It seemed to be getting a bit serious for Joy Division. The bit about meaning it was all well and good, but sometimes it felt like they meant it a little too much. Like Ian meant it a little too much. This impression was driven home the first few times Ian gave way onstage to his epilepsy.
Bands onstage. Our heroes rarely relate to each other, their postures, projection and eyelines being for you, the audience, alone. Bass players and drummers who incline heads and together wind the rhythm up are just a little bit bass-slappy embarrassing and hardly add to the spectacle.
But Joy Division presented a special esprit de corps on those nights it was required. Toward the end of a set, as "Transmission" would rev up and Ian hit the third verse at top intensity straight out of the second chorus, Bernard and Peter would angle in and watch their lead singer carefully. They could see that the insane spastic movements of Ian's arms were getting a bit turbo, they could see that he was meaning it too much.
How long then? Some nights, to the end of the set, some nights, to the end of just that song. And Ian would scatter the mike stand, move sideways and be rushed off the stage by Hooky or Barney, or Terry their roadie.
Holding him down was tough. Terry was best at it.
"How are you feeling?"
"You okay?" said [manager] Rob [Gretton]. The van was quiet. A little aftershocked.
"It's nothing, shut up," replied Ian curtly.
"Looked like an . . ."
"I said shut it."
"So you don't want me to talk?"
"No, I fucking don't."
"Not even to tell you that we're going to tour America?"
"Fucking great" from the back seat.
"Great. Do we get to stay in five-star hotels?"
"No, you stay in whorehouses and I stay in five-star hotels."
They all took the piss out of each other for a while. Full of it. Ian too . . .
God, Ian was shaky that night. A crowd of around 300 for the word-of-mouth wonders. Unknown Pleasures was continuing to sell. This radical development of punk was out there, on kids' record players, on late-night radio stations. It was out there busily creating an audience for Joy Division and there were 300 of the bastards there that night -- for Joy Division.
And they got a pretty weird downbeat version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" plus a couple more strange and doomy iterations from the catalog before Ian walked back off to the left of the stage. He was passed on the stage stairs by ACR's Simon Topping.
As Simon arrived at the mike, a belligerent-looking Buryite halfway to the back of the hall turned to his mate: "Fucking hell, it's that fucking guy from A Certain Ratio. They were here last week and I didn't like the funk bastard then."
He'd obviously been making good use of his thick glass pint pot, because it was empty, and he proceeded to make even better use of it. He flung it at the stage.
It sailed over Simon's right shoulder and smashed against the back wall. The musicians went still. Gretton went nuts. He was standing on a dais at the back where the mixing desk was. It took less than a second for Wythenshawe's finest to hurl himself into the throng, screaming some Wythenshawe war cry as he dived in.
Onstage, Terry the road manager was staring into the abyss, into the melee where his boss was laying about him and being laid about at. Terry was rigid with the ultimate dilemma. If he went in, he'd get the shit kicked out of him. If he didn't, Rob would kick the shit and the piss and most of the blood cells out of him.
Decision obvious, he seized the mike stand and went in flailing.
This small riot went on for around 30 minutes. The Manc boys generally defending side stage and making attacks from the bar, the Bury boys making mostly frontal attacks. As usual at a good gig riot, the carefully hurled bottle was the Cruise missile of choice . . .
In the dressing room, after the war was over and number-two roadie Twinny had been dispatched to the local hospital with [Wilson's wife,] Lindsey, Wilson noted Ian wasn't around.
"He's up in the coffee bar upstairs. He's pretty upset."
When Wilson found the forlorn Curtis, he was sitting on an uncomfortable cane-backed chair and had his head in his hands.