June 3, 2010

Fac 251
live in Manchester

There’s some bass instinct going on in the house.
Two of Manchester’s most iconic musicians are driving their new project to an atmospheric, powerful climax. The perpetually gruff yet good natured He-Viking of Lord Hook and the permo cheeky, loveable Mani are creating something quiet special here and on this their first mini tour are creating quite a stir with their latest project, Freebass.
The songs a mange to reference their pedigree whistle pushing forwards. There is that brooding northern dark psychedelia meshed in with the effortless guitar pop shakedowns.There is also that twist if the twin bass assault and a welcome celebration of the 4 string.

Anyone who grew up in punk will know that the bass guitar is the king of instruments. Infact nearly everyone I know who grew up in punk learned to play bass. Albeit a one string bass technique that Peter Hook has turned into an art form!
There was a surfeit of great bass players in the late seventies from the iconic Simonon and Sid vicious schools to the bass heavy rumble of Jah Wobble to the greatest bass player of all time JJ Burnell.
This is worth considering when you watch Freebass, the band formed by Peter Hook with Mani from the Stone Roses and Andy Rourke from the Smiths. That’s a lot of bass players to have in any band and you wonder how all that low frequency is going to fit.
We may never find out. Andy Rourke is not here tonight but there is more than enough bass action to make up for it. Hooky, of course, takes the lead with his distinctive bass sound copyrighted through years of New Order still sounding perfectly crisp- those laconic, melancholic lines still cut to the soul whilst Mani, as ever, the cool as fuck ragamuffin provides that sturdy funky bass end that he made his own since the prime days of the Stone Roses through Primal Scream.
The overall effect is kinda like early New Order dashed with a flavour of the moody better end of early Goth that Hooky has always, cooly, been so fond of. I can hear some of the magnificence of the very early Southern Death Cult in there and some pure Manc classic pop, the Haven boys who have been bolted onto the band, provide the youthful intent and glorious soaring ovals and the whole experiment is very successful.
It’s easy to rest on yer laurels in rock n roll and the prime participants are out playing their back catalogue at other shows so its cool to see them trying something new.
Both bass players have earned the reputation by re inventing the instrument, they both sound great in Freebass but there are also couched in great new songs.
That’s Freebass can still sound as invigorating, energetic and inventive as this is a testament to their hunger and imagination.

Larry Cassidy/Section 25 RIP

February 27, 2010

Larry Cassidy/Section 25 RIP

In another tragic twist in the Factory records story, that has seen so many of its prime movers meet relatively youthful demises, it was sad to hear of the passing of Larry Cassidy- the frontman of Section 25.

I had known Larry on and off for 32 years since the days when we were fumbling around in the Blackpool punk and post punk scenes and Section 25 (named after the late Fes Parker- another Blackpool legend- when Fes had been sectioned because of mental illness) were the key band in town. They were organised and had invented their own sound- a deceptively doomy, powerful, stripped down, bass driven, dissonant, post punk that combined the nihilism of the times with Larry’s art school cool.

Section 25 were leagues ahead of everyone else in Blackpool (and an unacknowledged frontrunner in post punk) when the energy of punk was being channelled into new musical forms. Not only could they play but they had somehow invented their own sound- that strident bass driven, dramatic, moodiness that was perfectly captured on their Martin Hannet produced debut LP for Factory records ‘Always Now’. The band’s sound perfectly suited the Hannett sense of space and they were one of his favourite bands. It also came packaged in a brilliant sleeve from Peter Saville- arguably one of his best from the period- a stark black and yellow affair with a psychedelic interior which somehow mirrored the music with its stark exterior – a fold-out cover that resembled a match-book. and tripped out marble interior. It was rumoured to be the most expensive sleeve of the times.

The melancholic, powerful sound was too easily mixed up with Joy Division and whilst Ian Curtis was a big fan of the band and co –produced their first single “Girls Don’t Count”, in  1980 at Rochdale’s legendary Suite 16/Cargo studios Section 25 very much had their own sound. That was the problem with being on Factory- on one hand they got some sort of cult recognition on the other they were swamped by the success the JD’s which may have contributed to their first split in the early eighties after the release of their second album, ‘the Key Of Dreams’.

Formed in November 1977 by the two Cassidy brothers when Larry retuned from art school in London with his head fired by the possibilities of the early punk scene, their early gigs round Blackpool were stunning in their intensity. Larry and his brother Vin were a perfect rhythm section- Vin laying down the disco punk beats and Larry with those deceptively simple bass line and howling yelping vocals whilst Paul Wiggin layered up a wall of sound on his guitar- they were one of the best post punk bands but were sneered at by the press for some reason but the people who understood the post punk period knew that this was a great band.

I always remember Larry’s red and black striped bass and his charismatic stage presence- looking like a freaky art school teacher with issues- he was a good few years older than us and must have rightly thought we were all annoying scampering brats but he always shared his rehearsal space and would moodily pass on tips on how to be in band properly to us naïve waifs.

The Membranes eventually moved into Section 25’s Singleton Street rehearsal space- a huge echoey room that created the huge sound that we would utilise in our ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape recorder’ period.

In the eighties they reinvented themselves as moody techno with their song ‘Looking from A Hilltop’, produced by Barney from New Order being one of the best unrecognised songs from the era. It’s a fantastic song- a dark lament that you could dance to, sung by Larry’s late wife Jenny- it’s better than anything New Order ever did- and that’s saying something and was great precursor to their third album, ‘From the Hip’.

In 1984. The group fell apart leaving Larry and Jenny to compete their fourth album in 1988- ‘Love And Hate’ before they knocked it on the head for a couple of years a planned reunion was ended by the death of Jenny in 2004 before the band emerged again for gigs in 2007.

New Order’s Hooky himself (and also the great Jon Savage) recognised the genius of Section 25 and was always quick to big them up in interviews and always claimed they were one of the few bands to make money for Factory. He liked them so much that he even played bass for them on tour last year- I saw the show in Rochdale when we were putting the blue plaque up for Suite 16 studios- it was a great gig with Larry singing the words off a music stand- as eccentric and charismatic as ever and looking wizened but with a far more jolly demeanour than thirty years ago. We hung out and laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. I had bumped into him on a regular basis in the last few years- sometimes at sad occasions like Fes Parker’s funeral, sometimes at some Factory related shindig in Manchester- the last time I saw him was at a gallery launch in Manchester a few weeks ago where he looked perky and mischievous. It was always great to see him and I will miss his occasional presence.

Section 25’s records stand the test of time and they deserve to be re-appraised- please don’t put them down as JD copyists because they were anything but. They captured the darkness of the period and were psychedelic renegades with freaky music that they somehow shoe horned into a tough disco punk of their own- they were making this sound before Joy Division appeared and I know that because they were doing it on our local Blackpool circuit.

Another great lost genius- maybe Larry Cassidy’s sad death will wake everyone up to how great his band was.

Larry RIP.

Joy Division

October 29, 2009

This is a feature I did for the Sunday Times in 2007




Joy Division



When Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis hung himself on the night of May 18th 1980 few would have thought that nearly 30 years later his life would be getting made into a major feature film.

Released next month, ‘Control’ arrives with a whole host of critical plaudits. Directed by legendary rock photographer Anton Corbijn It was the most raved about film at Cannes film festival and looks set to be one of the classic rock n roll films. All the more remarkable because of the cult nature of its subject matter. Brilliantly filmed in black and white it is highly evocative of a very different era and captures the times perfectly and also  documents the short and tragic life of Curtis with some brilliant acting.

His band had released a critically acclaimed debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ on the late Tony Wilson’s Factory label and were on the verge of a breakthrough. The press and the band’s fiercely committed fanbase were enthralled by the group’s intense music and Ian Curtis’s deep, baritone voice and darkly romantic lyrics.

The Manchester based band came out of the ruins of punk and created a sound that was a key influence on post punk and Goth as well as setting the foundations for the whole Manchester scene before influencing every band from U2 to Radiohead from Emo to modern day indie. Its an influence that has echoed throughout the decades making them one of the most important bands of all time and a byword for any darkly mysterious music that dares to go deep into the heart of darkness.

After Ian Curtis died the band finally got their first hit single with ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’ and the second album, ‘Closer’ went top ten. They regrouped as New Order becoming one of the biggest UK bands of the next couple of decades whilst a legend that has been built up around their sensitive late front man.

Band mate and formidable bass player Peter Hook remembers the first time he and childhood buddy and guitarist Bernard Sumner first saw Ian Curtis.

‘It was at the Sex Pistols concert in Manchester in 1976. You couldn’t miss him. He had ‘Hate’ written on his back in big white letters.  You’d go over and say ‘hello’ to anyone because you had something in common with them- like having spiked hair and pants all ripped up. It was quite easy to strike up friendships at the time.‘

Peter Hook remembers a pleasant if intensely charismatic young man.

‘He was much more educated and middle class than we were, we were more rough and ready, more working class. Ian was more shy and quiet but he could be as wild as anybody especially when he had had a drink.

He was quiet and he was shy but when he would go on stage and go like the bleeding clappers! Which was shocking and inspiring at the same time.’

The band they formed, initially called Warsaw, were a rudimentary punk band but with a more somber twist. By the time they had changed their name to Joy Division people on the scene had started to take notice like the late Tony Wilson.

‘The first time I ever saw him he came up to me at Rafters and said ‘fuck you. You’re the bastard off the TV, you cunt.’ I asked him why he said that and he said it because I had never put them on the telly. He was really nasty, really confrontational. And this was when they were a completely unknown band. It worked. I put them on pretty soon afterwards.  I never saw him like that again in the 3/4 years that I knew him, he was this thoughtful schoolboy, an emotionally deep thoughtful schoolboy.’

Signed to Tony’s Manchester based label Factory in 1978 the band got critical acclaim as their music quickly developed. They started playing nationally and Ian Curtis began to show signs of a deeper illness with epileptic fits.

Peter Hook details the band’s confusion.

‘He was ill quite quickly from when we started and ill a lot. He was his own worst enemy, how can you tell the lead singer of a shit hot band to go to bed early and not to drink? As soon as the doctors told him to take it easy he rebelled against it – the more we told him the more he went for it and the more he turned into Iggy Pop on stage! His idol was Iggy Pop but Iggy was not epileptic! If we knew then what we knew know it would be so different but unfortunately we didn’t. ‘

There was one incident that Hooky remembers vividly.

“On the first national tour that we did supporting the Buzzcocks Ian had the longest fit. He was fitting for an hour and half- eventually we had to take him to hospital. We had to sit on him first. It was unbelievable, I was thinking, ‘Christ! He’s not coming out of this one’. Our roadie went and hid in the cupboard, he said ‘I’m not coming out he’s possessed by the devil that bastard.’ (laughs).

Ian was really shaking. It was frightening you’d think ‘shit, is it worth it’. But he wouldn’t let you stop. I think he thought what we had achieved was so huge to us at our time in life that if he stopped or let it go that it might never come back. He didn’t want to let everyone else down’

Bernard Sumner wistfully remembers his band mates descent into a very dark place.

‘The first time we realised that there was something a bit up was when he turned up at rehearsals covered in knife marks where he had slashed himself.  He had woken up and didn’t know what had happened. He showed us his chest with horizontal knife marks. We were going what the fucking hell have you done.’

There were some moments of intensity on stage as well.

‘He used to get pretty carried away onstage, pretty kinetic. At Rafters he started ripping the stage apart, ripping the floorboards and throwing them at the audience. I did think that was pretty unusual! People threw bottles back, which smashed onstage, and he dived in rolling around- kinda like Iggy Pop. ‘

Ian’s bouts of intensity contrasted sharply with his normal demeanour, as Bernard remembers.

‘He was the most polite person. Very, very interesting to talk to.  Very opinionated but not in a negative way. Not judgemental.

He was quite intellectual. He read William Burroughs and Nietzsche. Me and Hooky didn’t know what the fuck he was going on about half the time!

Just going by his lyrics Ian obviously had issues but to be honest with you we never really listened to his lyrics till he died.’

The band were recognised by the music press and growing fan base as the most important band of their era. Their serious music matched the mood of the post punk times. They were quickly seen as the escape route for punk and the future of rock.

At the same time the troubled singer’s life was fast getting complicated. The fits were getting worse, his was unsure of where to go with his music and his affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honore was causing the already married singer all sorts of guilt.

Time was quickly running out for the singer. His life was in crisis.

On the last night of his life ian Curtis was in turmoil. Before he hung himself there was a long phone call to the avante garde frontman of Throbbing Gritsle, Genesis P. Orridge. The pair of them had struck up a friendship in the past couple of years and there was talk of doing a project together.

‘I spoke to Ian on the phone that last night. He was singing ‘a song of mine about suicide called ‘Weeping’ over the phone. The tone of his voice was haunting. It was awful. He talked. He sounded anguished, frustrated and very depressed, a feeling that events were slipping out of control, I could just feel it straight away having been there myself. He didn’t say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ but it felt wrong. I tried to get in touch with people but technology was much more primitive then. I was calling everyone in Manchester desperately to go round and try and stop Ian but the people I was calling were not there, I was always angry that I could not get through.’

A couple of hours later Ian Curtis hung himself.

The underground music scene was shattered. The band was on the cusp of a breakthrough but Ian Curtis’ life had become too complicated.

Nearly three decades later this dark tale of a brilliant talent is about to be played out in cinemas across the country in one of the best rock n roll films ever made.

It’s a fitting epitaph to a brilliant and short career.





%d bloggers like this: