Why Hooky’s Ian Curtis Tribute Plans Feel Wrong

It’s 30 years since the Joy Division man passed away, but NME’s resident Manc Rick Martin thinks some ill-conceived memorials are in danger of turning tawdry.
Ian Curtis’ legend, importance and influence looms so large over my home city of Manchester – and indie in general – that ‘celebrating’ the anniversary of his suicide every five years all seems a bit pointless. But with May 18 due to mark the 30th year since the Joy Division frontman’s passing, the deluge of reissues, tributes and cheap tat is pretty inevitable.

To be fair, it’s natural for fans to want to remember an extraordinarily talented – and equally tortured – genius by drawing the curtains and poring over ‘Unknown Pleasures’, or watching excellent 2007 biopic Control, or even making a pilgrimage to his memorial stone in Macclesfield.

But one tribute that’s particularly worrying me is Curtis’ former bandmate Peter Hook playing ‘Unknown Pleasures’ live in full at his new Haçienda-themed club FAC251.

Not just because the gig will no doubt see the usual old Madchester set wheeled out, but also because it feels like an exercise in the kind of nostalgia Curtis loathed – you feel his legacy deserves more than the inevitable beery singalongs.

Look, I love a bit of misty-eyed-ness – an anniversary tribute issue here, a reappraisal of a record there – as much as I love discovering a new band. And sure, Hooky’s heart may be in the right place, a chance for him to raise a glass to a much-missed bandmate among friends and fans.

Why, then, does it feel so cringey, or even suspect?

For a start, barring some serious hatchet-burying over the next few weeks, it’s unlikely the rest of Joy Division – certainly not Bernard Sumner and probably not Stephen Morris – will be in attendance.

How will ‘Unknown Pleasures’ sound without Sumner’s unmistakable guitar stabs or Morris’ trademark mechanical drumming? If the usual ghosts from Manc’s past are involved – Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, for example – probably a bit shit.

Meanwhile, the fact that Hooky’s also going to be touring a spoken-word night – ‘An Evening Of Unknown Pleasures’ – with stoner bore Howard Marks in tow only adds to the feeling of unease.

Ultimately, you have to question Hooky’s true motives. Does the (admittedly very entertaining) How Not To Run A Club autobiography need another push after its Christmas sales tailed off? Is FAC251 already haemorrhaging cash in the true spirit of the Haçienda? Are all of those involved simply oblivious as to how lame it all sounds?

Ultimately, making peace with Sumner and reforming New Order for an arena show of Joy Division songs would be the most fitting tribute – but that’s probably asking way too much of Manchester’s most curmudgeonly couple.

Getting together Manchester’s new breed, those who have all been inspired in their own way by Curtis – The Courteeners, Delphic, Hurts – for a celebratory night of covers would also be more like it. Whatever, Ian’s memory surely deserves better than this, doesn’t it?