Monday, May 28, 2018

Made a Victim of Your Life - Warsaw and Joy Division

The Warsaw story begins on July 20, 1976, when the Sex Pistols played at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, supported by local bands Slaughter and the Dogs, and the Buzzcocks (making their debut). As the legend goes, the gig inspired the boys to buy guitars and form a band, of course it did. Although the truth may be less dramatic, there is no doubt the event stimulated the Manchester music scene in general and the future members of Joy Division in particular. Barney Sumner and Peter Hook went to the gig with their friend Terry Mason. The three of them, who had been at school together in Salford, had seen the Sex Pistols at an earlier show on June 4th. As Barney already had a guitar, Hooky acquired a bass. Terry attempted to play drums without success. What the boys lacked was a singer.

Ian Curtis was at the gig as well, along with his wife, Deborah. Ian was interested not only in the music, but also in lyric writing, and he too was trying to form a band. He already knew Barney, Peter and Terry from various gigs they'd attended in Manchester, and when he made contact to inquire about gainful employ, everything fell into place. On December 28, 1976 the Buzzcocks recorded their Spiral Scratch EP, produced by Martin Hannett and considered by many a major landmark in the development of the Manchester music scene. Ian got to know the Buzzcocks, particularly Pete Shelley and their manager, Richard Boon, and was motivated to emulate their success.

Little is documented about the fledgling band in early 1977. During this period they used to rehearse at the Black Swan pub in Salford, among other venues. Although they now had a full complement, they were not ready for public performances. Neither did they have a name. Stiff Kittens was proposed by Richard Boon (the idea is also credited to Pete Shelley) but this was never adopted by the band. In fact they disliked the name, which was used only to publicize their first gig because they had to be called something. The band was due to appear at Manchester's Electric Circus on May 29, 1977 on a bill which included the Buzzcocks. Just before this gig, they decided on the name Warsaw, inspired by the song Warszawa on David Bowie's Low. They had also managed to recruit a drummer, Tony Tabac. Their first performance earned them a mention (not entirely favorable) in NMEAt that time Martin Hannett was involved in arranging gigs for local bands, and he took Warsaw on the books. During June '77 Warsaw made a number of appearances at The Squat and at the Rafters Club in Manchester.

From the start Warsaw set out to write their own songs. Their initial efforts were crude but enthusiastic, and were soon left behind as they became more practiced. This meant that very little material from this early period survived long enough to be recorded. Prompted by Curtis, the band's musical influences and ambitions inclined more towards The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop than "mainstream" rock.
Tony Tabac, not really suited to a punk band, stayed for five weeks and half a dozen gigs. He was replaced by Steve Brotherdale, drummer with Panik. Steve came just in time to participate in the recording of The Warsaw Demo on July 18th 1977 at Pennine Sound Studios. Steve also left after a short while. He tried to persuade Ian to follow him and join Panik, but Ian was steadfast. Once again Warsaw hired a new drummer, Stephen Morris. Stephen too came from Macclesfield, where Ian and Deborah Curtis were living, and he replied to an advertisement in a music store window. Unlike his predecessors, he blended well with the other three. The band now had the line-up that would find fame (but initially not fortune) as Joy Division.


In December '77, Warsaw recorded four songs that later would be released on EP as An Ideal For Living. It was very much a home-made affair, with the band members and their friends stuffing the records into their sleeves. The design (by Bernard) featured Germanic imagery that fueled unjustified speculation about the band's politics. Ah, back when Joy Division was raw and reckless. "Warsaw" is fast, powerful and ends in a bang. "No Love Lost" shows Curtis experimenting with his vocals. "Leaders of Men" is the star here. "Born from some mother's womb/ Just like any other womb/ Made a promise for a new life/ Made a victim out of your life." This was Joy Division (or maybe more properly, Warsaw) at their most ferocious. We think of '76 as Joni at her best, Genesis without Gabriel, The Eagles Greatest Hits, Wings at the Speed of Sound and "Bohemian Rhapsody." Not many were aware that a revolution was upon us, even though in retrospect they claim they were right there where it started.