We’ve called Peter Hook on a good day. He’s recharging his batteries on a rare break from touring, relaxing in his garden in Manchester with a cuppa, getting ready to watch England in the World Cup.
Good job we timed it well – a week later and his wry prediction of a “sterling English performance” would be snuffed out. It’s a far cry from the ‘EN-GER-LAND’ semi-finalists of Italia 90, soundtracked by New Order’s World In Motion and John Barnes’ infamous rap.
Hook (58) may wince at his ponytail and tank top in the World In Motion video, but he’ll have to revisit the song at some stage with his current live band The Light, as he tells me: “My aim is to try and play every song I’ve ever recorded and written at least once live, before I go and join Ian in the golf course in the sky.”
The Ian in the sky is of course Ian Curtis, whose suicide in 1980 killed off Joy Division just before their first US tour, preserving the band as black & white post-punk icons, with a legacy of stark anti-anthems led by Hook’s high-fret basslines. Hook says that “Ian took Joy Division when he died”, and after the tragedy the band cauterised the wound, radically reworked their sound with crude electronics and drum machines and became New Order.
The rest is electronic pop history, with early melancholy synth creations like Blue Monday and Confusion a bridge to acid house and beyond, as New Order became one of the most revered and influential groups of the last 30 years. It’s a legacy that’s bittersweet for Hook – after conquering the world, bankrolling the freefalling Hacienda club, the demise of Factory Records and several splits and reformations, the band dissolved in 2007. Things festered even more when Hook formed The Light in 2010 to play Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album, with New Order frontman Bernard Sumner saying this “opened the gateways of hell”.
After Hook started touring Joy Division’s Closer in 2011, Sumner reformed New Order minus Hook, kicking hell’s gates clean through. Hooky’s fury at the reformation has come out in interviews since – with him branding Sumner “Twatto” at one point.
He reiterates: “It would’ve been nice of them to show me the respect of asking me instead of getting back together behind my back. We now only converse through our solicitors. We’re at a very bad point in our legal battle over the name. It really is the saddest thing in the world. They used the excuse that I was playing Joy Division songs, but they played Joy Division songs before me in Bad Lieutenant. It’s a silly argument, but musicians are childish. Researching my book I Googled band splits – oh my God you should see how many… we’re just another rock’n’roll cliché.”
Leaving aside the New Order “playground spat”, Peter Hook and the Light are returning to Ireland next week for Bulmers Live at Leopardstown – where punters can have a day at the races followed by a set of Joy Division classics, rather than a full album show.
Hook says: “The thing about playing the full albums, it’s more difficult. In my obstinate old age that appeals to me, there’s an artiness and an awkwardness – there’s more work for the audience, more work for the band. But I suppose on this occasion I get to indulge myself, the way that most normal bands get to do every night. I’ll play my favourites, which tend to be the rocky, very uppy ones, not the introspective intense ones.”
And will Peter be getting his wallet out at the course? He recalls: “The last time I went to a racecourse, about 10 years ago, I was so drunk I only saw one horse, and that was when they were putting it back in the box at the end! [laughs]. Now that I’m sober, I’m looking forward to maybe having a little flutter. I’m an addict, an alcoholic and a drug addict. I’ve got two badges, the only badge I haven’t got is gambling so I better be careful. Anything in moderation, as Bez says.”
The Light features members of his 90s side project Monaco, with his son Jack Bates on bass – the rock’n’roll genes were pretty dominant in this case. Hooky says: “My son doesn’t take a blind bit of notice to what I say, I don’t know where he gets it from [laughs]. Every time I say, ‘Son I think you’re playing that riff wrong’, he just says, ‘No I’m not’. I think oh my God it’s just me when I was 21. But I’m very proud of him. I’ve spent the last three of his birthdays playing Joy Division with him, and it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honour.”
After several years touring Joy Division, The Light have started to tackle the New Order canon – playing Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies as a double-header last year, with Low-Life and Brotherhood to follow this September.
He says of the transition: “I was absolutely terrified singing Joy Division. It took me literally six, seven, eight months to relax enough to enjoy it. Ian Curtis’s shoes were big shoes to fill. Bernard Sumner’s were a little bit smaller, I didn’t have much trouble getting them on.”
He cites New Order’s nadir as Republic in 1993, as “it was the unhappiest any of us had ever been, I could say that without fear of contradiction”. Even so, the bull-headed completist will still tour the album in the future, adding: “I think I may take out the girly backing vocals, though.”
He adds: “Joy Division feels very relaxed, but New order is much more difficult to play. I can sympathise with Bernard, as much as I hate to [laughs], now that I sing the songs, whereas I just used to hide behind the bass.”
So Hook is an open door to the past, and there’ll be even more tales when he releases his third book, New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies. He says he has the first draft finished and “it’ll be out early next year”, adding: “The Joy Division book was only a three-year period, and a little bit of my childhood. This is 30 years. It really is a hell of a history – I mean we’re almost up there with Bruce Forsyth aren’t we?”
In the meantime, Hook DJs and runs the new Hacienda club and record label. He side-steps the question of new music from The Light to tell us about recording with “acid rock” Manchester act Big Unit, French “dark dance” group DeStijl, and “a band called Nova Nova who used to work with Malcolm McLaren”. He still has a “vehicle called Man Ray” that posts tracks on the Hacienda website. “Listen mate,” he jokes. “I’m not relaxing… I’m showing no signs of slowing down.”
There’s also a Joy Division and New Order “pharaoh’s tomb” to deal with – 30 master tapes literally found in a trash heap last year by Martin Hannett’s former assistant. Hook says it’s been emotional listening back to the “wonderful stuff”. He says of the future LP release: “It really moved me, so any joy division fan is gonna love it.” And will such an emotional time capsule bring Hooky and his estranged band closer together? Keeping us guessing till the bitter end, he offers: “You’d think it would, wouldn’t you? Maybe it will. I always say you never know.”
Originally published in The Star