Altrincham, Check Inn
20 November 1978
Every so often we get the chance to reach into the past to experience first-hand accounts of one of the earliest Joy Division gigs through the eyes of the fans and support bands from the time. We did this when The Fall/Brix & The Extricated’s Paul Hanley reviewed Joy Division at Bowdon Social Club in May 1979. This time Louder Than War’s Nigel Carr takes us six months further back in time to November 1978 and an earlier gig they played nearby in the centre of Altrincham, with personal memories and those from members of both support acts!
This was the first time that local chiropodist and music fan Bob Jefferson ventured into the world of gig promotion. The idea had stemmed from his record shop, Streets Ahead which had opened the previous year on Lloyd Street in Altrincham. His wife Jane ran the shop with help from local Steve Woods, while Bob did most of the purchasing. It was his intention that this would be the first in a series of gigs which would later take place Bowdon Vale the following Spring.
The gig was organised for a Monday night which, whilst unusual, left the busy weekend free. The club, formerly known as Cezanne’s was known for its rock nights on Tuesdays when it was common to hear Mountain, Rainbow, Montrose and other heavy rock bands blaring out of the speakers. Check Inn had become more disco-oriented, so it was not only something of a coup but a complete change of pace to have one of Salford’s (OK, and Macclesfield’s!) finest making their debut in the town.
Streets Ahead was the centre of the universe as far as I was concerned. I spent every evening after school in the place, browsing the huge selection on offer. I remember records from Rabid and TJM gracing the walls and bought everything from The Panik’s It Won’t Sell to seminal releases by The Drones, Slaughter & The Dogs, John Cooper Clarke and of course anything by The Sex Pistols and The Damned.
When Jane told us that they would be putting the gig on she pulled out a larger box of posters which in retrospect could have been designed by Peter Saville (It was actually Rob Gretton – see below!). The writing and 100p entry price gave way to the main band’s name – ‘Joy Division’ splashed diagonally in large letters with Surgical Supports listed proudly underneath.
I diligently took two of these posters (see above), one went on the notice board next to the drinks machine at Altrincham Grammar, and the other went on the wall of my bedroom. With ‘An Ideal For Living, the band’s debut EP, having been released five months before and the 12” version just out, Joy Division were a name band but not huge. They had played a few nights at The Electric Circus and as far south as Aston on Mersey, but this was considered a major happening for Altrincham, especially at the school.
The club was up a steep flight of stairs on the now pedestrianised George Street. On the right, a small dance floor, to the left, the toilets, and at the back, the bar.
Steve Woods (Streets Ahead):
The gig came about as a thanks to Bob Jefferson. He was mates with Rob Gretton, they knew each other from The Oaks pub in Chorlton and he asked Bob to lend him some money to make an album.
Bob owned Streets Ahead which I ran for him. He came in one day and asked me if I had heard of a band called Joy Division and explained about the loan thing. I had already seen them as Warsaw at the Electric Circus and at Rafters. Bob leant them as much as he could afford and asked for 5% of record sales. He would just ask for them to do a gig or two, so we sorted Check Inn for the gig.
Steve Price (Bass player with Surgical Supports) was a mate who we thought had a great band. I remember the posters turning up and going around Alty putting them in windows. No internet then. I think the guy in Swales (record shop) on George St chopped it in half! I helped to set the PA and gear up in the afternoon. I had a pint with Bernard and Hooky in the Brickies (Bricklayers Arms) then took the tickets on the door.
It was supposed to be ticket only which sold out. I caught the doormen and owner taking cash! I didn’t see Ian Curtis till just before opening and he had a presence about him. I was too busy to see the Bidet Boys, but Surgical Supports smashed it. They were awesome. It was a very small club and the whole street was vibrating. We were going to book more bands to play, one a month, but the owner got a bit greedy, so we switched to Bowden Vale (Bowdon Social Club).”
Opening the show were The Bidet Boys who had a good crack at Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Smurf Song, according to the only surviving report from the day, as a two page typed account by Paul Campbell.
Tony Freeman (The Bidet Boys):
“Check Inn was a discotheque above an Altrincham shoe shop which also held progressive rock nights. Lots of Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin (denim, long hair and patchouli oil), so it was rather a shock when Joy Division first appeared.
We were regulars at the Electric Circus and well into the Manchester punk scene. This was before the punk uniform came up from the South. It was anarchistic, just wear anything. I turned up to gigs in a dressing gown and clogs. No one could afford leather jackets.
In the spirit of the times, we just got on stage and mucked about, it was anti-dinosaur rock. We thought we could just get up and play. Unfortunately, this did not sound as good as the theory. We were not impressive. As most amplification was still valve driven, we could not even hear each other.
Our 5-song set passed, thankfully, quickly. The audience of about 20 remained determinedly unmoved, actually, they moved towards the bar. We did not pay much attention to Surgical Supports but watched Joy Division with bewildered amusement. They brought their own fans, the audience swelled to 30.
We hadn’t heard anything like it and had no way to relate to it. Not fast punk like all the other bands, not rock, not melodic. I said to my friend ‘What is all this about?’, they dressed in black and didn’t move around. We were used to po-going audiences. After the gig, they didn’t hang around, and after live music, the DJ went back to progressive rock, which we could tell was on the way out, though Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird did sound good, and everyone went back to dancing. This was the 70’s, when you could go from hard punk to Joy Division, to long hair rock, and no one thought much about it.”
I have little actual memory of The Bidet Boys apart from the dressing gown that, presumably, Tony was wearing! Next up were Surgical Supports. Bass player Steve Price was well regarded at school and on the local scene. Unlike the openers, the band had rehearsed, and whilst they did do some covers, they also wrote their own songs. They were a fast punk band with the odd bit of reggae thrown in for good measure!
My memory of them as the beer flowed was Steve standing left of stage in a blue boiler suit holding his bass solidly like Marc Bolan on the front of Electric Warrior. It’s funny how time (and presumably the beer) fades the memory as we reach into the past to try and crystallise the event, but the gig was sold out and there was quite a crowd, possibly 100 people standing motionless as the band played.
I recently caught up with the Surgical Supports (below) who had reformed for the second time in 40 years and were playing with locals The Eager Beavers at the Timperley Sports Club:
Steve Price (Surgical Supports – Bass):
“The first punk song that really rattled my cage was Grip by The Stranglers, I’ve always liked Clashy rock n roll, and in another band, I play the blues. We found a sound with Roy playing the drums at 100 miles per hour. I remember being asked to do the Joy Division gig as we had a good local following. They were a good bunch of guys really. I remember Ian Curtis being out of his box! Peter Hook let me use his bass amp. Obviously, they weren’t massive then and we had an EP out as well, so it was like, when we turned up, ‘who’s on first? I think it’s us, you’re the headline’. But there was no edge to them good lads.
I suppose if we had known where Joy Division and Ian would end up, we perhaps would have soaked up more of the detail as it is, recollections are a bit hazy. I know we had a pretty good following turn up for us – we always did when we played in Alty and some of those diehards reckoned we were much better than JD.
I think because they liked our fast and furious stuff a bit more than the heavier more thoughtful/mournful stuff. I do recall being blown away by She’s Lost Control, still very possibly my favourite Joy Division track synth-drum and bass riff – Hypnotic!
We used to run a bit of a fanzine to give out which is the brief extract we have in the photo (below). I should probably explain the Mike Nicholls reference. He was an aspiring music journalist. He wrote a gig review for (I think) Sounds (Record Mirror – Nigel). His comment about us was ‘I believe they go down well on the grammar school circuit’. Ho hum. As you can tell from the extract we weren’t overly concerned!
“We (would have) played Boodle and Dunthorne, TUC, Private Lives, Submarine, Fallout and I’m in Love with my Baby. I know we thought it was quite a big deal to be supporting them, but I guess at the time we didn’t realise quite what a cult Joy Division would become or indeed the evolution into New Order and all the Factory stuff. I guess at the time we were both young bands hoping to get a bit of a break.
“Bob (Jefferson) leant Joy Division some money and Rob Gretton said, ‘Well we’ll do a benefit gig for you and anything on the gate you can have it all’. He said well ‘let’s do it, in Alty at The Check Inn’ and then he said ‘I will get The Surgical Supports down’ because quite a lot used to come and watch us in those days. So, it was like ‘get ‘em down to get a few punters through the door’.
Barney was frightened to death because we had a bigger PA than they did! I read later that Hooky said one of the reasons they wanted to play in Alty was because there were loads of gorgeous Women in Alty! He later said, ‘having played there I can confirm there aren’t!’.
I remember when we started up and they didn’t have the PA turned on the first song we did. We were playing away and there’s nothing happening. I had to leave after the second Joy Division song as my girlfriend’s dad was picking her up!
We probably played TUC, Gentlemen Jim, an early version of Private Lives, possibly Boodle & Dunthorne. Think maybe Judy Judy was later along with Sandra Mayhew and Mary Jo.
Later, I was working with Ian Brown (As a Sound Engineer, when Stone Roses were touting demos) some years later and the first thing he said to me was ‘I know you, you used to play guitar in Surgical Supports’. That’s the first thing he said to me. I said ‘how’d d’you know that?’ he said ‘don’t you remember me? I’m Ibex and I was like ‘oh right’ The Patrol. The Patrol supported us the gym at school (Altrincham Grammar).
The handwritten note (lined paper) is supposedly by Rob Gretton and was the format for the final poster for the gig.
Roy Harrison (Surgical Supports – Drums):
I wasn’t a great fan at the time, but in retrospect as the years go by I realise how brilliant they were.
(Remembering the gig) Hooky was lovely, really friendly, Barney said did I want to use his Vox amp but I said ‘no you’re alright’.
It’s hard reaching back into the past to recall a gig. Forty years is a long time and memories fade. My overriding memory of Ian Curtis was the wild-eyed stare and his rotating arms. That and his frequent trips to the toilet, to which me and my mates simply put down to ‘he’s on drugs’. We had no idea that Ian was downing a truckload of barbiturates just to keep his epilepsy at bay. We were kids, still at school and had little concept of such things.
No one knew that Joy Division would go on to be so influential. I bought the records because I loved the band. I later saw them at The Factory, one of the last gigs before Ian died.
Surgical Supports are back together playing live again. A ferociously fast punk sound tempered by reggae-infused numbers. Forty years between gigs – phew!
They are a great band so if they happen to crop up on your radar then get down and see them – proper history! Take a look at this. The track, which they played on the night is called ‘Sandra Mayhew’ from the Timperley Sports Club gig:
My thanks to all of the interviewees in this piece. Tony Freeman, Steve Price, Roy Campbell, John Campbell and Steve Woods. Special thanks to my friend Dave Bancroft for inviting me to the Eager Beavers gig at Timperly Sports Club where I met the Surgical Supports!