How we met: Johnny Marr & Bernard Sumner
Sunday 18 July 1999
Bernard Sumner was born in Manchester in 1956. A founder member and guitarist of Joy Division, he became their vocalist after Ian Curtis's suicide in 1980. The next year the band became New Order but later split up into various offshoot projects, of which Electronic was the most successful. Bernard lives in Manchester with his wife and two children
JOHNNY MARR: I first heard of Bernard through Joy Division's first album in about 1977 when I was 14. I'd not heard anything like it before. I didn't know where it was coming from, but I knew I liked it. It kind of knocked me for six really.
Bernard intrigued me because I was already really serious about playing guitar and I'd checked out a lot of rock guitar players and I just couldn't fathom what he was doing. He's a real original as a guitar player, a one- off kind of person, so that kind of makes sense.
I first met him in 1983 while doing a record for Mike Pickering (who's the "M" in M-People) which Bernard was producing. I thought he was a bit spacey but very street. It didn't take me long to work out that he was from Salford, just the other side of Manchester from me. He reminded me of the kids who used to ride scooters around when I was a kid. I sussed him out pretty quickly, but only to a point. I think anyone who knows him will tell you that he's not entirely fathomable.
After that I saw him around because of the Hacienda. Manchester being what it is, we used the same road crew and had mutual friends. Then I got a call asking if I'd be interested in working on a few songs with Bernard; who was going solo. I was in San Francisco and New Order were playing. I went down to see them and met up with Bernard. He summoned me into his office - the toilets - and I thought, well, this is as good a place to start a group as anywhere. As long as we don't end up here!
Bernand's very single-minded, he knows what he's about, but at the same time he's open-minded and non-judgmental. He's also got good control over his ego. Everyone in this business has to have an ego, but it's important to him that he has a life and values outside the music industry. That's really rare.
Bernard doesn't care about the past, or the future, he lives in the present. I'm sure he's got some principles but he hides them! He wants to be a bit more disciplined in his life and it pisses him off that he isn't. He kicks himself when he's gone out and partied too hard.
When he goes out he can be like the Pied Piper. I've seen him rock a little hut on an island in the Maldives. He got a family - little kids, grandparents, people who would never be seen dancing - whistling and whooping around to Technotronic until 4am.
Anybody looking at us would say that we're not very similar - as would Bernard. But there are some things which are really important to us both. It comes down to the music and the idea that, as good as things can be superficially, your sense of self-worth is completely wrapped up in what you create. We both give ourselves an incredibly hard time if what we are doing isn't right.
I never make a distinction between a friendship and a working relationship in terms of bands. Without the very close friendship I can't be in a band. While I'm most closely associated with Morrissey, Bernard and I finish each others' sentences (which is scary because I don't know what he's on about half the time).
We've only made three albums, but I've worked with him more closely, and for a longer period of time, than I've worked with anyone else. Our coming together was almost like finding a refuge from our earlier groups. With Electronic the friendship is more important than the music, which is unusual and a bit of a first for me.
BERNARD SUMNER: He doesn't know this, but I first heard Johnny playing in a multi-studio complex in 1982. At that time pop music was all synthesisers and electronics, guitar music was considered old-fashioned. So when I heard The Smiths' music coming down the hall I thought "What the fuck is that?" But I knew it was great. And then later on I was producing a record for the DJ Mike Pickering and he decided we needed a guitar, so I looked under G for Guitarist in the Yellow Pages and Johnny's was the first name in there. By then I was pretty familiar with The Smiths - or "the S-word" as Johnny calls them.
It was a while before I got to know him properly. New Order and The Smiths played a couple of concerts together and we moved in similar circles - we had a mutual hairdresser friend and he kept me up to date about what Johnny was up to - but all in all, our paths didn't cross too often. In fact, I never met Morrissey.
It's hard to remember what I first thought of John, and it's all mixed up with what I think of him as a musician. But I knew straight off he was a nice guy; twitchy, but pleasant. There were certain things I couldn't do with New Order without upsetting the rest of the band so I started to write some solo stuff. But music is a social thing so I was looking for someone else to work with. Johnny came along to a gig and we bumped into each other in the toilet. The Smiths had split and I asked if he fancied doing some stuff together.
I think Johnny always knew he wanted to be a musician, whereas I didn't even have a record player until I was 16. He's got natural talent. He can play guitar well and knows that it's his role in life. Whereas I'm still pretty clueless. I mean, I'm quite a successful musician but I'm not sure if it's my vocation.
I used to be a party monster, very into Acid House, which I saw as my weekend reward for working hard all week. But Johnny was never really into that. I had a great time doing all that but I don't want to do it any more and now Johnny probably goes out more than I do. Also, he smokes which I absolutely hate because my step-dad died from smoking and when you see that happen you won't go in a mile of a cigarette. He's very gracious with it, though - he always smokes away from you.
I can be a bit morose at times and when I occasionally get down Johnny's my perfect antidote. But it can be hard to synchronise or keep up with him. He'll be really into something, a book or a piece of music, and he'll really enthuse me, get me into his trip. Then the next time I see him, he says he's not into that anymore. Johnny gets bored with things quickly and he's hard to predict. You can't hold on to his shirt tails for very long.
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