The night of 2nd May 1980 will be one that Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris will remember for a very long time. It was the last time Joy Division ever performed together before their lead singer Ian Curtis died later that month.
Curtis sadly took his life at the age of 23, 40 years ago this month, just a few hours before the band were meant to be leaving for their first-ever US tour and a shot at the big time. It leaves this, their 1980 performance at Birmingham University, as Joy Division’s last ever performance.
Following Curtis’ death from suicide at his home in Macclesfield, the band were left in disarray. As the initial phases of grief began to lift, the friends were emboldened by Curtis’ own determination to succeed as a group. Sumner, Hook, and Morris would eventually galvanise their grief and vow to play on under a new moniker, New Order. For Ian.
The road had been tough for Curtis. The singer had been diagnosed with epilepsy two years prior but life as part of one of Britain’s most promising artists had taken a toll on the young man. Added to this trouble was Curtis’ fractious romantic relationships, which all seemed to be beginning to overwhelm the singer. Sadly, it all became too much for Ian and he took his own life on May 18th, 1980.
It meant that the US tour would never come to be, Curtis would never get the chance to visit his Mekkah for music, and it would leave their ‘in-between gig’ at High Hall as their final performance together as Joy Division. It was also a notable one for another reason, it would be the first time they debuted their ‘New One’, the track which would bridge the gap between Joy Division and New Order—’Ceremony’.
As the band ripped through their set, they would start to notice that Ian was not coping very well. The singer’s exhaustion was clearly getting the better of him and during their performance of ‘Decades’, he virtually collapsed. Helped off stage by minder Terry Mason, Curtis would return to the stage for the band’s final encore and his last ever performance. Fitting that it should end as it began, with ‘Digital’.
While the recordings of this gig have been released as part of Still the best recordings, we think, are the fan-recorded bootlegs. After all, above all else, Joy Division’s success and influence were born out of a small group of people’s determination to make their own scene in the face of the industry.
It’s only right that these moments remain the clearest depiction of a band who changed the face of music forever. Listen below to Joy Division’s last ever performance as they sing ‘Digital’.
- A Means To An End
- New Dawn Fades
- Twenty Four Hours
- Decades *