IAN CURTIS - Torn Apart

A second extract from Torn Apart by Mick Middles & Lindsay Reade.
         On Tuesday, April 8, 1980, Joy Division were scheduled to perform at Bury in Lancashire but Ian Curtis was convalescing following the stress of the previous week. The audience didn’t take kindly to this: Joy Division without Ian Curtis was like Blondie without Debbie Harry.

The decision to go ahead with the council funded gig at Derby Hall, Bury, was apparently taken by Rob Gretton, even though he was aware there was a good chance that Ian wouldn’t be able to perform. He was hoping that Ian might be able to make a quick, low-key appearance before handing the vocal duties over to someone else who would close the show. Because of the relative success of the ‘Factory by Moonlight’ gigs, with the Factory roster providing a disparate blend of artists, Tony Wilson thought it would be a good idea for a Factory medley to cover for Ian, and to this end the gig also featured Mini Pops and Section 25. Unfortunately, Bury Derby Hall wasn’t like the Moonlight and most, if not all, of the crowd, expected a normal Joy Division gig, with Ian Curtis on vocals throughout, with normal support acts. Touts were loitering with intent outside the venue, selling £3 tickets for £7 and there were plenty of takers.
         Staging a Joy Division gig without Ian Curtis was never going to be easy and the band took the precaution of inviting Crispy Ambulance singer Alan Hempsall along as a stand-in, a daunting proposition for anyone. “I received a phone call from Bernard,” says Hempsall. “He told me that Ian was ill. That’s all I knew. He told me that Ian couldn’t do the gig because he was poorly and would I mind stepping in for him. It was one hell of a shock, I can tell you. I had no qualms at all. Immediately I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I was keen as mustard. I was simply thrilled.”
         Hempsall began diligently learning Joy Division lyrics, including the new song, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, which they had recorded from the John Peel Session, aired in January.
         Larry Cassidy recalls the build up to the gig: “We get to Bury – start setting up, come to sound check time, we do that – Ian wasn’t there, the band were but he wasn’t. They do their sound check and then after that you’re in a sort of limbo until you play. Then, I must have asked Rob where Ian was. He said he wasn’t very well – he’d had a funny turn and such and such. Then the next minute Alan out of Crispy Ambulance is turning up in the dressing room. It gets to gig time and Ian’s still not around and I think it transpired that we got the news he wouldn’t be able to come at all. So it was kind of – guys in the dressing room, ‘What are we going to do?’ They’re all out there. We sort of collaborated with Joy Division that the best way out of this would be to kind of mix the sets up. Just use the one kit, so you don’t have to change kits or anything. We’d go on and do a bit of us and then slowly turn to JD and Alan would do some vocals – cos he knew the words, being a big fan – and we might be able to smooth it over a bit.” 
         Then Ian arrived. Alan Hempsall: “I didn’t know what to expect and I remember being quite surprised to see Ian in the dressing room. But I wasn’t about to ask questions. I had gone along to do a job and, as far as I was concerned, that is what I was going to do. So I kind of kept within that professional attitude. As the evening wore on, it became apparent that it was taking a different slant from a normal gig. The Mini Pops went on first and did a full 40-minute set. There was then a short break and Section 25 came on, but only to play for about 20 minutes. At the time, they were Vinnie and Larry, the two brothers… and Paul the guitarist, who was on their first album. They would play for 20 minutes and their last number would be the single, ‘Girls Don’t Count’. It all seemed fairly straight-forward at this point. When ‘Girls Don’t Count’ started, myself, Hooky, Bernard and Steve all joined them onstage, and Simon Topping from A Certain Ratio. So Larry did the lead vocals while Simon and myself sang the backing vocals, which consisted of the two of us singing ‘Girls Don’t Count’ over and over again. There were two drummers and, as Larry was doing the vocals, he left bass duties to Hooky.”
         This unlikely assembly went down well, but the crowd was still expecting to see Joy Division.
         Hempsall: “At the end of that song, Section 25 and Simon left the stage. So that just left me with the three members of Joy Division, a pretty scary moment, to be honest. For me, a Joy Division fan, it seemed positively surreal. Here I was, standing in Ian Curtis’s shoes. Well, I knew I couldn’t but I was determined to make a decent job of it. We did ‘Digital’, from The Factory Sample, followed by ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. I don’t think I could have possibly known the greatness of that song at that point. What a strange way to get to know one of the greatest rock songs of all time.”
         Backstage Ian had indicated that he was willing to perform two of the slower numbers from the new Closer material, ‘Decades’ and ‘The Eternal’. He duly wandered onto the stage, leaving a relieved Hempsall to retreat into the wings. Ian’s performance on the two songs, which were unknown to the majority of the audience, was low key, leaving some to question whether Curtis had appeared at all. Even Larry Cassidy admits that he doesn’t have a clear memory of Ian singing that night.
         When Ian left the stage he was replaced by Cassidy, Simon Topping from A Certain Ratio and Hempsall. They launched into The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’, with Larry taking over lead vocals while the other two provided backing. Although there was an element of unrest in the crowd, all seemed well as they departed.
         It was a lull before the storm. 
         Hempsall: “I remember, as we were leaving the stage… there was this great big beautiful crystal chandelier hanging above the stage. It must have been there for donkey’s years. At that point, someone threw a bottle which went bang into the middle of the chandelier and the whole thing just seemed to explode. We got completely showered with chards of glass and bits of chandelier. That was the moment it just kicked off. We ran off the stage and locked the door behind us. All I could hear was all these bottles crashing against the door. I didn’t know how we were going to get out of there, I really didn’t. Twinny [a JD roadie] and Terry Mason were on stage, swinging mike stands around, trying to clock people with them… well, in self-defence. They were just trying to keep the kids off the equipment. It was getting really nasty at this point. Twinny got smacked over the back of the head with a bottle or glass which gave him this big gash. This was the point when Hooky, being the good Salford lad that he is, decided that, ‘We can take these guys…’ He grabbed two empty beer bottles and thrust them in my hands then picked up two more and, ‘Come on… let’s have ‘em.’”
         Larry Cassidy: “And they start lobbing bottles over Steve Morris’s head. Glass was tippling down and cans, half full of beer. Then it turns into a fucking tirade. Loads of it. So all the musicians fuck off. For some reason I got left behind the curtain. They couldn’t see me. They were fucking bottling the empty stage. It was a big thick curtain but I could hear them. The dressing room was just there and they were lobbing stuff at the dressing room door. It subsided a bit and Hooky got really upset about it – being the big, macho man that he is. He wanted to go out into the crowd and start tearing it up. Paul Wiggin held him back. But the funny thing about it that I saw – cos they came out through the door… there’s Paul, who was a big, tall guy, looked like Clint Eastwood… he’s got Hooky in an arm lock, holding him back. But you know like when two guys have a row in the pub and a friend gets hold of one of them and it’s all a bit – it was like that ‘Hold me back, where are you?’”
         There was no holding back Rob Gretton, as Lindsay Reade observed: “I saw Rob’s face completely changing. He had this fierce stone-like look about him, ready for a fight. I had never seen him like that before. He shouted out in disgust, almost like a war cry, as he jumped, without a nanosecond of hesitation, straight into the fray.”
         Terry Mason started lashing out with a microphone stand at those who had attacked Twinny with the pint pot. “I was a reluctant fighter,” he says. “Twinny was having the shit beat out of him after he’d been potted. He’d jumped in to help Rob. Rob had decided to punch someone and it wasn’t happening like in cartoons. There was a few more people and Rob was getting a battering, so Twinny went in to save Rob and he got potted again. I thought, ‘Oh fuck, I’m really shit at this, don’t know anything about fighting but I’m from Salford, I go drinking in the same pubs as Twinny, I could never show my face if I didn’t go in.’ Someone had to get Twinny out of there.”
         Alan Hempsall, likewise, didn’t regard himself as a fighter. “When Hooky charged out there, he dragged me with him,” he recalls. “Well Hooky might be a warrior but I am a bit of a pacifist, really. I have always felt discretion to be the better part of valour but we went out onto the stage to face the audience who had whittled down to the few hardcore trouble makers who were really warming to the notion of a riot by this time. There was a row of bottles in front of them and they just kept picking them up and hurling them onstage. Me and Hooky were covered in glass. Hooky started charging around like a bull in a China shop… literally like that. And there was Tony Wilson hanging onto him, trying to drag him backstage. Tony was screaming, ‘Come on Hooky… it’s not worth it.’ Clearly Tony was correct. It wasn’t worth it. We could have got murdered out there. But Hooky being strong was dragging Tony all around the stage. I suppose it was quite comic in retrospect, but it didn’t seem very funny at the time. But somehow we all managed to get backstage again, intact and we locked ourselves in again.”
         Terry believes that those who caused the trouble were “Scally types” who moaned when they said they couldn’t get tickets - though he didn’t think the gig was a sell-out - and, as a result, Rob had put them on his guest list. “A lot of people felt cheated,” he adds. “The ones who’d paid, they wanted Ian Curtis singing songs and weren’t going to take shit.”
         When peace was restored Lindsay Reade drove Twinny to hospital, where he received several stitches. The pair whom Terry had attacked with the mike stand were also in casualty, sitting silently waiting to be attended. “There was a bit of an uneasy truce,” says Lindsay, “a bit like Christmas day in the trenches. One of these other two lads said to the other that he’d only seen A Certain Ratio the week before and it was seeing their singer out front instead of Ian that made him throw the first bottle (that hit the chandelier).”
         “We won on stitches,” says Terry,” they needed three between them whereas Twinny only needed two.”
         More seriously, Ian was deeply upset by the riot. “The whole thing after Bury shook him,” says Terry. “I think it was cos he realised that his actions were actually affecting other people. Ian wouldn’t have liked that, he wouldn’t have seen the glory in a riot when people actually got hurt. Twinny was there with a couple of stitches in his head from being potted. I was still bruised up from getting a battering helping Twinny. So it was involving others – not just Debbie and Annik and that. It was people that really didn’t have anything to do with any of his goings on but physically hurt – not just emotionally hurt. That seemed to get to him.”
         Tony remembers finding Ian with his head in his hands after the gig, blaming himself for the trouble. In an attempt to comfort him, Tony reminded him of the riot at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall during Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance Tour. That had been a fractious affair – with Reed standing ice-cold in dark glasses and then refusing to return for an encore, a stance which was symbolic of an approaching punk attitude. In typical ‘myth-maker’ style, Wilson reminded Ian how great such gigs are – full-on art events.
         Yet however much Ian loved Velvet Underground, it is doubtful that he was much consoled by this. Had Ian Curtis been a different type of rock star, one with the kind of ego more suited to the role, he would no doubt have been gratified that his absence from a gig caused a near riot. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was a gentle soul with genuine humility who really didn’t want to hurt anyone. And here he was in a position where he seemed to be hurting everyone close to him – his wife, his daughter, his girlfriend, his group, his friends, and even his fans. 


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