When discussing significant icons of contemporary music, Bernard Sumner is a name that often flies under the radar – but that is perhaps a place he’d rather be. A founding member of both Joy Division and New Order, Sumner has successfully melding core aspects of post-punk, synth-pop and rock music while dragging the Manchester music scene through a significant transitional period.
While Sumner has undoubtedly pioneered a new sound of alternative music, he has done so by incorporating a number of artists that inspired his outlook. To drill down more specifically on those influences, we look back to a past SPIN feature to uncover the specific artists to shape his own vision. In the interview, Sumner picked the albums which influenced him as a musician and a person.
The albums picked are not only a depiction of the vibrant Manchester music scene that Sumner, along with childhood friend and bassist Peter Hook, were determined to be a part of, they also show an extremely cultured taste and the myriad of influences that would see ‘Barney’ be a part of two of Britain’s most beloved acts.
In the feature, ‘The Records That Made Me’, Sumner is tasked with picking the albums which influenced or at least soundtracked the first fleeting moments of his musical development in the greying suburbs of Salford. In the collection are vibrant moments of his future, all laid out in sonic detail. From the thematic nuance of Morricone’s A Fistful of Dollars to the dark intensity of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, the writing was clearly on the wall before Kraftwerk’s subversive sound.
The selection also comes with some warming quotes about how he listened to the records or picked them up in the first place. With so much of Sumner’s journey linked with Ian Curtis and his subsequent suicide, these connective moments of friendship feel extra poignant. “I picked the records I got before I became a musician because I listened to music in a completely different way then,” he says. “We just spent seven months making a new record [Waiting for the Sirens’ Call], and the last thing you want to do is hear music when you come out of the studio after a 14-hour day.”
First up is a nod to his early days in music, professing that he “wasn’t interested in music” when he was younger, Sumner reveals his first single was T.Rex’s ‘Ride A White Swan’. “But I got fed up with having to get up and put it back on. I thought, ‘This is shit, I need to buy an album,’ but I didn’t know where to start.” Rather than go to the latest chart-toppers, Sumner picked the Fistful of Dollars soundtrack, “Then I saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and I was blown away by Morricone’s music.”
Doubtless in an influence on anyone growing up in the sixties and seventies, Sumner doffs his cap to the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix by picking the seminal record Electric Ladyland. Sumner remembers that after being suggested the artist, “I went out and bought it, played it, just a lot of noise, played it, just a lot of noise — and then all of the sudden my musical horizon went up a notch, and I really got into Hendrix. It was really weird, like a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.”
Another sixties and seventies stalwart, The Rolling Stones, can also be classed as having a huge influence on the New Order man, though he’ll admit it’s mainly the early period of their career. “I love the Stones; they’ve got this kind of raw, nasty, unpolished edge. For a while they got sort of countrified and a bit American sounding, and I didn’t like that period, but the early, English-sounding stuff, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘2,000 Light Years From Home,’ I really like.”
It perhaps pushed Sumner towards a certain kind of decadence, but teenage years will always do that. Luckily as Sumner grew up, he had the gender-bending sounds of Roxy Music for company, picking their album Stranded as one of the most influential of his life, “I got a bit older and started going to nightclubs. One club in Manchester was called Pips, and they used to play stuff like Roxy Music. At the time it sounded like nothing you had ever heard before. It had a really fresh sound.”
The prior year, David Bowie had worked with Lou Reed on his own seminal solo album as they released Transformer and sent shockwaves all the way to Salford and back. “Another album they played at Pips was Lou Reed’s Transformer, which has got a great track on it called ‘Vicious.’ It was considered a dance track in those days. I loved the riff in it — dead simple. They’re the hardest songs to write, simple songs. You’ve got to get yourself in the right frame of mind in order to write them.”
Sumner found himself in an enviable position in school when he was allowed to play records on a player during his lunch break. One album brought in was Led Zeppelin IV: “All the kids liked it immediately,” remembers Sumner of the record. “It’s a corny thing to say, but ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is a beautiful piece of music.”
With his next selection of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, Sumner opens up about cementing his friendship with Ian Curtis: “I knew Ian Curtis from going to punk gigs. So when we were forming Joy Division, I just gave him the job on the phone. I didn’t even listen to him [sing]. When we went around to his house to pick up his PA system, he had ‘China Girl’ playing. I said, ‘Who’s this track by?’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s Iggy.’ I was like, ‘This is fantastic. Bring it to rehearsal tonight, we’ll try and rip it up.’ So that’s how I got to know Ian.”
Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express is one of the most poignant albums of Sumner’s life, as he remembers: “Ian Curtis also turned me on to this — it was revolutionary. We had a record player in the rehearsal room, and people would bring stuff in. We used to play Trans-Europe Express before we went onstage.”
The final selection is another film soundtrack, this time from the modern master Hans Zimmer and his score for The Thin Red Line. “When we owned a nightclub, the Hacienda, we’d just be out all night and then be a mess on Sunday. And after a few years of it and a lot of drug-taking, I just got sick of it,” shares Sumner.
“So I bought a boat, and now I go sailing every weekend. The biggest place to listen to music is on the boat. And my favourite things to listen to are film soundtracks. They’re the opposite of what I make — they’re chilled out.”
See the full list of albums, below.
Bernard Sumner’s favourite albums
- Ennio Morricone – A Fistful of Dollars: Original Soundtrack
- Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
- The Rolling Stones – Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits, Vol. 2)
- Roxy Music – Stranded
- Lou Reed – Transformer
- Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
- Iggy Pop – The Idiot
- Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
- Hans Zimmer – The Thin Red Line: Original Soundtrack
Listen to the full playlist of the albums that changed Bernard Sumner’s life, below.