Joy Division – Transmission

26th November 2022 · 1970s, 1979, Music

Of the three or four times I saw Joy Division, oddly the occasion I remember most is the time I didn’t. Because I couldn’t get in.

It was in the summer of 1979 and I had raced from work in east London to be first in line at The Nashville pub in west London.

Over the next two or three hours a modest crowd built up behind me and the expectation grew that it would be a great gig with a great atmosphere.

Then the doors opened.

Somehow I got shunted to the side in the ensuing stampede and by the time I fought my way back to the door, the bouncer informed me the venue was now full.

Nothing I could say persuaded him to change his mind so I ended up half-watching and half-listening to the gig from the bar area, where the chatter of conversation from the punk-averse clientele of old men drowned out most of the music, leaving me to glimpse bits of the stage whenever the barman moved out of the way.

Never mind, there were other opportunities both before and after and I have to admit that I never genuinely enjoyed​ the experience of seeing Joy Division.

There was something too unsettling about Ian Curtis, whose whole demeanour suggested he wished he was somewhere else; something we now know was probably true.

Most of the time he closed his eyes onstages and when he opened them it was intense and alarming, as if he was having some sort of vision; his emotional despair all too clear to see.

As for the occasions when he broke into a dance, they were of the St Vitus variety – jerky, impromptu twitching that bore little or no relation to the rhythms of the band behind him.

That sense of agonised isolation, emphasised in the pessimism of the lyrics, transmitted itself to the audience and made for an uncomfortable immersive experience.

They also looked unusual in their smart shirts and sensible trousers, all in dark colours, making them seem like office workers who had a secret double life as a pop group.

But what a group!

This was their first single, initially recorded in 1978 at a slower pace than the subsequent single, for an aborted debut album; and this is their appearance on Something Else in September 1979.