Ian Curtis and Annik Honoré: The thunderous (hi)story of Joy Division
First, a note from Jez - Frequently unasked questions.
A: I know what you google for - I see the stats.
A: No, I did not write this. I translated it.
A: Yes, I have met Annik personally.
A: She is still music mad and goes to a lot of gigs in and around Brussels. Some of which I have reviewed here in DontGetOutMuch
A: She is someone who radiates warmth, trust and empathy. She must be a wonderful friend to those who know her well.
A: Let's just say she has aged better than Barney, Hooky or Stephen.
On the 18th of May 1980, Ian Curtis hung himself in his Macclesfield home, triggering the start of Joy Division’s mythical status. Thirty years later, Annik Honoré, his Belgian lover, has accepted for the first time to talk in detail about her history with Ian and of a time which was, in every way, extraordinary.
“I’m always expecting Natalie, Ian’s daughter, to ring the doorbell... I’d so much like to tell her my version of everything that happened.” Annik stops for an instant and freezes a smile which maker her face look charming and melancholic at the same time.
Since Deborah Curtis’ book ‘Touching from a distance’ came out in 1995 – which largely vilifies her – and even more so since Anton Corbijn’s biopic ‘Control’ in autumn 2007, Annik has come out of a strictly private sphere. Corbijn’s fiction triggered off a return to the unanswered questions about her part in the Ian Curtis tragedy, who committed suicide 2 months before his 24th birthday. Annik preferred the psychiatrist to journalists, refusing to confide to the press who, in Britain at least, paint her as the diabolical mistress who caused the fatal split between Ian and his wife Deborah. She did make an exception for the beautiful book by Lindsay Reade (1), Tony Wilson’s partner, who had taken her in after Curtis’ disappearance.
Knowing Annik since the glorious punk years, we’d approached her with a strong desire to get to know the other side of this saga. Reminding ourselves that at Futurama in Leeds in September 1979, after a shamanic and tetanising Joy Division performance, you’d come across Annik who never for a moment raises what she has always considered to be a “private affair”. Time has eventually done its work, and one evening in early June, we found her at home in a wooded house in Walloon Brabant (2) for a bowl of vegetarian pasta and a marathon 4 hours discussion.
Born on the 12th of October 1957 in a middle class family from Mons – Father is a police inspector, Mother works for the council, Annik is a rock chick. After the Stones at Forest (3), the first deep shock happened on the 16th of may 1976 at a gig featuring Patti Smith and The Stranglers at The Roundhouse in London. The Bournemouth language student is just as struck when she sees Bowie – still her hero today – at the Wembley Arena the same year. The ritual of the English fans, the British devotion, the “looks to kill”, all that leaves a lasting imprint on her DNA of a “decent girl, clean as clean can be, who has always worked hard at school”.
After a “shitty” job at the Pension tower in Brussels (...), Annik leaves for London in early summer 1979, where she lands a secretarial job at the Belgian embassy.
Annik Honoré: There, I start writing articles for En Attendant (4) and I go to gigs every night. Everything seems simple, accessible, inexpensive, the times are terribly exciting. In august, I’d seen Joy Division at the Nashville Rooms: I’d heard Unknown Pleasures that I’d thought was of an extreme violence and intensity. I am completely hooked: After the gig, my friend Isabelle and I approached the sound desk to ask for an interview. It was Rob Gretton, the manager, who said yes for next time. Which happened a short time after when I turned up with my Bert Bertrand (5) style questions along the lines of “what’s your favourite colour” (she smiles). The musicians in Joy Division earn a fiver per gig and sleep on a friend’s floor, right at th North end of London. They are very likeable, king, flattered that a foreign magazine should be interested in them. We listened to Bowie’s Low, and bit by bit, everyone dropped off, except for Ian and I... Corbijn’s file recounts the scene quite well.
You fall in love...
It’s my first love story. Until then, I’d only lived through music, I’d had the odd flirt, and then, I meet a rare being, exquisite, polite, everything I love. It’s silly to say, but Ian had beautiful eyes, a soft gaze, I feel a person who is suffering, fragile, immediately kind to me.
Joy Division is a musical earthquake at the time, a new sensation!
It’s often lousy from a sound point of view, but intense, beautiful... Its a suspended moment, anyway the gigs never last for long. The critics are eulogistic, I’m sure they’re going to be huge. As I’m also working as a booker for the Plan K in Brussels (6), I naturally asked them to come and play, twice, on the 16th of October 1979 and 17th of January 1980. At the time, the band gets £250 per gig.
So there are two Ian Curtises: One guy on stage, literally in a trance, and then the private person, introverted, troubled?
On stage, he comes out of himself as if he’s exorcising all his demons, he’s an erupting volcano. After the gig, he’s exhausted, mentally and physically. He goes back to being that excessively sweet and shy person, closed, full of questions about the band and his life. He has a huge potential, but the great honesty not to realise it. He has no cynicism, no pretence.
Why this deep distress?
He is overrun by his own talent. I liked the other Joy Division lads a lot with their exceptional energy, but Ian towered above them. The fact that Ian had been epileptic since his teens made him particularly fragile. When he had a fit, it made him surreal, terribly frightening: I’d seen him practically lift off the ground. But it’s almost something magical like a connection between the conscious and the unconscious. Suddenly, he goes into a world with no relation to reality. I understood that he needed a feminine presence when it’s band policy not to have any girls at the gigs. Somewhere, I broke that circle because Ian had a huge need to be comforted. That’s why it’s so hard to read, afterwards, about the horrors of the “deception”, that sort of thing...
But you were lovers weren’t you?
It was a totally pure and platonic relationship, very childish, very chaste... I didn’t have a sexual relationship with Ian, he was on medication that made any physical relationship impossible. I’m completely fed up that people doubt my word or his: you can say what you want, but I’m the only person to have any of his writings... One of his letters stated that the relationship with his wife Deborah was already over when we met.
What was your reaction to Anton Corbijn’s film, Control?
It’s not Annik Honoré in the film, it’s Ian’s girlfriend, it’s fiction. If I am a witness today, it’s to keep biographical authenticity, I have no other interest in doing so other than talking about the Plan K and the Disques du Crépuscule, which I did with Michel Duval. Having said that, Anton is a very respectable person who came to talk to me on more than one occasion, but Annik does not exist, it’s Deborah Curtis who exists... (7) I’ve only ever seen her once, from far at a gig in Manchester. I had been very uncomfortable because enev back then, she hated me deeply. I was Ian’s “girlfriend”, his lover, not his mistress or “an affair”, a hideous and abject word.
You found yourself sucked into a tale that overtook you and grew with the incredible posthumous success of the band!
I still think that his death was a pure moment of aberration. I had spoken to him that same evening and everyone knew he was happy to be going to the States (the day after his death, for a tour). He was taking 20 pills a day and as he’d mixed that with alcohol... On Saturday 17th of May, I was at the James White gig at the Plan K and Ian called me to say he wanted to see me at Heathrow before he left for the USA. When I got to London on Sunday morning, I felt that something had happened... As I didn’t see him at the rendezvous, I called his parents house – he’d been living there for a few weeks – and Ian’s dad said “Ian is dead” and hung up. I couldn’t go to the funeral because Deborah Curtis, as she wrote in her book, “was afraid I’d make a scene” – which makes me laugh – but she accepted that I should go and see Ian’ body at the chapel in Macclesfield... I was a wreck. Tony Wilson (The boss of Factory Records) and his wife put me up for a week, then Tony bought me a plan ticket to Brussels in the name of Annik Curtis... I spent 3 months with my grand-parents in the country, and the Belgian embassy, where I had not gone back to work, prosecuted me for “treason of the Belgian state”...
For years, you stayed with this heavy tale. You told m your parents and brother hadn’t known about this involvement with Ian Curtis: Why keep it like that?
My parents and I, we don’t share our stories (...), they didn’t know, nor did my brother, who Joy Division or Ian Curtis were. I had a great guilt inside me, a married man, a suicide, I’d quit a super job at the embassy, so I kept a low profile. I’m grateful that my parents respected that. At the time, I lived the story to the full, and I would have liked it to stay in a little secret box: it made me fragile, afraid of doing wrong, of falling in love. It was only in 1995 – 15 years after Ian’ death – that people started talking about me because if Deborah Curtis’ book. Contrary to what she said, I never called her at night “for months”, on the other hand, she phoned me to threaten to “kill” me because I was seeing her husband... And to the emails and solicitations that came after that, I answered that it was a private matter and that Joy Division were records.
Night fell quite some time ago. Annik takes me to the attic where the Plan K posters are stocked with a bit of new-wave memorabilia. She shows me ten or so letters of Ian’s, one of which contains a T. S. Elliot poem. This evening, she’s opened the flood-gates on a decisive story that lasted less than a year some 3 decades ago. Despite the impression of this encounter, Annik has not become a black widow. She restarted her live, had 2 children, both now adults, and has been working for the same international institution since 1985. She’s never stopped lapping up gigs and is enthusiastic about the coming visit of Benjamin Biolay. She like people to be interested in her more for the “precursory” work at the Plan K between 1979 and 1984, or in the Disques du Crépuscule, a creative if a bit snobbish label, created in Brussels in 1980. The next day, Annik sends an SMS requesting that we don’t publish any “too personal details” on all that. But where should the intimate limits be set on a story like this?
Original text by Philippe Cornet, available here:
Translated by Jeremy Thomas
Deborah Curtis co-produced Corbijn’s film, based on her book