Review and photography by John Bentley

Joy Division and successor band New Order are Manchester musical legends, with several films and books already documenting both bands’ careers and legacies, including autobiographies by band members Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner. Now JD/NO drummer Stephen Morris has joined the club, with the first volume of his autobiography, ‘Record, Play, Pause’, published this month. To launch the book Morris is doing a ‘tour’ around the UK, where he is in conversation on stage with Mancunian DJ, broadcaster and journalist Dave Haslam. Haslam also has a new book on sale, ‘Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor: Music, Manchester and More’. Haslam and Morris are old buddies, Haslam having DJ’ed at Manchester’s infamous Hacienda club, of which Morris and his New Order comrades were, of course, part owners.

Stephen Morris of New Order in conversation with Dave Haslam, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

The Trades Club is full tonight and judging by the large volume of books selling at the desk there are lots of pretty dedicated JD/NO fans present. Joy Division will continue to fascinate, what with their enduring dark music and the tragic suicide of singer and lyricist Ian Curtis in 1980. Against the odds the three remaining band members, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris continued as New Order and confounded most expectations with their success, producing new music that was consistently brilliant, danceable but also rather dark. There is plenty to fascinate us in the Joy Division / New Order story, notably the splendid cast of characters in the band and management, including brilliant but eccentric impresario and Factory Records entrepreneur Tony Wilson, colourful manager Rob Gretton and manic record producer Martin Hannett. You just couldn’t make up the improbable cast of characters and events, the story being memorably told in the film ’24 Hour Party People’. Some of this is explored in the conversation tonight.

Stephen Morris on drums, Birmingham 2012

Stephen Morris on Drums, Birmingham 2012

Haslam and Morris sit facing each other across the stage. There is a large photo of the young Stephen Morris as a backdrop, looking down on the matured, bespectacled 61-year old version below. The discussion kicks off at the point where this first part of Morris’s book ends, the death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis and the decision of the band to continue under the name New Order. Were there discussions on how the band should continue, asks Haslam? It all just evolved, says Morris. They took with them a couple of unrecorded Joy Division songs (‘Ceremony’ and ‘In a Lonely Place’) and the three remaining band members all tried the role of lead singer. Initially it proved difficult as none of them could easily both sing and play their instruments. Eventually Sumner ‘got the job’ as singer and Morris’s girlfriend Gillian Gilbert joined to help out on guitar and keyboards after Sumner injured his hand.

Haslam comes to the big issue of Curtis’s suicide very quickly in the conversation. What happened in that last 48 hours? Ian Curtis had apparently been happily shopping for clothes for the possible big breakthrough tour of America that was to start in a couple of days, but apparently he then changed his mind and returned the garments, preferring to keep his cash for the trip. The news of his suicide therefore totally shocked all the band members and management, Morris saying that he just could not believe it had happened. Was Ian like the myth of the moody, brooding hero as portrayed in the photos? Not really, says Morris. He smiled and joked a lot and they were all just young lads larking around, but no one wanted to see pictures of Curtis smiling. Morris affectionately remembers a more prosaic Curtis in his trademark long coat, being dragged along by his dog while trying to light a ciggie. He’s seen the films (like ‘Control’) about Joy Division, but he doesn’t really recognise the portrayals as the Ian Curtis he knew.

Stephen Morris of New Order in conversation with Dave Haslam, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Stephen Morris of New Order in conversation with Dave Haslam, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

As young men they didn’t really understand the dilemma of Curtis’s epilepsy: Ian was given advice to quit the band and lead a more sedentary life to bring the condition under control. But how could he do this with the band apparently on the verge of the big artistic and commercial breakthrough?

Another topic that everyone no doubt wants to hear about is the long-standing rift between bass player Peter Hook and the other band members, which has resulted in New Order touring and recording without him since 2011. Hookie has never been shy of publicity and recently appeared judging desserts on TV cooking programme ‘Great British Menu’. Morris comes out with the quote of the evening, confessing that he never knew Hook was an expert on puddings – he speculates that perhaps Hookie was a sorbet man, “bitter and lemony”. A big “oooohh!” emits from the audience. However, Morris seems to have had a mediating role in New Order. He refers to the drummer in a band having to hold it together musically, but he says he also felt more detached being sat at the back of the stage, out of the limelight, while the two people at the front (Hook and Sumner) got egotistical ideas.

Stephen Morris with New Order, Sheffield 1986

Stephen Morris with New Order, Sheffield 1986

What else do we learn tonight? Back to Morris’s youth, we hear how he got roped into learning ballroom dancing, but was told he had no sense of rhythm, something the much-admired drummer has since clearly disproved. How did Joy Division get their name? Originally they were Warsaw, but when Morris (posing as band manager) tried to ring around and book them gigs in London he was told you won’t get a gig with that name, as there was also a band called Warsaw Pact. The name Joy Division referred to women incarcerated in concentration camps who were used as prostitutes by the Nazi overseers.

The conversation between Haslam and Morris is followed by an enjoyable and good humoured set of audience questions, some of which are geeky fan stuff (Q. What is your favourite New Order Album? A. ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’), while others are more basic (Q. Do you get knackered after gigs as you get older? A. Yes). As the questions end, a long queue forms around the side and back of the hall for Stephen to sign copies of his book. This takes quite a while as he spends much time chatting to each fan and posing for pictures with them. The evening finishes with Morris and Haslam performing DJ sets. Morris is a genial and down-to-earth rock musician that you really would say hello to in the street and expect a greeting back.

Stephen Morris of New Order in conversation with Dave Haslam, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Stephen Morris of New Order in conversation with Dave Haslam, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

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