Happy birthday to Bernard Sumner – guitarist and founding member of Joy Division.
During his long and stylistically varied music career Sumner also founded the post-Joy Division band New Order and later collaborated with fellow Mancunian guitar hero Johnny Marr under the moniker Electronic.
Sumner’s first steps into what would later become a ‘serious’ band can be traced back to the heyday of punk when he and fellow Joy Division founder Peter Hook attended the first of the Sex Pistols’ two pivotal gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, U.K. on June 4, 1976. Though sparsely attended the audience of this monumental show also comprised influential Manchester music figures Pete Shelley (1955-2018) and Morrissey.
Inspired by the Pistols, Sumner and Hook embraced the DIY spirit of punk and began playing together in earnest. Before long they had formed the proto-band Warsaw and by early ’78 were gigging as Joy Division along with drummer Stephen Morris and singer Ian Curtis (1956-1980.)
Later that year, Joy Division attended a ‘battle of the bands’-style event in Manchester where Curtis famously cornered Tony Wilson (1950-2007) – a key figure in the rapidly evolving Manchester music scene. Though Wilson’s television series So It Goes was notable for having featured the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Buzzcocks it was also short-lived. And Curtis was, to say the least, upset that his band never got the chance to perform on camera before the groundbreaking show aired for the final time in ‘77.
Nevertheless, after Curtis had finished berating Wilson with a string of expletives it was agreed that Joy Division would be the next band to star in his forthcoming What’s On slot on the U.K. region's Granada Reports television show.
In this historical clip, Sumner can be seen playing a Shergold Custom Masquerader electric guitar customized with what appears to be DiMarzio humbuckers. His stark, minimalistic style – underpinned by Joy Division’s cold, driving rhythm section – would prove highly influential as a new generation of post-punk, goth and new wave guitarists emerged.
“I’d say ‘you’ll hear more of them’ but I’ve heard that line so often,” comments Wilson. In fact, with Wilson now firmly on their side Joy Division were invited to appear again. This time, the band performed uniquely energized renditions of their debut single “Transmission” and “She’s Lost Control” from their debut album, Unknown Pleasures (both released in ’79 on Wilson’s iconic Factory Records label.)
Browse the Joy Division catalog here.
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.