Married at 19, the brightest star of the post-punk scene at 22, dead at 23. The life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis is the stuff of rock mythology – and a much talked-about new film. Here, his former band-mates talk exclusively to Jon Savage about their troubled singer’s last days
Saturday 27 October 1979. I’m up in the gods of the Ardwick Apollo, a huge 1930s cinema situated in the middle of slum clearance. The Buzzcocks’ manager Richard Boon is fiddling with the tripod of a primitive Beta video camera as he attempts to get the stage area into focus. His primary purpose is to film his group, who are headlining tonight, but he inadvertently ends up capturing a piece of history.
Framed within the cinema’s huge proscenium arch, Joy Division walk out and launch into “Dead Souls”. The peculiarity of this song is that it has a long, rolling introduction that allows the group to orient themselves in their environment for the night. Like many of the venues on this 24-date national tour, the Apollo is larger than the clubs that have been the group’s environment to date. But they are not intimidated. They inhabit the space.
Then he begins to sing: “Someone take these dreams away/ That point me to another day”. The lyric to “Dead Souls” is an unsettling evocation of psychic possession and the presence of past lives. The chorus is an anguished chant: “They keep calling me”. From today’s materialistic cultural perspective, this might excite derision, but like many others in that hall, I’m totally gripped. Continue reading