#lpgroup: Unknown Pleasures – some background

I’ll get onto the end of year lists malarkey soon, but before that, I thought I’d post about a rather jolly diversion I’ve got involved with called #lpgroup.

#lpgroup is a catchy little idea from my friend Martin, dreamt up with the help of Twitter. The basic premise is that a group of like-minded souls will all listen to an agreed classic and chat about it simultaneously via Twitter.

Each of us suggested two records for a shortlist (“The Band” and “Underwater Moonlight”, were my unsuccessful nominations) and a not-so-close vote turned up Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The date and time are Sunday Jan 2nd, 9:00. (BTW, anyone is welcome, the more the merrier, search #lpgroup on Twitter and join in the fun.)

Unknown Pleasures is a record I felt I knew well at one stage, but have not listened to it for a very long time (probably 25 years!), and I’ve deliberately avoided doing any catch-up listening. I thought a bit of context might be useful, though, so I’ve put together a few pointers to remind myself where it all came from.

It’s turned out to be much longer than I meant and is mostly Wikipedia-style research – I’m not pretending it’s definitive.

Apologies if this is

a) too long

b) bleedin’ obvious

or c) wrong – I’d be grateful for any extra info or corrections to any glaring errors…

Unknown Pleasures

  • Joy Division had been formed in 1976 in the aftermath of the Sex Pistols’ appearance at the Manchester Free Trade hall, and were initially known as Warsaw. As such they had a pretty standard punk sound, which was captured on an initial record by Warsaw but was scrapped before release. Unknown Pleasures was the first LP released by Joy Division, after the “Ideal for Living” EP.
  • Produced by Martin Hannett, the record was considered by the band to be not representative of their on-stage still punky sound – they were allegedly quite unhappy at first – but his production on it is now considered to have ushered in a whole new style and sound. His approach emphasised space in the songs and made the most of it with studio effects, unfamiliar to the band at the time. Hannett himself said “There was a lot of space in [Joy Division’s] sound. They were a gift to a producer, because they didn’t have a clue. They didn’t argue.”
  • Recorded in April ’79, it was released in June on Tony Wilson’s Manchester based Factory Records, and played a large part in the establishment of Factory as a force in the coming years.
  • The distinctive cover was designed by Peter Saville, based on an image
    picked up by drummer Stephen Morris of the first radio pulsar ever discovered. (It was briefly considered at the time to suggest the existence of extra-terrestrial life).
  • The record originally had no track listing, and the labels referred to an “outside” (side 1) and an “inside”(side 2).
  • All the songs were written by the now-iconic troubled Ian Curtis.Curtis was the singer and occasional guitarist, who suffered from well-documented bouts of depression and had just been diagnosed as suffering from epilepsy. He had experienced fits on stage and had developed a distinctive jerking dance style which seemed to exploit this, but which he explained differently – “Instead of just singing about something you could show it as well, put it over in the way that it is, if you were totally involved in what you were doing”.
  • Curtis’ health was a source of concern for the band and gigs were cancelled, tours delayed and occasionally alternative singers used on stage.
  • As well as depression and deep shame about his condition, Curtis was also struggling with his failing marriage to Deborah, who had recently filed for divorce after his affair with a Belgian journalist. The couple’s daughter, Natalie, had been born as Unknown Pleasures was being recorded.
  • The original “joy division” was a term for the women used as sex slaves in the German concentration camps of Europe, during WW2. The band were often criticized for an apparent flirtation with Nazi imagery in their releases, although I don’t remember there being any direct suggestions of the band having any racist sympathies.
  • In May ’79, Mrs Thatcher came to power, leading the Conservatives to victory at the general election after five years of Labour government. Jim Callaghan, the previous Prime Minster had been toppled after he lost a vote of no-confidence by one vote.
  • The last months of the beleaguered Labour government were embodied by the so-called Winter of Discontent, with damaging strikes by British Rail and public service workers. Trains ground to a halt, rubbish lay in the streets and schools were closed.
  • In the news, the IRA murdered the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, in March and the INLA killed Conservative MP Airey Neave with a bomb in the House of Commons car park. Later in the year, the IRA went on to murder a member of the Royal Family, Lord Mountbatten, in a bomb blast on his yacht.
  • In April and September, the 11th and 12th victims of the Yorkshire Ripper were discovered.
  • Also in April, Blair Peach an Anti Nazi League demonstrator died in the back of a Special Patrol Group van in Southall at a demonstration against the National Front.
  • In February, Sid Vicious was found dead in an apartment in New York. He had died of a heroin overdose and had been released from prison on bail, having been charged with death of his then girlfriend Nancy Spungeon.
  • The Football League had just been won by Liverpool, with Nottingham Forest in second and Ron Atkinson’s WBA in third. Birmingham and Chelsea were relegated. Other Division One teams included Leeds, QPR, Bristol City and both East Anglian teams.
  • In May Arsenal beat Manchester United in the “Six-Minute Cup Final”. Forest won the European Cup, with a goal from the Trevor Francis, the man Brian Clough had recently made Britain’s first Million Pound Footballer.
  • When Unknown Pleasures was released, Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” had just replaced “Sunday Girl” by Blondie at Number One in the charts. Other Number Ones included “Are Friends Electric?”; “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Bright Eyes”.
  • Amongst the top selling albums of the year were Breakfast in America (Supertramp), Parallel Lines (Blondie) and War of the Worlds (Jeff Wayne).
  • The Eurovision Song Contest was won by Israel, with “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey. Black Lace came 7th for the UK.
  • On TV, people were watching Blankety Blank; Antiques Roadshow and Roots for the first time. Established classics included Are You being Served, Last of the Summer Wine and (my favourite) Superstars.
  • People were also watching stuff like this:

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Confusion in her eyes that says it all… « Partly Porpoise
  2. Trackback: Swinging Addis – Seventies Style « Partly Porpoise

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