STEPHEN Morris is telling me about the Joy Division seance. New York, 1980. The surviving members of the band have gone to America to play some gigs in the wake of the suicide of their singer Ian Curtis. The show in Hoboken wasn’t terrible, but the next morning they have woken up to find that all their instruments and gear had been stolen from the back of a U-Haul truck. And then they learn that they weren’t insured.

“Well, what do you do?” asks Morris, 39 years later. “You’ve lost your lead singer, you’ve lost everything. That was the last of Joy Division. Somebody had just driven off with it. Oh, and by the way you’re not insured. Bloody hell!

“So, we sat in the Iroquois Hotel in Manhattan and asked ourselves what to do. ‘Tell you what? Let’s ask Ian. See if he knows where the gear is.’”

On reflection this might not have been the best idea, Morris admits now. “Ian wasn’t a particularly good navigator, but you know, it was worth a shot.”

As he recounts in his new memoir Record Play Pause, Morris and his bandmates Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner then wrote the letters of the alphabet onto the hotel’s headed notepaper, found a glass and tried to contact the spirit of their dead singer.

“The spirit that we summoned via the traditional means of a glass and a hastily scribbled alphabet laid out on an Iroquois occasional table was definitely not Ian,” Morris writes in Record Play Pause, “…It was very good at moving the glass about though.”

“It was a complete waste of time,” Morris adds this morning. “But it was scary. It was scary.”

Read More: Peter Hook on the Hacienda

Read More: Book Review - The story of Joy Division

The story of Joy Division is a story of music and loss. But it’s also the story of seances, summoning Satan (we’ll get to that), and a kind of juvenile idiocy that’s a reminder that while Joy Division were quickly enshrined as the most important band of their era the members of said band were also young men being young and overindulging themselves in the way young men do.

It’s that aspect of the story that Morris’s book plays up. “One of the things I get troubled by from time to time is the way Joy Division are seen now,” the drummer admits. “My memories of the band are completely different.

“I always remember Ian smiling a lot and I always remember having a lot of laughs.”

The band’s reputation is one of earnest young men. “We’re [seen as] kind of dour and very serious. It was … nothing like that at all,” Morris suggests.

And so Morris’s memoir is awash with drugs, alcohol, “forfeits”, a game Morris says he now “shudders to recollect”, and throwing eggs at Buzzcocks.

“We were just doing it for fun really. It was just an absolutely fantastic time. Being young, I think, insulates you from a lot of life’s horrors. You are just oblivious to it.”

Until it’s impossible not to be.

To its credit, Record Play Pause retains its sense of humour for most of its 400-odd pages. Maybe this is all to be expected. In interviews Morris has always been the wryest member of Joy Division and New Order.

His is not the first band memoir. Both Hook and Sumner have beaten him to it. (“I should say that. Other books by members of Joy Division are available.”) That only leaves Gillian Gilbert, New Order’s fouth member, and Morris’s wife, to put pen to paper (“It would be nice if she did,” Morris suggests. “It will contain some very interesting chapters about dog training. That’s her big hobby.”)

Morris’s, though, will keep you going in the meantime. Writing it, Morris admits, “I got a bit carried away. I enjoyed it so much I lost track of time and I ended up doing over a thousand pages. I thought, ‘That will be all right. There’s a lot of rubbish in there. Somebody’s going to go in there with a pair of scissors.’”

Instead, his publishers said they would cut it in half and publish two books. Next year all being well volume two (the New Order years) will be published.

Record Play Pause tells a familiar story (and is full of familiar stories; how could it be otherwise given the weight of material available on the band), but Morris brings a freshness to it and it’s surprisingly revelatory.

There’s a melancholy to it too. Perhaps that’s just the nature of time passing, given that Morris will be 62 in October. “I just wanted to write what I thought had happened, for my kids really. I lost my parents quite recently and there were so many things that I wanted to ask them, and I never did, so I thought it would be nice to write it all down.”

And it’s Morris’s own story that is the freshest thing here. He grew up in Macclesfield where he still lives now (although he’s now moved to a place with his own studio, room for his collection of militaria and close enough to the countryside for deer to be in the back garden the day we speak).

His uncle was a musician. His father was a travelling salesman who also put on dances. When Morris told his dad he wanted to play the drums Morris senior wasn’t impressed. “Drummers, Stephen. I’ve never met a sane one yet,” he told his son. “They all end up taking morphine and drinking absinthe, rotting their brains. You don’t want to end up like that, do you?”

Did you live down to his expectations, Stephen? “I tried. I’ve never done morphine and I’ve never really taken up absinthe, to tell you the truth. I didn’t know what absinthe was …”

What he did become was very good at the job. What makes a good drummer, Stephen? “For me, it’s just someone who focuses on the song and does a good job without getting too fancy.

“Early on you think being fancy is what it’s all about. But I soon realised that the drummers I actually liked listening to were the ones who didn’t do loads of fills … Apart from Keith Moon who did nothing but fills.”


The teenage Morris, it should be said, was a young man at odds with everything. He dogged school, hung around in record shops, started taking drugs, stole money from his family. Music was one of the few things he had going for him.

He’d go to gigs in Manchester and miss the last bus home. He’d get as far as Alderley Edge, now the home of footballers, but back then a mess of mine workings and the setting for Alan Garner novels.

That’s where he tried to summon the devil. Acid may have been involved.

“There’s a thing there called the Devil’s Cave, a cave with a big stone in the middle and the thing was if you went three times round this stone widdershins the devil would appear.

“What would happen is I would get stranded at Alderley Edge and start to walk back but sometimes I would just give up and I’d go to the Devil’s Cave. You couldn’t get much sleep but summoning the devil seemed like a good idea. It didn’t work but it passed the time and the farmer’s wife next door did me a bacon butty in the morning.”

Between the humour there is a glimpse of a harsher reality, though. The hard truth is that Morris himself suffered from depression. He writes about it sparingly but honestly. It is, he admits, something he struggles to talk about even now.

“I would get really hyper and happy and enthusiastic and then suddenly, whoof, go really down. The trouble was once you got down it was really hard to get back up again.”

It wasn’t something he felt he could talk about at the time.

“You didn’t want to admit to your mates that, ‘Oh God, I feel really depressed.’ Because they’d just say, ‘Snap out of it.’ You couldn’t talk about it in the seventies. It was shameful and a sign of weakness.

“Hopefully people nowadays know a bit better. It’s a thing that was handed down from your parents. My parents would never admit to being sad or anything. Stiff upper lip, you know. Keep calm and carry on. All that nonsense. Everything’s going to be all right. And sometimes it isn’t.”

Could you talk to Gillian? “No … Yeah, a little bit. But I still find it a very difficult thing to talk about and I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t. But I’m just kind of wired that way.”

He admits he didn’t help himself. “I did mess myself up a bit. Smoking pot and taking drugs didn’t really help at all. I’ve got to say that in retrospect. I was convinced that the world was to blame. It’s always somebody else’s fault and I just ended up getting angry.”

He went to see a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants. “The cure was worse than what I had,” Morris says now. “In the end I fought my way out of it.”

Drumming helped, he says. “That is one thing I always forget to say. Drumming did help. It helped a lot. It was a very therapeutic thing.”

Morris escaped the dark pull of his condition. Tragically his friend could not.

Ian Curtis, suffering from epileptic fits, struggling with the medication he was prescribed for it and the stress of a failing marriage, took his own life in 1980.

“He seemed to be getting himself into a corner, but he wouldn’t really talk about it,” Morris says. “You would ask him, ‘Are you all right?’ And he’d just say, ‘I’m fine.’ If someone’s not going to open up it’s difficult.”

By the end of the book Morris, Sumner and Hook, reeling from their friend’s death, are trying to figure out what to do while coping with what sounds very much like post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD, exactly. It was a very weird time. It was like you were sleepwalking a bit, but you still carried on.

“We were kind of stubborn. We all knew that it was very unlikely. Bands don’t survive the singer going but we’ve always had this stubbornness. ‘Oh yeah, we’ll show you then.’”

And they did. They formed New Order. There would be a second act.

“It’s remarkable how we got through all that and ended up dosing something that was just as good, if not better.”


Record Play Pause by Stephen Morris is published by Constable, priced £20. Morris will be appearing at the Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow on Thursday as part of a special Aye Write event. A recording of New Order's Manchester International Festival collaboration with artist Liam Gillick will be released in July.