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Sunday 21 July 2019

New Order can set Picnic atmosphere

Manchester deities New Order are, to some, the greatest group of all time. Barry Egan, who agrees, thinks their best album was in 1989 - and recalls meeting them as a schoolboy

Bernard Sumner and New Order will be at Stradbally for the Electric Picnic
Bernard Sumner and New Order will be at Stradbally for the Electric Picnic
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

When New Order take to the stage at the Electric Picnic in three weeks' time, hopefully their set will make the 65,000 revellers, in Stradbally, Co Laois, feel they are inside a gargantuan nightclub - pumping out all their alt.classics. Once that club isn't The Hacienda, the ill-fated Manchester emporium that New Order once partly owned in the late 1980s and early 1990s until it closed in ignominy in 1997.

As their lead singer, Bernard Sumner, recalled, with particular reference to New Order's legendary manager Rob Gretton, now sadly deceased: "To understand this [the cash-crazy fall of the Hacienda] you have to understand Rob Gretton's mentality - wonderful guy, but like everyone else he had his faults.

"We were crossing a ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, an overnight one, and it was really rough - and Rob, he was a gambler, you know. All the passengers went to bed with seasickness and I saw Rob stand there, with his legs splayed out so he wouldn't fall over, gambling on roulette.

"He gambled to the point where he had to pull his pockets inside out to see if he had any change. Only when the coffers were completely empty did he go to bed. That's what I thought we did with the Hacienda."

But back to the Electric Picnic and why New Order playing it will be such a momentous event - possibly even more so than that other iconic Mancunian also playing Stradbally, Mr Noel Gallagher. For people of a certain age, Joy Division and New Order (the group that rose out of the ashes of Joy Division after Ian Curtis took his own life in May 1980) carry an emotional resonance that was there within us long before Noel and Liam sang about champagne supernovas.

At 18, I remember going to see New Order play the Saint Francis Xavier Hall on Upper Sherrard Street in Dublin in January, 1986. Denis Desmond - who is the brains behind the Electric Picnic festival - was promoting the New Order show (indeed, Denis's office at the time was upstairs at the back of the hall). Denis also managed Blue In Heaven, who had supported New Order the last time they played Dublin. My school friend Brian was the younger brother of Blue In Heaven frontman Shane O'Neill, so Denis was saintly enough to arrange for a sixth former from De La Salle to interview New Order after the show. I sat in the dressing room and nervously asked Bernard why they encored their set that night with Joy Division's Atmosphere. "Why the fuck not?" he roared, good-naturedly, before Peter Hook added with a Manc chuckle: "We were in Joy fucking Division!" That seems like another lifetime ago now.

Not least with Hooky having left the group in 2007 amid much legacy-tainting in-fighting. New Order still carry on - and each time after they take a break and return, they refuse to call it a comeback.

Call me a curmudgeon trapped in the past, but I don't overly care for any of New Order's more recent work. A bit like The Stones with Exile On Main Street, or Primal Scream with Screamadelica, I think New Order's last great album was Technique in 1989.

I still listen obsessively to their debut album from 1981, Movement, and, of course, to 1985's Low-life, and to 1983's Power, Corruption and Lies (to say nothing of all the Joy Division albums). Sometimes, I think Joy Division's mangled live cover on Still of The Velvet Underground's Sister Ray is Ian Curtis' best ever vocal.

So I will be at the Picnic hoping they leave the new-ish stuff for the soundcheck and give us, give me, Ceremony, Love Vigilantes, Temptation - and, of course, Atmosphere. Then perhaps they'll prove they are, as Paul Morley called them, the greatest group of all time.

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