Shadowplay

Posted on 30th August 2010

At the end of July, Dan and I went up to Macclesfield in Cheshire to see the Unknown Pleasures exhibition. Although the exhibition was billed as the life/work of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, it mostly centres on exhibits that focus on Joy Division. The exhibition itself was in two parts, firstly archive material surrounding Joy Division, then across the hallway, a collection of artwork inspired by Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The archives are fantastic, and include many items fans would have loved to have sat and read through for hours. The one aspect that was a little disappointing was the lack of photographs, particularly gig photos. The ones on show mostly focused on the two gigs. While they were great to see, it would have been wonderful to have had more on display. Though it did make me wonder whether there were any other photographs. In all the years since, I haven't seen that many more.

Ian died on 18th May 1980, and this exhibition, together with the other events that have taken place, such as the workshops, are all to commemorate 30 years since his death. It seems staggering to think it was 30 years ago, and to realise how much it affected me at the age of 14. Joy Division were always local heroes for me, as I was born 8 miles away from Macclesfield in Congleton, and later moved to nearby Holmes Chapel. Growing up in the aftermath of Punk, the new wave sounds that were centred around Manchester was a source of great inspiration for young teenagers. The fact that Joy Division (or at least 2 of them) were local, only added to their appeal.

As I was with Dan, I couldn't attend the Film Festival that was planned in the afternoon & evening, but it would have been interesting to hear from some of the people behind the band, including Stephen Morris. It's one thing to see the films and get a feeling of the events, but hearing the real experiences of the people involved is quite another. Sadly two additional people who helped to carve the history of the band, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, are also no longer with us. I've met both, as well the members of New Order, over the years, and was glad that I was old enough to appreciate those times in the late 70s/early 80s.

After the exhibition Dan & I took in some of the sights of Macclesfield, particularly those relating to Ian and Joy Division. The Exhibition was selling a special map to help guide people to some of the landmarks, which helped to provide a bit more background information, particularly for the rehearsal rooms and gigs they hung out at. The Heritage Centre, also known part of the Silk Museum, is primarily a centre for the town to reflect on it's history of being part of the Silk industry. The Heritage Centre itself used to be an old mill. You can still see evidence of this around the town, and one of the days I may get back again, and photograph some of those sights. However, for this trip we used the map to pinpoint the musical history.

Our first stop was along from The Heritage Centre, towards the town centre, to Duke Street. Krumbles Night Club was the venue of the first Joy Division gig. It has since changed hands several times, and changed names, and I did wonder whether anyone these days still puts on gigs there, as from the outside it just looks like a regular disco. We walked through the arcade of Dukes Court onto the main street. Although there are other haunts the band once took in nearby, we choose to head off to our next destination.

Next we headed to 77 Barton Street. If you've seen the film Control, the exterior shots of the house, are the actual house, as is the Labor Exchange where Ian used to work. It wasn't until I watched Control again recently, that I noticed that they had tried to convey just how close his house was to where he worked. Barely a few minutes door to door walking. That's one of the nice things about being able to come here and see for yourself, you get to see the reality of it, the history of the town. You also get to see the views of The Pennines to the east and north.

I met a guy who had brought his daughter along, as I had done with Dan. It turned out like me he hadn't got to see the band live, though he was 18 when Ian died, I was just 14. We both commented that being 30 years ago, why there wasn't a plaque or something, but I suspect the current owners would rather not have one. I guess they can tolerate fans taking pictures every once in a while, but didn't want to draw too much attention to the house.

We then headed around the corner to the Labour Exhange. Although the building looks to be unchanged, it's no longer a Labour Exchange, and now appears to be a centre to help local businesses. Again if you've seen the film Control, the exterior of the building is used, with the more modern signs replaced with old ones.

Our next location was intended to be the rehearsal rooms the band once used. Unfortunately the location provided on the map is a bit confusing. As such, I think the new school buildings we found next to The Weston pub are more likely to have been the site of the Hall, replacing it in more recent years. We then went to look for the next rehearsal rooms on the map, The Talbot pub. Initially I was looking for a pub, and although we found a couple, they didn't quite fit the location marked in the guide. Pulling over, I read a little more closely and discovered the roundabout we'd kept passing was the original site of the pub. It had been knocked down to make way for one the new roads around the town.

Eventually we headed for the Macclesfield Crematorium. The crematorium itself also has very personal memories for me, as well as being the place where Ian was cremated. My sister Jacqui, as well as Floss, who would have been my Great Aunt had my Nan's brother not died in the war, were both cremated here too. The cemetary and the Garden of Rememberance are both very peaceful places, and even though we saw several fans coming to visit the curbstone, it always felt respectful. It didn't feel sombre either. Those I spoke to had more to say about Ian's life than his death, which is how it should be. I was quite surprised to see most of the fans were actually quite young, most being in their 20s, and two needed their mum and dad to drop them off. It does seem that Joy Division have indeed reached a new audience, one that wasn't even born when Ian died.

On our final journey round the town we took in King's School, where both Ian and Stephen attended, together with The Travellers Rest. The Travellers Rest was another pub that was frequented by music fans and featured gigs. Warsaw asked if they could play here once, but were told they should get a record deal first.

It was a good day out, and nice opportunity to celebrate a life that has touched so many people. Joy Division are one of my most listened to bands over the years, and despite such a small catalogue compared to others, they managed to produce a wealth of great songs. For Ian, Closer was a disaster, and from experience I've seen other bands feel extremely disappointed with the results of a recording immediately after the sessions have finished. However, it's only later that the realisation that you've produced something special becomes apparent.

I've been back to Cheshire regularly since I left, but don't often make it as far as Macclesfield. I'm glad I took Dan with me this time, as aside from giving him a sense of my history, he hopefully has some memories that will bring Joy Division to an even younger audience.

"To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you"

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