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.

mp3 : New Order – In A Lonely Place (7″ version)
mp3 : New Order – In A Lonely Place (12″ version)

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:-

mp3 : New Order – Ceremony (re-recorded version)



  1. It will be a true pleasure following this new Sunday series, and yes – it is a cracking debut single!

  2. I don’t know if anybody has done that wondering what would have happened if (insert dead musician here) had lived thing? I have, everyone from Buddy Holly to Arthur Russell, and of course Ian Curtis is amongst that pantheon of the gone too soon. You can hear him all over Ceremony, and the debut New Order album, but I really do start to get into alternative history thinking about New Order (it would still have been Joy Division) being influenced by Arthur Baker and the New York club scene with Ian Curtis on board.
    I wonder if all that would have developed, as Curtis was a lot more literate and existential than the others in the band. Could they have gone in a Smiths-ey direction, with Curtis trotting out lyrics about suffering and misery, while the rest of the band came up with the music to back him up? If so, would this have restricted the impact of the actual Smiths? I certainly couldn’t imagine Curtis singing a World Cup song!
    Obviously, we will never know, you can surmise all you want, (try it, but be careful not to fry your brain), but history shows what actually happened. It’ll be great to go over it all again, I’m sure there will be some hidden gems long forgotten on the way.

  3. I am with you JC, it is Temptation for which New Order should always be remembered.

    SA’s point of Ceremony sounding like Joy Division but also opening a door to a “sound” for New Order, is something I remember thinking the first time I sat down in the dark of my teenage bedroom and played Ceremony with the headphones on. It has a different energy than anything on Unknown Pleasures or Closer. It is both reverential and heraldic. This energy doesn’t dissipate, it grow stronger and stronger as the song nears it end and to this day, I find it wonderfully exhausting.

    Moz makes a really good point in his question of where Joy Division would have gone, had Ian Curtis survived. I wonder myself if they would have had a staying power of found a larger, broader success if the band dynamic had stayed the same. My sense is they would have maybe released one or two more albums before the strains and pressures of business side of their art pulled the band apart.

    Finally, In A Lonely Place is a song that has never really gotten the attention it deserves. It is dark and beautiful. There’s a mysterious, poetic quality to the song that is unmistakably Curtis, but again there a strength in the music that seems to purposely attempt to stay away from the brittle or awkward.

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