Confession time: As much as I’m a fan of Joy Division, I couldn’t really give a toss about New Order, the anaemic and noodly electronica pioneers and progrock evolutionists who rose from their ashes. Which makes it all the odder that I’ve basically inhaled three books by their former bassist, Peter Hook, this year. I started with Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, which I enjoyed so much I’ve devoured his histories of The Hacienda, and New Order, which is where we come in. Because in reading Substance: Inside New Order, I’ve contracted a strange side effect: finding support bands in his concert listings, and discovering I enjoy them way more than the band I’m reading about.
So here, in the interests of helping expand the musical horizons of some of you, and exposing myself to a chorus of disbelief and bewilderment from the rest, are five bands I’ve discovered through the pages of a book about New Order that I like far more than the band they supported.
5 for Friday: Attack of the Supports.
A Certain Ratio
How did I get to fifty years of age, and reading a book about a completely different band, before I discovered these guys? They’re simply fabulous: fun, impulsively toe-tapping, moody as fuck, and musically fascinating. They’re a perfect conglomeration of all the sounds I should have been smothered by in the mid-80s, were I not stuck in a guitar-driven country soaked in bogan rock and cod-new wave soft funk. (Not a complaint: no life is poorer for being steeped in INXS, The Models, The Angels, et al). Like James a year or so ago, it’s taken me far too long to discover them, but now that I have, I’m too busy downloading to talk to you…
The Durutti Column
So completely non-typical of anything else on Factory Records, or Manchester, or the 1980s at large, to be honest. Crisp, clean, jazz-inspired guitar instrumentals that are perfect for lying on the bed to, eyes closed, in the dark, letting the music carry your mind on journeys far away from the bollocks of the day. The best comparison I can make is to XTC with the lyrics removed, which is a compliment. After the pompous, self-important posturing of a New Order song this comes as a blessed relief.
The Happy Mondays
Yeah, I know I’m late to the party on this one. What can I say? The mid-80s in Boganville, Western Bogantania didn’t dive heavily into Madchester e-driven trancepop. As an adult I’ve been aware of the Happy Mondays without ever really delving into them: frankly, the track I’ve picked out is the only one I’d really heard before, and even then, only because JJJ occasionally tears itself away from shitty Australian garage rap to indulge in a bout of nostalgia. Anyway, to the surprise of approximately nobody I’m sure, it’s great, they’re great, the rest of their stuff is both mad and great, and you should listen to them because they’re great.
Okay, so being the greatest band to come out of Iceland is a little like being the greatest red wine to come out of Nigeria, but the Sugarcubes are legitimately fantastic. Just a high-quality combination of voice talent, musical skills, and songwriting chops, with a voice and outlook that stand them apart from their contemporaries. It’s a bit of a cheat to say I only just discovered them through the book — say, rather, that like the rest of the world I’ve become so used to the one-woman rollercoaster ride that is Bjork that I’ve overlooked and forgotten much about the band that created her. It’s beyond time they were polished off and held back up to the light.
Ahh, that short period in the ’80s when electronica and swing intersected, before the former took on a direction all its own and spent a decade up its own fundament before really coming into something wonderful. Mike Pickering was the king of the early British superstar DJs. Big fat bass lines, big fat sax lines, and the plinky jazz noodling reigned in hard in support of the funk. There’s nothing not to love.