Who’d have thought the spotty teenager stood mouth agape at Manchester Apollo in 1978 as Joy Division pretty much blew The Buzzcocks off the stage, would be stood in the Royal Albert hall 40 years later  waiting on Peter Hook and his band of merry men, coupled to the Manchester camerata to take the stage?

Yet here we are, along with over four thousand devotees eager with anticipation, wondering  just how  you could possibly marry the the stark dystopian visions of  Ian Curtis’ lyrics and dark post punk sound of Joy Division to an Orchestra of all things.

It seems that every band  and his dog are doing the orchestra  schtick these days, usually with the band out front and the orchestra backing them, yet when we look at the stage here, “where’s the backline?”, ‘wheres the drum kit” springs to mind. Hooky takes to the stage to introduce proceedings, and it becomes clear we are in for a completely different beast tonight.

The band are integrated into the orchestra, the Manchester camerata. Top left are Yves Atlanta on acoustic bass and David Potts on guitar, elsewhere Martin Rebelski manning the keyboards, and Paul “Leadfoot” Kehoe on electronic drums. The only visible sign of an actual band is Hooky’s bass rig, emblazoned with the words “Guitar Nero” and “Salford Rules”. Having witnessed a snippet of the soundcheck, I was aware of several guest vocalists making appearances tonight, actor and musician Bastien Marshall, a very spooky Ian Curtis alike, and renowned musician and actor in his own right, Mica Millar, one of the north wests most revered up and coming singer/songwriters and Natalie Findlay, described by cryptic rock magazine as having the “balls out grit of the riot girls and the sincerity in spades of the 70’s classic rockers”

Before the main event, we are treated to a DJ set from Dave Booth, which sets the atmosphere very nicely indeed.

Hooky introduces the proceedings, dedicating the event to Ian Curtis as the Manchester Camerata and band take to the stage and tune up. The first notes sound out, a piano version of Love will Tear us Apart, no less, and it becomes clear the songbook has been completely ripped up and totally re-written/re-arranged by the highly talented musical director, Tim Crooks, who also did the Hacienda Classical. It’s a revelation, as familiar tunes take on a new life, with heavy strings, brass and percussion and ethereal, choral vocals.

It would be unfair to reveal the whole setlist here, just incase this happens again, (I sincerely hope it does, by the way) there are some real treats, there’s a surprise guest appearance by Jeremy Vine (yes, you read that right!) playing those famous chimes, samples of Ian Curtis talking ands the famous Tony Wilson Granada reports intro and a brand new song written by Hooky and Pottsy specially for the event, in tribute to Ian, inspired by section 25 and Joy Division jam tape from the period, which they have completed as Monaco. The song exudes the love Pottsy and Hooky have for Joy Division, fantastic stuff, it sounds in parts like it should be a bond theme!

This isn’t a gig, this is a religious experience, worshipping at the sonic church of the innovators of dark wave post punk, and the choir is in fine voice, as the four thousand sing along with every track, its seminal, its bold and innovative, No shoddy impersonators, a proper honourable tribute, just stunning in its execution and power. Ending the first half with the new song, theres a short break and more from DJ Dave Booth, the masses hit the bars or nip out for a breather, or a smoke, stunned eyes and massive grins chatter in wonder at what they’ve just witnessed, as the sun sets behind the golden glow of the Albert memorial and a thin whisper of Crescent Moon rises in the fading light..

Part two starts with a real surprise, a rendition of Rachel’s Song, written by Vangelis for Blade Runner, a film based on one of Ian’s favourite books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a copy of which he gave to Hooky back in the day. Its ethereal and beautiful, and catches the hardcore JD fans completely by surprise, Hooky described this to me after the show as one of those “shit have we lost them moments”, moments one tends to get when you’re trying out something new like this. “This is the way step inside” and were back to more JD classics fielded by Bastien, Mica and Natalie until another swerve ball in the form of the funeral march from A Clockwork Orange, Ian’s favourite film. The infamous Tony Wilson intro pours out the speakers and we’re back to JD again, and the place erupts! Next up a performance of a Malcolm McLaren mash up of Love Will Keep Us Together/Tear Us Apart and we’re in the final stages as the last two JD numbers close the set, and the band leave the stage. orchestra remains seated.

There is not long to wait until they’re back on stage and Digital make the place go absolutely nuts and a considerable mosh pit is formed that doesn’t cease through Ceremony and the finale Love Will Tear Us Apart has the whole crowd, and I suspect some of the crew and security singing along as loud as they possibly can, only quietening for the final verse until loud again for the outro. The crowd roars and roars but that’s it, done and dusted as a very happy band and Orchestra stand for an ovation. I think the lads and lasses from Manchester Camerata were absolutely blown away by the response from the crowd. Throughout the whole gig, I only heard one lone voice of dissent, a grumpy “You’re no fucking Ian Curtis” several times. Well no, indeed it was not but fuck me, the love for Ian from the band and crowd way overshadowed this. “What did you come here for, a fucking zombie” ha ha ha, priceless.

A joyous stunning performance from all concerned, and where my 14 year old self would probably have scoffed at this “bloody classical music, pah!”, my 55 year old is as happy as happy thing in happy land that this music can still be heard and loved by old and new fans alike, preformed with love, honour and passion, long may this continue, I say. Having said what I did earlier in this review, as the memories of last night come flooding back, you couldn’t repeat the vibe that was in the hall, this hot summers eve in 2019, and as the huddled masses spilled out into the Kensington night, and drifted off their separate ways, for that night we were all united as one, for Ian, the music, for the banter and the joy, we can all say “we were there”


Feature image © Dominic Simpson

Other images © David Simpson and Yannis Hostelidis