The guitarist who raised Bernard Sumner’s musical horizon
(Credits: Far Out / Spotify)
In 1976, punk was beginning to find underground popularity in England, with a group of distinctively dressed, passionate young men known as the Sex Pistols leading the charge. On one summer’s day in Manchester, the band performed a gig to a sparse crowd. Yet, in that audience were several people who would soon become some of British music’s biggest names.
From Morrissey and Johnny Marr to Mark E. Smith and Pete Shelley, the gig resulted in the formation of The Smiths, The Fall and Buzzcocks. It also enticed Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Ian Curtis, who would eventually become Warsaw before changing their name to Joy Division.
The band were only together for four years before Curtis would tragically take his life at the age of just 23. Yet, in that time, they created two stunning albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, as well as various singles and demos that have become firm fan favourites.
Joy Division aided the development of post-punk with their prominent, moody basslines, innovative guitar riffs and pummelling drum beats, paired with Curtis’ unforgettable deep, melancholic voice. They also influenced the shape of gothic rock thanks to their dark sound. Joy Division are the kind of band you can only imagine in black and white, defining a shortlived yet definitive era in British music history.
The band’s distinctive guitars are the result of Sumner’s handiwork. He has continued to play guitar – alongside singing and playing keyboards – in New Order following the dissolution of Joy Division.
His mastery of the string instrument comes from studying the work of other musicians, from The Rolling Stones to David Bowie. However, there was one artist who expanded his musical horizon when he was younger, inspiring him to study his instrument even more – Jimi Hendrix.
The musician, who passed away in 1970, left behind three albums, all of which have been lauded as some of the most impressive works of the 1960s. Known for his stellar guitar-playing skills, Hendrix’s impact on rock music cannot be understated. His approach to the guitar was totally unique and creative, pushing the boundaries of what his instrument could do.
Sumner picked out Hendrix’s final album, Electric Ladyland, released in 1968, as one of his favourite albums, telling SPIN, ”I went out and bought it, played it, just a lot of noise, played it, just a lot of noise — and then all of the sudden my musical horizon went up a notch, and I really got into Hendrix. It was really weird, like a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.”
Revisit the album below.