As scenes in rock ‘n’ roll biopics often are, the moment Joy Division complete with their frenetic leading man Ian Curtis entered the national consciousness via the television programme Granada Reports, was changed to please the masses.
But while the Curtis’ biopic Control may have switched out the songs to make for a better movie, Joy Division in 1978 were only out to please themselves. Below we’re getting lost in their razor-sharp TV debut.
Joy Division were, and remain, one of the most avant-garde bands England had ever seen at the time and promised a brand new wave of intellectualised punk. A few years on from the ugly swell of prog-rock and pub-rock infecting our eardrums, and only a few months down the road form the gob-soaked furore of the aforementioned genre — Joy Division came into the nation’s television sets like nothing they had ever seen before.
Much of that was down to the foresight of Anthony Wilson, the North’s suavest man. Wilson would go on to be the driving force behind Factory Records (as well as the Hacienda, and countless other projects) but before that, he was a local television presenter. Having come out of Cambridge University with an English degree and a penchant for entertainment, Wilson soon found himself as a leading member of the north-west magazine show known as Granada Reports.
The show had long been a champion of the magazine format and had spent a large amount of its time trying to preserve, and indeed push forward, Manchester’s bustling music scene. Much of it was in a bid to oust the London-types of the BBC from their trendy perch but it was also about championing local talent. The programme had enlisted Tony Wilson to bring that ‘hip’ energy with a new show called So It Goes.
It was here that Curtis and Wilson would first cross paths.
As mentioned by Post-Punk.com, Curtis had once confronted Wilson, calling him a “cunt” for not having Joy Division (who were known as Warsaw, and not by many people, at that time) on the show. It was a show, which although tanked in regards to critics and music writers, did offer the first break to legendary punk acts like Sex Pistols and Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees—providing punk with a proper platform.
Something which wasn’t lost on Wilson “Seeing as how this is the programme which previously brought you first television appearances from everything from the Beatles to the Buzzcocks we do like to keep our hand in and keep you informed of the most interesting new sounds in the north-west. This, Joy Division, is the most interesting new sound we’ve come across in the last six months.
They’re a Manchester band, with the exception of the guitarist who comes from Salford, very important difference, they’re called Joy Division, and this number is ‘Shadowplay’.”
It’s an introduction which hinted that Joy Division’s future was brighter than anybody had ever imagined it would be. After the performance, to compound that fact, Wilson leaves his audience with a somewhat unsettling line: “‘Shadowplay’ by Joy Division, I’d say you’ll hear more of them but I’ve heard that line so often.”
He was right, in some ways, because it had happened so much before, artists left out in the cold for not being quite safe enough. But Wilson did have an ace up his sleeves. He, alongside Rob Gretton and Martin Hannet would go on to manage Joy Division, the subsequent band New Order, and base much of their record label Factory around them.
Joy Division’s first television performance is a sadly poignant and fitting representation of the band. They arrive full of dark confidence and a brooding sense of self. They perform a song that is, in many ways, a deliberately uncomfortable and unashamedly anti-pop song, it offers little or no “rocking” and instead replaces it with a heavy sense of dread. Perfect for the TV.
It’s perhaps why Control couldn’t avoid changing it to the more universally known ‘Transmission’. It’s a powerful performance that ends rather coldly. They depart with their future at their feet with a sad caveat that it will not last.
We should, however, still enjoy this moment as the time that Joy Division were introduced to the nation. They would go on to change the music scene with every output but before that, they would play ‘Shadowplay’ on Tony Wilson’s Granada Reports in 1978.