“The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand.”
– Ian Curtis
It was on May 18th thirty years ago that Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, took his own life. It was on the eve of a trip to the States that could have introduced the band to American audiences and brought them closer to the international success they had been working for four years to attain.
In March 1980, the band temporarily re-located to London to begin recording their second album titled ‘Closer’. The band’s popularity was building across the UK, while Ian’s personal life was falling apart. No one in the band even noticed.
The lads decamped to Britannia Rows Studio in Islington for three weeks and, between listening to David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Kraftwerk records, they wrote and recorded ‘Closer’. They were on a 1.50 per day subsistence, shared two flats and recorded most of the album at night. But the band were in great spirits and believed they were on the cusp of ‘making it’. During their time in London, Curtis was turned on to Frank Sinatra when the band’s management suggested he listen to ‘Old Blue Eyes’ because his lyrics had become much darker and depressing. He agreed and enjoyed listening to Sinatra records throughout the entire recording of ‘Closer’. The band reckon that he purposely sang like Frank on ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ just to annoy them all.
Curtis suffered from epilepsy for many years and his condition began to worsen when Joy Division toured with the Buzzcocks in the Autumn of 1979. He was on medication but the rigorous touring and recording schedule started to take its toll on his frail health. In April, following their stint in London, the group embarked on a small UK tour to promote the release of ‘Closer’, while it was being mixed. Curtis’s seizures grew worse between shows and he even suffered several grand mal fits. However, the band carried on. Curtis refused to stop pushing himself because he really believed in Joy Divison and wanted them to be successful. With the album ready for release, the single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ in the charts and the flights to America booked, Curtis took his life on May 18, 1980. The band cancelled the trip and postponed the album release. Their would be no more Joy Division. The three remaining members (Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris) changed their name to New Order and, eventually, achieved the success and recognition that Curtis had hoped for.
As a tribute to Ian, I have recorded a little mix of some Joy Division songs, along with a few of their influences during the recording of Closer. I hope you enjoy it.