The following is an excerpt from Chapter Six of “The Jason Zodiac Files”, Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac.
Simon Briggs had agreed to meet me not in Manchester, but in Macclesfield, in the foothills of the Pennines a few miles away – because the northern musical explosion owed so much to a young man who lived and died in this town. I was here because of something that happened in a small semi-detached house – 77 Burton Street – on 18th May 1980: the tragic death of Ian Curtis, the lead singer and lyricist of Joy Division.
I’d planned to meet Simon at the market square at six. After finally getting a place to park, I found him near one of the market stalls, jacket collar turned up against a slow drizzle of early evening August rain.
He was taller than I remembered. Unless he’d grown and I hadn’t. But he still had the thick locks of brown hair, now swept back and receding slightly from his temples. He still had the tanned skin, sharp features and slight lisp that I remembered.
“I’m buying,” I told him. “What’ll it be? Fish and chips, like you used to have? Black pudding? Mushy peas?”
“I prefer Thai these days,” he drawled. “Let’s go to the Prestbury.”
So we fussed with chopsticks over spicy tom kah kai, and savored lemongrass and coconut milk-flavored curry in the 18th century listed pub that Simon told me was his current love.
“Thanks for coming up to Macclesfield,” he said.
I waved it away. “No, not at all. Thanks for taking the time to see me. How’re things?”
He shrugged. “Oh well, getting by. Can’t rest on my laurels, can I?”
“I didn’t know you had any.”
“And you, Jamie?”
“Not too bad. Except for the whole city of London falling apart, of course.”
“The whole country’s falling apart.”
“The whole country’s been falling apart for as long as I can remember.”
“Remember the poll tax riots? Or the murder of PC Blakelock?”
“What about Toxteth?”
“What about St Pauls?”
We both laughed at the same time.
The waiter came with our food and we got to work on the stuff. Simon ate sparingly; it seemed like talking was more important. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, after reading your articles. Thinking about the past. I’d be very interested to hear what R.J. has to say about all this.”
“R.J. Black has disappeared,” I told him. “Nobody’s seen or heard from him for a few weeks.”
He stiffened, and looked uncomfortable. “Yes … well, I wouldn’t read too much into that. R. J. was always a moody bastard. Always going walkabout when he didn’t feel like talking to anyone.”
He reached down to his briefcase and pulled something out. A hardback diary, warped with age and wear and tear. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, “but I’m quite obsessive.”
“I can easily believe that.”
“I don’t think I told you I kept all my notebooks, ever since I started working as a journalist.”
“All of them?” I started laughing, and then stopped. It might have looked like I was making fun of him, but in fact, I was deeply impressed. Someone who kept diaries from over thirty years ago?
“Well, there’s a couple I’ve misplaced, but I’ve got them going back to the late seventies.”
I stopped chewing and looked at him in admiration. “I wish I had,” I said.
“That’s why I called, I guess. Your articles made me go through the notebooks again and I noticed something I’d better tell you.”
“And Joy Division?”
He looked up, pad thai noodles dangling from his chopsticks. “I’ve been connecting the dots, you might say.”
“That’s what intrigued me, because as far as I know, Jason knew Tony Wilson …”
“… but he never met Ian Curtis, yeah. Jason’s main link with Manchester was through Acid House in the late eighties. That’s what I thought too. Then I rediscovered the notes I’d written just after Ian’s obituary came out.”
Briggs had put a bookmark in the 1980 diary, and he opened it at the entry he wanted, slipped on a pair of thin reading glasses, and peered at the wrinkled page. Then he laid it open on the table next to the vinegar bottle.
“Jamie, have you ever heard of a drug called Telemazepine?”
I shook my head.
“In the late seventies, drugs for treating epilepsy were pretty strong and had quite a few side-effects. The drug called Telemazepine was commercially available for a couple of years, and then taken off the market. And here’s the peculiar thing; I can’t find anything about it on the Internet. It was released by a German pharmaceutical company called Bartos Klein, and I can’t find anything on them, either.”
“Was Ian taking this for his epilepsy?”
“I don’t think so – well, I can’t find it mentioned anywhere. His wife Debbie never mentioned it in her biography of Ian, Touching from a Distance, and I’ve never seen in any other source. But two days after Ian’s funeral, my editor Andy Anderson in the Sounds London office got a telephone call from Jason Zodiac. He wanted to know if Ian had been taking Telemazepine.”
I put down the chopsticks in the bowl smeared with the remains of the red curry and sat back.
“One week after Ian’s death,” Simon told me, “we had a visitor at our office. It was Jason himself. He said he’d come up to Manchester to see Tony and pay his respects to Ian’s family.”
“He’d never met Ian’s family.”
“He knew enough to realize that something extraordinary was happening.”
That figured. The extraordinary was Jason’s business.