The Belgian journalist and music promoter Annik Honoré was one of the main catalysts and protagonists of the “cold wave” scene of the early 1980s, as it was known throughout the Francophone parts of continental Europe, while the British preferred to use the post-punk tag.
Her relationship with the troubled Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis inspired “Love Will Tear Us Apart’’, the haunting track that made the UK charts a few weeks after the singer committed suicide in May 1980, and went on to become a much-cherished indie classic.
Honoré always maintained that her friendship with Curtis was platonic, yet the vocalist’s widow Deborah portrayed her very much as “the other woman” in her 2005 memoir Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The Dutch photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn adopted the same stance in his award-winning biopic Control, based on the book, which starred Sam Riley as Curtis, Samantha Morton as his wife and Alexandra Maria Lara as Honoré. Honoré disputed the accuracy of her portrayal. In fact, she considered some of the film “pure fiction”, according to the only interview she gave, to the Belgian weekly news magazine Le Vif in 2010.
However, Honoré was a lot more than the crux in the Curtis love triangle. With Michel Duval she co-founded Factory Benelux, an offshoot of the legendary Manchester independent label which issued exclusive singles by Factory acts such as A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column and Section 25, and then the influential imprint Les Disques du Crépuscule. Honoré suggested the Crépuscule name – “twilight” in English – so evocative and fitting for a catalogue whose stylish debut release was a cassette and booklet housed in a clear PVC pouch and entitled From Brussels With Love.
The package contained recordings by contemporary composers Gavin Bryars, Harold Budd, and Michael Nyman as well as tracks by British synth-pop pioneers Thomas Dolby, John Foxx and Bill Nelson and an interview with the French actress Jeanne Moreau. This was indicative of Honoré’s breadth of interests and the cultural ambition at Crépuscule, whose exquisite sleeves, overseen by designer Benoît Hennebert, equalled Peter Saville’s artwork for Factory. The eclectic and cosmopolitan label went on to champion cult acts at the crossroads of pop and the avant-garde, like Paul Haig of Josef K, Alan Rankine of the Associates, Tuxedomoon and the Pale Fountains, and Belgian groups such as Antena, Digital Dance, Front 242 and the Names.
Born into a middle class Mons family in 1957, she was the bookish daughter of a police inspector and a civil servant. “I was a nice girl who worked hard at school and always got good grades,” she said. A music fan and rabid Anglophile, she saw the Rolling Stones at the Forest National Arena in Brussels in 1973, and in 1976 spent several weeks in the UK to improve her English. This sojourn coincided with epochal London concerts by David Bowie at Wembley Arena and Patti Smith at the Roundhouse, both of which she attended.
Following a few months in a dead-end job at the Brussels pension office she landed a bilingual secretary position at the Belgian Embassy in London in the summer of 1979. While in the capital she attended gigs every night and began freelancing for the Belgian cultural magazine En Attendant. In August she caught Joy Division at the Nashville Rooms. “I had found [the band’s debut album] Unknown Pleasures incredibly intense but live I was completely blown away,” she recalled.
She blagged her way backstage, wound up interviewing the group and staying up all night listening to Bowie’s Low while all those around her and Curtis fell asleep. “That scene in Corbijn’s film is accurate,” she reflected. “Ian was sweet, polite, fragile and very kind to me. It was my first love story. My life had revolved around music until that time.”
In October 1979 Honoré arranged for Joy Division to appear at Plan K, a Brussels sugar refinery transformed into a cultural space on Rue de Manchester – their first gig outside the UK – and a return performance the following January. She grew close to Curtis, and helped him through his epileptic fits and the medication he took to cope. “We had a very chaste relationship. Not an affair,” insisted Honoré, who had arranged to see off Curtis at Heathrow on the eve of the band’s first US tour, only to be told he had committed suicide.
After seeing his body in state at a Macclesfield chapel she didn’t attend the funeral but spent a week with the Factory boss Tony Wilson and his then-wife Lindsay Reade before returning to Belgium and holing up at her grandparents’ house for three months. Honoré experienced survivor’s guilt and lost her Embassy job. She threw herself into the organisation of further concerts at Plan K, including dates by Orange Juice, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Birthday Party, and running Crépuscule.
In the mid-1980s she started work at the European Union in Brussels. Whenever she was asked about Joy Division, Honoré said it was a private matter and sent people back to the records. She died of cancer.
Annik Honoré, journalist and music promoter: born Mons, Belgium 12 October 1957; two children; died Belgium 3 July 2014.
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