Joy Division Newcastle City Hall 4th October 1979 (supporting The Buzzcocks)

Joy Division Newcastle City Hall 4th October 1979 (supporting The Buzzcocks)
I am going to jump out of sequence a little here, as I have just realised that I haven’t written a piece on Joy Division, and in particular of seeing them in concert supporting the Buzzcocks at Newcastle City Hall on 4th October 1979. At the moment I am working on a chapter which discusses the roots of trance music, and I wanted to link that to Joy Division’s music, so writing about them here will help me do so. Anyway here goes.
My recollections of this 1979 concert are, in fact, more of support act Joy Division and of Ian Curtis’ unique, bizarre and compelling performance than of The Buzzcocks. It was generally accepted at the time, that “although Joy Division were the support act on the Buzzcocks tour of Britain, on several nights they completely out-performed the Buzzcocks” ( ). I had seen Joy Division once before at an early gig in Newcastle Guildhall in 1997, when they were known as Warsaw, and I’d heard some of their album played at Middlesbrough Rock Garden. I’d also read reviews of the lp in the music papers which I bought each week; NME proclaiming that “Unknown Pleasures is an English rock masterwork” (Bell, 1979). So I was looking forward to seeing them again, and to experience the intensity of their performance.
Joy Division had just released their debut album “Unknown Pleasures” at the time of this concert, which was part of a nation wide tour as support for The Buzzcocks. The single “Transmission” was played quite a lot at the Rock Garden. This was before “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the original line-up was, of course, Ian Curtis (lead vocals), Bernard Sumner (guitar, keyboards), Peter Hook (bass) and Stephen Morris (drums). Jon Savage described the music on “Unknown Pleasures” as “a definitive Northern Gothic statement: guilt-ridden, romantic, claustrophobic” (1994). Oksanen (2007) writes of “The revival of the Gothic in late modern culture” and how “the subject feels isolated and alienated and is left with a trance-like dream reality” and that “the works of Joy Division and Diary of Dreams underline personal emptiness, ambivalence and dream states.”
I made a point of arriving at the City Hall early to see the support act, passing on a visit to the City Tavern or the downstairs bar. We had seats right down the front, and watched all of Joy Division’s set. Their music had developed a lot from the basic punk thrash that I saw at the Guildhall a couple of years earlier, and had become a dark, gothic, rhythmic, noise. The musicality of the songs impressed me and set them apart from their punk and new wave contemporaries. But most of all, I was transfixed by Ian Curtis, his blank expression, glaring eyes and crazy, manic epileptic dancing. It was clear that there was something awkward, different yet brilliant about the guy, which came through in his dark lyrics which painted dark images of alienation, his monotonic, snarling vocals and his manic, crazed dancing. The performance was intense, scary, compelling, and unnerving.
UnknownpleasuresI found this great review by Adrian on which describes the concert much better than I can, so I have reproduced it here:
“Joy Division in concert were simply astonishing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was 15 years old and into the post punk type of thing. I’d known for a while that Joy Division were coming to Newcastle and wanted to see them – I’d heard a few things on John Peel and caught the end of a TV appearance on Something Else some time earlier. The Buzzcocks were generally viewed as a pop band by this point, who often had good support bands.
My friends and I got to the City Hall late, and had just got to our seats as the hall lights went down. The stage was very dark I recall, and as they began to play, I wondered when the lights were going to come on properly (they never did!). The first thing that struck me was the power of the drums – I’d never felt such deep bassy drums at a concert, one’s whole body felt the beat. Ian Curtis was at the front of the stage, what seemed like the very edge – he appeared to be on a brink of a cliff. He couldn’t have been more than 25 feet from where I was sitting. The others were just figures in subdued light – maybe it was blue, I cannot recall.
When Ian Curtis started singing, it was loud and even deeper than the drums, and it caught you in the diaphragm – incredible feeling. I don’t think he did “the dance” until a few tracks into the short set, but when he did, staring into the audience, it sent shivers down my spine, and I realised that I was witnessing something extraordinary.
A few of us stood up out of our seats at that point (we had been told to remain seated), and bouncers attacked many of us, including my friend about three rows in front of us – the memory of a bouncer leaping over rows of seated people to attack my friend, while Ian Curtis did his dance above on the stage during “She’s Lost Control”, is something that will stay fixed in my visual memory forever.
Hooky was pretty animated on a few tracks, and I recall a broken bass string hanging down from his guitar – not something you usually saw at concerts. “Colony” also stood out as fantastic and alien-sounding. The set seemed to be over very quickly, and there was a feeling of…well, I suppose it was “shock” more than anything at watching Joy Division perform.
The Buzzcocks seemed to come on almost immediately to play their pop songs. When audience members stood up, unchallenged by the bouncers this time, I just walked out of the hall into the rain – it was October and sleety – down to the bus station. It didn’t seem right watching any other band, especially the poppy Buzzcocks, after what I had just seen.”
A recording of the concert exists; Joy Division performed the following songs: Disorder; Shadowplay; Colony; Day Of The Lords; Glass; Transmission; She’s Lost Control; Atrocity Exhibition.
Bell, M. (1979). Review of Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (Factory). New Musical Express (NME), 14 July 1979
Oksanen, A. (2007). Hollow Spaces of Psyche: Gothic Trance-Formation from Joy Division to Diary of Dreams. In Nostalgia or Perversion? Gothic Rewriting from the Eighteenth Century until the Present Day, van Elferen, I (ed.). Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Savage, J. (1994). Joy Division: Someone Take These Dreams Away. Mojo. July 1994.

5 responses to this post.

  1. “…joy division…in 1997…” ?


  2. Posted by Jayvee on December 8, 2018 at 10:39 am

    I was at this one too. Agree IC was disturbiung. I remember so many people were iin the bar so missed JD (oops). I was 14 so watched in awe/horror. One funny memory is that I remember thinking it was a bit off for a band member to have abeard. in those days that wasn’t done. Too much like Jethro Tull or something…was at school next day going “she’s lost control again”


  3. Posted by Hebburn Ray73. on December 21, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    It was a great gig by two great bands. I was an apprentice spark at the time and Joy Division looked like the geeky lads in the drawing office. I’d heard them on JP so was familiar with some of the songs but the energy live was incredible. Strangely, it was probably the first time I just sat there and watched.
    RIP Ian and Pete.


    • Posted by vintagerock on December 22, 2022 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Ray yes there was a buzz around the hall that night and everyone wanted to watch the support act for once. I sat transfixed. Mesmerising, crazy and magic all together. Who was to know the sadness that would follow. Cheers Peter


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