Bernard Sumner – circa 1983
“I feel so extraordinary / Something’s got a hold of me” – ‘True Faith’ (New Order)
It looks like a computer disc – but it’s not. It is March 1983. New Order has just issued a new single, ‘Blue Monday’, and the sleeve for the disc is manufactured to resemble a floppy diskette. New Order and their label, Factory Records, have produced another typically cryptic and oblique sleeve ‘with virtually no information about the band itself.’ Yet, in a way, by marketing the single as a faux computer disc, the most vital piece of information is being conveyed: New Order have gone electronic – and from this point on things will never be the same…
The story of British band New Order must inevitably include the story of another group, Joy Division. Yet, before either act, it is the story of the individual singers, musicians and songwriters.
Bernard Sumner is born 11 January 1956 in Salford, Manchester, England. When he first comes to public notice he is sometimes known as Bernard Dicken or Bernard Albrecht. ‘Sumner’ is the surname on his birth certificate. His mother had cerebral palsy. John Dickin [sic] is the name of Bernard’s stepfather – and the source of the Dicken surname. Presumably ‘Albrecht’ is just a stagename. It’s all rather murky, but Bernard Sumner is the name by which this person is now known.
When he is 11 years old, Bernard Sumner makes a new friend. Peter Hook is born 13 February 1956 in Manchester. He has a similarly complicated family background. The son of Irene Acton and John Woodhead, he is sometimes known as Peter Acton or Peter Woodhead but ends up taking the surname of his stepfather and becoming Peter Hook.
The two boys attend a show at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on 20 July 1976 put on by notorious punk rock band, The Sex Pistols. This inspires Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook to learn to play music and form their own band. They find a vocalist named Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980) and debut as Warsaw on 29 May 1977. After testing out a drummer or two, they settle on Stephen Morris, born 26 October 1957 in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England. Early in 1978 the group changes its name to Joy Division. The line-up is: Ian Curtis (vocals, occasional guitar), Bernard Sumner (guitar, keyboards), Peter Hook (bass) and Stephen Morris (drums).
Bernard Sumner marries Sue Barlow on 28 October 1978. They go on to have a son, James (born 1983).
In October 1978 Factory Records is founded by three men: Tony Wilson (a local media personality), Alan Erasmus, and Rob Gretton (Joy Division’s manager). Joy Division create two albums for Factory: ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979) (UK no. 71, AUS no. 82) and ‘Closer’ (1980) (UK no. 6, AUS no. 23). Perhaps their most famous song is ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (UK no. 13).
Joy Division’s career comes to a premature halt when Ian Curtis commits suicide on 18 May 1980. So far as can be determined, Curtis takes his own life because of his physical illness (he was an epileptic prone to grand mal seizures) and the stress of what may be considered an affair, when he was married with a small child.
Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris are left to pick up the pieces. As the vocalist, lyricist and frontman of Joy Division, Ian Curtis was the focus of the band. He was largely responsible for their gloomy, dark image. To many fans, Ian Curtis was Joy Division and the idea of the band continuing without him is unthinkable. Such concerns may be irrelevant in any case. The four members of Joy Division had agreed to retire the band’s name if any one of them left the group. By one account, the remainder of the group actually disbands in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death.
Whether the three survivors of Joy Division officially decided to split up or just took a break for a while, they return to the fray in July 1980, about ten weeks after the death of Ian Curtis. It is at this juncture that they appear for the first time under the name of New Order. Manager Rob Gretton is credited with choosing the new name after seeing an item in ‘The Guardian’, a U.K. newspaper, headlined ‘The People’s New Order of Kampuchea.’ The group honours the pact not to use the name Joy Division anymore, but feels they still have something to offer as a band. Consideration was given to hiring an outside vocalist, but the trio decided to forgo that option. Allegedly, Stephen Morris has the best voice of the three, but the group is uncomfortable with having a singing drummer and the role of lead vocalist falls instead to Bernard Sumner.
New Order undertakes a ‘low-key’ tour of the U.S.A.
Later in 1980, they decide to add a fourth member: Gillian Gilbert, born 27 January 1961 in Manchester. She is the girlfriend of New Order’s drummer, Stephen Morris. After an audition in which she plays the Christmas favourite ‘Jingle Bells’, Gillian Gilbert joins the band. The line-up of New Order is now: Bernard Sumner (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Gillian Gilbert (keyboards), Peter Hook (bass) and Stephen Morris (drums).
Bernard Sumner asserts that, “We didn’t join a group to be famous. Or successful. Those were by-products. We joined a group so we could enjoy ourselves, and there was a creative itch we had to scratch.” Gillian Gilbert points out, “I think we started off small.”
Still having a contract with Factory Records, New Order’s first release in March 1981 is the single ‘In A Lonely Place’ backed with ‘Ceremony’. The latter song was originally intended for use by Joy Division. It was recorded before Gillian Gilbert joined New Order. These tracks are produced by Martin Hannett, the producer on most of Joy Division’s recordings.
A freshly recorded new version of ‘Ceremony’ (UK no. 34) becomes Joy Division’s next single in June 1981. This is followed by ‘Procession’ (UK no. 38) in September 1981.
New Order’s debut album, ‘Movement’ (1981) (UK no. 30), arrives in November. It is produced by Martin Hannett. Understandably, it sounds rather similar to Joy Division. This causes some critics to ‘dismiss the band for reliving past glories.’
A trip to New York City in the U.S.A. in 1981 exposes the members of New Order to ‘the joys of electro-dance music’ coming from the underground scene. This is coupled with an interest in the robotic disco of German act, Kraftwerk. These influences filter through to the December 1981 single ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ (UK no. 29). This is their last work with producer Martin Hannett.
The self-produced single, ‘Temptation’ (UK no. 29), surfaces in April 1982. This clamorous number is ‘a major favourite with club-goers.’
It is at this point that New Order really begin to distinguish themselves as a separate entity from Joy Division. Under Ian Curtis, Joy Division brooded in the shadows. Inevitably, given that the two units share three members, New Order still have that dark side to them. However, now it is fused to a sort of electronic dance music. Precisely which brand name is used for this club soundtrack is debatable. Acid house, electro-pop and rave music are all tags that are attached to New Order’s efforts in this realm. It may be simplest to accept Bernard Sumner’s statement: “We were one of the pioneers to make electronic dance music.” However, because New Order have the pedigree of Joy Division behind them, they also have respect from rock music fans and critics that eludes more dedicated dance exponents. They are at a nexus point between the two genres. “We’d always had that balance between electronics and band stuff,” Sumner notes. “I was always pushing for electronics, and Hooky [bassist Peter Hook] was always pushing for band stuff, which was fair enough.”
The members of New Order tend to be enigmatic. Whether through shyness or a desire for privacy, they avoid publicity. “We’ve never promoted the band as just one guy and he’s really important,” insists Bernard Sumner. “There’s no emphasis on the individual.” This extends to the songwriting. “It just says ‘written by New Order’…and New Order, it’s about the songs,” Sumner continues. Their lyrics are as cryptic as the band’s public image, but it may be a mistake to spend a lot of time trying to interpret them. It’s admitted that the words are normally written in haste at the last minute. Bernard Sumner says in reference to the lyrics: “…I’m not trying to be clever or to impress anyone…To me, the ‘meaning’ in a song is the music.”
New Order’s interest in dance clubs extends to them being part owners of ‘The Hacienda’ in Whitworth Street, Manchester. “’The Hacienda’ opened in May 1982,” Stephen Morris says, but points out that this nightclub, “never f***ing did anything else other than lose money…” That’s not entirely true. It becomes, ‘the most famous dance music venue in England.’
The crucial, self-produced single, ‘Blue Monday’ (UK no. 9, AUS no. 13), is released in March 1983. Peter Hook’s colossal bass line anchors the song, while the lyrics state, “Those who came before me / Lived through their vocations / From the past until completion / They’ll turn away no more.” The song ‘combines an infectious dance beat with a calm, aloof vocal.’ It is released in twelve-inch format only, the oversized disc favoured by dance venues, but goes on to ‘become the biggest-selling twelve-inch single of all time in the U.K.’ After ‘Blue Monday’ becomes a hit, things change. “All of a sudden we were a pop band,” says the still faintly astonished Stephen Morris. “Things seemed slightly more optimistic. We felt like we were an established band.” New Order remains resolutely loyal to Factory Records. As Pete Hook later puts it, “We are the only truly independent band.”
New Order’s second album, ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ (1983) (UK no. 4, AUS no. 38) is released in May. It has an incongruous painting of a flower arrangement on the cover. Beginning with this album, the band members act as producers of their own albums. This effort is described as ‘brilliant’. This disc is home to the ‘elegiac’ ‘Your Silent Face’ and ‘the catchy bass riff and quirky lyrics’ of ‘Age Of Consent.’
Arthur Baker, a producer noted for his work with New York’s hip-hop dance-oriented recording artists, co-produces New Order’s next two singles, ‘Confusion’ (UK no. 12, AUS no. 72) in August 1983 and ‘Thieves Like Us’ (UK no. 18, AUS no. 84) in April 1984. The latter is notable for a lengthy (2.29) instrumental introduction featuring strong drums, waves of synthesiser, burbling bass and a brief shot of fuzz guitar. Like many New Order songs, the lyrics bear little or no connection to the title. The chorus of ‘Thieves Like Us’ cries, “It’s called love / And it belongs to everyone but us.” Bernard Sumner later claims that New Order were “bad boys” and this aspect is partly fleshed out with the following witty lines from this song: “I’ve lived my life in the valleys / I’ve lived my life on the hills / I’ve lived my life on alcohol / I’ve lived my life on pills.” Another single, ‘Murder’ (UK no. 92), follows in May 1984.
‘Low Life’ (1985) (UK no. 7, US no. 94, AUS no. 70) is released in May. This is a disc full of ‘big, bright tunes’ and is seen as ‘their most consistently appealing album to date.’ Its highlight is the ‘magnificent’ single, ‘The Perfect Kiss’ (UK no. 46, AUS no. 85). “I know / You know / We believe in a land of love,” runs the chorus. The verses offer darker, more troubling sentiments. “Pretending not to see his gun / I said ‘Let’s go out and have some fun,’” the narrator says, before reaching the later conclusion, “I should have stayed at home / Playing with my pleasure zone.” ‘The Perfect Kiss’ is adorned with chiming guitar and reedy keyboards. John Robie is brought in to co-produce the version of ‘Sub-Culture’ (UK no. 63) from this album that is released as a single in November.
The March 1986 single, ‘Shellshock’ (UK no. 28, AUS no. 23), is included on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986) and the single and movie boost publicity for each other. ‘Shellshock’ is a new high for New Order in terms of being perceived as a ‘pop band.’ “You call me on the phone / You left me all alone / All I get from you is shellshock,” sings Bernard Sumner. Though the title is cited in this verse, again the chorus is quite different; “Hold on / It’s never enough / It’s never enough until your heart stops beating.” The keyboards spiral about with tooting synthetic blasts of ‘brass’. There is a relentless, automatic momentum here that is characteristic of New Order’s “electronic dance music.” ‘Shellshock’ is co-produced by John Robie.
‘Brotherhood’ (1986) (UK no. 9, US no. 161, AUS no. 15) in September is New Order’s best album. “Listen to it and you can hear it has two different sides. There were battles raging on ‘Brotherhood’,” explains Peter Hook. While he is pushing for more of the conventional band as musicians, Bernard Sumner is piling on the electronics. “By luck, it got tipped the band way on ‘Brotherhood’,” Sumner says. Yet he also points out, “It was a very dense album, because we’d gone a bit mad on overdubs.” Even Stephen Morris opines, “There’s too much on it. It’s very digital sounding.” Yet this works very well on the disco Armageddon of ‘Paradise’ and the zigzagging computerisation of ‘State Of The Nation’ (UK no. 30). Peter Hook’s more earthy approach is represented by the bumptious rhythm of ‘Weirdo’ and the urgent bass riff pulsing through ‘Broken Promise’. Viewed as a whole, this ‘presents the most thorough synthesis of…all the New Order albums’ and it is this balance that makes it their best effort. The album’s highpoint is ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ (UK no. 56, US no. 98, AUS no. 5), an eye-catching, but irrelevant, title. “Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray / I’m waiting for that final moment / You’ll say the words that I can’t say,” runs the chorus, while Hook’s bass finds itself at odds with twirling synthesisers. Stephen Morris says of this song, “That was and is a real crowd pleaser, one that you’d feel bad about leaving out of your set. It’s got that good combination of rock and dance, so everybody was happy. Those are the moments we strove for!”
Stephen Hague co-produces New Order’s next single. Released in July 1987, ‘True Faith’ (UK no. 4, US no. 32, AUS no. 8) is New Order’s best individual song. The track weds a pulse-pounding thud to uneasily cryptic lyrics. “I used to think that the day would never come / That my life would depend on the morning sun.” Is it ‘True Faith’ in the sun eventually rising? Perhaps it’s ‘True Faith’ in God as exemplified by the sun? It could be ‘True Faith’ that things will get better, a kind of metaphor embodied by the daylight banishing the darkness of night. Then again, it might have no meaning at all. There is a very genuine sense of dread at work that somehow seeps through lines like, “When I was a very small boy / Very small boys talked to me.” It is this fusion of thought-provoking words and irresistible dance floor grooves that places this at the apex of the New Order catalogue.
The flipside of ‘True Faith’ is ‘1963’. This is a good example of the gender confusion that creeps into the lyrics of New Order. It is apparently written from a female perspective (but it’s hard to know for sure): “It was January 1963 / When Johnny came home with a gift for me.” By the time it reaches the chorus, this has blossomed into a disco murder mystery, “Oh God / Johnny / Don’t point that gun at me.”
Stephen Hague again co-produces New Order’s next single in December 1987. ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’ (UK no. 20, AUS no. 15) is actually used in the chorus of the song of the same name, with a high voice echoing “touched” for emphasis. Amidst bonking percussion, Bernard Sumner confesses, “I’ve never looked at you in a sexual way in my life before / And I’ve never woken up like this so desperately before.”
Famed U.S. producer Quincy Jones remixes New Order’s breakthrough song as ‘Blue Monday ‘88’ (UK no. 3, AUS no. 4) in March 1988, giving the song another lease of life.
New Order’s next album, ‘Technique’ (1989) (UK no. 1, US no. 32, AUS no. 25), is released in January. This album is partially recorded at Ibiza (pronounced ee-bee-tha), an island off the coast of Spain. A popular destination for British tourists, Ibiza has become a centre for club culture. This proves to be a double-edged sword for New Order. On one hand it makes this their ‘most club-focused outing to date’, but the night-life also offers a plethora of diversions that distract them from getting the album completed. The lead single is ‘Fine Time’ (UK no. 11, AUS no. 20). The song’s (disconnected) title comes from drummer Stephen Morris. His car had been towed away and he had to remind himself to pay the fine to get the vehicle back, so he titles the song ‘Fine Time’. “You’re much too young to be a part of me,” sings Bernard Sumner over this busy rave anthem. In the 1970s, African-American disco lothario Barry White spoke, rather than sang, his song in a deep bass rumble. Peter Hook emulates White on this track, muttering, “Sophisticated lady, you’ve got style, you’ve got class, but most of all, you’ve got a lot of…technique.” This is the source of the album’s title. Stephen Hague co-produces the single version of ‘Round & Round’ (UK no. 21, US no. 64, AUS no. 71) issued in February 1989. The synthesisers on this song rub against each other like strands of cotton while Sumner’s voice rises above it to offer the refrain, “The picture you see is no portrait of me / It’s too real to be shown to someone I don’t know / And it’s driving me wild / Makes me act like a child.” ‘Run’ (UK no. 49) has an atypical big guitar wash, while ‘Vanishing Point’ is built on a player piano riff with lightning strikes of synth. This is the last album released on the ‘doomed’ Factory label.
Bernard Sumner and Sue Barlow divorce in 1989.
‘World In Motion’ (UK no. 1, AUS no. 21), released in May 1990, accompanies the campaign for the British World Cup football team. Aside from New Order seeming a very unlikely source for a soccer anthem, it’s actually quite a good song. There is a suspicion that the main section – “Love’s got the world in motion / And I know what we can do” – has been grafted on to the more sporty segments in the remix by Andrew Weatherall and Terry Farley.
Unpredictably, the members of New Order take a break to indulge in side projects. The most successful of these might be Electronic, a sort of mini-supergroup that finds Bernard Sumner working with Johnny Marr (from The Smiths) and Neil Tennant (from Pet Shop Boys). Peter Hook forms the ‘hard-rocking’ Revenge. Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris modestly bill themselves as The Other Two.
Bernard Sumner remarries. He and his second wife, Sarah Dalton, have three children: Dylan (born 1992), Tess (born 1994) and Finley (born 2003).
New Order finally reconvenes for the Stephen Hague produced ‘Republic’ (1993) (UK no. 1, US no. 11, AUS no. 5) on London Records. The most effective track is ‘Regret’ (UK no. 4, US no. 28, AUS no. 26). This tips the balance towards rock with an emphatic guitar riff, while Peter Hook’s bass bobs on waves of sound. “Maybe I’ve forgotten the name and the address of everyone I’ve ever known / It’s nothing I regret,” begins the song, giving it a title too. In typical New Order fashion, that designation is quite removed from the chorus: “I would like a place I can call my own / Have a conversation on the telephone / Wake up every day that would be a start / I would not complain of my wounded heart.” In ‘World (Price Of Love)’ (UK no. 13, US no. 92, AUS no. 87) the synthesisers bounce like rubber balls. ‘Ruined In A Day’ (UK no. 22) is a haunted house of electric keyboards and skeletal guitar.
Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris become engaged in 1993 and marry shortly after that. They have two daughters, Tilly and Grace.
Peter Hook marries Caroline Aherne in 1994, but the union proves relatively short-lived as they split in 1996.
Remixes of some of New Order’s past hits keep them on the charts. ‘True Faith ‘94’ (UK no. 9, AUS no. 69), ‘1963’ (UK no. 21) – from 1995 – and ‘Blue Monday ‘95’ (UK no. 17) are the songs concerned.
The members of New Order again pursue separate projects. Bernard Sumner makes a return to Electronic, while Peter Hook tries a new enterprise, Monaco. ‘Refusing to confirm or deny word of a breakup, New Order simply spends the mid-1990s in a state of limbo.’
When they do eventually return it is without Gillian Gilbert. Her second daughter, Grace, suffers from transverse myelitis so Gilbert quietly drops out to care for her.
The soundtrack to the film ‘The Beach’ (2000) holds ‘Brutal’, the first fresh New Order track in some years. It is only a promotional release though, so it doesn’t chart as a single. Phil Cunningham (guitars, synthesisers) (born 7 December 1974) takes the place of Gillian Gilbert in New Order.
‘Get Ready’ (2001) (UK no. 6, US no. 41, AUS no. 7) is the next full-length album by New Order. With electronic dance perhaps now a little out of fashion, this album’s single, ‘Crystal’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 53), shows a more guitar-heavy approach.
This album is followed by ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’ (2003) (UK no. 5, US no. 46, AUS no. 15).
Peter Hook leaves New Order in 2007 and this seems to spell the end for the band.
Bernard Sumner forms a new act, Bad Lieutenant, named after the 1992 movie of the same designation. Phil Cunningham is also part of this outfit. Although not an official member, New Order drummer Stephen Morris guests with Bad Lieutenant.
Surprisingly, New Order once again regroups – without Peter Hook, but with Gillian Gilbert. The 2011 version of New Order sees Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham and Stephen Morris joined by Tom Chapman (bass). Chapman served in Bad Lieutenant.
‘Lost Sirens’ (2013) (UK no. 23) consists of eight tracks from the sessions for ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’ that were left off the album.
‘Music Complete’ (2015) (UK no. 2, US no. 34, AUS no. 20) is ‘more electronic than the previous two New Order albums’ as they ‘rediscover electronic club music.’
The story of New Order’s creation from the wreckage of Joy Division was unprecedented in rock history. No other band had so successfully carved out a new identity for itself after a total rebranding. New Order was a clearly different entity from Joy Division. There was some common stylistic ground, but where Joy Division was gloomy, post-punk artists, New Order was an electronic dance outfit. What distinguished them from other, lesser, rave merchants was Peter Hook’s sturdy bass lines. Although he may have been at odds with Bernard Sumner, that struggle actually made for better music. New Order’s ‘pioneering fusion of new wave aesthetics and dance music successfully bridged the gap between the two worlds, creating a distinctively thoughtful and oblique brand of synth-pop appealing equally to the mind, body and soul.’ ‘New Order became the creators of a beautiful paradox: They made serious dance music, disco that had courted doom and conquered it.’
- allmusic.com, ‘New Order’ by Jason Ankeny as at 8 February 2001
- New Order Collector’s Editions – The Factory Years – Bonus Disc’s listings (2008 reissues)
- sonicnet.com, ‘New Order’ (as at 28 August 2001) p. 1, 2
- wikipedia.org as at 12 August 2013, 1 January 2016
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 140
- ‘The Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – Bernard Sumner interview conducted by Craig McLean (21 January 2013) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘Electronic Beats – Slices’ Issues 2-12 – Video interview with New Order (21 June 2012)
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.249
- ‘The Gazette’ (Montreal, Canada, newspaper) – Video interview with Bernard Sumner conducted by Vincenzo D’Alto (15 August 2013) (montrealgazette.com)
- ‘Brotherhood’ – Sleeve notes by Ian Harrison (London Records, 2008 reissue) p. 5, 6, 7, 8, 12
- ‘New Musical Express’ (U.K. music paper) quoted in (10) above, p. 12-13
- ask.com as at 19 September 2013
- neworderonline.com as at 15 September 2013
- ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 341
- ‘DVD & Video Guide 2007’ by Mick Martin, Marsha Porter (Ballantine Books, 2006) p. 67
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Alternative Scenes: Britain’ by Ken Tucker (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 583
- ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia newspaper) – Review of ‘Music Complete’ by Cyclone Wehner (1 October 2015) p. 48
Song lyrics copyright Bemusic / Warner Chappell Music Ltd
Last revised 3 January 2016