This is why events unnerve me
They find it all a different story
The plethora of books and documentaries, along with one outstanding biopic, means that we are very familiar with the events leading up the suicide of Ian Curtis and how his fellow band mates came to the view that things had to be kept going. But back in 1980/81, those of us who were fans of Joy Division had little or no idea what was going on, relying totally on any snippets of news that we could pick up in the pages of one of more of the weekly music papers.
Until the suicide, Joy Division were very much seen a cult band. Unknown Pleasures had sold around 20,000 copies which was still more than decent for a band on a small and relatively obscure Manchester-based record label. The adulation heaped upon the singer after his death was a big factor in raising the profile of the band and the subsequent rise in popularity. This created a bit of a problem in that New Order, as they had now been renamed, were understandably reluctant to do much in the way of press or media as the dominant topic wouldn’t be ‘What are you doing next?’ but the inevitable inquisition into why the their former frontman had killed himself – and remember…his epilepsy, his messy personal life and his battle with depression wasn’t something that had previously been mentioned or written about – we know so much more now all these years later than we did at the time.
It was against this background that Ceremony was slipped out, almost unnoticed and with very little fanfare, as the debut single in January 1981. I had it on order (boom-boom!) at the local record shop and picked it up a couple of days after its release. I still hadn’t heard it by this point and was secretly pleased when the long-haired rocker behind the counter said it was unlistenable and depressing and wasn’t prepared to play it in the shop for me. It meant I would get to hear it at home, albeit on a record player that was as basic as there was although I had hopes of getting to play it on the ‘big stereo’ if my folks weren’t in. The amazingly effective and affecting bronze-coloured sleeve that looked like some sort of memorial plaque, almost as if it was paying respect to the old band, only added to my excitement as I raced down the road as quickly as I could without running – that would have been uncool and pathetic.
The label on the record gave a writing credit to Ian Curtis as well as the three members of New Order, so it was clearly a song Joy Division had been working on at some stage; in later years we would learn that it was one of the last songs they had demoed just days before the suicide.
The needle hit the groove and I listened in awe to music that was comfortingly familiar albeit it was lacking the vocal was lacking power and authority.
mp3 : New Order – Ceremony
The b-side was, if anything, even more reminiscent of the old band. I was mesmerised.
The single climbed into the charts in the high 30s and so the local record shop got in some more copies, including the 12” in a green sleeve. I bought that too and was marginally disappointed that only the b-side was slightly longer in length.
It was a brilliant debut single. If New Order had wanted to call it quits there and then, I’d have been okay with it. I wasn’t alone in thinking back then that Ian Curtis was the principal songwriter, lyrically and musically, and so if there weren’t many more tunes that he’d been involved with before the suicide, the new band might struggle to match the heights of their first release. Subsequent events proved otherwise…..
Ceremony is not, by a long chalk, the best single ever released by New Order. I reserve that honour for Temptation. But it’s a hugely important and significant 45 for all sorts of reasons…as indeed were the next few singles that the band would release. Which is why, now that I’ve reached the end of the look back at XTC,the Sunday singles focus will now be on Gilbert/Hook/Morris/Sumner.
PS : Part of what I’m intending to do in the series is offer up some of the alternative/re-recorded versions of singles and so, for the sake of completeness, here’s the second and, IMHO, inferior version of the debut, issued in 12″ form in September 1981, and which, unlike the original, features a contribution from Gillian Gilbert:-