Joy Division and SX @ Walthamstow Youth Centre – March 30th 1979
“There’s fucking Nazi’s riding on the fucking tank!” Peter Hook
Although the history of Joy Division (and later New Order) would become affectionately intertwined with a little corner of Walthamstow, North East London, a poster with a bunch of Nazi’s on it was perhaps not the most auspicious start.
Almost forty years on and Jasmine Hooper – who organised the gig on March the 30th 1979 – is chuckling as she recalls the reaction, while simultaneously making me some porridge and gesticulating out her back window to where ‘Walthamstow Youth Centre’ once stood, literally at the bottom of her garden.
“I got into so much trouble over that poster… my manager went berserk when she saw it… she said, ‘Do you know what this is!?’ I said, ‘well, the kids designed it, it’s fine’. She said, ‘It’s a German tank! You’re going to upset a lot of people, get it down now!!’. Jasmine points out that her boss was right of course but that she was a little naive of the implications of the images used.
Anyway, the ‘kids’ responsible were local lads, Martin Comey and Dave Jones from the group SX (as in Essex) who’d provide support for Joy Division on the night, and in the case of Jones was also Jasmine’s lodger. Dave Jones, or Jonesy as he was known to his mates, changed his name by deed poll to Dave Pils – perhaps taking inspiration from Bernard Sumners own shifting surname – and he went on to work for Joy Division and then New Order for almost a decade.
Martin: “We cut some pictures out of a magazine called ‘Purnell’s History of the Second World War’, and collaged them together. So the tanks are in North Africa, the blokes walking in front are in Russia and so on”.
Then a bloke called Greg who ran photography sessions for the kids took a picture of the collage and in the youth centre’s very own dark room, developed a few A3 copies onto photographic paper.
Dave Pils was one of the first punks who came into the youth club, which at that point mostly catered for working-class East End kids. Jasmine loved music and it was clear the young people that hung out there did too so she started to organise gigs and discos. Pils became her lodger, arriving with a couple of small bags of clothes and a huge army kit bag bursting at the seams with music magazines.
It was Dave who insisted she HAD to come and see a new band called Joy Division.
Martin Comey: “Dave had bought a 10 inch EP called “Live at the Electric Circus” primarily for two bands we were interested in, The Fall and Burning Spear. However, when we gathered round Jasmine’s house to listen, they were completely eclipsed by this group we’d never heard of before, called Joy Division.”
An opportunity to see the band came up that Christmas with Joy Division’s first ever London gig in the basement of the Hope and Anchor in Islington (27th December 1978).
”They just blew everyone in the room away,” says Martin, “all 8 of us and the 3 people behind the bar“.
Jasmine was similarly impressed: “It was tiny and Ian was just mesmerising, just because of how he performs. I thought I have to get them down to the youth club. I HAVE to go and ask them“.
Martin takes up the story: “Jasmine went up to their manager, Rob Gretton and said I’ve got a youth club in Walthamstow would you like to play there and he said ‘yeah’, just like that! No, I’ll just phone the office and check the diary, or where’s Walthamstow!”
“They were very warm and very friendly,” says Jasmine, “You have this perception that people who perform are a bit up their own bums but they said, “Yeah, yeah ok“.
A date was set for Friday 30th March 1979 and as the band were skint, they gladly accepted Jasmine’s offer to crash at hers as well as the ‘in-house’ support act, SX.
“We put an advert in one of the music papers” recalls Martin about the next step in their ill-fated publicity drive, “they misprinted it as ‘SX and Joy Davidson’ as though it was an opera singer… so it’s hardly a surprise no one came“.
A portable stage of about a dozen boxes with a mat on top was set up at one end of the hall and in the absence of hi-tech stage lighting, the tube lights above the band were turned off to temper the harsh glare of a Victorian school hall. “I don’t remember what they played,” Jasmine tells me “but I do remember thinking, Dave your PA is rubbish!! There was so much feedback“.
In ‘Unknown Pleasures – Inside Joy Division’, Hook notes that: “It was a weird crowd, very young kids there, running about, ignoring us like a school hall type gig“. Jasmine explains, “We had a junior section of under 11’s or 12’s and we’d dashed around trying to get rid of them before the gig but they didn’t want to leave“.
Paul Jenner – who was at the gig and to this day has one of the original photo paper posters hanging on his stairs recalls “It was one of those incendiary gigs. They played an absolutely storming set to a sparse crowd. There was plenty of room to walk about anyway“.
Paul also recalls Curtis having a fit during the show (although it should be noted that everyone else I’ve spoken says he didn’t and that his erratic stage moves could sometimes be confused with a fit).
“During ‘Digital’ Curtis had one an epileptic fit and fell through the stage. There was a hole in the carpet and he went down through the crates. They dragged him off but he soon recovered and was back in front of everyone again“.
Comey was left both in awe and with a more realistic outlook on his own band’s place in the world: “They played a full set. Just because it was youth club with a bunch of kids in it, they played as though their lives depended on it. And they were something. The legend deserves to be legend with that band, they were moving so quickly and writing songs so fast“.
“When we played with them, we realised that whatever it was they had… we didn’t have!”
The night turned out to be SX’s peak as Pils was offered a chance to roadie for Joy Division and understandably jumped at the chance. “He was the dealmaker as well as the singer so that was pretty much the end for us” laments Martin.
Whether the local council lamented their end is less sure given their hobby of heading out with aerosol cans and spraying their logo in Day-Glo pink all over Walthamstow.
On one occasion Dave – complete with Jasmine’s pasting bucket – was caught flyposting and ended up in court.
“The funny thing was“, recalls Jasmine, “the report in the local paper says that when he was asked if he had anything to say to the magistrates, he replied, ‘Can I have my landladies bucket back’?… Of all the things to say! How Silly!”
After the gig was finished, the two bands headed back to Jasmine’s for what she considered probably the best bit of the gigs she organised. Although she sheepishly apologised to Joy Division’s manager Rob for the lack of takings on the door, due to the poor attendance.
“I didn’t have any furniture or carpet, just some rush matting I got cheap from Habitat and some mattresses and big cushions on the floor from the ex-hippie days. So basically we just laid everything out and everyone would just sleep on the floor“. According to Jasmine, Ian Curtis was tired and a little stressed out so he went off to bed almost immediately.
The next morning, however, Hooky was up early and in a playful mood, “We were making toast and they decided to play a trick on Dave“. Gesturing at the sink, Jasmine laughs as she tells me, “You see those sponges, well they put butter and what not on it and made it look like it was toast. When Dave came down, he took a bite and freaked out“.
Martin remembers Barney, Hookey and Steve wanting to go shopping for clothes on the Saturday. “They wanted to go to Carnaby Street, Petticoat Lane and Portobello Road. I was not into that at all, so I stuck them on a bus at St. James Street with instructions on how to get to Brick Lane“.
On Sunday they were due in Stockport for three successive weekends at Strawberry Studios recording their debut LP, ‘Unknown Pleasures’ with producer Martin Hannett.
“Our relationship with the band became more like friends… It wasn’t so much, I’m booking you for a gig. It was more like – you know, the house is open, you wanna come, come stay.
I think they valued that as they were just starting out and didn’t have a lot of cash“. Jasmine Hooper
Peter Hook returned to Walthamstow on the 21st March (2018) for a talk about his career and on the night he very much echoed Jasmine’s feelings:
“We’d never met anyone like Jasmine before, she actually helped people! She was a youth worker looking out for young kids. We didn’t have people like her where we came from. Every time we were in London we’d just crash at hers.”
Joy Division also returned to play a second gig at the Youth Centre on the 22nd of August 1979. With a distance of 40 years, memories of the performance are sketchy and often fused with the first.
As Martin points out to me when I keep badgering him for details…”It was a long time ago!”
Trevor Howard, who like most who attended the Walthamstow gigs became a lifelong Joy Division and New Order fan – was mesmerised by Ian Curtis but also more vividly recalls the drumming, “my main interest was Stephen Morris and his frantic/ferocious drumming. I had always fancied myself as a drummer and he was thrilling to watch! I remember him hit the Synare drum like it was yesterday and thinking… “so that’s what makes the sound!”
UNSEEN PHOTOS OF IAN CURTIS AND JOY DIVISION (THAT WILL FOR NOW REMAIN UNSEEN)
Back in 2016, with loads of help from a load of other talented folk, I curated an exhibition about Walthamstow’s seminal punk and post-punk record shop and label, Small Wonder Records. As is the way with these things my research sent me off down tangents I hadn’t expected, so an interview with The Zero’s Steve Godfrey revealed a Walthamstow Punk zine called ‘Fair Dukes’ and then exchanges with those responsible revealed two of the Fair Dukes were also in the band SX.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I finally met up with the Fair Dukes and half of SX (minus Dave and drummer Spencer South).
At the end of a good hour and a half chat, Martin Comey casually mentioned that he’d found some photos, “I might be interested in“. This was said in the manner of a man who’s fairly sure my jaw had better get acquainted with the floor, “You might recognise these people“… Martin does a great deadpan.
“I’d completely forgotten I’d taken a picture of Ian until you came along and prompted me to go searching through what I had. I found a film that had hardly any prints left in it but quite a lot of negs. So I scanned the negs and out of the past emerged a picture of Ian“.
Curtis is pictured sitting on Jasmine’s floor with a large purple blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a cigarette in one hand.
Martin also brings out a picture of Steve and Barney shooting the breeze with a load of his school friends. I’d love to reproduce them here but Martin is reticent about them being exploited by people online, a concern I can more than understand having had an early photo of Adele I took ripped off by The Sun, complete with fictitious backstory and copyright symbols everywhere.
“There was a hell of a lot going on after that gig” The second gig, I ask…”yes I’m pretty sure,” he says in an unsure manner.
“My recollection after the gig was that Rob their manager and Ian were closeted together all night long and it was a pretty heavy conversation that was going on in a room upstairs“. After learning Peter Hook was coming to E17 for a talk with the Walthamstow Rock’n’Roll Book Club, I messaged Martin me to let him know… the reply came back
“if Hooky wants to know why I didn’t get a picture of him, it’s because he was in the kitchen drinking the case of Fosters they brought with them. I did help him out a little with that!”
The second gig is most well known for a meeting that took place back at Jasmine’s after the show. “Annik was here you know,” she says with perhaps a hint of dolefulness in her voice. Hooks ‘Unknown Pleasures’ book confirms the aspiring Belgian music journalist Annik Honoré interviewed all four of them after the gig with some sources saying the interview lasted “a marathon four hours“.
Either way, the married Curtis and Honoré connected and met again in Leeds a month later. “Annik was only here that one time” points out Jasmine, “but I suppose that was when all the damage started“.
Jasmine also recalls the band playing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ at the second show, although it’s widely reported that the song got it’s first live airing at shows supporting The Buzzcocks, the following month.
In January 1980, the band again stayed at Jasmine’s ahead of their European tour, and Tonino Cagnucci recounts an argument that took place while they were there in his book, ‘Disorder and other unknown Pleasures’.
Bernard Sumner: “We were at our friend Jasmine’s house in Walthamstow, before we got the ferry to go out to Europe (for live dates in January 1980) and Frank Sinatra came on the telly. Ian said, ‘Frank Sinatra’s great.’ Either me or Rob went, ‘No, he’s shit.’ ‘No, he’s great.’ ‘No, he’s fucking SHIT!’ ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, he’s fucking GREAT!’ And the whole argument escalated… I think Ian sang like Frank Sinatra on ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ to fuck us off.”
Tony Wilson gifted Curtis with a set of Frank Sinatra albums shortly before the recording of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
Jasmine understandably doesn’t want to dwell on Ian’s death aside from the obvious shock, “It was such a difficult traumatic time for them all when they’re just on the cusp of something happening, their key figure disintegrates really and everything collapsed around him“. Dave had, like the rest of the band, been due to fly to America the next day for their first US tour.
Sometime later Dave Pils told Peter Hook that Ian had left his famous Mac behind the last time they’d stayed at Jasmine’s in Walthamstow. In his Joy Division book, Hooky recounts the tale:
“Dave had grabbed the Mac and gone running after the car when we’d left, but it was too late we’d gone. That was the last time Dave saw Ian.
What did you do with the Mac I asked
‘Took it down the charity shop Hooky’”
Out of the tragedy, New Order and huge commercial success somehow followed, and they returned to Walthamstow on September 25th, 1981. They had however swapped the old school hall for the grand Grade II listed Art Deco Assembly Halls on Forest Road. The gig was organised by ‘Final Solution’, concert promoters set up by the former ‘Saturday boy’ at Walthamstow’s Small Wonder Records, Colin Faver, along with Kevin Milins.
The next day they were due to play a ‘mystery’ gig at a castle in Kent with people to be collected at Speaker’s Corner with no idea where they were heading. The British weather put pay to that plan.
While in Walthamstow the band popped into Small Wonder Records to sign their latest single ‘Procession’.
Local fan, Trevor Howard recalls asking Small Wonder boss Pete Stennett if they’d come in to sign them:
“Pete Said, ‘Oh yeah, then they went to Dhaka tandoori across the road for lunch’. To this day, I always give an admiring glance to Dhaka tandoori!”
Trevor was also one of the lucky two or three people to get an original poster for the Youth Centre gig. When they played Assembly Hall as New Order he asked Dave if he could get it signed by the band, but with one strict instruction, ‘do not let Gillian sign it‘!
They were still visiting Walthamstow and one assumes Jasmine’s as late as 1983. Martin Comey recalls Hooky driving him and Dave Pils around Walthamstow in his new bright red Audi Coupé.
“He was verrrry proud of that car. It was an extremely fast and ‘ooky loved it, but we must have made a peculiar sight in austere early eighties Walthamstow. Three punk rockers in black leathers in a brand new supercar: some rebellion. At least we didn’t get arrested for speeding!”
Pils finally stopped working for the group in 1987 – after almost a decade of roadie-ing, guitar teching and pouring iced water into Hookys leather trousers on stage (you’ll have to read Hook’s New Order book for a host of tales like that). As a tribute, they inscribed “GOODBYE DAVY PILS C 27.12.78 – 5.6.87” in the run-out groove of their ‘Substance’ compilation.
For Jasmine, the times both Joy Division and New Order stayed with her are full of great memories and despite what some might see as the band’s sombre output, mostly recollections of having a right proper laugh.
“I remember when they did the support for the Buzzcocks in Finsbury Park, Dave and I cooked up some horrible things for them we bought maggots, a container of maggots, mice. When I think back I think I must have been mad, it’s really quite a mean thing to do. What we did was when The Buzzcocks were due to play… I just remember we had maggots come off the instruments. In the bus on our way home there were mice, and we put shaving foam all over the dressing room. It was just like really stupid stuff like kids do but it was all supposed to be a big laugh, it was just a bit dippy.
I remember Dave and I standing by the mixer at The Rainbow and waiting and watching to see the reaction and what would happen when the band realised there was something not quite right on stage. All of the sudden you saw them jump up and scurry off“.