Wednesday, 23 October 2019

LITERARY EVENT REVIEW: Stephen Morris and John Savage in Conversation - The RNCM, Manchester.

As a huge fan of both Joy Division and New Order, the chance to see and hear from drummer Stephen Morris was too good to turn down. He has recently written a book chronicling his life from adolescence through to the point where Joy Division were disbanded – the book is titled “Record Play Pause: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: The Joy Division Years” and was available to purchase on the merchandise stand in the foyer.

First to arrive to the stage was Jon Savage, a musical journalist who was asking the questions of Morris throughout the evening. Savage is best known for his association with punk scene and was very influential back in the days of the written press – i.e. pre-internet and social media – in making or breaking bands. He wrote articles for NME, Melody Maker and Sounds magazines to name but a few – every music fan on the 1970s and 1980s bought these on a weekly basis to find out when bands were touring and what new material they were producing.

Savage recounted the first time he came across Joy Division, who were called Warsaw at the time, at a two day festival in Manchester – the band played a handful of songs and whilst being very raw they clearly had potential and he knew it. He talked of being interested in bands where “their ambition outstripped their talent” and he found this much more interesting than a band who knew what they were doing and mundanely went through their repertoire of songs or “knew when to start and stop at the same time” as her referred to. Savage was also publicising his own book “This Searing Light, The Sun And Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History”.

Following about ten minutes of Jon Savage anecdotes, he introduced Stephen Morris to the stage who took his seat opposite Savage and was given a hand-held microphone. In complete contrast to Savage, Morris appeared to be a little more nervous of his surroundings which I assume comes from his natural persona as the drummer who sits at the back of the stage and is only ever visible from the waist up. This was a point highlighted by Morris when he told the story of being with Joy Division’s manager one day when they were out buying clothes for gigs – Morris was “only allowed a shirt, no new trousers or shoes as they won’t ever be seen”.

Stephen Morris is an interesting character and described himself as something of a loner throughout his adolescent years – back in the 1970s education system all boys seemed to be defined by their musical taste and Morris was listening to bands like The Velvet Underground and more obscure German bands of the time which none of his peers even knew existed.

Savage was, as you might expect, extremely competent as the interviewer in this scenario. The fact that he has known Morris for the best part of 40 years definitely helps the on-stage chemistry. Savage does an excellent job in making the questions to Morris sound very spontaneous, even if they were not. He also asked supplementary questions in order to tease out particular stories that he knew the audience wanted to hear. Many of those stories featured the name Martin Hannett who produced the Unknown Pleasures album with Joy Division and in essence created the legacy that the band has today and is probably the main reason why Joy Division still feels relevant 40 years on from the release.

The night ended with an audience Q&A session where five or six questions were asked – things were wrapped up and both Savage and Morris headed to the foyer for a book signing session. Ultimately the night was there to sell books but I never felt I was being sold to during any of the discussion – the books were mentioned but only in passing, the main event was just listening to the stories of both Savage and Morris as they recounted the time when Joy Division were around and prior to Ian Curtis’ suicide. It was thoroughly entertaining, it gave the audience an insight into Morris’ personality and also a glimpse of what it was like to be involved in those historic events in Manchester 40 years ago.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 20/10/19

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