Ian Curtis, Blue Monday & Sock Water: New Order Interviewed

Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris select key moments in the history of Joy Division and New Order. James Brown ordered the pints of sock water.
Publish date:
Updated on


Change: A Queue

Stephen: The first time I realised something had changed was when we played the Nashville, we went out and there were a queue of people like I’d never seen before, round the block to get into Nashville Rooms. I said, “Look at that, that’s our first queue”

Change: Haircuts

Bernard: Mine was the haircuts Rob Gretton gave us. There’s a famous photograph taken by Anton Corbijn, I think it was the first time we met Anton, it was his first photo session in the U.K. and it was at Lancaster Gate tube station. And on it we’ve all got this really short hair, Steve’s got this really big sprout stuck up on the back of his head, which is a bit unfortunate for such a classic photo, we can probably re touch it.

We were supporting the Buzzcocks on possibly the first tour we’d ever been on. We were sitting round bored in a boarding house in Leeds somewhere like that. I’d just got a cut but I had a little bit of hair stuck up at the back and it was annoying me so I got a pair of scissors and I said to Rob “Can you cut that little bit of hair, it’s annoying me” So he cut it but he cut a big lump out the back of my hair

Stephen: The problem with Robs barbering techniques were the scissors he used, they were massive. Instead of using nice normal you know barbering scissors he used to use massive ones, they were tailor scissors big, clunking, great, rusty brown things. I think he was using the wrong things, but it did result in that rather odd angular style.

Bernard: With me he cut this little bit off, cut a big chunk out of my hair so I said “that’s no good, you’ve made a right balls of it” so he ended up a cutting all me hair short and then they were like ‘That looks daft because he’s got dead short hair, you’re gonna have to cut everyone else’s’ [laughter] So it started with Rob cutting that little bit of stuck up hair off then he worked his way through the whole group and that’s why we’ve all got that haircut on that photograph.

Stephen: And quicker than you can say “Rob those aren’t the right kind of scissors” we were all short.

Bernard: We were sheep sheared…

Stephen: That haircut lasted a while, we had to tour Europe when it was freezing we’d all got those haircuts when we went to Eindoven they thought we were refugees from England and it was bloody cold and er, Rob never cut our hair again.

And quicker than you can say “Rob those aren’t the right kind of scissors” we were all short.

Change: Ian Curtis Dies

Stephen: Can’t think of what changed after that, Ian died, obviously.

James: I once asked Hooky about that about how he found out that Ian had died and he said he was having Sunday lunch and the phone went and he answered it, put the phone down, finished his lunch and then told his wife after the kids had left the table. That was the reality for Hooky as opposed to the legend that has been created around Ian since, often by people who never met or even saw him perform. How did it affect you on a practical level?

Stephen: Shock and disappointment first of all we were shocked that Ian had done it. Hooky rang up after he’s had his Sunday dinner and told everybody “he’s done it again” I said what “he’s tried” he said “no he’s actually done it” Bloody hell!

Bernard: It was his second attempt when he actually killed himself, it was Rob that told me, the room started bloody spinning when he told me and I said “what you mean he’s tried again?” We all said that and he said “No, he’s actually done it, he’s dead” Obviously it was a massive shock to the system but I must admit I felt kind of angry that he’d done it, erm I felt angry towards him, which I don’t anymore. But at the time I felt anger for him for kind of wasting everyone’s time. Bit of a selfish way to look at it.

James: Do you mean about the band or as a person?

Stephen: Well I’d just packed my suitcase I’m ready to go to America and he’s gone and died, he’s gone and killed himself!

Bernard: Do you know how long it took him to pack that suitcase [laughter] Perhaps if he’d have known Steve?

Stephen: He wouldn’t have done it had he known how hard it was for me to pack and iron those trousers. It was a big thing going to America and we were all really excited about it and then it just…

James: So you were more disappointed that you weren’t going to America than the fact he’s died?

Bernard: Well no but, it was also the work we’d put it up to that point, you put like your heart and soul and your life into it to get it on the verge …

James: You are going to have to balance this with some feelings about him as a person because that’s going to read very cold and crass.

Bernard: Well I’m just pointing out that there are feelings that you don’t expect to be there. Of course you know, we were all incredibly upset if not heart broken by what happened to Ian and we were, well I was depressed. Didn’t want to talk to anyone for you know, weeks and weeks after just totally drew into myself really.

James: How old were you?

Bernard: About mid 20’s yeah, but it’s surprising on top of that you know you did feel angry as well. We knew it was on the books we’d all spent a lot of time trying to see things differently but we never thought he was going to actually do it so I guess as well as anger there was shock there. We were incredibly shocked and you know we’d lost a friend a really good friend and a human being.

Stephen: He was very good at not showing it, like you could ask him how things were and he’s say everything was fine… you know that’s all you’ve got to go on if someone says they’re O.K. you can’t really say “well no you’re not O.K.”

Bernard: The interesting thing is I don’t like putting my feelings as lyrics because I’m quite a private person and in a way I don’t like putting them out as lyrics for everyone to read my inner most thoughts but, I’ll gladly talk to my close circle of friends about how I feel about things. Ian was the other way really he would put his inner most thoughts out as lyrics, things that are really so incredibly private to me but, he wouldn’t talk about it really, it was the opposite way round to me really. And Ian would kind of tell you what you wanted to hear really.

Stephen: He would say different things to different people based on what he thought the other person wanted to hear.

Bernard: So you couldn’t pin down what he was thinking about.

Stephen: No you couldn’t.

James: Do you ever think people think you were a better band than you were because he’s died?

Bernard: I don’t think so because I still think the music from Joy Division still sounds fantastic you know, not every single track we did but you know you can’t deny the tracks like Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart are pretty classic tracks, there’s no arguing with that. I think there is a deification of the person that died. I’ve seen it happen recently since Tony [Wilson] died and it definitely happened to Ian. Cause he wasn’t a god, I liked him as a person, I thought he was great and he was good to be around, he wasn’t up his own arse, he was a good guy. There definitely is deification when people die, whether that reflects on the band or not.

Stephen: There’s always that thing with death and rock music that it’s kind of, I don’t know a badge of honour or something like that. Like “Oh somebody’s died” and it’s also like you culture James Dean, you know he was a fantastic actor because he died in a car crash. I think part of the reason you get the deification thing is because there’s a beginning and an end and you got to let people down and that’s it. The story’s over.

James: The alternative take on this, do you think it made you a better band subsequently in anyway with New Order?

Bernard: No I don’t think it did, I think we erm didn’t do ourselves any favours but we didn’t get any favours done for us. We started as New Order rather naively I believe, ditched all the songs of Joy Division and didn’t play them again for how many years Ste?

Stephen: It would be 20 years I think. I mean we played them on you know anniversaries you do the odd one; Rob’s birthday we did Love Will Tear Us Apart. We made a big thing; Joy Division ended here New Order Started here.

James: You closed the book

Bernard: Yeah we closed the book and said well lets do it again under our own steam. It was a bit annoying because we got accused of using Joy Division to launch our career as New Order but we just didn’t do that. Journalists would ask us about it obviously, but we never used it because we didn’t play any of the songs for all of that time. So we made things difficult for ourselves doing that. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, I don’t know.

Stephen: Well you’ll never know if it made us any better because there’s nothing really to compare it to one stops and the other one started.

No Rob Gretton picked me as singer after a particularly large glass of sock water.

Change: A new singer needed.

Bernard: Well the other thing was picking a new singer and going to America to do that.We needed to move forward obviously we needed to get a new singer but to think about just getting an outsider in…..

James: Did you think about that?

Bernard: Of course yeah, we had to because we were desperate; it just felt clinical and wrong. You couldn’t replace Ian, he was irreplaceable. So we had an enormous problem there. What we did was when we re-grouped we were obviously in a mess emotionally and depressed and so on. It just made it really difficult so we hid away for a year and wrote a whole bunch of new material which formed the basis of Movement and it’s not an album I’m very happy with because it’s Sub-Joy Division without Ian. But we had to start somewhere so we hid ourselves for a year and wrote this material. We also had two tracks left over from Joy Division which were Ceremony and In A Lonely Place.

Ste: I don’t think it was a year, I think if you looked at it would be quite quick, probably a couple of months. I know what you mean though; it’s funny how you can think they take longer.

Bernard: We must have written enough songs to play a set. Mind you our sets were only 20mins long.

Stephen: We had 5 songs including Ceremony and In A Lonely Place; we had Homage, Truth and maybe another one.

Bernard: We had a song called ‘Homage’? [groans]

Stephen: Yeah.

Bernard: O.K. so we go to America and it’s difficult but at least we got to America. That cheered us up a bit and we went straight to Orange New Jersey to record In A Lonely Place and Ceremony. We were with Martin Hannet who was having a bad time after Ian’s death, he as hitting the drugs, understandably. So he was a mess but we did about 5 days recording in the studio and we drive back to Manhattan every night. When we were staying at a hotel called the Iroquois where James Dean used to stay; James Dean used to get his hair cut but their barber at the hotel.

James: Who was singing during rehearsal and writing?

Stephen/Bern: We all had a go

Bernard: In the studio with Martin we all tried singing Ceremony. So then we were due to go on this small tour of the Eastern sea board, near New York on the last night of recording studio we’d just finished recording, we drove back to Manhattan and the roadies Terry and Twinny had fallen out with each other so they weren’t speaking to each other so they didn’t disable the van to stop people from getting in it and driving off.

Stephen: They each forgot to do it and Tony [Wilson] got us up in the morning and said “Good news, Bad news” “Bad news, the vans gone and all your gear’s been stolen. The good news is there is no good news” he was laughing his head off!

Bernard: And me Peter Hook and Rob were all sharing a room like 3 single beds, that would be the room where Rob used to drink our Sock Water.

James: Used to drink what?

Bernard: It was for a bet, we used to wash our socks in the sink and Rob would drink a glass of sock water for $20.

James: Traditionally a pint of your own piss is a pound.

Bernard: Shit sandwich is a tenner

Bernard: So Tony Wilson here laughing his head off and his attitude was “It’s a wonderful end to the story darlings” We were like ‘No it’s fucking not!’

James: You thought that was the end of the band?

Bernard: No it was a full stop on the end of Joy Division’s story because it was Joy Division’s equipment, and in fact that was a pivotal moment we were like “How much worse can this get, what else is going to happen?” but it didn’t get any worse in fact, it got better from there on because I took over as singer, took the bull by the horns.

James: What did you say “I’m gonna be the singer”?

Bernard: No Rob Gretton picked me as singer after a particularly large glass of sock water.


In fact, we did get some things back…

Stephen: We did yeah, what happened is before we went, we didn’t know much about America, but one thing we read from a book was that their electricity was different to ours we needed a transformer so Terry the roadie got in charge of sorting out the transformers, he got Pink Floyds transformer which was enough to do like a Pink Floyd show. You couldn’t actually carry it, it was massive, as bit as a car! They found the [stolen] van and in the back of it was Pink Floyd’s transformer!

Bernard: And some skis.

Stephen: Yeah and they found some skis in the back too which are now Bernards, as he saw it as a silver lining.

Bernard: We eventually found out who’d knicked the gear…

Stephen: Yeah we did, it was about 18 years later and Rick Derringer of all people the American guitarist, had a gig and what happened is the thieves would go to gigs in the New York area, they’d follow the band back to the hotel wait till the band went to bed, 9 out of 10 times the Roadies would have had an argument and forgot to disable the van and then they get in it to hotwire it and drive it off. Eagle eye Rick Derringer caught them in the act and then they went to a Youth Club and it was piled high to the rafters of bands gear and I think the gang was called ‘The Lost Tribe Of Israel’ they were keeping it but, we got it back, they’d done loads of bands by that time. Still got my Drum Kit that I got back from there, they had everybody’s gear; John Lennon’s boots were there.

Bernard: That was a very pivotal moment, it almost destroyed us we didn’t have loads of money and it was hard.

Stephen: Rob Gretton was in the insurance business so he was like we’ve lost all the gear but at least we’re insured. Then Rob got on the phone and tried to sort it out and guess what, bloody hell we weren’t insured.

Bernard: Rob buggered that up, Rob used to work in the insurance business so you’d think he’d know better so the guy at the insurance company asked him “was the van alarmed” Rob went “No.” that negated the insurance as soon as he said that and we’d lost like $45,000 worth of equipment. We went into the police station to report it being knicked and there was a big black New York cop there and he had a blaster in the police station dancing to Chic on this blaster. We tried to tell him that the gear had been knicked and he was like “You wait while the record finishes man.”



James: Were you [Ste] and Peter happy when Bernard was announced as the singer.

Stephen: Yeah, I never wanted to be the singer. Never.

Bernard: I think Hooky probably secretly did.

Stephen: I mean he’d done some singing in Joy Division so yeah, but I never wanted to be a singer, singing drummers don’t look right, they never have done.

The bouncers were nice to everyone else apart from me; my face didn’t fit. I was from Macclesfield!

Change: Opening a nightclub.

Stephen: It wasn’t long after that we came up with the bright idea of opening a nightclub and I thought it would be like The Factory club

Bernard: We became successful and as soon as the money started coming in obviously someone, one of the boys in the back room decided that we needed a suitable way of spending it, so it was up to us to put it into opening a nightclub.

Stephen: When we thought about it in our minds, forgetting what the Hacienda is now if we rewind when they said club we thought, it’ll be like The Factory, they used to do the night in Hulme and we thought what could be the harm in a club.

We asked them where and they told us about International Marine, we thought “there?” I always used to drive past it and be fascinated by how you could sell yachts in the middle of Manchester.

James: Did it have windows?

Ste: Not really, they were kind of blued out you couldn’t tell what was going on inside, it was a mysterious building to me. I didn’t realise the canal was at the back of it, the idea of selling yachts… and I would think “how the hell do you get a yacht out of there?”

Bernard: The yachts would sail on the canal…

Ste: Well I didn’t know that then.

Bernard: Steve, I’m joking, you don’t sail yachts on canals.

Ste: I don’t know I’m not a sea fairing man. So they took us inside the International Marine and it was massive. Factory was small and dark and this was obviously the complete opposite, it was huge.

Bernard: It wasn’t small it was like medium

James: When I went to the Factory it had the feel of quite a big workingmen’s club the PSV it was called then.

Ste: Yeah the PSV, it wasn’t quite intimate but it wasn’t what this building was. This building was big and light and I couldn’t see how you could make a club here.

Bernard: The truth is we weren’t that enthusiastic about doing it and it was really Rob Gretton and Mike Pickering who really wanted to do it.

Ste: They wanted to do it. Then there was the thing with the fire brigade where they built the balcony inside the building then the fire brigade came and said “no, you’ve not done it right” So we had to do it again, cause it wasn’t done according to the fire regulation so within in a very short space of time had lost a few thousand pounds. Immediately it lost money.

Bernard: It wasn’t very well project managed and I guess we didn’t know how much money was involved because we weren’t into money. We were just having a great time and that’s all we cared about. We never knew how much money was coming into the organization so we weren’t bothered. We were busy getting off our faces in America doing things that young men do.

Ste: So when the bloody thing opened it’s called the Hacienda and it’s got blue stripes on it, and they wouldn’t let me in on the opening night. I was on my way home before I thought I would give it another go, eventually I got in, I blagged my way in “Connie, can you ask Mike if I can come in?” it were something like that.

James: Was Connie a woman or a man?

Ste: Connie, she was out of Quando Quango

James: and she did the door?

Ste: In the early days yeah she did. It wasn’t her who wasn’t letting me in; she got me in eventually. It was the bouncers.

Bernard: We were supposed to have nice bouncers.

Ste: The bouncers were nice to everyone else apart from me; my face didn’t fit. I was from Macclesfield! What do you expect! But yeah, it wasn’t easy to pass it off as a club.

Bernard: It was dead bright and the sound system was terrible and dead echoey. The DJ was hidden underneath the stage virtually for a long time till I fucking kicked up a fuss about that. And it was just kind of wrong.

James: O.K. so that’s the Hacienda, was there any songs that changed things like Low-life, I remember hearing that and thinking, I really like this band now.

Ste: Low-life, my face- put me on the front cover

James: That’s just for me but like Blue Monday

They were all against us and I felt a bit beleaguered and it was a kind of fuck you to the press really.

Change: Blue Monday

Bernard: Blue Monday was a seismic change in the kind of material that we were writing and was a big commercial hit really. It was a big hit!  I remember when it first came out people were like “What’s this, this doesn’t sound like New Order” everything about it, the way it looked was different.

James: there is that other song that sounds like it that you were influenced by – it’s on YouTube it’s a Disco song.

Bernard: There were a few songs that influenced it really, like Italian disco track ‘Dirty Talk – Klein & MBO’s’ it’s the European Connection version.

We got this drum machine, the Oberheim DMX, and we had a synth - a little moog - and we had a sequencer and we decided with this equipment. The reason we wrote the song was because we were getting grief about not doing encores, we’d write a song where you could just go on and press the button for all the machines.

James: and did Kraftwork already do that.

Bernard/Ste: No.

Bernard: So we had this new gear, we had this plan to write a song and all these machines would play the encore. The sort of music we were listening to then had changed really over the years through travelling, spending a lot of time in New York and Europe listening to different influences. We’d picked up these records that were interesting, we decided to use the arrangement of Klein & MBO. We didn’t rip the music off; we just thought it was a nicely arranged track. It was a European re-edit of a Canadian record; so we just copied the arrangement and then the rest came from our record collection, a bit like a DJ. We were just influenced by stuff like the bass line; I thought I was doing something like Sylvester – You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.

James: Do you remember writing the lyrics?

Bernard: No I don’t

James: Like retrospectively, you don’t even remember what they were about?

Bernard: I think I do. They weren’t literally about this but we were getting a lot of shit in the press at the time. The press has turned on us after Joy Division who could do no wrong. They were all against us and I felt a bit beleaguered and it was a kind of fuck you to the press really. That’s kind of what was in my head when I wrote it, it was a kind of a fuck you we can do it without you and we did, with that song.

James: When I was on the NME Len Brown wrote a great piece that is presumably wrong. He read it to be about the Falklands, he wrote a great piece about his brother committing suicide or was it about Blue Monday.

Bernard: Well we also have an attitude that we never explain what a song is about because people have their own interpretations, that’s equally valid. So I wouldn’t say that’s not wrong, it’s how you interpret a song and what it means to you and that’s why we never. Whenever I write lyrics it’s never a literal thing it’s just what’s on my mind at the time.

James: well all of this is good because I’ve never read in interviews like what your expectations were.

Bernard: Well obviously from Blue Monday we started to gain considerable commercial success, it was the biggest selling 12” single ever and with other songs like Bizarre Love Triangle, True Faith we had big hit records, which started bringing a lot of money into the record company. However, and there is always a however in life, I think what ended up happening was we got found out on tour and most the money that we earned on tour which was a considerable about of dosh we were allowed to keep and that kept our minds off this money that was coming in from commercial success and record sales. I guess that money; we never saw any accounts for the whole time did we?

Ste: No I didn’t see any accounts.

Bernard: So I guess that was the money that was keeping The Hacienda afloat. The problem with The Hacienda was for some bloody bizarre reason when Factory started getting into some financial trouble they decided the best thing to do would be to buy the actual building that The Hacienda was in, that previously we’d rented. We bought the building but we bought it on a bridging loan with very high interest and then got in trouble so their finances were looking shaky. I don’t know how or why, I can’t remember at the time why they were looking shaky but they couldn’t get a proper mortgage on The Hacienda building. So we were paying enormous amounts of interest on a bridging loan plus enormous amounts of interest on the money that The Hacienda had lost earlier, so it was impossible. Even though these were kind of the days of acid house and The Hacienda was actually full of people having a great time, off their nuts or whatever, we couldn’t get it to pay because a) because of this bridging loan and b) because of debts incurred earlier. Even though we were filling it up on like a Thursday, Friday and a Saturday, absolutely full to the rafters you couldn’t fill it on a Monday a Tuesday a Wednesday and for the sums to work we had to fill it every single night. Just impossible, so that in effect put an enormous burden on both Factory and us.

James: When did you find out about that?

Bernard: Well we would have continuous meetings where they’d say “well we’d just had a VAT bill that we need to pay” and we’d be like “How much is it” and the response is “£100,000” and then we’d say “have you got the money” to be met with a “no.”

Ste: Always on a Friday you’d get a phone call “We need forty-grand by tea time or The Hacienda’s going to close” and then you’re like “O.K.” and then you have to find the money.

Bernard: To understand this you have to understand Rob Gretton’s mentality you know, wonderful guy  but like everyone else he had his faults. We were crossing a ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, an overnight one, and it was really rough and Rob, he was a gambler you know. All the passengers went to bed with seasickness and I saw Rob stand there with his legs splayed out so he wouldn’t fall over gambling on roulette. He gambled to the point where he had to pull his pockets inside out to see if he had any change, only when the coffers were completely empty did he go to bed. And that’s kind of what I thought we did with the Hacienda.

Ste: We’d just continually buy to keep it going, it would have had to be open for like a billion million years before it would ever make any money. Even if you filled it every night, it would never make any money.

Bernard: It was like backing a racehorse but there was no finish line. It was like that was the start of the fall of the Roman Empire, the reason why I mention it is because that was what started everything to crumble.

Another problem was Factory had started to have another successful group, The Happy Mondays and that became a problem because if we were making an album and the Mondays were making an album there would be a cash flow problem.

Ste: It’s important because all of those things weren’t why we joined a band, to sort money problems and then Factory went and we thought, oh well it’s over now we’ll have a proper record label and everything will be better. In some ways it was but when we got to the proper record label we suddenly realised, Factory weren’t that bad. But the bottom line was we did get paid.

James: Was that when you joined London

Bernard/Ste: Yeah

James: So are you saying that the band had peaked then?

Bernard: Well it’s kind of caused by its success really, all caused by all of us not knowing how to handle success. Like I mentioned earlier, we had commercial success and as a touring band. The Success caused the collapse of the record label because they didn’t handle it in the right way we did our bit alright, wrote the hit records and did the tours, their bit was to put records out obviously and handle finances saying that though some of it was just getting themselves into a mess and not knowing how to get out of it.

Part 2 to follow...

New Order are playing two charity gigs 17-18 October in Brussels and Paris

You may also like…

Hits and Mrs: Gillian Gilbert Rejoins New Order For Benefit Gigs

Click here for more Music stories

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook