— Sarah Walters (@SarahCityLife) May 18, 2015
Barely five hundred tickets were available for this unique performance; Peter Hook – the former Joy Division bassist – and his band The Light were celebrating Ian Curtis’ life by playing the entire back catalogue on the 35th anniversary of the tortured singer’s death.
They sold out in minutes, and started changing hands online for hundreds of pounds, but a friend of a friend had one available to The Blogging Goth. So some hurried coach journeys were arranged, a tiny room in an oversubscribed B&B was acquired, and I was on my way to Macclesfield.
In 1980, on the eve of their first tour of America and with their second album six weeks away, the depressed and epileptic Ian Curtis hung himself at the home he shared with wife Deborah and their baby daughter in the town. I didn’t have time to visit the tiny terrace house – and what would I do if I did? – but the latest news is the private home is in the hands of a fan who has plans for a museum to the definitive post-punk band.
I arrived with minutes to spare, and hurried into the surprisingly spacious Christ Church where sunlight streamed through stained-glass windows and dry ice – creating an appropriately hallowed atmosphere. Still a functioning place of worship, the audience was packed into the wooden pews, all sporting awkward expressions – how many of these men and women hadn’t been near a church in years?
— The Blogging Goth (@TheBloggingGoth) May 18, 2015
Of course, it was only a few songs in when people started edging down the aisles towards the empty space in front of the band. When I enquired if this was permitted, security affably waved us forwards – and I headed for an optimal spot at the very front, within touching distance of Hooky himself.
As well as playing bass, he was handling the vocals, and the delivery was superb. That almost nasal Mancunian twang that Curtis delivers when he wasn’t wailing or chanting mournfully is utterly mimicked by Hooky and it makes it all breathtakingly authentic.
Although Peter’s anxiety about this marathon performance is visible – “I’m going to have to pace myself!” he quips – it never shows through the three and a half hours of material, with the briefest of breaks in between.
At times he stomps across the stage, playing as close to the fans as he can get, shredding like crazy. He seems transported back to the earliest days of playing toilet venues across the UK and the past just fades away.
The setlist itself is exhausting, from tapping the last vestiges of ‘Warsaw’, the proto-Joy Division, to live performances of the unreleased demos that make up ‘Still’. Of course, the crowd goes wildest for the familiar classics like ‘She’s Lost Control’ or ‘Transmission’ – but the rest of the time, the audience is locked in an urgent stillness, rapt attention that refuses to be broken by anything so unnecessary as dancing.
There is a surprise appearance of Rowetta, the Happy Monday’s vocalist, who delivers tingling new performances of the beautifully melancholic songs like ‘Insight’ and the anthem for Ian that is ‘Atmosphere’. When she delivers ‘New Dawn Fades’ – my most favoured Joy Division song – I am almost moved to tears, as she effortlessly channels some of the most painful lyrics Ian ever committed to song. It is a fantastic variation on a spine-chilling classic, and we are honoured to hear it.
The effortless move from ‘Transmission to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart Again’ has to be a high-water mark for the entire gig, and the crowd before the stage is a whirling mass of ecstatic fans – and around them, a cordon of more reflective people, many embracing in emotional affection as they recall why, really, we’re all here.
“The toast tonight… is to absent friends” Hooky dedicates at the very beginning of the gig, and the spirit of Ian Curtis does indeed linger over proceedings.
But not in a haunting sense – this is more of a celebratory wake, and rather than a morbid observation of the anniversary of his death, it is a joyful appreciation of a man who contributed something massively definitive and utterly original that has shaped music forever.
You can order last night’s live concert from www.abbeyroad.com/live with all proceeds going to the two charities. The Epilepsy Society and the Churches Conservation Trust to restore Christ Church.
Update on 18th May 2020: For 24 hours, the entire concert is available online via The Light’s facebook page so check it out, and be sure to stop by and make a donation to the Epilepsy Society in honour of Ian Curtis.