Kevin Cummins on New Order, Italia ’90, and the end of rock iconography as we know it

By Joe Ives
July 28 2020, 18.00

To this day, it remains a mystery why New Order’s frontman turned up to the video shoot for England’s 1990 World Cup anthem dressed as Elvis.

NME’s photographer Kevin Cummins was at Liverpool’s Melwood training facility waiting for the singer to shoot the video for ‘World in Motion’.

He’d taken iconic images of plenty of music gods, from Ian Curtis to David Bowie, but this was the first time he’d had an audience with the King – albeit in the form of Bernard Sumner.

May 2020 marked 30 years since the stunt. Time has done little to clarify the motives.

“It was kind of very out of character. I have no idea to this day why he did it. I’d blame drugs but who knows,” says Cummins.

Cummins, who’d photographed New Order since they were Joy Division, took pictures of Sumner in the costume to coax him into wearing the England shirt he’d bought specifically for the day. 

His other subject, the England forward John Barnes, had arrived at the scene with far less fanfare, switching his regular clothes for a New Order T-Shirt.

Decked out in their new apparel, the pair represented a change that would alter English football forever: mainstream approval.

Occurring just over a year after the Hillsborough disaster and less than two years before the start of the Premier League, the song and its imagery plays its own role in the narrative of how English football developed a more acceptable – and marketable – image.

The track was a surprise hit, and New Order’s only ever no.1 single. It followed 1986’s deeply uncool Mexico ’86 anthem ‘We’ve Got the Whole World at Our Feet’, which peaked at a deservedly measly 66 in the UK Singles Charts. 

“There’s an awful lot, probably, of England fans who wouldn’t even know who New Order were until that record was made,” Cummins argues.

“It could have been disastrous but it wasn’t. It just so happened that it was managed properly and it did help to change football, along with the football in the World Cup as well.”

“You’d go to The Haçienda or you’d go to clubs down in London and they would actually be playing that track and people loved it. You go to a cool club evening and a football record was being played – and that’s unheard of.”

The campaign’s end in Gazza’s tears and a heartbreaking penalty defeat to West Germany can, in some ways, now be seen as the first act in English football’s rapid turnaround. 

Three decades on, ‘World In Motion’ still provides the Electropop soundtrack for memories of England’s road to the Italia ’90 semi-final, a pre-echo of the optimism to follow.

Cummins, a devout Manchester City fan himself, is more interested in club football than England’s international campaigns. We’re Not Really Here: Manchester City’s Final Season at Maine Road, released in 2003, was the culmination of around 10,000 shots, taken across City’s 2002/2003 season. It documents the end of an era whilst preserving the final memories of what had been the club’s home for more than 80 years. 

The 67-year-old believes he’s seen an end of an era in his field too, with the rise of universally accessible digital cameras diminishing the power of photography for sport and music alike.

He recalls shooting the iconic images of Joy Division on Manchester’s Epping Walk Bridge in 1979 with only two rolls of film, each capped at 36 shots.

“Now you can take pictures for the rest of your life and it never ends. Everybody’s got 30,000 pictures or more on their phone.”

“That’s why rock & roll has changed a lot. The iconography of rock and roll no longer exists because for the past 10-15 years we’ve had too much information.”

“There’s no mystery. The reason there’s a mystique about rock & roll is because people didn’t give too much information, but now they’re giving you all this information free of charge and nobody cares, nobody’s interested – who cares what the bass player of Keane had for breakfast this morning? Nobody – apart from him.”

Still, maybe there’s hope yet. One thing still hasn’t changed: the power of having a unique way of framing the world. A gift that has seen Cummins through over four decades of his career.

As Cummins says: “It’s nothing to do with being in the right place at the right time. It’s seeing things in a different way to other people.”

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