NewOrderOnline.com is supported by its members. Donations are always welcomed and appreciated.

Send a donation...

Interview by Neil Rowland

Melody Maker 23/5/81 Interview by Neil Rowland New skin for the old ceremony New Order's first interview, by Neil Rowland. Pix: Kevin Cummins New Order are not the remains of Joy Division. They're a whole new entity, struggling with a legend thrust upon them at an altogether pubescent stage, intensified to bursting point by Ian Curtis' ultimate gesture/sacrifice/defeat/fantasy - use whichever word you prefer for legends are made of mystery. Supporting the legend like wooden beams down a mine-shaft are the accusations of fascism suggested by their name. These are based on the implied link with the so- called New Order of European Fascism, a loose term referring to the way extreme right wing bodies have carried out atrocities against Jews and other minority groups... bombs in Madrid Cenral Station killing more than a hundred people... general violence in France... the ritual placing of pigs heads on Jewish graves. Whereas Joy Division - who took their name from brothels set up in concentration camps for Nazi officers - were supposed to stand for the oppressed, the implications drawn from New Order are that they're the oppressor, a monolith. Yet by seeking to condemn this, the press have merely added an extra spicey lure, helping to put New Order beyond fashion; they look down on the mechanics of the industry as if on a cloud. The legend fulfils rock's precepts for danger and subversion. New Order gigs have the electricity of, say, Floyd's days at the Roundhouse. Their first single "Ceremony" sprouted up at number 39 in the fun 40, swayed from side to side and fell down again - too tingling for the Radio 1 nerve-ends. It now sits in it's gothic gold sleeve as if it was a throne, and wears it's pagan seal like a crown. "Ceremony" has a wistful crystallinity, a fragility, that doesn't fade at the end but crumbles into sparkling powder. Bernard Albrecht's vocals hold nothing back, his voice vulnerable and weak to the point of emotional nudity. He holds less of the desperation, the challenging, damning sadness Curtis had bled during "New Dawn Fades"... but once the textures are peeled away Albrecht's performance has the solitude of an orphan, the fury of a lost child. But turn the record over and, once it fights through the demure, atmospheric opening, "In A Lonely Place" turns into a monumentally fearful epic. Albrecht is unfeeling to the point of inhumanity and totally unflinching; the track has no conventional emotion. "In A Lonely Place" is the most evil record I've ever heard - a cruel record. It's evil seduces and it's power numbs, forcing you into submission, instilling fear like a ritual sacrifice. Never have two such radically opposing songs sat on either side of a single... I walk along the side of the Forum, Kentish Town, past a juggernaut carrying New Order's equipment, and wander into the hall through a back door. A swarm of flies pour into my face, stinging like lead-shot, flying in frenzied circles, unable to believe their luck at finding such a filthy, disgusting toilet as the one here. The auditorium has the feel, the look, the decoration of 1918-45. The stage sits five feet or more above a sunken floor, sunken because the floor behind is raised, with railings running across it. A balcony lodges above, with that decoration sitting uncomfortably, intimidatingly on the cold grey stone, snarling at me from below a dizzily high ceiling. The place is in semi-darkness. I approach Pete Hook - shortish, stout bassist. He doesn't act how I expect. It is hard to think that such an unassuming person - someone seemingly so amused with everything and everybody - contributed to music which liberated emotions I didn't think I had, or would ever be allowed to express. It's impossible to believe this is a guy who had contributed to a music which made me sob my heart out - a music which gave me courage and defiance. On stage he wears his bass down to his knees and stands with exaggerated pigeon toes to reach the strings, like a gun slinger. His back is turned to the audience for most of the time - the detached wall to the self-created torture chamber of Ian Curtis. I ask: "Did he ever affect you? Did Ian ever disturb you in any way?" He sits and struggles to tune his bass. I pursue him. "Did you ever become fearful that Ian was living out a fantasy which he might bring to some kind of conclusion?" He's so dismissive you'd think he'd spent his life working on Liquid Gold backing tracks, that air of amusement flickering permanently on his Ian Botham features. I try again. "Didn't a line like 'A Loaded Gun Won't Set You Free... So You Say' worry you?" Pete sighs. "Well, I was just playing. He would write and sing. I didn't really take a lot of notice of him. I couldn't really, you have to concentrate on your own contribution." "Did you ever feel he was screwed up?" He puffs out slightly, and titters, refusing to take anything seriously, twiddling with his bass to avoid a face to face discussion. "Well he could be up there somewhere, looking down on us and thinking how stupid we are." He runs a hand over his stubble that has grown into a beard over recent weeks. "Anyway, screwed up by whose standards? Everyone is screwed up... I am screwed up!" "Did you have any doubts about continuing?" "No, none. That's the last thing you think about. What am I supposed to do? I am a musician, that's all I can do. I couldn't give up just because Ian died. "Continuing was the most natural thing to do, there were no doubts. Yes, Ian's death was a surprise, it was totally unexpected. And the first meeting after it happened was short and very difficult. But we had to continue." "How did you arrive at the name New Order?" He begins to take a string off and replace it. "Well, picking a name isn't a personal thing, it is for the group. It isn't for one person to pick the name, you have to have one which you can all agree on. There was no planning, we just didn't arrive at the name New Order." The amusement hardens slightly, and he bends his head towards me to pick up a dropped string, showing a pencil sharp parting. "A name is with you for a long time, and it has to be the right one." But is it the right one? The press have linked it with right-wing groups. You have a rather disturbing aura, and conclusions can be drawn, I suggest. "The press draw a picture of us having a load of Nazis following us around in their jack-boots, marching up and down, doing the goose step. "What do we have to do? Apply to the NME book of names?" What about the imagery though? The presentation? "Oh, you mean the goose stepping on stage!" He begins to enjoy his own humour. "No! What do you mean?" I find myself smiling. "You may not be, but you suggest it... God this sounds awful." We both laugh. "In your days as Warsaw you provoked considerable scorn for being 'fascist'." "I don't know about that," he pleads, leaning out of his chair and straightening the backside out of his light blue suit. "You shouldn't believe everything you read. You see I like the sleeve to the single." You think that might be suspicious then? Because I didn't mean that in particular. "Yeah, but when you talk about images, what else can you mean? I like the sleeve." Are you conscious of the mystique of New Order? "What do you mean?" Do you feel restricted by the large following you have now? "No. As I said, I am a musician. I just play, and you can't take a lot of notice of the audience because you would become too conscious of what you were doing. I don't pay attention to the audience down there, I don't think like that at all. "We will never ever play to an audience." He puts his bass down on the floor and faces me for the first time. Probably for the first time, too he's beginning to commit himself to his answers, forgetting about the group's traditional refusal to talk to journalists. Does a large audience put pressure on you? Will New Order ever tour to satisfy a demand? "I am not interested in all that. We just do what we want to do. It is alien just to think about it. "We have never done it before, and there is no prospect of doing it now." But surely, it was different with Joy Division, before Ian's death. Now you have a wider following. Do you think the new audience for New Order are a betrayal, are they being dishonest?" "It is something which bugs you, yes." I spent a lot of time trying to annoy him a little, being a touch outrageous to force him to clarify. Sometimes this was successful, sometimes it just caused him even greater amusement. Hook is a contrast to Curtis, seemingly impervious to Joy Division's examination in minute detail of mankind's terrifying blind journey. He might have deliberately reserved his feelings, not able to pain over them - maybe for fear of them. But I got the impression that he took little notice of what Curtis sang, or at least, the implications of what he sang. He didn't want to draw a conclusion, he wants everyone to draw their own. He's flattered by the aura, the mystique. He prefers the question marks. Rob Gretton wanders in front of the mixing desk, under a small marquee, it's lights and guages shimmering like brass on Salvation Army uniforms as the band play under the park pavilion. Steve Morris swings and thrashes his drums through the soundcheck. This allows me to appreciate fully the kind of propulsion that ran in a steely backbone down "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Then Gillian appears, and gives a cold blast of "Atmosphere", the nearest New Order come to playing old songs. If you allow her to, Gillian merges into the background, her music merely a vital but definite back-drop; but her statuesque nonchalance is disturbing. She washes the music with a synthesised black magic, and adds a constant, spikey guitar. She stares with transfixed blankness, as if the building, the audience, and the actions of her colleagues are on a screen, part of a trash movie. She can disappear or disturb. Pete Hook walks across the stage, holding the bottom of his tie to stop it from flapping around. It is often said when someone is a good musician that the instrument becomes part of them. But to Hook it is an instrument, something hot and dangerous - a weapon to release on the audience. He grapples, and battles, inspiring himself to find the depth of power so forthright in the music. Bernard Albrecht is slight, but not boyish. More contained, like the character out of Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum", bush-baby eyes rounded so much they could be revolving. His ears cup an acute, menacing haircut - emphasising a small head. "He looks so young, as though he were a sixth-former or something," says a girl in my ear. But this is while he is in the background. Close up he looks older, and the would-be school uniform is of a thicker cloth, more Forties style than Eighties uniform. He wears a coarse grey jumper, but no jacket, although the tailoring of the trousers makes me think there must be one to match. His voice is not tired, it is exhausted. Too weak to be expressional, fighting to find enough pressure in the chest to have any more solidity than the smell of fresh cut grass. I talk to him about Europe, specifically about Berlin, where New Order are to go next. "It was really strange... when we went there with Joy Division... the atmosphere... strange... It was quite a lot like Manchester... Berlin... It had a cold atmosphere ..." He looks a little to the side, his thought patterns weakening. "Anonymous... an evil atmosphere. You could feel the evil... You could feel it from the war." You could? In what way? "It was amazing... just the feel... of... of..." Of what had been going on - the violence and death? "Yes, it was really strange. Last time we played Cologne as well as Berlin, this time we will be playing Hamburg, Berlin and other places." Why do you feel the need to go to Europe? What is the point to it? "There is no point as such; it's just something we want to do, to get away." We are sitting in a corner of the hall, under the balcony, where the light is even thinner. And the whites of his eyes are glowing slightly, over emphasising them. I try to understand which emotion they are showing, but it doesn't register on any conventional scale. "We shall be playing clubs and places," he concludes, after a long drift away from the conversation, although looking straight at me all the time. This is not off- putting, but mesmeric. Do you regret not being able to play small seedier places in Britain any more? "Yes." How do you find success? "It is confusing, but having more people like us won't stop us, we must continue... it doesn't matter so long as we are achieving something, doing something new and not just reproducing ourselves." It must be enormously difficult not to play Joy Division songs for an audience who desperately want to hear them. At your first concert you practically told your audience that if they had come for Joy Division songs then they should go home, didn't you? "It is difficult not to play Joy Division songs... but it is upsetting," he says, rounding out every syllable of 'upsetting'. "It is upsetting to play them after all the work we put into Joy Division with Ian. Without Ian they are not the same." How did Ian's death affect you? Pete took the view that he had to take it philosophically, that he is a musician who has to carry on. Is that how you cope? "I will never be able to cope. Ian's death will affect me for now, and forever, I will never be able to forget it. Personally, as a friend... it means so much to me... regardless of the group... as a friend. "Friendship has always been more important, that is what produces the music." He puts his chin down to his chest suddenly. "He was a real good friend," he concludes, the voice sharpened, and the lips tightening to maintain the calm. What led up to his suicide? I ask. And suddenly the closeness between us and the sorrow that we both feel rising, causes me to swallow very hard indeed. Bernard notices, and deflects his eyes. "Well, hundreds of reasons pile on top of each other... Some people feel it, some people don't. Some people are hard skinned about life, but Ian was not. "Things like... Ian could not ignore his problems, even the little ones, the things which crop up from day to day in every person's life. He tried, yes he tried, but he couldn't. "There are many different sides to people and I could not describe the complexity of Ian's personality in a whole day I don't think. "He was not a weird guy. He was a normal person like anyone else, that was the thing about it, but a very emotional person, and some people can show their emotions, but he didn't show his, except on rare occasions. In his lyrics." I suggest that his words were a therapy, a way of releasing pressures brewing up inside, but in fact his death showed that they were simply magnifying his problems. "Yes," says Bernard. "Since Ian died we have had to work a lot harder. It wasn't difficult to take over singing; the main problem is to sing and play at the same time... that is extremely difficult." He smiles faintly. He seems to be feeling relief, and release. "Gillian has been a big help and without her not a lot would have been possible. You can only do so much. After he died we had a bit of a break to think things out, we never doubted that we would go on, and after the break we started to rehearse again. "His death was stunning... I was very shocked. It is one of those things which is so bad you can't believe it is true, you don't want to believe it is true. The break was a way to sort of comprehend things. "Steve knew Gillian already." You chose the name New Order. Why? "You are talking about the fascist link aren't you? In fact we thought it was a neutral name. It was just fate what happened, the talk about it, it was just a coincidence. It doesn't mean anything, it is not fascist, and I say this to you now to clear it all up. You see... when all the accusations were made, the press did it quite independently... they made their own minds up. We are not fascists... Maybe a few thousand people believe that, but we are not interested in politics... I have never been interested in politics." In what ways do you think the music of New Order differs from that of Joy Division? Do you think it is darker, perhaps a little brutal? "I don't know. Ian used to write the lyrics and in that way we have changed, because we all write them now. We all contribute towards the music... there isn't one song which any one of us wrote." Are you more brutal do you think? "Well if we are then it has just happened like that. We never plan the way it should go... we just see what might happen tomorrow. We don't know what will happen next. That is it really, we are growing, the music it comes from our feelings together, and from a natural empathy between us. We play and it comes out... we release it... it is a part of us that we can not explain... we do not know where it comes from... it is natural." You said earlier that you found your success confusing. What did you mean by that? He takes time to think about his reply. "You don't realise it when you are successful... I feel dubious about it when people come to see us. It doesn't feel natural... it doesn't feel natural like... you have to be careful because success becomes a reason in itself."

Last updated on 2005-03-07 10:13:00 PM - 10:13:00 PM
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.