New Order and Jonny Marr playing in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope – it’s got to be a recipe for a great night. Pete Bernard reports for Louder Than War
I’ll get the elephant out of the way first: New Order are my favourite band, EVER, but it just doesn’t feel right without Peter Hook. Last year when they reformed I had the chance to see them but I vowed “no Hooky, no booky” and stayed away…..
We nearly didn’t make it. Due to the lovely beer-friendly sunshine throughout the day, we missed the coach. So, the missus was press ganged into driving us out into the Cheshire countryside. The car overheated as we passed Manchester airport, so that meant we missed seeing The Whip, which was a shame ‘cos I like them.
After some emergency repairs to a leaking water pipe (it’s great having a mate who’s a mechanic) we got to the venue in time to see Public Service Broadcasting, a duo who looked (and sounded) like their day jobs were scientists working inside the huge radio telescope next to the stage. They were good, in a kooky, bleepy, ‘Telstar’ sort of way.
Next on stage we got the actual REAL scientists working inside the radio telescope. The MC phoned them up and broadcast the conversation over the PA on his speakerphone. “What are you up to?” he asked the Boffins. They were studying pulsars, and we even got to hear the sound of one – it was like a slow version of the intro to Blue Monday.
After that educational interlude, the DJ tunes included Voodoo Ray, Kraftwerk and other acid house classics. The atmosphere was building nicely. The crowd a snapshot of veteran Madchester party animals in New Order / Smiths T-shirts, some with their kids in tow. My parents never took me to cool gigs. (They took me to gigs, but I didn’t think they were cool).
With the sun starting to dip behind the trees that line this impressive arena, Manc Legend Johnny Marr took to the stage. His set, a mixture of songs from his recent album The Messenger plus some Smiths oldies, was perfect for a summer evening drinking cold beers and marvelling at this huge metal dish that kept moving around, still tracking those pulsars. Marr’s set was completed when Bernard Sumner joined him for a rasping guitar version of the Electronic classic “Getting Away With It” the whole crowd singing along for lost loves and old times.
And so to Sumner’s other band, New Order. It struck me that Bernard is very much the frontman now. The other two (and the other other two) stay largely in the shadows as Barney struts around the stage doing his dad-dancing and having the banter with the crowd (“Here we are at Jodrell Bank… which ISN’T rhyming slang!”) You could almost say this version of New Order is a solo Sumner playing his greatest hits, but that would be unfair on, say, Stephen Morris, who seems to be not just the drummer, but also the musical director programming synths and even answering a question from Bernard (”Have we ever played this song live before Steve? No? Steve says no. Computer says no!”)
The irony is that it could only be New Order having two tribute bands doing the circuit – both with original members of the band in them! So if Peter Hook has got The Light, is this Bernard Sumner and The Dark? Well that would be unfair. It’s definitely not dark, this music liberated from it’s 80’s alternative straightjacket. Songs like 586 sound awesome updated for today, and classics like Temptation and True Faith always were great singalong pop songs. A Joy Division medley (Yes, New Order playing a medley!) is introduced by Sumner with the words “Our singer inconveniently died” No other ex-members are mentioned at all. Even the video for “Price of Love” beamed on the screen behind the band, is edited so a certain bearded bass player is not seen. And is it just me, or is the famous Hook bass sound being slowly and quietly phased out of these songs?
The gig ends with said medley – Transmission, Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart. Lights, lasers and probably pulsars beamed all over the venue and up onto the huge space age dish towering over us. What a great setting for a gig. What a great gig full stop. We did manage to catch the coach home – a magic bus. I sat down and the next thing I knew I was getting off at Manchester Piccadilly at 1am, still in my hot summer shorts and T-shirt looking like I’d just arrived back from Tenerife. Some puzzled looking girls with suitcases (just back from Tenerife) asked us where we were all coming from? The answer “Outer space” did not end their bewilderment, but it seemed fitting under the circumstances. Good night, and sleep well under the stars……
All words by Pete Bernard. This is Pete’s first contribution to Louder Than War.