BONUS POST : HEAR THE DRUMMER GET WICKED

I’ve previously mentioned that I have a great number of music biographies in various nooks and crannies around Villain Towers, none of which I show any inclination to give away, although I will lend things out to various friends. I’ve just again added to the existing 20 or so books related to Factory Records/Joy Division/New Order/The Hacienda, with Fast Foward, the second volume of autobiography by Stephen Morris, who I must stop describing  simply as ‘the drummer.’

His first volume, Record Play Pause was a hugely enjoyable effort but it was kind of overshadowed by the fact that I read it at the same time as This Searing Light, The Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division – The Oral History , by Jon Savage, which very much has a place near the top of the best music bios.  Knowing, however, that volume two was on its way to me, having ordered an advance signed copy from Rough Trade, I gave volume one another read and found it every bit as enjoyable and entertaining as first time around, this setting me up perfectly to pick up where Stephen had left off, which was the death of Ian Curtis.

Fast Forward, therefore, is essentially the tale of New Order from 1980 to 2020, spread over 450 pages.  It is a well-known tale, one which as all music fans of a certain age knows, involves a lot of deaths, not least Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton, Anthony H Wilson and Factory Records.  The author does his very best to not go over the stories and incidents that have dominated previous books, but is still something of a shock that Wilson’s passing is covered in just one sentence, although there are very understandable reasons as to why given it occurred at a time when there were very difficult and challenging events taking place in Morris’s life and circumstances.  But the fact that something so significant in the wider story of Factory/New Order kind of passes by almost in the blink of an eye is the perfect illustration as to why Fast Forward is an essential read to anyone who is interested in trying to get a proper handle on why things have gone certain ways since New Order emerged blinking and bewildered on the back of what was, at the time, the suicide of a relatively little-known singer of a cult indie band on a cult indie label.

Stephen Morris, on the basis of these two volumes of autobiography, is a very self-deprecating person.  He knows he’s the quiet, almost unrecognisable bloke in the band, a situation brought home to him on countless occasions when he’s stopped from gaining access to gigs and events that he is very much central to.  He knows he’s regarded as the least interesting of the band, having little to say or do that makes headlines when talking to journalists, and the book plays on his perception as a geek by devoting countless paragraphs to descriptions of the equipment and technology advances New Order were investing in throughout the 80s in efforts to stay at the cutting edge of the way music was now being played and produced – spoiler alert, he ends up being less and less of a drummer and increasingly a programmer.

There’s a case to be made, however, that he was the most important member of the band.  He was the one who took the brave decision to go with the suggestion from Rob Gretton that his girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, should become the fourth member of New Order given that he knew he would be exposing her to a world of sexism and misogyny, thus putting his own personal happiness at risk.  It’s no real secret that Peter Hook in particular never took to the idea of having a woman in the band, a position he never seems ever to have been at ease with, but it was surprising and disappointing to read how Bernard Sumner reacted to some suggestions about increasing Gillian’s responsibilities as time went on. But, in giving space to all of this, Stephen Morris doesn’t shy away from highlighting the occasions when he let his girlfriend down, and one particularly spectacular incident in Bangkok is revealed in all its gruesome detail, which leaves the reader in no doubt that the author could be a bit of a dick.

I have to say that for the first two-thirds of Fast Forward, I was of the view that it was an inferior read in comparison to Record Play Pause.  I think this was down to the fact that it was racing through at breakneck speed, with just a few pages devoted to each album or tour, but it was satisfying to read that Morris’ views and opinions on the releases more or less chimed with my own thoughts, and to have confirmation of my long held view that cocaine played such a big part in the way that Shellshock was given the kitchen sink approach as it evolved and developed, with nobody prepared to take anything out of the near ten minutes that the 12″ version ended up being.  Oh, and while I’ve somehow always thought the band spent about six months in Ibiza with the recording of Technique, it was only two months, albeit there was a lot of partying and relaxing rather than music playing – it turns out most of the sounds were put down in the Real World Studio complex, just outside of Bath in south-west England.

My mind, however, changed as the author began to switch increasingly away from the New Order story and to focus more on his own circumstances, including how The Other Two became an important part of his and Gillian’s story in the 90s.  He also returns to his relationship with his father, something that had been central to much of volume one,
particularly at its beginning before Joy Division became the be-all and end-all for the author, and to see it come back so sharply into focus near the end of volume two, when New Order was becoming increasingly less important for the author was something of a surprise, albeit it becomes yet another instance when he has to deal with death and the issues it leaves him facing.

The sleeve jacket does offer a very decent summary of this book:-

Blending entertaining anecdote with profound reflection, Fast Forward strips back a lifetime of fame and fortune to tell, with raw honesty, how New Order threatened to implode time after time. And yet, despite everything, the legacy of their music continued to hold them together.

By the end of the 450 pages (which were read over the course of just two days), I wanted more, albeit the story seems to have come to its natural conclusion.  Stephen Morris does acknowledge that much more could have been written, and in particular, the role that Gillian played both as a band member and as the rock to which he clung when he was in danger of being washed away.  He also acknowledges that with the band still on the go, very much against expectations both internally and externally, the story is not complete, and he hints that a whole other book may well emerge at some point.  It certainly won’t be in the immediate future – at the age of 63, Stephen Morris, is having to slow down and 2021 is a year in which New Order will be taking to the road and so there’ll be no time to sit down and write up another volume of memoirs.  Perhaps it won’t be written until such a time as the music has finally come to a stop and he can look back at things, perhaps when he can really think and reflect more on the legacy rather than telling a series of chronological tales.  On the basis of the pages of Fast Forward, it’ll be worth the wait.

mp3: The Other Two – The Greatest Thing
mp3: The Other Two – Loved It (The Other Track)
mp3: New Order – Shellshock (12″ version)
mp3: New Order – The Perfect Kiss (12″ version)

The last is included as one in which there is nothing in the way of Stephen Morris playing the drums but his programming, including the musical frogs, is really what makes the tune.

JC

A HANDFUL OF SELFISH MOMENTS

It was more than five years ago, in April 2014 that I featured The Other Two on the blog as part of a piece looking at the spin-off bands from New Order.

I made the observation that, of all the records the band members released in other guises, there was one almost flawless piece of electronic pop that should have been snapped up by all New Order fans:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Tasty Fish (12”)

Much to my delight, there was a very positive response to the posting with a number of my long-standing and most trusted contributors, including postpunkmonk, the robster and Echorich all adding their own appreciative comments on Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert’s debut single.

I was thinking just the other day as to why nothing more seemed to happen in the wake of the release of Tasty Fish, which in reaching #41 had come within a whisker of possibly providing the duo with a Top of the Pops appearance – something that would have been interesting as I can’t imagine Gillian would have wanted to sing live while Stephen would likely have been desperate to avoid miming.

Tasty Fish was released in October 1991 as FAC 329. The Factory catalogue has the self-titled debut album as FAC 330. Crucially, it indicates it is a test pressing with perhaps 5-10 copies in existence. In short, the album got held up as the label began to implode, with the last throw of the dice being to try and get Happy Mondays product completed and into the shops. In the end, an album that had been finished in the studio in mid-1991 did not see light of day until November 1993 when London Records provided a belated release, having preferred, understandably, to concentrate on promoting Republic, the latest album by New Order.

Gillian and Stephen must have been disappointed with the way things turned out as The Other Two and You , despite being a fine and enjoyable piece of work, wasn’t getting much love from the company bosses. It would have been quite different if Tony Wilson et al had still been in charge.

A single was lifted to help the promotional efforts:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish

As was the case with so many of the New Order singles of the time, there were no new songs made available on the b-sides of the 7”, 12” and CD versions, but there were a number of remixes:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (That Pop Mix)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (Junior Style Dub)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (The East Village Vocal)
mp3 : The Other Two – Selfish (The East Village Dub)

The opening of That Pop Mix is reminiscent (to my ears) of Vanishing Point, one of the outstanding tracks on the 1989 album Technique.

The Junior Dub is more than nine minutes in length and was surely played in the clubs of Ibiza and the likes back in the day.

Selfish did very well, in the circumstances, to reach #46 in the singles chart.

The album failed to chart.

JC

THE NEW ORDER SPIN-OFFS

neworder1989

The period after the release of Technique in 1989  was a strange time for New OrderFactory Records and the Hacienda had major financial problems that unsettled the band.  Barney was enjoying himself far more alongside Johnny Marr in Electronic, while Hooky was living his dreams of all-out leather-clad rock-star in Revenge.  Gillian & Steven would even go onto record stuff on  their own as the tongue-in cheek named The Other Two.

Some of the results of the spin-off projects would not have been out-of-place in any New Order discography. Well, maybe not too much of the Revenge output – but this, taken from the appallingly named Gun World Porn EP was better than OK.

mp3 : Revenge – Cloud Nine

I know from reading other blogs over the years that Electronic has long divided fans of New Order and The Smiths alike.  For what it’s worth, I thought the early singles and 1st album were magnificent and that some of the later stuff was more than reasonable, if a bit patchy.  Electronic might not have toured very much, but I’m happy to say that I did get to see them at the Glasgow Barrowlands in late 1991 and it is a concert that remains a very happy memory. To be able to watch two of my favourite musicians perform on stage together at close quarters was a real treat. I also think that Johnny’s influence led to Barney becoming a more outgoing performer in the 90s with New Order…..but then again, other influences (ahem) may have also played a part.

A particular favourite track of mine is an instrumental which in places reminds me of the Low Life era and also makes me wonder just what direction Johnny would have tried to taken his original band had they either not split up or indeed Morrissey had come crawling back asking them to reform (which wasn’t entirely out of the question on the early 90s)/  I don’t think however, that Morrissey would have come up with any decent lyrics for the funk/disco style his former best pal was turning out.

mp3 : Electronic – Freewill

But of all the records the band members released in other guises, there is  one almost flawless piece of electronic pop that should have been snapped up by all New Order fans:-

mp3 : The Other Two – Tasty Fish (12″)

Sadly, this stalled at #41 in the UK charts and denied them what would I’m sure would have been a great appearance on Top of The Pops.

Enjoy