Monday, 14 November 2016 10:22

The Blue Monday Diaries: In the Studio With New Order: Week One, Part One

Written by Michael Butterworth
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Over the next four weeks we will be sharing extracts from The Blue Monday Diaries: In the Studio With New Order by Michael Butterworth. This book is a memoir of the time he spent with New Order in 1982, whilst the band was recording ‘Blue Monday’ and Power, Corruption and Lies. Butterworth kept a handwritten diary documenting this period, when he was both living with the band and going with them to Britannia Row studios during the recordings. This diary forms the centre of the book.

The blog posts that we will be sharing are selected passages from The Blue Monday Diaries. These are simply highlights, which are explored in much greater detail in the book.

The first two posts set the scene, describing the late seventies, when Stephen Morris and Ian Curtis found the Savoy bookshops.

Documentarians of Joy Division and New Order, seduced by satanic mills, the city’s seventies doom-laden veneer and the moody black-and-white photography of Kevin Cummins reflecting a true Taste of Honey version of Manchester, usually stop at Joy Division. The cloud that hung about the city seemed to oppress its inhabitants, especially its youth, and it is not surprising that the spirit of the Sex Pistols, in the form of Joy Division, rose with anger and a cold cry of anguish there. But for me, rather than being distinctly separate bands, Joy Division and New Order are aspects of each other. The aspect I will be documenting here is the band’s sunnier one, the side that, for pragmatic reasons, happens to have called itself New Order. For me, they are the Mancs who finally cut loose from their own and their city’s past; who, with other bands, discovered black swagger and cool in New York.

As part of Factory Records, the band grew up in a parallel world to my own, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to record a part of what they brought back. There was another side to the Madchester music explosion, one that is largely unknown, that isn’t recorded in the annals of the city’s musical history except in the underground press and covertly in books like Clinton Heylin’s history of rock bootlegs, The Great White Wonders. The company that conceived and disseminated this alternative culture began in 1975, a few years before the founding of Factory. The publishing house, Savoy Books, consisted of David Britton and myself, and the early ‘edges’ of these two companies, Savoy Books and Factory Records, overlapped and cross-influenced one another.

In a city that was still trying to emerge from its industrial past, its buildings blackened from soot, coping with wartime decline and the purging of its nightlife by police, the company’s retail outlets were oases of alternative youth culture for bands including Joy Division and New Order. Inhabited by young rockers, leather-clad punks and would-be Baudelaires from the science-fiction wastelands, and positioned on the run-down edges of the city centre, these bookshops – House on the Borderland, Bookchain, Orbit Books – formed a kind of occult triangle about Manchester’s respectable mercantile heartland. Gaudy posters, fly-pasted around the city guided the wary and not-so-wary citizens to our door. It was an area staked out as Savoyland.

Growing up as children and teenagers in the late 1950s and sixties, the formative experiences of David and I were seminal rock’n’roll, the literary experimentalism of the Beats, the music of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, and the UK underground magazines Oz and Ink. By the seventies, instead of conforming, as many of our peers were doing, we just carried on.

Our attitude was expressed in the books we published, but it carried through into our retail businesses, where our young shop managers – each a specialist in their own areas of comics, music or literature – reigned supreme over their cultural fiefdoms. At Bookchain, they outdid one another by compiling tapes of newly-released punk and post-punk music, cranking the volume up on the shops’ sound systems so high that the music was not just audible inside the shop but also yards away outside in the street, advertising the iconoclastic presence of Savoy Books. Over there, on that side of town, may be Factory Records. But over here, on our side, something different was happening.

Meccas for the rebels of the city’s street life the shops held a particular allure for the Electric Circus/Ranch/Rafters/Factory/Beach crowd in the sparse era before the chain stores, emboldened by pirates like us, came to monopolise the markets. An integral part of Manchester’s music and literature scenes, we sold bootleg records in the days when such a venture was dangerous. The bootlegs were principally of Bowie and Roxy Music (the backbone of rebellious youth culture), quickly followed by the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols and any vinyl bearing a candid photograph of Debbie Harry on its hastily printed sleeve.

The Blue Monday Diaries: In the Studio With New Order is available from Amazon both in Kindle and paperback format. Click here to find out more.
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