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Tuesday 30 August 2022

To The Centre Of The City

There was a furore in Manchester recently when this gable end mural of Ian Curtis was painted over. The mural (by artist Akse) is/ was on Port Street on the edge of the city centre near newly refurbished/ gentrified Ancoats (I took this photo back in May). It was painted over with an advert for the new album by local rapper Aitch. Immediately social media was filled with people saying this was 'sacrilege' and a travesty. Aitch responded saying the painting was done without his knowledge, he wouldn't want to 'disrespect a local hero' in this way and he'd ensure it was put right. Akse has been asked to paint the portrait in 2020 in association with a music and wellbeing festival, Headstock, and Manchester City Council and the contact details for various mental health charities are/ were on the mural. 

There are hundreds of other places an advert for Aitch's album could have been painted, it seems a little odd his team decided to put it over the mural of Ian Curtis. Unless the resulting publicity was what they wanted (and got). On the other hand street art like this is by nature transitory and can't be expected to be around forever. I sometimes get a bit perturbed by the Ian Curtis death cult, something I realised writing this post I've written about before. It's been around since he died and the photographs of him from the time- all black and white, a far away look his eyes, the doomed romantic poet of post- punk frozen forever- add to it. The 2007 film Control further contributed to this view of Ian. In contrast all his former bandmates have written in their respective autobiographies about what a great laugh Ian was and how being in Joy Division was fun much of the time. Ian's epilepsy and its treatment seems to have been the trigger for much of his poor mental health, exacerbated by the domestic/ relationships situation he got into. The pressure of being in the band, performing while being ill and the feeling of letting everyone down must have played a part. Suicide though is never romantic. It leaves those left behind with more questions and than answers. The death of someone so young affects those left behind forever. I sometimes wonder about the continuing Ian Curtis industry, including murals like this (and the similar one in Macclesfield), and if they merely add to the myth or whether they help anyone suffering. I've no answer to that but I'm not always sure the Ian Curtis death cult is a healthy thing. 

A few days after the mural incident I saw Joy Division on the TV, on one of Guy Garvey's From The Vaults programmes (Sky Arts, Freeview). The episode was music clips from independent TV channels in 1978. The clip in question was Joy Division's first appearance on television on Granada, introduced by Tony Wilson, playing Shadowplay live down on Quay Street. The producer's decision to overlay the band with footage of the drive into the city was a fortuitous one. 

It's extraordinary stuff, four young men writing a new chapter in Manchester's musical history, setting into motion the wheels that would lead to Factory, the Hacienda, Madchester, World In Motion and whatever else you want to add to that list (the current construction boom that is changing the city so fast it's difficult to keep up, the museum- ification of that whole period too). As soon as the clip starts to play and Hooky's bassline rumbles in, inevitably thoughts of 'here are the young men/ the weight on their shoulders' or something similar roll in. The second verse of Shadowplay has the line like 'In the shadowplay acting out your own death knowing no more' and there it is again, Ian Curtis death myth, inescapable.



Tom W said...

I was never a Joy Division fan – I know, I know, I promise I tried – but I'd actually prefer to see the mural change with the city's music rather than remain a memorial to a distant past. I was always proud of Manchester's musical heritage, but Manchester's 30 years ago and it's time to move on or we just become a city that venerates the past while ignoring the present. Factory's gone, the Hacienda's gone, even Oasis have gone. Let's do something new.

Anonymous said...

News of the new mural even made it to this side of the pond. Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this post. - Brian

Swiss Adam said...

Tom- I agree, time to move on.

Brian- good to hear from you, hope all ok over there.

Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

Because of Hilda Ogden I still call them muriels.

Haven't been to MCR since 2004 and I hardly recognised anything from when I was previously there a few years before. Those skyscrapers have sprung up and I've seen by the pics you've posted there are loads now. The future is here.

Rol said...

Is there any difference between the Ian Curtis death cult and the Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain death cults? Hell, even the Elvis Presley one (and he was in his 40s). OK, they're not all suicides, but they all died as a result of their fame... and have been commercialised ever since. Maybe this one has more of an impact as it's right on your doorstep?

I've rewritten this comment three times and I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make either. I shouldn't try to leave serious comments so late at night. Stick to the glib ones, Rol.

Swiss Adam said...

Maybe so Rol, the Kurt Cobain death cult is probably very similar, but yes this one is local to me so stands out more.