A lineup replete with local legends proves a perfect fit for the famous space observatory
7th July 2013
Jodrell Bank Observatory
New Order and Jodrell Bank have a lot more in common than you might at first think. Sure, their spacey, synthy intonations might suggest an interplanetary collusion, but that’s only a comparison at a tangential level. Before New Order play, Johnny Marr’s sound check is interspersed with a mini-science lesson in which the crowd is told about Jocelyn Bell Burnell. To science buffs, that name might have a resounding familiarity; Burnell was the astrophysicist credited with discovering the first radio pulsar. To music fans, Burnell’s discovery is hugely recognisable for a totally different reason. The pulsing, undulating image of radio of waves was employed by Peter Saville to create the stark, elegiac, glacial cover for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. You know, the band that basically birthed New Order. It’s an ice cold image that is indelibly etched into music history, and it’s visible on pretty much one in five of every t-shirt worn tonight. Was that any less tangential? OK fine, New Order drummer Stephen Morris is from Macclesfield, the site for the fifth in Jodrell Bank’s series of live performances. In any event, tonight is one of the few times where music and science truly intersect, and what a delight it all was.
Before New Order, Johnny Marr ably whips up the crowd with songs from his fantastic album The Messenger, but what really makes them erupt is the inclusion of four Smiths songs, ending with a satisfyingly altered rendition of ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’. What can you say about Marr that hasn’t already been said? That guitar playing is simply singular, cutting through the dense riffage like a laser, entirely commanding of his six strings. The tremulous throbbing of ‘How Soon is Now’ also makes an appearance, in what was an increasingly enthralling set. When NO frontman Bernard Sumner steps onstage to jam on an Electronic song during Johnny Marr’s set, it sends ripples of excitement through the crowd, almost sending one girl into catatonia by way of euphoria. That is only a small taster of New Order’s actual set.
Opening with a bombastic snippet of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’, New Order show everyone why the Manchester/Macclesfield connection is one of the most formidable in music from inception and now, playing for nearly two hours to an entirely rapturous Northern crowd. The overriding feeling, of both the music and the night itself, is one of utter revelry. Even when they’re playing songs as disparate as the yearning, vulnerable ‘Regret’ alongside ‘Blue Monday’s Balearic bluster, they are converted into wholly joyous anthems. They even manage to remove the maudlin pall of their spruced up version of ‘Ceremony’, adding an authoritative but uplifting ending to the classic. Behind the band, a screen shows music videos and other sundries to the spectacle, reinvigorating and reaffirming their respective songs’ statements. ‘True Faith’s acid fried Cirque du Soleil dancers are magnified one hundred times, something the audience won’t forget in a hurry, while the images playing during ‘World’ seem to suggest a bona-fide celebration of everyone on the planet.
The Lovell Telescope, dwarfing everyone in attendance, is also canvas to New Order’s paint box. Mid-way through the set, the telescope’s gargantuan dish is daubed with Peter Saville’s familiar, vivid colour codes, ticking around one second then spiralling into a cascade the next. Stirring stuff.
The band don’t call it a night at their own material either. After a brief exit from the stage, the band returns to darkness, the screen behind them empty. Pulse by pulse, the well acclimatised lines of Burnell’s radio image slide into view, piling on top of each other to create the iconic image of Unknown Pleasures. It might not be the most original of moves, but ripping into a four song encore of Joy Division songs brings the night full circle, and the audience are hardly going to complain. Though the songs lose some of the seductive lustre without Ian Curtis’ pained baritone, they do manage to capture some of the festering anxiety of Sumner and Morris’ former band. That said, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is played a few octaves too high, one of the few moments where the band’s exuberant remit fails them, though that’s simply putting things under a telescope. Everything else was music and science combined into a delirious and jubilant whole.
And not a Brian Cox in sight.