(Credit: Kevin Cummins)

How Joy Division pranked Buzzcocks and took it too far

Part of the beauty of the British punk scene in the late seventies was how unfettered it was by glitz and glam. Aside from a few notable exceptions, the scene belonged to honest working-class scallies out for kicks and not a whole lot more. This unpretentious milieu made for some cracking tour tales and when the Buzzcocks shared a stage with Joy Division it made for one the finest. 

“A lot of japes took place between us and the Buzzcocks,” Peter Hook writes in the book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, “In the run-up to the last gig of the tour, which was at the Rainbow at Finsbury Park, their guys were telling us that they were going to spring something really big on us.”

This was a fatal flaw on the part of the Buzzcocks. They had defied the point of a prank not only by pre-empting their strike but essentially inviting a counter-attack and boy oh boy did Joy Division seize upon this drop of the ball and counter-attack like the lovechild of Marcelo Bielsa and Mike Tyson. 

“[Buzzcocks] were messing with the kings and straight away we formed a council of war,” Hook continues. “What we came up with involved the purchase of twelve live mice – we wanted rats but we couldn’t afford them – ten pounds of live maggots, ten cans of shaving foam and five dozen eggs.” The war council would have gone further Hook admits, but budgeting issues forced them to draw the lines, “A fortune was spent on this jape, but it was going to be worth it.”

Meanwhile, the unsuspecting Buzzcocks were idly lounging with their modest prank in mind, entirely unprepared for the blitzkrieg that was about to besiege them from some of the most misunderstood working-class fellows in music. 

Like some sort of bass playing Napoleon, Hook’s plan was to deploy the maggots mid-performance to lure the Buzzcocks into thinking that was the only horrific sham they had to offer, all the while, the mice would be planted inside their bus and the windows would be covered with shaving foam. Hook envisioned that they’d “deal with the shaving foam, board the bus, see the mice, run screaming off the bus and we’d egg them as they came out. Brilliant.”

The flipside of the coin was that Joy Division still had to nervously await the prank that awaited them. “What horrors lay in store for us? They put talcum powder under the snare. That was it. That was the full extent of their world-beating jape.” Half the band didn’t even know that they had been pranked. Stephen Morris simply hit his snare and got showered in a small cloud of soothing balm. 

The fact that their response would now look as disproportionate as touting hay fever as a pre-emptive defence for deforestation wasn’t lost on Joy Division, but they had already cashed out at the pet store, thus they went full steam ahead with their retaliation to Talcumgate. Joy Division deployed their maggot forces which slowly began to encroach on the band and crew midway through ‘Boredom’. Joy Division watched the mayhem unfold from a safe distance as “a tide of maggots made their way from the flight cases up the backs of the crew, then into their hair.” 

While the crew were trying to deal with a besiegement of maggots in the least disruptive way possible, The next wave of maggots now worked their way up the backdrop and were falling on the Buzzcocks’ drummer, John Maher.” Maher courageous finished ‘Boredom’ in a shower of maggots and concluded the set before furiously making his way off stage. Little did they know that the worst was still very much to come.

One end of tour party later that evening, Joy Division snook out of the pub and awaited the second serving of carnage with their eggs at the ready. Buzzcocks and their girlfriends emerged and angrily removed the shaving foam. They entered the mice laden bus and as giddy tensions were reaching a crescendo among Joy Division who were hysterically watching on, waiting to unleash a barrage of eggs when they all poured off the bus screaming… they simply drove off. The rest of the tale belongs in myth and legend with the fate of a rodent beleaguered tour bus unknown to Hook.

Aside from a pithy tale, this is also a pertinent reminder of how the mystique that surrounds Joy Division amid the (post) punk scene is a retrospective falsehood. In truth, they were one of the most working-class acts in music, full of the joie de vivre of creativity and an exuberance that shines through their music even at its shrouded darkest.

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