It is the early 90s, and an otherwise unexceptional teenager living in Somerset has made a momentous discovery. To be fair, she's going into the sixth form now, and therefore considers herself really very knowledgeable about most things - fashion, world affairs, boys - but now she finds herself the first to discover music. More specifically, she is the sort of maverick trailblazer who has only gone and discovered really good music made before her time.
So, whilst her peers are probably listening to Roxette and Janet Jackson, she likes Roxy Music, and David Bowie, and Talking Heads, and she is the FIRST PERSON EVER TO DO SO - or so she thinks, anyway. Her very favourite bands are Joy Division and New Order, and when she stays at her sister's house she looks at a book discovered by chance on a shelf there, a gloriously moody book full of black and white shots of peaky young men with good cheekbones, hanging out in a rehearsal studio or larking about on a snowy bridge. Truth be told, these images are a major factor in her decision to apply to Manchester University without considering such minor details as course content, so it probably serves her right when they later make her translate the whole of Beowulf from the original Anglo-Saxon.
The photographs in question are of course those taken by Kevin Cummins between 1977 and 1980, when he had unrivalled photographic access to Joy Division. It seems lazy and cliched to call them iconic, but they really are: these pictures are almost synonymous with the band and their short-lived rise to prominence, and capture Manchester during a different era, a different time, when photographs were special and musicians were musicians rather than fame-hungry celebrities. Rather unsettlingly, tonight I have come face to face with all the photographs I used to pour over, as well as the man who took them - here's Ian Curtis dancing on stage in his own inimitable style; here are the four of them trudging through the snow, coat lapels raised against the Manchester cold; there's that oh-so-famous close up shot of a pale Curtis taking a drag on his cigarette. And they are as breathtaking and as important now as they were then.
The photographs have been touring the country and are on show at the Manchester Photographic Gallery until February 26th. Anyone with even the most fleeting of interests in Manchester music should go; preferably this Saturday (7th January), when Kevin will be in conversation with Joy Division/New Order's Stephen Morris, a gentleman to whom Mr Liz was introduced at a screening of Control yet still failed to recognise - apparently this in itself is not enough to instigate divorce proceedings, although it must surely come close. Kevin will be answering questions about what it was like to work with Joy Division, and although entry is a fiver, this is redeemable against the cost of his book should you wish to buy it (you do). The event is limited to 100 people, so get there early; I can't go, but if you can then please cut straight to the chase and ask the pair of them that all-important question - how guilty do they feel at being responsible for a seventeen-year-old having to translate Beowulf, hmmmm?
- Manchester Photographic can be found on Tariff Street, Manchester, M1 2FF.