Personalities | Bernard Sumner | Riding the New Wave | Guitar Heroes
New-wave guitarist Bernard Sumner (b. 1956) was born in Salford, Manchester. Seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester in June 1976 inspired Sumner and Peter Hook to acquire their first instruments, guitar and bass respectively.
Originally called Warsaw, later Joy Division, they recruited drummer Stephen Morris and singer Ian Curtis for their band, making some self-produced records before joining local independent label Factory. In-house producer Martin Hannett transformed Joy Division from an ordinary punk outfit into one of the most influential groups of all time.
The debut album Unknown Pleasures (1979) was edgy and atmospheric, Sumner’s understated guitar adding texture and leaving space rather than seeking to dominate; ‘She’s Lost Control’ is one example among many. Hailed as a classic by the critics, the album made an immediate impact on emerging bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, the Cure and U2. More recently, Joy Division’s influence can be heard on Editors and Interpol.
Closer (1980) refined Joy Division’s sound into a more stately affair, with Sumner’s synthesizer lending extra gravitas. Shortly before its release, Curtis committed suicide. The others continued as New Order, adding Gillian Gilbert on keyboards, which gave the band a more electronic edge. Their debut album Movement (1981) saw Sumner emerge as lead singer and lyricist. New Order gradually freed themselves from the shadow of their previous incarnation to embrace the influence of the New York dance scene. Power, Corruption And Lies (1982) first showcased the pioneering crossover between dance, electronic music and rock which was to be their enduring trademark and which proved almost as influential as the music of Joy Division. Their seventh album Get Ready (2001) returned the band to guitar-based rock. In between albums, Sumner worked with Johnny Marr as Electronic.
Sumner’s emphasis was primarily on rhythm, often leaving the bass or synthesizer to provide melody, as on ‘Regret’ from Republic (1993). He favoured a Gibson SG Standard (without vibrola) and also used a Shergold Masquerader and a Vox Phantom. Sumner served as musical director and arranger for both Joy Division and New Order. Sumner is currently the lead vocalist of the band Bad Lieutenant, which formed in 2007.
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