New Order and Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris releases his memoir, ‘Record Play Pause: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist – Volume 1’, this week. He talks to Damian Jones about Joy Division’s early days, fighting on dancefloors, their legacy, New Order and that John Barnes rap.
Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook have written memoirs, why did you decide to write a book?
“I wanted to write a novel, because I read a lot and I thought I could write a good novel. How hard can it be? But I enjoyed the process of remembering stuff. I can remember all these events, getting in the band and what happened in the band. What staggered me was how much happened in a really short space of time, with Joy Division, it was no time at all. We did so many gigs and obviously Ian was ill and you wonder how we did it. It was miles better than a proper job. You never thought about if it ended.”
What is your book about?
“My book is about all the bits before Joy Division and Warsaw. It’s about how you end up wanting to be in a band in the first place. My dad was into jazz and he always wanted me to learn a musical instrument. I was thinking, ‘Great, I’ll learn the guitar,’ and he was like, ‘You can learn the clarinet’.”
And did you?
“Yeah, but I thought, ‘OK this is shit,’ and I just ended up breaking it. So I decided to get a band together. My mate had a guitar and I went round to his house and started banging on his pans and he was like ‘you should be a drummer’. So I went back to my mum and dad and in the end they agreed, but it came with terms and conditions. By the time I’d had lessons and learned to play I’d gone off the idea of being in an avant garde rock band. So I just concentrated on the lifestyle aspects of being a rock star which was, basically: getting pissed, taking drugs and thinking you were a rock star. I ended up getting kicked out of school, getting into a lot of trouble and I gave up on being a musician. But then punk happened and I became an avid record collector and went to a lot of gigs. I never thought at that stage I’d end up doing it for a living.”
“I concentrated on the lifestyle aspects of being a rock star: getting pissed, taking drugs and thinking you were a rock star.”
Were you at that infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976? Was the documentation of it overblown?
“I wasn’t there but I find it hard to believe there was some celestial voice there going, ‘This is what you can be’. It was more that you could do whatever you wanted and you didn’t have to know everything. I was never that good at school. I just wanted to go ahead and do something and punk gave you that.”
I was reading Peter Hook’s book ‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division’ and at one of the band’s first gigs there was a big fight kicking off on the dance floor. Did that sort of thing happen a lot in the early days?
“Yeah it did. It got to a point where I said, ‘We should do t-shirts saying I got bottled at a Warsaw gig’. We found getting gigs was really difficult and we started getting a chip on our shoulders about it. We couldn’t understand how all these other bloody bands were getting gigs and we couldn’t get one. Our very first gig we played as Joy Division was at Pips Discotheque in Manchester and it went off there. Basically the audience was made up of mates of one band and mates of the support band and that’s how it would start, there would be a riot taking place in front of the stage. And you’d just get casual drinkers sat at the back going, ‘Who are this lot? I don’t think much of this lot’. Thankfully, we eventually met [late Factory Records owner] Tony [Wilson] who we went from calling ‘that bastard Tony Wilson’ to thinking, ‘He’s actually alright this Tony, you know what I mean?’. So we did this one gig at a talent show and two things came out of it, one was Rob [Gretton] who wanted to manage us and the other was Tony. It was just finding people who believed in us because at the time we felt like the whole world was against us. That made a big difference.”
Looking back, do you think your sound was quite ahead of its time?
“Yeah it was. In your head you’re thinking at the time we’re doing punk rock but when you listen to it, it doesn’t sound anything like that. People would come up to us and say, ‘You sound like Manchester’. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You sound like the buildings’ they’d say and we did. The place was full of bomb sites and rubble and it hadn’t really recovered from the Second World War. It was a pretty bleak place and I guess a lot of cities were at that time in the ’70s and that came out in what you did.”
Obviously what happened to Ian has been well documented. Do you think it was a shame at the time there was such a stigma attached to mental illness?
“Attitudes towards mental health have definitely got better over time in the sense that it’s something you can talk about now and people understand it. But at that time people didn’t understand epilepsy, they thought it was something you could catch and there was a bit of stigma about it so you didn’t really know what to do. Ian would get depressed and you’d be like, ‘Pull yourself together, you’ll be alright’, and you just didn’t want to admit that there was possibly something wrong.
“Now it’s a lot better but young people are under a lot more pressure than we were and there’s a lot more going on that can push you into a bad space. Even now admitting to yourself something is wrong is hard because you don’t want to admit it. And you’ve gotta do it because other people have got through it. It’s not gonna kill you to ask for help. The treatment is also a lot more friendly now. The drugs that Ian had to take were evil things. Sometimes they were worse than his symptoms because they did have a real effect on him.”
Are you surprised by the legacy Joy Division left?
“Yeah, to the point where you think, ‘Was I actually part of that?’ It seems like people are talking about somebody else a lot of the time because there’s so much obsession with the band. There’s stuff on the internet which says ‘at this stage Joy division did this’. I’m like, ‘Bloody hell we were just a band’ but it’s great that we’ve affected people in that way. I can’t begin to say I understand it. But then again, I felt like that myself when I first started getting into music with bands, I’d get really obsessive and I’d wanna know everything about them. When it happens to you, though, I can’t describe what it feels like. It’s incredible and scary.”
“It was because we didn’t know what the hell we were gonna do and it was a struggle to begin with. Going to America really helped the early beginnings of the band because that’s where New Order came from – it came from dance music over there, even though we didn’t know it at the time. That led us on to doing what we did. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, the fact that we actually managed to do it. You don’t normally get a second act in life.”
How did [1990 England World Cup] anthem ‘World In Motion’ come about?
“It was Tony’s idea. He knew people in the FA and he asked us if we fancied doing a football song. We just laughed and said, ‘A football song, you must be joking’. He was like, ‘No, it’ll be great, you’ll do the best football song ever’.
“I’ve gotta admit I thought it was a terrible idea because I’d never heard a good football song. So we just thought let’s just write a song and forget about football. We just did a song and stuck the football in afterwards because we didn’t have clue. I mean, how can you put football in the lyrics without it sounding ridiculous? But somehow we managed to do it. We got [actor] Keith Allen in who had some good ideas. He came up with the John Barnes rap. Initially we got everybody doing it, [former England defender] Des Walker, [Paul] Gascoigne and in the end it was pretty obvious John Barnes was the man for the job. Despite our reservations it turned out to be a good song and I’m proud that we actually did it.”
Obviously the fallout with Peter Hook was pretty acrimonious in 2007. Are you sad things turned as they did?
“Yeah it’s not nice is it, falling out with people. It’s one of them things you see it happen to other bands and we thought it’ll never happen to us. But eventually over time, even though you’ve got the best job in the world, you can’t be happy all the time. You always want to do something else eventually. It’s a shame but there you go, there it is.”
Any chance you’ll bury the hatchet one day?
“I’ve no idea. There was a time when we had a break before in the ’90s and we thought, ‘No, that’s it we’ll never get back together,’ but we did. I’m not saying anything apart from it’s not very likely.”
Any plans for a new New Order album?
“It’s just gigs at the minute. It would be nice to play some new stuff at the gigs but we haven’t had the time to get round to doing it. We’re re-doing some old stuff in a different way but that’s about it.”
It’s the 40th anniversary of Joy Division’s debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ next month. Have you got anything special planned for it?
“We’re talking about doing something, quite what it’ll be, it hasn’t got that far yet. But we want to do something special to mark it.”
What do you think of the current music scene?
“Yeah there’s a few good bands I’ve been listening to lately. I quite like [Aussie pop outfit] Confidence Man, they’re quite funny and [Fat White Family guitarist Saul Adamczewsk’s band] Insecure Men. My daughter was into BTS before they got big. It was funny we’d get all these parcels of weird K-Pop stuff from Korea and I was like, ‘Who’s sending this stuff’. Now they’re big, she’s like, ‘Nah, they’ve sold out’. My other daughter is in a band and she’s always asking to borrow keyboards, which is great.”