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Music

The night that Joy Division opened for The Cure

In the late 1970s, the punk scene exploded into mainstream consciousness with the aggressive sound of the Sex Pistols, but it seemed to die just two years later when the band broke up amid a ball of fury. From these ashes sprung the more beautiful and finely groomed phoenix of post-punk. This era and label seemed to be assigned to nearly every rock band that made the scene in the late ‘70s. Many of the bands came from London, the bubbling centre of the British creative broth, but up north, something particularly interesting was emerging from Tony Wilson’s Factory Records.

Joy Division had started to make a name for themselves in September 1978, a time when they made their television debut performing ‘Shadowplay’ on “What’s On”, a feature of the regional Manchester television program Granada Reports. This was followed in June 1979 with the release of their seminal debut album, Unknown Pleasures, which pushed the band toward national acclaim.

It was around this time that The Cure’s frontman, Robert Smith, had first heard of the Manchester group, and he seemed to be rather fond of them. In an early 2010s interview, Smith remembered: “In 1980 we did a thing in London at the Marquee Club…we picked the four bands we wanted to play with us, and Joy Division were one of those bands…I heard [songs from] Unknown Pleasures on the radio on John Peel, and they were just fantastic.”

On March 4th, 1979, The Cure had approached Joy Division to open for them during a series of Sunday gigs at The Marquee Club in London. The setlist for Joy Division would mainly include tracks from Unknown Pleasures such as ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Shadowplay’ but also included a few of their older songs like ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Ice Age’. The Cure’s headline set for the evening was also mainly constructed from their debut album Three Imaginary Boys but also included their new hit singles ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Killing an Arab’.

Only a year would pass before Ian Curtis’ tragic suicide on May 18th, 1980, and the release of Joy Division’s second and final studio album Closer would follow exactly two months later on July 18th. Robert Smith has been vocal about his adoration for the music of Joy Division in the years following Curtis’ death and once cited ‘The Eternal’ from Closer as his favourite Joy Division song.

Around six months after the release of Closer on October 17th, 1980, Smith dedicated his song ‘The Holy Hour’ to Curtis’ memory during a concert in Amsterdam. This song was to be the first track on The Cure’s 1981 album Faith. Also featuring on Faith is the lead single ‘Primary’ which has been rumoured to have also been dedicated to Curtis around the time. This suggests that the haunting ‘funeral’ theme of the album could be linked to Curtis’ death.

Smith’s love for Joy Division’s flagship single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ has also been no secret over the years. The Cure have included a cover of the track on a number of occasions on and off stage. One such occasion can be revisited in the rare and intimate video below where the band play an instrumental cover of the track during a practice session.

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