JOY DIVISION – ” Still “

Posted: May 2, 2020 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
Still: Why Joy Division’s Archival Collection Continues To Endure

Released following Ian Curtis’ death, ‘Still’ proves that Joy Division’s outtakes and rarities stack up against most bands’ A-grade material. However, the band had recorded prolifically during their short life and they’d left enough rare and/or previously unreleased songs in the vault to warrant the collation of an impressive posthumous collection – 1981’s “Still”.

“Still” is a compilation album by the English band Joy Division, consisting of previously released and unreleased studio material and a live recording of Joy Division’s last concert, performed at Birmingham University 40 years ago on May, 2nd 1980, two weeks before the death of singer Ian Curtis. It was released on 8th October 1981 by Factory Records, and was intended to both combat the trade in bootlegs and give fans access to recordings that were not widely available at the time. The concert was recorded via the soundboard, which was released on the “Still” double LP that included all eleven songs from Joy Division’s set, despite “Twenty Four Hours” not being credited on the sleeve.

Joy Division debuted the track “Ceremony” during this concert, which is not even titled on the handwritten setlist, but instead just credited as “new song”.

Factory Records genuinely had no intention of rush-releasing “Still”, and their motives were honourable. The label absolutely believed they should give fans official access to Joy Division songs which weren’t widely available at the time – and they wanted to combat the trade in bootleg recordings which began circulating following Curtis’ death.

Accordingly, Factory put “Still” together as a double-album, with its first disc covering outtakes from the band’s seminal studio albums, “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer”, plus a brace of then hard-to-source rarities. The second disc, meanwhile, contained a mixing-desk recording of Joy Division’s final gig, at Birmingham’s Aston University on 2nd May 1980, in its entirety.

Still’s” studio disc ensured the album was worth the price of admission. The songs weren’t arranged chronologically, but some thought went into the sequencing, as the record kicked off in style with the brooding, soundtrack-esque “Unknown Pleasures” outtake Exercise One, followed by the urgent, anthemic Ice Age and the harsh, metallic “The Sound Of Music” – the hugely potent latter song a leftover from the band’s initial “Love Will Tear Us Apart” session in January 1980.

During the performance of “Decades!” Ian stumbled and had to be helped off stage while the rest of the band played on. He recovered enough to return for an encore performance of “Digital”.

There was much to cherish elsewhere, courtesy of Dead Souls, two further “Unknown Pleasures” outtakes – “Walked In Line” and “The Kill” – and the little-known “Something Must Break“. Though rarely performed live, the latter song (which was recorded during a session at Manchester’s Central Sound studio in July 1979) occupies an important space in Joy Division’s history.

“It was an interesting song for us, being the first time the band had used a synthesiser,” Peter Hook wrote in his memoir “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division”. “Martin [Hannett, producer] had used them on “Unknown Pleasures“, but the thing about us in Joy Division – especially me, Bernard [Sumner, guitarist] and Steve [Morris, drummer] – was that we were sponges, constantly learning off Martin. So you’d have this situation where on “Unknown Pleasures“, me and Bernard were moaning about using a synth, but then a couple of sessions down the line we were using it ourselves. Bernard embraced all that and on “Something Must Break“, he used a synth instead of guitar – there’s no guitar on the song at all.”

Here is a recounting of the concert Dave Haslam, remembers: “It was a dining room at a student hall of residence. 300 people there I reckon. I was ten rows from the front. It was a ramshackle affair, Ian left the stage at least once”. David Pryke was there: I went as an 18 year old student from the near by Aston University. Joy Division were known as the coolest band on the circuit but I was only familiar (so I thought) with the single “Transmission“.

A few memories – they were very very late! We hung around for a long time listening to ACR sound check. A mixed audience of students, punks and rockers. He Remembers ACR doing a cracking set (I think at the time I enjoyed this more, but it paled rather following the news later in the month). It wasn’t until I heard the first few chords of “Shadowplay”. The other track also played on the night and one of my faves was “New Dawn Fades” – Moby played this at a recent gig at Brixton Academy as homage to Ian Curtis.

The only other versions of “Ceremony” that Ian Curtis recorded are from the soundcheck on May 2nd, and from a studio session on 14th May 1980, four days before Curtis’ suicide. The album includes the only live performance by the group of the song “Ceremony”, which later became a New Order single. For reasons unknown, the recording abruptly begins just before the song’s first chorus, as opposed to at the actual beginning of the song; like all surviving Joy Division recordings of “Ceremony”, Ian Curtis’s vocals are barely audible, though in this instance the final chorus is unusually clear. Another song featured is a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”, recorded at the Moonlight Club in London on 2nd April 1980.

Effectively closing the door on the band’s brief but brilliant career, “Still” remained the only Joy Division compilation of note until Factory issued “Substance” in 1988, and – as most contemporary appraisals suggest – it remains a necessary adjunct to Joy Division’s two widely acclaimed studio albums.

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