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Macclesfield pilgrims

Gina Holbrook prior to the release of <i>Control</i> the biopic about Ian Curtis goes to Macclesfield

Published on September 26th 2007.


Macclesfield pilgrims

There is only one individual memorial marked on the map at the entrance to Macclesfield Cemetery and it’s that of Ian Curtis. But if you choose to visit you won’t find an elaborate monument or even a gravestone. The Joy Division singer gets kerb between Arthur Proburt and Walter Dean who also died in 1980. The kerb is marked with Curtis’s name, dates and the quotation ‘Love will tear us apart’ from the Joy Division song of the same name.

In anticipation of an upsurge in remembrance of Curtis with the release of the biopic ‘Control’ in early October, I took one of Britain’s classic rock pilgrimages to Macclesfield. I brought my son Xan, sixteen, and by his own admission “nerdy about music” who knows much more than I do about the cross pollination between artists at the time and the influences suggested, acknowledged and subsequent.

We stood before the stone assuming the reverential silence that a cemetery inspires and almost in a whisper Xan said “Mum, did you ever see Joy Division play?”

“No son, I didn’t.”

I could see he was disappointed.

While Curtis was inspiring devotion from fans as lead singer, lyricist and significant contributor to the creative force that was Joy Division (Xan reckons you can hear his influence in every modern indie band) I was working shifts and therefore missed most of it.

Curtis took his own life when he was only twenty three. The Anton Corbijn directed film, winner of the director’s prize at Cannes, is based on the book Touching From a Distance written by Curtis’ widow Deborah, played in the film by Samantha Morton. Ian Curtis is played by Sam Riley, revisiting this period in recent history after playing Mark E Smith in Twenty Four Hour Party People. All sorts of people from the life and times of Ian Curtis feature including the late Tony Wilson, as a co-producer.

Immediately behind the kerb stone is a rose tree, dwarf fir, holly and a windmill. On the stone itself there are various items including a horseshoe-shaped charm, 8p, a blank key, some glass stones and some guitar picks. The eclectic mix was out of place amongst the tidy and peaceful surroundings.

Xan said, “Mum, how come you remember the music if you missed everything else?”

I didn’t have an answer to that other than a vague notion about a sort of sponge for music located in the minds of most young persons and anyway, that was my era, so my son explained to me the importance of Joy Division. Xan talked about the deeply subjective nature of Curtis’ lyrics and the way that he described his own feelings and his life. Xan had found Joy Division on a music channel with the video for ‘Atmosphere’ and was moved to research the Joy Division sound - guitar, synth and strictly managed drums - which he describes as avante garde for the time.

We agreed that in the old footage, Curtis looks and sounds vulnerable, out of control compared to the rock steady presence of fellow band members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. It’s that vulnerability and waywardness, and the oddness of the music, which drags rock pilgrims to this out of the place location in an out of the way town south of Manchester. In a way the modest memorial is perfect for the man and his peculiar but enduring appeal: one which drives celebrated movie directors to examine his brief life.

There’s also a waterproof lunchbox placed close to the Curtis kerb. Carefully examining this we found it contained cards, poems and notes from friends and fans. Near the top was a birthday card from Ian Curtis’ mum. This touching discovery caused me to swallow very hard and replace the lid, firmly.

Next week John Robb reviews Anton Corbijn’s film Control about Ian Curtis.

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