Reading a copy of 90 Minutes magazine back in 1993, my sixteen year old self came across a question and answer profile with the diminutive Scottish footballer Pat Nevin, a tricky, skillful winger in the old school style who plied his trade with the likes of Chelsea and Everton. He was asked what kind of music if any he listened to before going out on the pitch. The question was prefaced with the acknowledgement that footballers were in general are not known for their musical taste at that time, tending to favour populist middle of the road drivel such as Phil Collins. Nevin’s reply was a surprise; ‘Ceremony‘ by New Order.
At this point, I had yet to hear the song. I was aware growing up who New Order were with an older sister who listened to New Order and the Smiths on occasion. I saw them on the television performing on that old lip synching pop institution Top of the Pops several times including a 1988 re-release of their classic anthem Blue Monday.
I guess it’s really my sister I have to thank for getting me into them in the first place as she would blast their tunes along with the music of Electronic ( Bernard Sumner’s & Johnny Marr’s side project) at high volume on her ghetto blaster from her room during her own rebellious teenage phase. I thought they sounded a bit like the Pet Shop Boys. I wasn’t aware of their history, wouldn’t recognize any of the band members from a police line-up and was at the tail end of my listening to heavy rock music phase. And yet, their curiously melancholy blend of of dance club sounds and indie rock drew me in, songs whose constituent elements of introversion and extroversion demonstrated an emotionally compelling stylistic dichotomy.
Then during the summer of 1993, New Order released the single ‘Regret’. The song hit my emotional sweet spot and I took a leap of faith and bought the album from which it was taken Republic. I played it all through that summer, locked away in my bedroom, committing every track to memory. My love affair with the band began and has never really ended.
As long as ‘Ceremony’ exists that passion will remain. This song cemented my undying obsession with the Manchester groups music and I regard it as one of the greatest rock tracks ever recorded.
Now, for reasons I may find hard to articulate but referring back to Pat Nevin’s interview, this provides an insight into the effect the song has on people and most certainly has on me every time I’ve played it. And I never tire of it – the galvanizing force of the music, the quiet desperation and longing within the words and delivery.
It’s the sound of joy, fear, hope, anticipation. A moment that has been building, gaining momentum in your heart, mind and body all your life. This very moment here right now – ” I’m ready now, no nerves to show…” Clarity, directness, uncertainty. To me it’s about love; pure and simple but not in the classic romantic sense. The songs essence, it’s energy feels hyper real, pure, truthful. There is no glorification, idolization, exaggeration. What’s it’s suggesting is that falling or being in love is thrilling yes but also difficult, risky fraught with the pitfalls of reality.
When put into context within the bands history, it accumulates a greater resonance no doubt. Ceremony was the first single released by New Order in 1981 less than a year after the death of Ian Curtis and the demise of their previous incarnation, Joy Division.
The song was written in 1980 by Curtis and the band and the song retains some of the brooding qualities of Joy Divisions music whilst perhaps in the more upbeat tempo and lyrical content signifying a new direction, one which New Order would reluctantly take after a hesitant start. Bernard Sumner’s lack of confidence vocally is evident on the track but to me only adds to it’s sense of awkward, bruised humanity.
Symbolically, this is both a burial and a rebirth for it’s creators one imagines. But it’s the songs latter quality which I find a constant source for inspiration and joy.
The video below is taken from an excellent compilation entitled New Order: Item