I’d hardly be the first to observe that “Ceremony” is THE emblematic song of Joy Division’s sometimes shaky transition to New Order after the suicide of JD singer Ian Curtis. It was a JD song that, tragically, was never properly recorded during the singer’s lifetime; only the live version on Still—from which half the vocals are absent—and a really crummy rehearsal tape are known to have survived, but the song became New Order’s first single.
While that single is imperfect, it preserves a magnificent song that could have ended up lost. The instrumental performances and production are excellent, but vocals were handled by guitarist Bernard Sumner, who’d go on to become the band’s main singer. His tentative, mannered, flat-affect singing style was a good fit for NO’s later work, but his rookie effort couldn’t approach Ian Curtis’ expressive depth, and so lines like “I’ll break them all/No mercy shown” land weightlessly. The song’s excellence still being amply evident, it went on to become one of the most-covered songs the band ever released, and it’s a badge for their determination to persevere in the face of tragedy, however wobbly their very public march towards their own post-Curtis identity was.
In recent years, estranged from his former New Order bandmates, JD/NO’s Peter Hook, the architect of a post-punk bass style so singular and genre-defining it’s still being copied 40 years later, has eschewed original music for a while to devote himself to the project of reanimating his bands’ earliest works. He formed Peter Hook and the Light with members purloined from his prior band Monaco, and they’ve spent the last several years producing concerts in which they’ll play an early JD or NO album in its entirety. They’re currently on tour performing both bands’ ‘80s best-of compilations, both titled Substance. (That tour’s schedule is why multiple attempts to interview Hook for this post fell through, to my lasting regret—his is a brain I’d love to pick.)
Doing the best-ofs sounds almost like an endcap to the project, as does the series of releases Hook is issuing this year, documenting live versions of Joy Divisions’ Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption, and Lies, but audiences are reportedly LOVING the shows, so while it’s a shame that Hook is no longer pursuing original music (all the more a shame given how very so-so the Hookless New Order album Music Complete was), who’s to say they shouldn’t/won’t continue?
On the album honoring Movement Peter Hook and the Light included the non-LP “Ceremony,” and it’s quite a good version. Hook’s vocals are far rougher than Sumner’s, which is surely why Sumner became the default singer as the band solidified it’s slick, synth-based identity, but Hook’s rawness better conveys the emotive strength of Ian Curtis’ lyrics. I’d stop WAY short of calling this version definitive, but it’s good to have available a well-recorded version other than Sumner’s.
Joy Division debuted the song at what ended up being their final concert (the one released on Still), and the only other recording ever made was the crummy-sounding rehearsal tape released on Heart and Soul, made four days before Curtis’ death. In his book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, Hook talks about where “Ceremony” fit in when the band decided to carry on:
The only thing we took from Joy Division—the only two things, actually—were the songs Ian had left us: “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place.” To one another we said, “See you on Monday,” and that was it. Me, Barney, and Steve got together on the Monday to work on the songs. I took the riff for “Dreams Never End” into rehearsal. It was weird because I was looking for Ian to tell me if it was any good or not. Realizing that we’d lost our spotter, our mentor. Realizing that suddenly we had to find a new way of working that didn’t rely on him. We had to learn to record everything, play it back, and pick out the good bits ourselves.
In Substance: Inside New Order, Hook details the how the recording of the “Ceremony” single with Martin Hannett solidified New Order’s division (sorry) of labor:
Despite the fact that Steve, to say the least, wasn’t keen on singing, he still tried out, and so did me and Barney. I think secretly both of us fancied being the frontman. But we were all shit according to Martin. At one point in Strawberry Studios we were recording “Ceremony” and Martin had decided to use all three of our vocals mixed together in the track at the same time. ‘The best of a bad bunch!’ he cried. Then he started cackling. But then Bernard insisted on having ‘just one more go’, and in doing so used up mine and Steve’s tracks, wiping them, so by the Time Martin finally threw up his hands and told us to fuck off, Barney’s was the only vocal left on tape. Which is pretty much how he became our singer.
Dangerous Minds is proud to premiere the stream of Peter Hook and the Light’s soon to be released version of “Ceremony,” after the jump…