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Music

Listen to Ian Curtis' favourite reggae song, 'Turn The Heater On'

When you think of the Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, you usually picture the image of an internally embattled post-punk hero who gave rock music some of its finest moments, helping to bring music into an exciting new future. Following along these lines, you wouldn’t consider him to be a fan of the sunny sounds of reggae, but he was. It turns out that he loved the genre a lot, and his favourite reggae song was Keith Hudson’s classic ‘Turn The Heater On’.

Hudson was a pioneer of the dub and reggae movement, and when he died in 1984, the world was left in mourning as we lost one of the all-time greats. The Kingston, Jamaica native was well-known for his decency, and stories abound about his altruism, helping his peers to get ahead personally and musically. His 1974 record Pick A Dub is hailed as one of the cornerstones of the dub genre and continues to be one of the most influential bodies of work of the era. 

However, Ian Curtis’ favourite Hudson cut was not from Pick A Dub but from the 1975 LP, Torch of Freedom. The languid piece is a lesser-known song of Hudson’s, and this is indicative of the late Joy Division frontman’s position as a real scholar of the genre. Notably, New Order, the band Joy Division became after Curtis’ suicide, covered the song during a Peel Session, only two years after his death. 

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In her revealing memoir, Touching From a Distance, Curtis’ widow, Deborah, explained that Curtis first got into reggae in 1975 after the newly married couple moved into his grandparents’ home in Hulme, Manchester.  She said: “Ian always had an interest in reggae music; Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals already figured in his diverse record collection. Moving into that area of Manchester gave Ian the opportunity to throw himself into the local culture. He began to spend much of his time in a record shop in Moss Side shopping centre, listening to different reggae bands – although, as our cheap record player was packed away ready to move to the new house, he spent very little money there.”

She continued: “Once again, Ian became obsessed with a lifestyle different from his own. He began to infiltrate the places where white people didn’t usually go. He took me to the Mayflower in Belle Vue, which at best was a seedy version of the Cotton Club and at worst a place where they held tawdry wrestling matches.”

Ironically, after the couple moved out of Hulme and into their own home in Chadderton, Deborah swiftly found that turning the heater on was something that her husband was adverse to. 

Of her late husband’s stingy nature, Deborah recalled: “It didn’t take long to realize that married life was not going to be as comfortable as we had expected. We had very little spare cash for socialising and trying to keep the heating bills to a minimum meant that only the living room was warm. There were storage heaters in the house, but Ian refused to use them; in fact he disconnected one of them and lugged it into the backyard. The only thing he didn’t economise on were cigarettes.”

Given that his music in Joy Division sounds like a hit of ice-cold air on the top of Saddleworth Moor, there’s no real surprise that Ian Curtis wasn’t a fan of keeping the heating on, for financial reasons or not. Instead, he chose to keep himself warm by immersing himself in the dulcet tones of reggae and smoking cigarettes, something that many people consumed by the inertia of ’70s Britain did.

Listen to ‘Turn The Heater On’ below.