Today marks the 40th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ passing. The vocalist/lyricist of English post-punk band Joy Division, his charismatic and impassioned stage persona belied a deeper malaise. Curtis was epileptic; his frenetic dance moves were seen to be a reflection of the seizures he experienced. During the band’s performances in 1979 and 1980, Curtis collapsed several times and had to be helped off the stage. This volatile situation was exacerbated by the fact he was also prone to manic depression.
I saw Joy Division support Buzzcocks during the latter’s ‘A Different Kind of Tension’ tour, at the Edinburgh Odeon, on 6 October 1979. Although I was a huge Buzzcocks fan at the time, I couldn’t help but be captivated by Curtis' mesmerising stage presence, complimenting the dark, multi-layered post-punk music his band were conjuring.
Seven months later, just as Joy Division’s seminal second album ‘Closer’ was about to be released, and on the verge of their first North American tour, Curtis took his own life.
Life is full of ‘what ifs,’ and how Joy Division would have developed and evolved beyond May 1980 remains an enthralling example of this hypothetical quandary. But an even greater ‘what if’ is how Curtis’ own life would have progressed if he’d tried reaching out for some kind of resolution to his inner turmoil. In 1980 mental health issues were stigmatised to a far greater extent. People suffering from depression would have felt so much more isolated than their counterparts today (given the prevalence of helplines, social media pages, and websites dedicated to suicide prevention in 2020.) As a 23 year-old male he was also three times as likely to have died this way than a female.
The enduring legacy of Joy Division's short but spellbinding career is to be widely acknowledged as the precursors of a huge swathe of 1980s alternative rock; cited as a key influence by everyone from Radiohead to Interpol, Bloc Party to Nine Inch Nails to name a few.
According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation, the suicide rate is currently at its lowest since 1981. However, it remains the single biggest killer of males under-45 in this country.
You may well have encountered people contemplating this terrible step. Anyone in this fragile position should never feel isolated. Difficult as it may be to broach the subject, they should be made to feel they will receive a sympathetic ear when they share their issues – with friends, family, health professionals; anyone willing to listen.
Samaritans (24-hour telephone helpline: 116 123)
NHS: help for suicidal thoughts
BBC article: why more men than women die by suicide
These are extraordinary times. The potential of being infected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) hangs over us all, none more so than the country's front-line workers. Under lockdown, the mundane task of nipping out for a pint of milk sometimes seems like running a gauntlet as you queue outside your local Sainsbury's, before slaloming around the other customers inside. Apart from elderly relatives who recall cowering inside Anderson shelters in the back green, few of us have experienced such a universally stressful climate. As well as the danger to our physical health, this situation has a massive potential for impacting our mental wellbeing.
Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87) offer a confidential chat for anyone in Scotland over 16 feeling low, anxious or depressed.
Young Minds operate a text message service where you can get support with mental health by texting YM to 85258. They also offer a helpline (0808 802 5544) for parents worried about their child.
Childline (0800 1111) provides telephone support for anyone under 19, open from 9am-midnight every day.
Article from MSN news: how the lockdown is exacerbating mental health issues
On Tuesday 23 July 2019, Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party, and Prime Minister of the UK (the 20th schooled at Eton.) Due to the way parliamentary democracy operates, his victory resulted from 92,153 votes cast by his party's membership, representing not only 0.13% of the UK electorate, but the narrowest of demographics (97% white, 70% male, 40% over the age of 66, and one-in-20 earning over £100,000 per year.)
Always more of an extrovert than his predecessor Theresa May (unless Abba was playing), Johnson has long been accused of employing a superficial veneer of charm, coupled with choreographed eccentricity (during the above London Olympics stunt when he 'got stuck' on a high-wire, it transpired this was arranged, ensuring headlines around the world featuring 'plucky Bojo,' a politician who relished laughing at himself.) This clownish persona has served him well. Articles he wrote for the Daily Telegraph in the early 90s seemed straight from a satirical publication like The Onion, containing outlandish warnings about EU bureaucrats imposing straight bananas or 'one-size-fits-all' condoms on Britain. If he reveals an inability to grasp basic facts while being grilled by political interviewers, this is laughed off. Boris is being Boris.
Where Tommy Robinson and his ilk are reviled for racist uttering in a working-class accent, Johnson, like that other plummy-voiced bigot, Prince Philip (with his talk of 'slitty-eyed' Chinese) is able to denigrate minorities at will and get away with it. As with the Duke of Edinburgh, there is a long list of Johnson gaffes, including describing black people as 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'; gay people as 'tank-topped bumboys'; Muslim women in burkas looking like letterboxes; and on Scotland: 'government by a Scot is just not conceivable in the current constitutional context.' All just Boris being Boris.
But even his most fervent apologists must agree there are red lines he skirts with reckless abandon. His comment that the police should stop investigating historic pedophile suspects ('money spaffed up a wall') went way beyond curmudgeonly old-Etonian repartee. It was a crass insult to the victims of child abuse. As was his publication of an article smearing the 96 Hillsborough victims while he was editor of The Spectator In 2004.
With such a scattershot approach, where self-deprecation, hyperbole and banter are effortlessly interwoven with more offensive opinions on ethnicity, denying someone's suitability for high office in the UK on the grounds of Scottishness is yet another example of something which he can quickly dismiss as high jinks or irony or a skit or one of the other terms honed at the Bullingdon Club dinners.
There's nothing remarkable about Johnson's patronising dismissal of Scots. Mistrust of a nation which hasn't given his party a majority since the 1950s is ingrained in Home Counties Tories. This attitude has been compounded by Brexit, overwhelmingly rejected north of the Border, but bulldozing ahead by 31 October, with or without a deal, because Johnson has staked his political reputation on it. And 63% of the Tory members who voted for him have admitted they'd rather the UK broke-up as long as Brexit remains the number one priority.
All eyes on Halloween, then.
Sympathetic supernovas. Train carriage secrets. Intergalactic lovestruck geckos. The incomprehensible loneliness of the unknown.
Thanks to a hugely successful crowdfunder, 404Ink Magazine has been revamped and revitalised, and its latest edition (no 5) is showcasing writing 'as diverse as the galaxy itself.' Under the heading SPACE, examples of Scotland's finest fiction, poetry, non-fiction, interviews & more have been ingathered to offer an eclectic collection of space-themed musings.
En route to the cosmos, the reader encounters Brian Binnie, the first Scot in space, catches up with Round Table Books to discuss the importance of creating inclusive spaces in the book world, mourns the loss of NASA’s Opportunity rover, celebrates the world of Doctor Who, and learns first hand from the incomparable Adriana Ocampo how it feels to be a NASA legend. And that’s just for starters.
Also included is my own short story, The Nimble Men, about a curator from the Culloden Visitor Centre whose life unravels when he receives an unexpected text. He seeks solace on Culloden Moor, scene of the last battle on British soil. As the light drains, the rugged terrain and its bloody history gives way to the star-spangled majesty of the heavens.
Contributors: Alycia Pirmohamed, Annie Summerlee, Ashley Cline, Asmaa Jama, David G Devereux, Georgia Dodsworth, Helen McClory (book excerpt), Kathryn O’Driscoll, Lucy Jane Santos, Marcus O’Shea, Mark Fleming, Mark Gallie, Rhiannon Walsh, Rikki Santer, Sean Wai Keung, Stefan Mohamed, Stephen Watt, Stuart Kenny and Tom Pickles.
Buy your copy of 404Ink Magazine - Issue 5 (Space): here
Pete Shelley, singer/guitarist with Buzzcocks, one of the original wave of punk bands, passed away this morning.
He was inspired to start playing rock n' roll after seeing the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976 (along with punters who would go on to form Joy Division, The Fall, The Smiths and Slaughter and the Dogs.) This was a seminal moment in the cultural history of Shelley's home city. Everything that unfolded over the next few decades - Factory, New Order, Spike Island, Madchester, The Smiths, the Hacienda - could be traced back to here.
But Shelley's band were so much more than 'punk rockers.' After original singer Howard Devoto left to pursue more ambitious soundscapes with Magazine, Shelley became the principal songwriter. And what brilliant songs he crafted. Buzzcocks signed with United Artists (at Manchester's Electric Circus on 16 August 1977, the day Elvis died) then went on to release some of the catchiest three-minute anthems to have graced the charts. Shelley's sonic cocktail involved taking the essence of pop - bittersweet lyrics and irresistible hooks - then propelling everything with an adrenaline-rush of guitars.
I saw them at Edinburgh’s Odeon in September 1979, supported by Joy Division. They were touring on the back of ‘A Different Kind of Tension,’ third in a sequence of stunning albums after ‘Another Music In a Different Kitchen’ and ‘Love Bites.’
40-plus years later, his love of music was undiminished. His passing in his early 60s has come as a shock to his legion of fans but the music he created, with Buzzcocks, as well as six well-received solo albums, is timeless.