Friday, 8 May 2015

Rapid Reviews : Chapter and Verse by Bernard Sumner

There's more than one side to any story and, when you consider the sheer number of people involved in the story of Factory Records, that makes for a lot of different angles.

Many of them are conflicting and perhaps the most famous of all the conflicting viewpoints is that of Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner whose bitter and acrimonious split as bandmates after a lifetime together (the pair met at school and were in both Joy Division and New Order, making up a musical partnership that lasted approximately 30 years) is still palpably felt to this day.

For his part, Hooky has written two books concerning his time with Factory; The Hacienda, How Not To Run A Club and Inside Joy Division. I've read both of these books and found Hooky to have a natural conversational approach to writing which meant these were easy and fun reads indeed. Unless of course you were Mr Bernard Sumner, who came in for a great deal of vitriol, venom and flak.

Now it's time to see things from Bernard's point of view with his debut autobiography; Chapter and Verse, New Order, Joy Division and Me

What is immediately apparent is that Sumner has none of Hooky's rough hewn 'Salford Oik' charm in his approach to writing. This is a more thought out, sensitive voice which, on reflection, makes you realise how incompatible the pair were.

It's a book that is in dire need of a better editor though. Tragically, Sumner's heartfelt writing style is almost immediately scuppered by lazy editing. Check out his comments on his mother, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and her strict maternal approach towards him, her only child, on page 15;

"To an extent I kind of understand the way she was with me. She felt trapped by her own disability..."

Now see what he says on page 16, just one page later;

"To an extent I understand the way she was with me....I guess she felt trapped by her disability..."

On the same page he goes on to say;

"I think she may have suffered from depression"

Fair enough. But he said this already on page 13;

"(She) Maybe even suffered from depression..."

At such an early stage in the book it really does hamper him and doesn't exactly bode well either. Equally Sumner's memory isn't perhaps the greatest and he proves to be something of an unreliable witness as he recounts how a reworking of their hit Blue Monday for an advert for the soft drink Sunkist in the 1980s was vetoed by their manager Rob Gretton meaning the ad never saw the light of day.

Except it did. I remember it well as a kid and it's actually on YouTube for all to see

He also offers, perhaps understandably, a completely different angle to some anecdotes Hooky has previously offered up in his books. One in particular being the time he left a Deep Purple gig because of a bad toothache. Hooky's version is that Bernard had the toothache and wanted to go home, but wasn't going alone and so, he made Hooky and the other friends there that night, accompany him, meaning they missed out on the gig. Sumner, in recounting this story, just says he left and makes no mention of whether the others stayed or went. Perhaps to hide his blushes?

I found his comment regarding Touching From a Distance the book by Deborah Curtis, widow of Joy Division's lyricist and frontman Ian Curtis, especially telling;

"I've read Debbie's book and, whilst it is the story of what happened, inevitably it is a view of events seen from her perspective, which was, understandably, not an objective one"

Why can't he understand that when it comes to both his own non-objective account of the New Order fallout and that of Hooky's? Because once he states that he goes on to give his account of what happened that led to the departure of Hooky from New Order. Now, if what he says Hooky got up to on occasions in the mid '00s is true then I can totally understand his frustration as it sounds like Hooky, both immediately prior to and immediately after a stint in rehab was a real pain in the arse. I don't dispute he probably was either. Yet interestingly in Hooky's rebuttal of Sumner's memoirs, he points out that a significant argument Bernard claims he had with Peter Saville never actually happened and, to prove it, he quotes Peter Saville as having no memory of this tiff either!

Overall, Chapter and Verse is a good read and nicely written but you do get the feeling that Bernard Sumner has a selective memory, especially given how many years he completely omits from the New Order story. He mentions getting up the noses of his bandmates down the years, especially at the height of their fame in the late '80s and early '90s but never once explores this divide with the same warts and all attention he gives the situation with Peter Hook. He discusses the hiatus with the band in the early '90s suggesting he wanted to try other things; that may be true but even I know that at that time he and fellow bandmates Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert were hardly on speaking terms, which led to the husband and wife duo releasing solo material as The Other Two. So why no mention of that when he's happy to discuss his beef with Hooky?

But ultimately I think both men are highly likely to have equally selective memories and, after reading both accounts, I still just want to bang their heads together!

I believe Hook is now writing his account of the New Order years. Perhaps Steven and/or Gillian will write theirs and then we can gather a composite picture of what really happened?

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