New Order: our favourite ever festivals

From playing on a truck in Leigh to a drunken nightmare in Scandinavia, the band pick the wildest weekends of their four decades in music

Leigh rock & music festival, 1979 (as Joy Division)

Ticket for the 1979 Leigh Rock & Music festival.
Ticket for the 1979 Leigh Rock & Music festival. Photograph:

Stephen Morris (drums): “I think [the late Factory Records boss] Tony Wilson thought we would be recapturing the spirit of Woodstock at Leigh by having bands on [the Liverpool label] Zoo and Factory playing in a field. It was a horrible place and, being a bank holiday, it rained. But it was my first go at playing outside and possibly Joy Division’s only open-air gig, so it was very memorable. And I liked how different the experience was to modern festivals. It wasn’t like today, where festivals are a bit more of a picnic. It was more like a drive-in movie because the cars were parked in front of the stage, so when it started raining everybody just got in their car and turned their headlights on! There wasn’t any food, and there was only one toilet. Nothing in the way of facilities. It was thrown together on a shoestring. There was a heavy police presence and it was all a bit subversive.”

Gillian Gilbert (keyboards): “I was a spectator at this one. I remember them playing on the back of a truck, like a makeshift stage. There weren’t many people there at all – but then there weren’t many people seeing Joy Division at the time anyway. So outside, in some field … would you want to go? They were good, though!”

Glastonbury, 1981

A few minutes of New Order at Glastonbury in 1981.

Gilbert: “We’d never played anything as huge before, so I imagine there were a lot of people there. But I can’t say for sure because it was so big I couldn’t look at the audience. Back then I was more like, ‘Oh God!’ and so concentrated on what I was doing.”

Morris: “Glastonbury was nothing like it is now. The Pyramid stage was basically built on top of the cowsheds, the backstage area was half a dozen Transit vans parked up and we all had a cup of tea at Michael Eavis’s house after we finished. But it did have that special atmosphere. Unfortunately Bernard [Sumner, singer] rather over-imbibed on Pernod and halfway through one song just completely fell over and started playing guitar on his back. As a performer you have to draw the line between enjoying the festival and keeping yourself in a fit state to play.”

Scandinavian festival neither of them can actually remember, 1980s [probably the 1987 Aarhus festival, Denmark]

Morris: “This illustrates my point further. Miles Davis went onstage before us – a great guy, but he could go on, he didn’t know when to stop. So, while we waited, the festival brought over this crate of Elephant beer. We demolished that, and Miles Davis was still on, so they brought over another crate. From that moment, we can’t remember anything, not even the name or where it was. I met somebody who was there and they asked what happened at that show. I think Gillian had stumbled and knocked the pitch-bend wheel on her keyboard so she was playing everything a semitone up – the worst possible interval. The police were called at the end; I think we were wanted for crimes against music.”

Gilbert: “It was like one of those dreams – I still have them now – where you go onstage and we’ve got a new song and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it. All I can remember is Hooky [bassist Peter Hook] glaring at me, and then coming offstage and thinking: ‘Have we been on yet?’ I think I was leaning on my keyboard to hold me up. I never drink beer, but this beer tasted so nice. I didn’t realise how strong it was.”

Festival No 6, Portmeirion, 2012

Gilbert: “I used to like watching The Prisoner with my mum and dad, so to have the chance to open the first Festival No 6 in Portmeirion [where The Prisoner was shot] was really exciting. We took our girls and I remember riding around in golf carts, because it’s so hilly.”

Morris: “We all got loaded on the spirit of Patrick McGoohan and dressed up in costume. It’s that thing where if the place is right and everyone else is in a good mood then the fact you haven’t had a soundcheck and all that doesn’t matter, because the audience is part of it and you feed off each other. It was perfect, I’ve been back every year since.”

Exit festival, Serbia, 2012

New Order 31 years later at the Exit festival in Serbia.

Morris: “It’s in a fortress in Novi Sad and it’s an absolutely beautiful place. I remember hanging out with Hercules & Love Affair and the Duke Spirit and there was a band stage invasion – a big danceathon during Blue Monday.”

Gilbert: “On the way there, we walked through the park and there were loads of teenagers and people sat on benches, talking in these little woods which led you to this huge fortress with tents around it. It was about 11pm and we thought: ‘What would this be like back home?’ Everyone would be falling over drunk, wouldn’t they?”

Open’er festival, Poland, 2012

Gilbert: “We were doing interviews when we heard these ghostly voices emerging. It reminded me of Popol Vuh’s Nosfaratu soundtrack, but it was Björk with a choir and glockenspiels, all very natural with voices as chords and string lines. Me and Barney [Sumner, singer-guitarist] just looked at each other and we were like: ‘What’s that?’ so we walked over to see it, almost in a trance.”

Morris: “It was on an air force base in Gdynia! The whole place had these concrete, cold war aircraft hangars all beautifully lit; plus we had the best sushi we’ve ever had anywhere in the world. Who knew you could get that in Poland?”

New Order headline the Other stage at Glastonbury on Saturday and the Obelisk arena at Latitude, Southwold, on Sunday 17 July.


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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