Hey, Time Traveller! 👋 Welcome back to April 25, 1993!
📰 Tennis player Monic Seles is stabbed by an obsessive Steffi Graf fan during a match in Germany.📽️ Cinema fans enjoy feel-good cannibalism drama Alive.📺 On American telly, Conan O’Brien takes over from David Letterman as the latter moves into Johnny Carson’s old slot.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is the Five Live EP from George Michael and Queen, but let’s have a listen to this week’s Number 8…
New Order, ’Regret’
I’ve previously discussed the joys of being named Bernard, and I think we exhausted that subject last time. The only thing I want to add is this: people with dorky names like me have a deep, deep love for rock stars who share our name.
There aren’t many rock’n’roll Bernards, especially if you exlude people born before the war (apologies to Bernard Cribbins). You’ve basically got Bernard Edwards, founding member of Chic, and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler.
And then there is Bernard Sumner of New Order.
Sumner tends to appear a lot in these newsletters—he popped up just last week when we talked about Sub Sub. His regular appearances are down to the fact that Sumner is a bit of a main character in music history, and a lot of threads find their way back to him eventually.
He’s also a guy who knows the importance of a good name.
Maybe I’ve forgotten
Bernard Sumner has changed his legal name twice, yet he never ditched “Bernard” in favour of something more rock’n’roll, such as… well, literally any other name.
He was born Bernard Sumner, but his mother later remarried and the whole family took the stepdad’s name: Dicken. Which means he spent his teenage years with the name Bernard Dicken.
[Side note: when I was a kid, the most famous Bernard was golfer Bernhard Langer. “Langer” is local slang here for “penis”. A fun time for me!]
Bernard went to school in Salford, where he befriended Peter Hook, which is a proper rockstar name. Hook and Sumner started going to gigs together, which is how they ended up at perhaps the most famous gig in the history of British alternative music: The Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1976.
Everyone at the Pistols show went on to start a band or record label, and Hook and Sumner were no different. They invited local weirdo Ian Curtis to be their singer and named themselves Stiff Kittens.
“Stiff Kittens” is provocative and slightly gross—in other words, a typical punk band name. But the band weren’t trying to make typical punk music. Someone in the group realised that names shape your destiny, so they looked for something that better reflected their ambitions.
The name Warsaw came from an instrumental track on Bowie’s album Low. It’s a grim, moody, industrial piece—exactly the mood that Warsaw wanted to capture.
Bernard Sumner—still legally known as Bernard Dicken—started using a stagename at this point, referring to himself as Bernard Albrecht. Bernard had misheard the name “Berthold Brecht” once, and he liked this mangled version enough to take it as his own.
Warsaw were also due for a name change. In 1978, they became Joy Division, a darkly ironic reference to Nazi atrocities. This new identity seemed to unleash something even more brutalist in the music.
Joy Division became a lightning rod for the hopelessness and despair of Generation X, but most of that energy was focused on the enigmatic Ian Curtis. Sumner, Hook and drummer Stephen Morris were background figures, creating these jagged sonic backgrounds for Curtis’s lyrics.
And then Ian Curtis killed himself.
Save it for another day
Joy Division became New Order, but not all at once.
They had always promised each other that Joy Division wouldn’t continue if one member left. Curtis’s death forced them to rebrand, but they were still playing Joy Division songs to a Joy Division audience. They chose not to labour the point, and the first few New Order records avoided mentioning the band’s new name entirely.
Being a Joy Division tribute band started to grate. Stephen Morris later said:
“In England, after Joy Division ceased it was like every band on the John Peel show sounded just like bloody Joy Division! It was great to inspire people to get together and make music but not to clone it. They should be trying to do something a bit different.”
The others seemed to realise that New Order would have to do something, well, new. In his autobiography, Bernard Sumner wrote:
“Our music had become so incredibly dark and cold, we couldn’t really get any darker or colder. I remember quite clearly sitting in a club in New York one night, around three or four o’clock in the morning, and thinking how great it would be if we made music, electronic music, that could be played in one of these clubs.”
This led to the real New Order, a band that sounds nothing like Joy Division (except for Hook’s unmistakable basslines).
‘Ceremony’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Blue Monday’ all became massive hits and put some daylight between them and their gloom-rock past. The money from this success went into The Hacienda nightclub, which kickstarted the UK’s dance music revolution.
During all the popstar chaos of this time, Bernard Dicken legally changed his name back to Bernard Sumner. He’s very committed to the Bernard thing. I love that about him.
Look at me, I’m not you
“Literally, you’re at that point in the relationship where you hate each other’s stinking guts, and somebody says to you, ‘Would you go back together, you and him?’ and you say, ‘I would rather die’.”
By 1992, New Order were in a dire financial situation. The Hacienda was a money pit that had gobbled the profits from New Order’s only Number One hit, 1990’s ‘World In Motion’. Factory Records, the label that had put Joy Division on the map, was hanging by a thread. And the band had co-signed many of these debts, making them personally liable.
At this stage, their only valuable asset was the name New Order. New Order hadn’t released a record since 1989’s ‘Technique’, but that had been a huge hit. A new LP could generate enough cash to steady the ship.
Just one small technicality. New Order had effectively broken up.
Sumner was doing Electronic with Johnny Marr. Peter Hook had his own band, Revenge. The other two were recording as The Other Two. On the rare occasions they saw each other, they tended to have blow-out arguments.
So, Republic is an album made practically at gunpoint, which isn’t an ideal situation. By the time it was finished, the band were barely speaking, and Sumner and Hook were ready to murder each other.
And the plan didn’t even work. Factory Records was gone before Republic was finished, and no amount of cash could save The Hacienda. Nevertheless, the album was a hit, with lead single ‘Regret’ making the Top 5.
A few months later, New Order went on indefinite hiatus.
You were a complete stranger
New Order reunited in the 2000s and made two excellent albums, after which things turned really nasty. Peter Hook quit for good in 2006, and the band reformed without him in 2011.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
New Order used to handle their money via a limited company called Vitalturn Ltd. You can see their details on Companies House—all four members listed as directors, including Peter Hook. New Order’s revenues (from sales, publishing, merch, etc) go to Vitalturn Ltd, and Vitalturn distributes profits equally to the band members.
Vitalturn also own all of the names involved: Joy Division, New Order, and The Hacienda. If anyone wants to use these names, they need permission from Vitalturn’s directors.
When Hook went solo, he used these names in a way that seems to have pissed off the other three. I’m not sure how, exactly, although he was at one point selling Peter Hook Hacienda Bass Guitars made from the club’s old floorboards.
The other three could have slapped Hook with a Cease & Desist, but instead they did something bizarre and kind of shitty. They founded a new company called New Order Ltd.—without Peter Hook as a director. Then, they leased all of Vitalturn’s intellectual property to the new company. New Order could keep earning without paying anything to Hook.
Sound dodgy? It was! Hook took them to court, with his barrister arguing that:
“It was as though George Harrison and Ringo Starr had got together at George’s house one Friday night and had acted together to divest Paul McCartney of his shareholding in the Beatles, and didn’t tell Yoko about it either.”
The case was settled, so we don’t know exactly how things were restructured, but Hook got a lot of money which is usually an indication that you won.
Hook can’t call his band New Order, but he often points out that the other band aren’t New Order either. Strictly speaking, they’re a completely different band—they just happen to be renting the New Order name from Vitalturn Ltd.
I would like a place I could call my own
Names are powerful and valuable things. Obviously, they have commercial value as brands—New Order are always going to sell more tickets than Peter Hook & The Light, even though both bands essentially play the same setlist.
But names can shape the way you see the world too. Stiff Kittens could never have recorded ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, just as Joy Division could never have recorded ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’.
Maybe this is why Bernard Sumner never dropped the name Bernard. Perhaps he knows that when you find an identity that works, you need to hang onto it.
Elsewhere in the charts
[Number One, New] George Michael & Queen, Five Live EP
One of the good/bad things about reliving the 90s in real-time is that you get a genuine sense of how long things lasted. Grunge, for example, was a relative flash in the pan, considering its cultural impact.
Whereas post-Freddie grief has now gone on so long that it’s starting to feel cynical. Mercury died 18 months ago, around the time ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ appeared, and yet the tributes keep coming. It’s giving exploitation.
In some regions, this EP included George Michael doing a mash-up of ‘Killer’ and ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. It’s excellent, and probably should have been a standalone single.
[3 ↑] Whitney Houston, ‘I Have Nothing’
The most X Factor-y Whitney song, and perhaps the most X Factor-y song in the world. Credit where it’s due—nobody could belt ‘em out quite like Whitney. The key change at the end sounds like a hurricane making landfall.
[21, New] SWV, ‘I’m So Into You’
Debut UK single from Sisters With Voices. The trio only managed one major hit outside on this side of the Atlantic (the ‘Human Nature’ remix of ‘Right Here’, which will appear later in 1993) but their first album was quite a big deal in the States.
[26, ↓] Sting, ‘Seven Days’
[27, New] PJ Harvey, ‘50ft Queenie’
The song that got Polly into the Top 40 and mildly roasting on Beavis & Butthead. They liked the song and did a predictable ‘50ft Weenie’ joke, but they also pointed out that she looks like Mallory from Family Ties, which is devastatingly accurate.
Anyway, Rid Of Me is an amazing record! Look out for a review soon!
Album of the Week
Orbital, Orbital aka Orbital 2 aka The Brown Album
What’s the difference between music and noise? The answer: patterns. Music is about juxtaposing sounds in a way that creates rhythmic patterns, which means that music isn’t sounds, but relationships between those sounds.
That’s quite nerdy, but it’s also something that Paul and Phil Hartnoll set out to demonstrate in the opening track of Orbital 2. Just to make it even nerdier, they perform their experiment with a clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Here in 1993, the nature of music is a hot topic, especially when we’re talking about electronic music. There were people back then (and there still are now) who would argue that you can’t make music with computers, or if you did, it would have to be avant-garde Philip Glass-type stuff.
Dance music could never be art.
The Hartnoll brothers are an incredible live act, as anyone who’s seen them live will tell you. They’ve also made some phenomenally sophisticated albums that challenged some fundamental ideas about what music can be.
Orbital 2 isn’t quite their masterpiece (In Sides is hard to beat) but it showcases their evolving sensibilities. Very modern dance music collides here with other influences, including prog and krautrock. Throughout, there’s also that same mathematical obsession with structure and form that drives much of Aphex Twin’s work.
What makes Orbital better than Aphex Twin, in my mind, is that they’re just a bit more human. Orbital 2 has some banger choons, like ‘Remind’, as well as moments of sublime beauty like ‘Halcyon & On & On’:
A great record from two consistently great artists. And they’re only just getting started…
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Pop Bernards seem extremely cool on average. Don't get me started on Pop Lawrences...
In past articles, I've likened Republic to two parents staying together for the sake of the kids. It's an album made under duress, but for most of it, you'd never know. I'm sure being in Ibiza didn't hurt. "Regret" might be the closest thing to a straight up pop song they've made. Chemical is a banger. Young Offender, too.
And for a label that was on it's death bed, it sure didn't stop them from putting out some really wild promo stuff. I could swear I picked up a copy of this that had a jewel case made out of beach ball material. That couldn't have been cheap to make.