We’re big fans of Joy Division here at Far Out Magazine but that’s not really a big accolade. A large portion of anybody who has listened to rock music for a period of their lives will have, at the very least, a respect for the band, if not a complete adoration.
We’re very much the latter, so we were thrilled to find this footage, of quite possibly their first live recorded performance of the band at a Bowdon Valley Youth Club, Altrincham in 1979. It’s a time capsule of what made Joy Division so incredibly captivating.
The footage is late-seventies ropey, so do expect the odd glitch here and there but, apart from adding to the texture of the clip, it does show off the band’s pure intensity. Shortly before Joy Division would be rightly recognised as the best band in Britain, they were still touring the toilet circuit and making a splash wherever they went.
Filmed on 14th March, it was another gig on the seemingly never-ending tour that the late Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris undertook to try and make their mark on the music industry—to try and create or at least catch a wave. The gig was a full three months before the band released their seminal record Unknown Pleasures and offers up a candid insight.
As is typical Joy Division, the venue was a scruffy pub in the suburbs of Manchester. Although the band were a mainstay on the gig circuit at this point, especially in the north of England, it would still have provided them with a somewhat hostile crowd that needed winning over. This is where the footage becomes very interesting.
Its capturing of Curtis’ incredible vocals and the band’s pure power offers a glimpse into Joy Division’s first footsteps to stardom and how when provided an unwilling crowd, the band just ploughed through their material like nobody was watching and, in turn, ploughed through the crowd too.
Joy Division had garnered attention from Tony Wilson’s Granada Reports in 1978, marking their first foray on television, this live footage evokes the sincerity of the band’s desire to be not just famous or rich, but icons of rock and roll.
The way in which they believed they would do that was not just through media but through connection to the band’s performance. Since they happened to see the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, the live output was always integral to Joy Division. It was on stage that all of their hard work in the studio could be given license to entrance the audience.
In the footage, Curtis is a natural frontman. Taking cues from his heroes David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Curtis commands every inch of the stage with a sullen yet enigmatic manner that allows him to express the emotion and the electricity of each song while never taking his foot off the gas. He prowls the stage, not offering eye contact to many of the crowd, and delivers his lyrical poetry while the band back him up with their now-iconic punk-noir sound.
Peter Hook’s bass refuses to back down, while Morris’ metronomic style lands every single punch it needs, as Sumner flourishes his aggressive riffs across the audience. It’s a magnificent performance. The footage sees the band perform a couple of their most notable hits, ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Shadowplay’, each played with a fury that shows that before everybody knew Joy Division the band knew themselves pretty damn well.
It’s a truly spellbinding viewing and is well worth your time. Watch the first filmed performance from Joy Division below.