What did Joy Division play at their last gig?
2 May 2021, 15:00
The cult Manchester band performed their last show before the death of singer Ian Curtis 41 years ago. How did they bow out?
Joy Division, the legendary Manchester band, played their final live show on Friday, 2 May 1980.
The gig came just two weeks before singer Ian Curtis took his own life at his home in Macclesfield. He was just 23 and had been living with epilepsy for two years. The condition had become increasingly incompatible with a life of touring and playing exhausting shows, and coupled with some complicated relationship issues, meant that his problems overwhelmed him.
The rest of the band - guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris - were in shock, but vowed to carry on under a different name, New Order.
But how did Joy Division end their stunning live career? Their show at Birmingham University’s High Hall on this Friday night in early May was a stop gap date before the band were due to head off for their first US tour on the 19th of the month. Ian’s death cancelled all their plans.
For £1.50 in advance (£1.75 on the door), you could see fellow Factory band A Certain Ratio open for one of the most acclaimed bands from Manchester, mere weeks before the release of their keenly awaited second album, Closer.
The show opened with a track that was listed on the setlist as “NEW ONE”. It turned out to be Ceremony, a new song that Joy Division had written in April, partly to keep Ian’s mind off his problems. The other final Joy Division song, the relentlessly gloomy In A Lonely Place, would form the basis of New Order’s debut single early in 1981.
The setlist included some highlights from the Unknown Pleasure album (Shadowplay, New Dawn Fades, Disorder) but also showcases material from the new album: A Means To An End, Passover, Twenty Four Hours and Isolation. The band also aired their single Transmission.
Curtis’s ill health had caused several live dates to be cancelled in April of 1980 and this gig still proved to be a strain for the troubled singer. During the final song - the first and last time Joy Division played Decades - he was helped off stage after he completed the vocal by the group’s road manager and minder Terry Mason. The rest of the band finished the number.
Curtis was strong enough to return to the stage for Joy Divisions last ever live performance: Digital, which was the very first song they’d recorded for Factory Records back in October 1978.
Here’s what Joy Division played at their final show:
Joy Division at High Hall, Birmingham, 2 May 1980 setlist
“NEW ONE” aka Ceremony
A Means To An End
New Dawn Fades
Twenty Four Hours
In November 1981, over a year after Curtis died, the whole Birmingham gig was released as one half of a double album called Still. The set mopped up some unissued studio material alongside the live recording. The version of Twenty Four Hours was a “hidden” track - it wasn’t listed on the sleeve.