In his new and riveting biography recounting the rise and fall of his legendary band, Joy Division bassist Peter Hook (Hooky, to friends and fans) recounts a surprising run-in the Manchester lads had with a television lighting union.
It was July 20th, 1979 and godfathers of postindustrial goth rock appeared at the studios of the U.K.’s Granada TV to perform on the popular program “What’s On.” Hook recounts:
“In those days, Granada was very unionized. It was a very old fashioned union; you had to be a member to work there.”
Clearly, right-to-work was an unheard of concept in late 1970’s Great Britain. Hook Continues:
“[The union] was very powerful. You had to adhere to very strict rules.”
As Joy Division arrived on set to plug in and sound check, they found a large ceiling light fixture on the middle of the stage. The band asked the sound crew if they could move it. Hooky remembers the answer:
“Oh, don’t touch that; that’s Lighting. We’re Sound. They’re Camera. That’s Lighting. You can’t touch that.”
The band responded, quite sensibly, that they needed to set up to play, which they could not do with a giant light on the stage. The sound crew, however, were unmoved.
“You can’t touch it,” they told the dumbstruck lads.
“What are you talking about?” Hook responded. “We’ve got to have a sound check.”
“No, don’t touch it,” at which point the surly sound crew began marking the offending fixture with tape to designate its out of bounds status. “You’ll just have to wait,” they informed the boys.
At this point, Joy Division’s notoriously prickly manager Rob Gretton went ballistic, and attempted to take matters, and the light, into his own hands.
But the sound crew warned, “Touch that and we’re going out on strike, the lot of us. That light belongs to the Lighting Union.”
Hook explains what happened next:
“Someone called lighting, who said they’d send someone over, and we [the band] all looked at one another in disbelief then sat around to wait, Rob with steam coming out of his ears.”
The band waited an hour and a half before someone from the Lighting Union “ambled” into the studio—and moved the light. Problem solved? Not quite. Hook continues:
“We leapt up ready to sound check—at last—only to watch gobsmacked as the lot of them turned on their heels and marched out. Not on strike…but to have dinner. By the time they returned it was to tap their watches and say, “Right, you’ve got half an hour to film [your performance]. Better get a move, on, lads.”
It just goes to show, even musical genius is not enough to exempt you from the wrath and indignation of surly union workers. Naturally, the boys went on to have a fabulous performance.
No thanks to the lighting union.