They’ll be talking about this in the future. It’s the looking forward not backwards Xmas special. Prepare to gawp at the shape of things to come…
As the accordion strikes up, Bernard Sumner rises on his haunches, his tentacles flapping in excitement. “This is where is all began,” he slurs. Undeterred, Sumner starts his line dance. He moves like netted octopuses, his wattles slapping against his elongated earlobes as if applauding himself. As he galumphs about, his accordion music drifts into the smoke-streaked sky. Is this the same dance routine that brought New Order’s accordion music to the masses all those years ago? It’s difficult to tell. Bernard Sumner has… changed.
As any Spotify user knows, it’s difficult to imagine music without the ubiquitous accordion. The fashion used to be autotune or sampling, but now the squeezebox rules supreme. Pundits in lesser magazines put the craze down to the dominance of Kraftwerk’s 150th album ‘Pocket Koncertina’, which became the century’s bestseller aside from Tangerine Dream’s ‘110% Bangerz’.
But Kraftwerk merely hung to the shredded coat-tails of New Order, who had discovered the world’s first post-apocalypse accordion in a skip. Bernard laughs at the memory.
“Gillian was looking for flesh, because she had mutated into a 20-foot buffalo hybrid with fangs the size of synthesisers. So we tried the burning crater that used to be Salford McDonald’s. Hooky used to go there, in the before-times. He liked their fruity curry sauce.”
At the edge of the crater, Sumner saw a pile of rubbish: twisted shopping trolleys, a car door, a charred pram, entrails, a note in spidery writing saying, “Help, Dave Gahan is eating me, please make Dave Gahan stop eating me, oh the fangs, oh the—”. The usual kind of thing. Sumner tentacled aside the detritus and pulled out a tatty accordion. Its concertina was a little bashed and a couple of keys were covered in blood, but it was serviceable. Gillian dribbled in appreciation. The band knew they had found something special.
“When the bombs dropped and the sky went funny because of the nuclear stuff, we thought music was over,” he recalls. “Especially with the electronic musicians mutating. How can you play a Juno-60 when you’ve got these,” he says waggling his tentacles. “I saw Pet Shop Boys in Frankfurt after they went radioactive. The keyboards were a nightmare for Chris Lowe because by that time he was mostly dolphin.”
New Order built a recording hut from mud and twigs on a pile of distressed plasterboard that used to be the Bluewater Shopping Centre. Gillian couldn’t fit inside, and Stephen could no longer play because he was largely gas.
We’re in the same studio now, and as Sumner takes his post-line dancing shower, sluicing his gills and applying a loofah to his antenna, he points an appendage at the instruments dotted around the room.
“That’s the Honkmeister 4000, it’s a beauty. That one is the Casio Squeeze Deluxe – you can see the extra chromatic buttons. And there’s my favourite,” he says, pointing to a gleaming red accordion. “The Nord Accord. All analogue synthesis and it matches my eyes.”
I try not to look at Bernard Sumner’s eyes.
The first accordion single released from the studio was ‘Purple Tuesday’, its title a cheeky nod to the chemical devastation that pollutes every horizon. The track’s signature bass drum comprises an aggressive concertina squeeze matched with a sharp tentacle stomp. This unique rhythm caught the attention of radio presenter Nick Grimshaw, whose physiology was totally unaffected by the radioactive wreckage warping dance musicians.
“Purple shut everything down, that accordion was hella sweet,” Grimshaw tells us. “I want tendrils. Why can’t I have tendrils?”
With Grimmy’s playlisting, accordions went, er, nuclear. Brian Eno, now half-snail, half-blue whale, bought 50 accordions to modify and Pharrell Williams re-released ‘Happy’ – no reason, he just did.
As Sumner dresses, which is like watching a pond of flamingos trying on a tuxedo, my thoughts turn to choreography. The sound of the accordion is everywhere these days, drowning out the gnashing and screaming, but New Order added a visual dimension with the line dancing and the memorable routines from their debut post-nuclear tour: the “spinster’s shimmy”, the “loose leg”, the ‘reverse yo-yo’…
“We’ve always been about the dance moves,” says Sumner. “Even in the Haçienda we were always thinking about pirouettes. Tony Wilson bought us leg warmers. He deducted it from our royalties, but the thought was there.”
At this point, our interview is interrupted. Apparently I’d been sitting in Stephen Morris. I’d assumed the gassy smell was the effects of my lunch of locusts and old milk I’d found in a grid. I ask Stephen if I could borrow one of his accordions: being a gas, he has no vocal chords so I interpret his silence as a yes. I ease my hand into the straps, and place my fingers carefully in position, while Sumner recalls what he’d read about accordions before the apocalypse.
“Apparently there was a special driver called an Uber who used to blast accordion music from their car machines,” he says. I squeeze gently, and release a discordant wheeze into the room. “And every week someone won a television competition dancing around an accordion. While ice skating. And baking a cake.”
I play harder and a half-chord escapes from the instrument.
“Also there was a prime minister who put his willy into an accordion, don’t know which one, but it definitely happened.”
I play more vigorously, the cacophony forming a duet to Sumner’s recollections. For that moment, I truly feel like a member of New Order.
My time with Bernard Sumner is nearly at an end. Around the edges of the studio are steel hooks labelled “For Gillian”, each one suspending a lump of dripping reindeer meat. This reminds me to ask about their accordion-tastic Christmas single ‘Touched By The Hand Of Santa’, but Sumner isn’t answering. He has mutated again and is now mostly in a fourth dimension, growling and twitching quite merrily. I lie back in a cloud of Stephen and marvel at the band’s liberation through something as simple as the humble ‘Pocket Koncertina’.