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He is half of Electronic, a quarter of New Order, and isn't he a naughty fellow! You blamed him for Keith Allen and asked him about as many drugs as there are drugs. In return, he denied ever having "touched himself". Meet the people, Bernard Sumner.
Words by David Quantick / Photographs by Tom Howard
Bernard Sumner is looking rather well. In rude health, even. This maybe because Bernard Sumner has stopped eating pasties, but it's more likely because the night before Manchester United won a football match against some Germans.
In a West London hotel, the only non-purple star called Barney lounges on a well-stuffed sofa nursing a half-bottle of Chardonnay. In spite of his numerous 43 years - 20 of them spent as a member of Joy Division, New Order, Electronic, and, if you want to be pedantic, Englandneworder, the short-lived rock/footie conglomeration that brought you the rapping of John Barnes - he appears younger than he has any right to.
Moreover - bucking his Mr Miseryguts reputation - Sumner appears delighted to answer even the readers' ugliest questions. Some of his replies may be tongue-in-cheek, and some are, frankly, lies. He may, charmingly, have faith in the beauty of mustaches, he may be eerily loath to reveal the secret of his morphing surname, but the former Bernard Dicken is proving an amenable chap. Just don't call him Warsaw, that's all.
Q opens the ceremonial geography project folder of questions, Sumner sips his Chardonnay and off we go.
Is True Faith about ecstasy?
Trisha Farmer, Hull
No. It's about drug dependency. I don't touch smack but when I wrote that song I tried to imagine what it's like to be a smackhead and nothing else matters to you except that day's hit. There's a line in the song, "When I was a very young boy, very young boys played with me/Now we've grown up together, they're afraid of what they see." The original was, "Now they're taking drugs with me," but Stephen Hague our producer made us change it because he said it wouldn't be a hit if we kept that line in. He was right. It was a very big hit, but we chickened out. I change it back sometimes live.
Given your chemically excessive past, what is your parental advice to your kids concerning drugs?
Anthony Cilfford, Taunton
Don't go anywhere near heroin or crack or acid. Taking ecstasy's like Russian roulette, except you've got 99,000 bullets that are empty and one that's loaded. I don't know anyone who's taken cocaine where it hasn't become a friend for life. Although you can say the same for cigarettes. I don't smoke marijuana, but if you're going to take a drug, that's the best one. It's not as bad for you as alcohol and it makes people mellow and friendly. Unfortunately, it just makes me go to sleep.
Do you still have a receiver in your head?
Noel Edmunds, via e-mail
I think I know what this is about. I think I came out in an interview with some bullshit answer to a question about how I wrote music. I said that I had a television aerial in my head and it picked ideas out of the ether and I used to work at night when everyone was asleep. Maybe I did write in a different way in those days. I think now I've got that many problems in my life, I want to write songs about the ones I have got, rather than that kind of... dreamscape. I used to be pretty sort of dreamy and go off on one. I still can do it. I sat in my room for twelve hours just not watching television or anything, just thinking.
"The moustache? It was a bumfluff moustache that didn't quite join in the middle. The opposite of Noel's eyebrows."
What made you piss yourself on Every Little Counts?
Jamie Blundell, Rednal
The words were so bad, basically ("I think you are a pig/You should be in a zoo"). We kept it on because it was better than the original lyric.
What's your excuse for having a mustache when you were Warsaw?
Ursula Stevenson, Reading
It's a popular misconception that we were called Warsaw. We were never called Warsaw. At our first concert we changed it to Joy Division. (He is reminded of the question) The mustache? I'd forgotten all about that. In those days mustaches were really big. The thing I was embarrassed about was it was a bumfluff mustache that didn't quite join in the middle. Bit like Noel's eyebrows. No, the opposite of Noel's eyebrows. It looked like I had Noel's eyebrows on my lip. I'll stand by my mustache. If you look at most pop stars, you'll find some kind of styling error in their past history.
When Joy Division started, why did you keep changing your surname, from Dicken to Albrecht to Sumner?
Dave Clarke, Salford
Family reasons. I'd rather not go into it.
"I don't know anyone who's taken cocaine where it hasn't become a friend for life."
Ian Curtis, 1999 - what would he be up to?
Matt Palmer, Worcestershire
It's hard to imagine because Ian was very ill. I can't imagine him in the 90's. He once threatened to go off and leave the group and buy a corner shop in Bounemouth. It was an off-licence that sold books as well, I think that was his idea. These mad, completely illogical thoughts used to come into his head from time to time. So maybe eventually he would have done that. I think he would have been a writer, because he was always reading books and he was always writing anyway. Or maybe he would have retired a millionaire by now, who knows? Silly sod.
Is it true that Touched By The Hand Of God is about whacking off?
Aidan Vaziri, San Francisco
(Long pause followed by wide-eyed response) What's whacking off mean? (It is explained to him) I would not write a song about masturbating. No, it's not, most definitely isn't. And I've never that in my life ever. Ever. Do people really do that? Masturbate? Do you masturbate? I've never done it ever in my life. I've certainly never written a song about it. (Confidently) It's about bestiality, actually.
Do you keep losing Johnny Marr's phone number?
Nick Trevor, New York
Well, we go off and do other things. The first album, I did Republic and a tour, and Johnny did stuff with The The. Between Raise The Pressure and Twisted Tenderness, Johnny produced an album for Marion. Twisted Tenderness was finished last summer but we didn't bring it out because the music business takes a holiday in August and then you're getting ready for Christmas, so we couldn't release it 'til after. And anyway, who wants to finish the album? 'Cos then you've got to go out and promote it and make videos. It's much more fun staying in the studio and making it.
Do you regret doing that Prozac documentary? Wasn't it a rather strange thing to do?
Damon Williams, Bromley
I regret it but not bitterly. It was interesting taking Prozac because I don't really suffer from depression but I can be a melancholic sort of person. It was interesting being a different sort of person for seven months. It really agreed with me. I still think it's a very, very interesting drug. I found when I took it if I had problems, then instead of me crumbling before my problems, I would deal with the problems.
Quote a lyric from the second Electronic album that isn't from the single, Forbidden City.
William Haas, Winchester
Um... I honestly can't be bothered. You tell me. What a trainspotter. All right, here's one: "Misguided youth/You mix some juice with alcohol." It's from Liquor.
Finish the sentence, in less than 10 words, "Manchester is great because?"
Carl Hedges, Liverpool
We've got the best football team, we've got the best bands, we've got the best gang violence scene anywhere in Britain. It's always sunny up there, it never rains...
You and Michael Jackson are the only pop stars who whoop. Discuss.
Heather Thompson, London N8
Ha ha ha! Well, I get excited. Whooping's a primeval expression of enjoyment, and sometimes if I'm getting into a vocal take, I just get into it. If I'm at a club, I like whistling... I was at a club in Bath and this girl got a bouncer over to stop me (demonstrates incredibly powerful piercing whistle). I don't get excited very often but when I do, I get very excited. I'll stop doing it now, I'll get self-conscious about it.
When did you last touch Pernod?
Steve Heath, Keighley
Um... Well, Pernod's been replaced by Absinthe. There's this whole ritual where you bake some up on a spoon, a bit like freebasing. That stuff's like rocket fuel. I had a couple of nights with Alex James out of Blur, a couple of disastrous nights drinking Absinthe, and I don't even remember drinking it.
Have you ever been down to your last dollar and how did you cope?
Adrian Gibbon, Bassetbury Balloons Party Shop, High Wycombe
It was on New Order's first US tour and I didn't really get the idea of tipping - I'm a bit of a tight bastard and I find the whole idea of tipping abhorrent. We bought beer in a club and it was 75 cents. So I thought, well, you've got to tip here of they go fucking mad. I only had a dollar, I didn't have anymore money so I gave him the dollar and said, Keep the change, and he went, You fucking Manc bastard, and threw the 25 cents at me.
Do you own a Sainsbury's reward card?
Jill Cash, Amersham
I do, but it's mysteriously gone missing. I probably left it in the toilet somewhere. I keep losing odd credit cards... It didn't have many points on it because I cashed it. I have a special platinum reward card. You get more points than other people, being a celebrity and that.
I saw you purchase a tuna sandwich from Spinks in Wilmslow. It was a cold day - why didn't you buy a pasty like me? Were you trying to be hard?
Andy Parr, Macclesfield
Ha ha ha! I'm trying to lose a bit of weight, that's why! Tuna's much more healthy for you and I'm trying to go on a health kick. I can't eat pasties anymore without affecting my, ah, already fragile waistline.
Do you feel ashamed for having started Keith Allen out in his pop career?
K. Allen (thankfully no relation), Bromley
Heh heh heh! K. Allen? Um... em... I think Keith's made a wonderful contribution to pop. I think the Fat Les records are some of the all-time classic songs that'll go down as... '90s classics. I'm very proud of Keith's contribution to pop music and I'm sure that every time there's some kind of football event to cash in on... er! Help to promote... I'm sure Keith'll be there with one of his wonderful renditions.
What's your best Shaun Ryder story?
Jane Smith, Liverpool
Which one? I've got about three. He went out in his car to score and he crashed into a vicar in a Lada. He had 500 quid in his pocket and said to the vicar, Look, mate, your car's not worth 500 quid, I'll give you this if you don't call the cops. He was a vicar and he wouldn't take it, so Shaun said, Well, fuck off then, and got in his car and drove off. About ten minutes later, the police knocked at his house and said, how did you find me so quick? And they just showed him his number plate. He'd left his number plate at the scene of the crime. What else? There's a few disgusting ones...
Did you really do a version of Blue Monday for a Sunkist ad? If so, how did the lyrics go?
Peter Rees, Shrewsbury
(Recites) "How does it feel/When you're drinking in the sun? Something something/Sunkist is the one/How does it feel/When you're drinking in the sun/All you've got to believe/Is Sunkist is the one." I didn't write them. We got offered £100,000 to do it. I kept laughing when I was singing it, so Hooky (Peter Hook, New Order bassist) got a piece of card and wrote "£100,000" on it, held it up, and I sang it perfectly. But then Rob Gretton (New Order's late manager) turned up and he put the kibosh on it. There's a remix of Blue Monday by Steve "Silk" Hurley and it's got the Sunkist lyrics on it.
People who bought the Electronic album probably see it as a substitute for New Order, and primarily use Electronic to fill the gap until the next New Order album. What do you think of that?
Nicklas Mandahl Enevoldsen, Denmark
Well... very pleased. Fucking hell, what do you expect me to say? Um... Thank God not everybody's like that.
Former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson comes to you with a sure-fire business proposition that "just can't fail". What do you do?
Kevin Leslie, Oldham
Ha ha! Ha ha! Piss myself laughing. In fact, that's what happened when we were recording Every Little Counts... Tony came in with a sure-fire business propostition.
Does Steve (Morris, New Order drummer) let you play with his tank?
Lee Hallows, Birmingham
I've sat in his tank, yeah. Steve's got a tank that he has permanently pointed at my house. Me and Steve play with it and we're in training for Kosovo. When the troops go in, we hope to be in the vanguard of operations. We're keeping the gun well-oiled and we're going to shove it right up Slobodan's arse. In fact, someone up the road from Steve's had the same tank, and they've got a slight design fault which means that you're driving along and it'll swerve, it's uncontrollable, and this guy's tank did this and decapitated his wife. It was strange because it was on the news and there was a picture of Steve's tank - we were "Steve's crashed the tank and Gillian's been decapitated". So I don't think I'll be going in it again.
What's your favourite memory of Rob Gretton?
Ruth Quest, Gloucester
Um... (long pause) um... Rob used to say to everyone, "What are you doing?" "Well, nothing, Rob, nothing." "What should you be doing? Skin up!" I'll remember those words.
Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:30:00 PM - 9:30:00 PM
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