Ian Curtis (15th July 1956 to 18th May 1980)

 

I’m not a fan of Joy Division/New Order but I remember a lad at school being obsessed with them and Ian Curtis. I thought I would seek out the house where he died and his memorial stone in the nearby cemetery. I was having a Sunday afternoon drive out anyway - to Jodrell Bank (having been watching Stargazing Live through the week) and thought Macclesfield wasn’t far away.

 

It had been snowing the night before so I thought the bleak winter deadness may be transformed by a winter coating of snow. However most of it had melted. It was still a pleasure to pass through sleepy Cheshire villages I’d never seen before, look up the drives to huge detached houses and pass by remote cottages I’d be scared to sleep in due to their remoteness. In a field I saw a scarecrow in full black suit and top hat, out-stretched arms lined with snow.

 

I had to swerve into the side of the road and brake quite hard for some horse riders coming in the other direction. The back legs of one big beauty (horse not woman) came out passed the middle of the road so its meaty flank almost banged into my windows. The rider apologised with a wave as she tried to straighten the four legs; she was a big lass too and I caught sight of a rubber ring of chub around her waist that I wouldn’t want on my back (having said that I sometimes book Mammoth Mary and Wobbly-Whale Wendy to come round to liven up a Friday evening.)

 

I found 77, Barton Street among rows of terraced houses squashed up together. These houses must have been built before the masses bought cars as garages were scare and I had to park two streets away. I walked up to number 77 but the front door opened and, even though they’re probably used to sad geeks, I walked on and waited a while. I tried to take some photos of the street but some people stood at another front door chatting didn’t seem to want to get out of the cold. I went round a corner and waited till everyone had gone. Here’s some photos. I would have taken more but there was a young woman in the upstairs window. Ian wrote many of Joy Division’s songs at this house and it’s where he hung himself in the kitchen.

 

I won’t bore you with the biography of Ian but do a quick resume: he was just outside Macclesfield to working parents but spent most of his childhood in their flat near the town centre till he was 17. Though he was bright and won a scholarship to the King's School in Macclesfield he didn’t go beyond going some O-levels and soon got a job at Rare Records in Manchester. Still a teenager he married school-friend Deborah Woodruffe. They lived in Hulme and then in Chadderton before moving to Macclesfield. He only had one "proper" job was as a civil servant for the Manpower Services Commission in Manchester then Macclesfield.

 

Aged 20 he went to a Sex Pistols concert and met future band members Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook who were forming a band. Ian put himself forward as vocalist and lyricist. They were called Warsaw but there was another group called Warsaw Pakt so they called themselves Joy Division (from the novel The House of Dolls which featured a Nazi concentration camp sex slave wing called the "Joy Division".) Quite quickly they signed with Factory Records in Manchester. He was 23 when Joy Division released their debut album Unknown Pleasures. They were just getting going and I’m not sure Ian could have guessed what passionate followers would listen to the songs decades after (not my sort of thing.) Perhaps it was they were complete outsiders, an anathema to the likes of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Though kindly, quiet and sociable he was secretive, inaccessible and closed - probably due to epilepsy fits and its medications. He did a weird shaman dancing style commensurate with the epileptic seizures he endured. Strobe lighting in some of the clubs couldn’t have helped and he fits on stage many times.

 

He resigned his job and, short of money, his wife had to get a job to support their new daughter (now a photographer.) However the group were amassing a fanatical following. Their manager Rob Gretton contributed much to their ascent and Tony Wilson put them on the television and handed them residency at the Russell Club in Hulme.

 

I’m not sure why Ian has such a dedicated cult following that’s strong today. The songs are pulled down by topics of desolation, emptiness and alienation. Perhaps this sense of dispossession chimes with them. On 17th May 1980 he was staying alone at Barton Street after a day out clothes shopping with the other group members. The group was about to do a two-week tour of North America and needed better clothes. That night he was alone in the house. He told his wife he was going to catch a train to Manchester to see her the next day. However in the small hours he pulled rope out from the device used to air wet clothes, tied it up over the table in the kitchen and hung himself. His wife found him the next day.

 

Who knows what makes people end their lives especially if a loved one will find them and have the image burnt into their brains? He might have tried before; in April 1980 he’d been admitted to hospital after taking an overdose of his epilepsy medication. Though his wife was divorcing him (his platonic friendship with a female journalist wasn’t helping) he was already in trouble mentally. His epilepsy was poorly medicated, he was fighting depression and the pressure to balance his musical ambitions with his marriage was weighing him down. He’d told his wife many times he couldn’t see himself getting beyond his twenties. Probably the pressure of touring America pushed him over the edge. His wife said he wasn’t worried about going on the tour as he knew he wouldn’t be going.

 

People were looking at me taking photos so I left the cramped Street, driving about fifteen minutes to Macclesfield Crematorium and Cemetery. In the car I had a coffee and cheese muffin for I didn’t know the measure of this cemetery - two aces or fifteen? I had a close up photo of the memorial stone to seek out. I walked passed the crematorium which wasn’t smoking as they don’t seem to do a body-burn-fat-fry on Sundays. Treading in virgin snow on the grasses was nice though I seemed to be the only one doing it. Most people walking their dogs stuck to paths. The place would have been prettier if more snow had caked the stones in white icing.

 

After a time I spotted a row of memorial stones and looked for the one with the most objects on it - this was it. The font was different from the one on my bit of paper and later I read the original stone was stolen in July 2008. I’d read Ian ashes had been buried somewhere in the cemetery though I doubt they’re under this one. I had a look through the usual miscellany of stuff left by fellow geeks - CDs, necklace, cards, poetry - most ruined by rain; also I brushed of layer of snow of something hiding an “IAN” flower arrangement. I took a photo for a website I contribute to (no salutes) but found later it wasn’t accepting anymore relating to this dead dude.

 

His widow’s book Touching from a Distance is for the ever-curious geeks and there’re two films if time is short - 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007).

 

In 2015 the table Ian used to kill himself was sold on ebay for £8400.

 

 

 

Ian left behind a wife and daughter…

 

A photo taken shortly before his suicide...

 

From one side of the street….

 

…and the other side…

 

 

Some old photos from the house (probably 1987) and the table he used which was sold on ebay

 

It was for sale in 2013..

 

To the crematorium and cemetery…

 

Where Ian was cremated…

 

And the rear showing the crematorium chimney…

 

Looking for the location of memorial stone…

 

 

 

 

 

Pointing to the crematorium and the memorial stone…

 

One last touch of the stone…