One night in heaven

New Order & Roísín Murphy, Teenage Cancer Trust 2016, Royal Albert Hall, London


Few venues on earth give you goosebumps, but the Royal Albert Hall most certainly does as you approach it via the wonderfully named Kensington Gore, named after the Gore estate that once occupied the site. Built in 1871, the Albert Hall is an instantly recognisable London landmark. It was spared destruction during the Blitz for this very reason, as German pilots used its domed roof as a navigational aid.

Interestingly, the hallowed hall’s distinctive dome was made in Manchester. In addition to its well-documented contributions to association football and literary history, Manchester became the world’s very first fully industrialised city, giving civilisation the submarine, vegetarianism, Europe’s first canal, the first programmable home computer, and of course, Joy Division, later to become New Order.

When New Order last played the Royal Albert Hall in 1986, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Peter Hook was on bass. The Iron Lady is dead, and Peter Hook has reportedly filed legal proceedings against his former band mates for over £2 million in unpaid earnings. 

The New Order story has always been messy, seldom pure and never simple. Suicide, chaotic finances and volatile relationships are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their trials and tribulations. Like the recently deceased David Bowie, New Order never seemed to know exactly where they were going, but you could never, ever accuse them of being boring.  

Irvine Welsh recently nailed New Order’s extraordinary resilience in a superb essay for the wonderful website Singularity: The Influence of New Order. “To outsiders, the death of a famous youth often provokes both unfathomable tragedy and phantom romance, the latter part amplified by stardom’s iconizing qualities,” Welsh writes. “As you get older however, you see that the real horror of this is just how widespread the illness of depression is, and how devastating it can be. In Ian’s case, this was compounded by the terrifying onset of epilepsy.

The grave of Ian Curtis (1956 – 1980), Macclesfield, Cheshire

“As a group, those young friends were suddenly forced to confront both existential and practical issues: What is this? What do we do? Do we carry on? Despite their youth, they all managed to do this with an incredible decorum and dignity.”

New Order are now enjoying a fascinating late career renaissance. After a series of poorly received albums, Music Complete is their most successful outing since 1993’s Republic, and I consider it to be their best since Technique back in the mists of 1989.The minimalist but incredibly striking sleeve design, yet again lovingly created by long-term associate and former Factory Records co-director Peter Saville, is one of their most beautiful album covers yet, up there with the aforementioned Technique and their timeless 1983 classic, Power, Corruption and Lies.

Music Complete (2015)
Technique (1989)
Power, Corruption and Lies (1983)

Roísín Murphy is a perfect choice for an opening act and a tantalising amuse bouche before New Order. Coincidentally, Murphy’s own musical epiphany occurred in Manchester rather than Arklow or Dublin, as Murphy went to see live shows from Sonic Youth and the Stone Roses and danced the nights away at New Order’s legendary Hacienda. A true original who has re-invented herself several times since fronting Moloko, Murphy has become  one of the most daring and colourful performers in modern pop, and is also enjoying a career resurgence on the back of the Mercury Prize nominated Hairless Toys. She releases Take Her Up to Monto in July, christened after a famous traditional song about Dublin’s old red light district by the late Irish Times music critic George Desmond ‘Hoddy’ Hodnett, which was popularised by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.

Murphy is still very much a raver and a clubber at heart, injecting so much flair and flamboyance into her minimal electronic pop songs. She performs ‘Dirty Monkey’ and ‘Tatty Narja’ from her Moloko days alongside her solo material, as she sports a bewildering array of masks and surreal props while singing in her imitable contralto range. She drops snatches of lyrics from ‘Sing it Back’ into a stunning rendition of last year’s single ‘Exploitation’, which is a perfect curtain closer for a short but very sweet set.

Earlier in the day, Roísín was asked what advice would she give to her 16-year old self. Murphy beautifully replied: “The weirder you are now, the happier you’ll be later.”

During the interval, compere Tim Lovejoy reminds us why we’re here: to raise funds and awareness for Teenage Cancer Trust so they can help the seven children who are diagnosed with cancer every single day across the United Kingdom. The Soccer AM presenter reveals his brother died of cancer when he was just 37, and recalls just how lonely and helpless his late sibling felt, which is greatly magnified if a teenager or child is diagnosed with cancer.

New Order walk onstage and launch into ‘Singularity’, one of the best songs from Music Complete. The opening chords of ‘Regret’ send the crowd wild as the light show dazzles everyone. Already, New Order have the whole Hall in the palms of their hands.

The performance goes up another gear with a pristine version of ‘Your Silent Face’. New Order can dish out the hits like confetti: ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ (on the set list as ‘BLT’), ‘True Faith’ (euphoric), ‘The Perfect Kiss’ (blissful), ‘Temptation’ (spiritual, check out a live version from Glasgow below), and the ultimate encore, a one-two sucker punch of ‘Blue Monday’ AND ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (Jesus actually wept).

“We’ve more great songs than U2,” Bernard Sumner jokes, and he certainly has a point based on this evidence. As the late Tony Wilson used to say, “I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said American lives don’t have second acts. Well, this is Manchester. We do things differently here.”

In the week we lost Prince, one of the brightest stars in the musical firmament, New Order offer an empowering reminder of just how transcendent and moving pop can be. As the chorus of their single that soundtracked 24 Hour Party People goes, “We’re here to stay…”

A Joy Division/New Order Playlist: Some obvious classics with a few curveballs



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