Unlike so many other bands who have faded and been forgotten in these days.

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