“Bernard is absolutely furious and it's all live on television”: New Order look back on the band’s most disastrous TV appearance ever

New Order in 1986
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the start of this year, New Order released a 'Definitive Edition' of their classic 1985 record Low-Life, with the deluxe package including a ton of bonus material, live takes, demos, 12-inch singles and almost anything you’d want connected with the album. One thing was missing, however – the band’s disastrous August 25, 1984 appearance on the music show Rock Around The Clock. It wasn’t that the band themselves vetoed it, either, as drummer Stephen Morris told The New Cue earlier this year. “The BBC got rid of the tapes, so the only copy we could find was copied off a VHS so looked a bit shit.”

By the sounds of it, though, the tape will never be erased from Morris’s mind. It was an absolute car crash.

“All you had to do was turn up at the BBC and play two songs live,” Morris recalled. “How hard could it be? It was the August Bank Holiday and on the Friday we’d done a gig at St Austell Coliseum so we were out Cornwall way. Bernard [Sumner, New Order frontman] came up with a brilliant idea that we should perform a medley of Blue Monday and The Perfect Kiss which seemed reasonable, but we didn’t actually have that particular version [programmed] at the time.

“On the Saturday, Hooky and everybody else wisely decided to go on a jolly in London and left us in a seaside hotel with a synthesizer, a drum machine and a sequencer to accomplish this feat of programming. I mean, how hard could it be to join two songs together in the tearoom of a seaside hotel while parents and kids watched on and Rob [Gretton, New Order’s legendary manager] drank Stella Artois?”

Having managed to get everything programmed and ready, the band arrived at the BBC in the nick of time to play their set, at which point everything started sliding sideways.

“All we had to do was bung this little cassette into the sequencer. We got there with 15 minutes to spare, popped this little data cassette into the sequencer, pressed load and this thing just went: ERROR. Don’t worry, we’ve got a backup, we’ll stick that in… ERROR. ‘Fucking hell, what are we going to do?!?’” Morris remembers. “Having spent all day working on this thing, Bernard was very displeased, so the entire performance became enthused with this angst, which I think is great. Bernard is absolutely furious and it's all live on television. They nearly pulled the plug on us because he kept swearing and it was live on TV.

“It was, as Tony Wilson described it, ‘great television, darling, great television.’ At the time I didn’t think it was great. I was disappointed to find that the BBC hadn’t cherished it in the way that I’d hoped and it had been chucked out along with a load of old Doctor Whos.”

Luckily, there is some footage of the performance on YouTube, Bernard Sumner’s grimacing still coming across – you don’t need it in HD to know he’s not a happy bunny.

There's the moment, for instance, in Blue Monday where he changes the lyrics to run: “Still find it so hard to stay in tune with you, but I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me, what the fuck we should do.” Then there's the tempo issues on In A Lonely Place, where the singer gets ever more irritated with Morris, urging “Speed up a little bit Steve, it’s a little bit faster than this... faster... FASTER!” And the singer's second 'F-Bomb' of the evening inserted into set closer Temptation.

“The whole thing was daft,” Sumner told Sounds after the fact. “We had four synthesisers, an Emulator, guitar, bass, electronic drums, drum machine, acoustic drums and vocals and trying to put that lot through a pair of headphones with two-inch speakers really is completely and utterly stupid.”

“I mean, we looked a right bunch of cunts,” Peter Hook told Electronic Sound, “but you know, in a funny way, it all added to your allure. It added to your punkiness, your anarchic attitude. To my mind, it made us special.”

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.