The tragic loss of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis was a moment in history which probably rings true louder now than ever before. On this day, 40 years on from Curtis’ tragic death, we thought we’d look back at some of his last moments.
Though Joy Division was heavily cited as one of Britain’s best bands during their short-lived career, over time Curtis and the band’s legendary status has only grown. Since the singer’s suicide in 1980 his, and the band’s mystique and intrigue, grows larger every day. We’re taking a look back at Curtis’ last ever interview before his light and talent were lost forever.
That interview was brought to our attention by post-punk who looked to celebrate Curtis’ birthday with a complete transcript of one of the few surviving interviews with Curtis that exist. The interview, which took place just weeks before the singer killed himself in May 1980, was conducted before Joy Division’s gig at Preston Warehouse.
Curtis is being questioned by a man going by the name of ‘Spyda’ from the Burnley Musician’s Collective. The rare chat, given that Curtis was never particularly forthcoming, comes as part of a BBC Radio Blackburn programme called ‘Spinoff’. We’re quite sure the interview took place before the gig because if you listen closely you can hear the band completing their soundcheck in the background.
Largely considered as the last interview Curtis ever conducted before succumbing to his illness, the interviewer covers a wide and varied amount of topics. On the ‘current state’ of new wave, Curtis promptly replied: “Don’t know. I think it’s, a lot of it tends to have lost its edge really. There’s quite a few new groups that I’ve heard… odd records. Record or have seen maybe such as, eh, I like, I think it’s mostly old Factory groups really, I like the groups on Factory; A Certain Ratio and Section 25.”
Curtis continued: “I tend not to listen. When I’m listening to records, I don’t listen to much new wave stuff, I tend to listen to the stuff I used to listen to a few years back but sort of odd singles. I know somebody who works in a record shop where I live and I’ll go in there and he’ll play me ‘have you heard this single?’ singles by er the group called The Tights, so an obscure thing… and a group called, I think, er Bauhaus, a London group, that’s one single.
He adds: “There’s no one I completely like that I can say: ‘Well I’ve got all this person’s records’ or ‘I think he’s great’ or ‘this group’s records’ it’s just, again, odd things.”
The interviewer continues to ask the traditional questions for a 1980s journalist. One of which is always “will you tour outside of the UK?” to which the Joy Division singer replies, a little churlishly: “We’ve played in Europe already in Holland and Germany and we are going to America. We’re only going for er, I think they wanted us to go for about three months or so [laughs], but we’re only going for about two weeks, three weeks, and Rough Trade will probably be organising that.”
Another (with the benefit of hindsight) saddening moment from the interview comes when ‘Spyda’ asks what the next steps are for Joy Division? “I just want to carry on the way we are, I think. Basically, we want to play and enjoy what we like playing. I think when we stop doing that I think, well, that will be the time to pack it in. That’ll be the end.”
Just weeks later Curtis would take his own life as a result of his severe depression and epilepsy. His suicide came on the eve of Joy Division’s first North American tour and shortly before the release of their latest record Closer. His suicide resulted in the band’s dissolution and the subsequent formation of New Order.
While his loss as an artist, father, husband and friend will be huge for everyone involved, one salvaging note is that his music has inspired so many to find comfort, hope and sometimes the help they need. It’s this message of community and togetherness in the face of ‘weirdness’ which must be the lasting message of Ian and his band.
Listen to Ian Curtis’ last ever interview with BBC Radio Blackburn below.
For anybody who might be struggling to deal with mental health issues, here are some helpline numbers for you to talk to:
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and OCD. Offers a course to help overcome your phobia/OCD. Includes a helpline.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am-10pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)