In an interview a few years ago, Peter Hook told me his aim with his band The Light 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 great golf course in the sky”.
The Ian he recalls is of course his former bandmate and Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, and the back catalogue he’s working through is one of the most revered canons in modern music — two Joy Division albums and various singles, and some 25 years of New Order material, before he left the band in 2007 in one of pop’s messiest ever splits.
The New Order split with Hooky is a whole separate soap opera, and the band’s legacy is bittersweet for the bassist, who admits that the “bickering physically hurts the fans and destroys what they loved”.
Hook originally announced the split in 2007, apparently without telling the rest of the band, then things soured even more when he started performing Joy Division’s albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer with The Light. New Order frontman Bernard Sumner said at the time that this “opened the gates of hell”, but then he reformed New Order without Hook in 2011, leading to a bitter legal battle over the name and royalties (now resolved) and an ongoing public slagging session in interviews and various memoirs. Hook even began referring to Sumner as “Twatto” in interviews, closing the lid on over 40 years of friendship.
Hook admitted back then that his mission to play all the albums in their entirety is an “obstinate” quest, but he’s not only doing it do put Bernard’s nose out of joint. Hook has the rare honour of founding two separate bands that both razed the music landscape. Joy Division’s austere and ruthless post-punk howl influenced virtually every rock band that followed, with the cult-ready band fully preserved in melancholy monochrome after the suicide of Curtis in 1980.
After Curtis’s death the remaining members retooled with crude electronics and drum machines and became New Order, influencing a generation of synthpop acts and later acid house and beyond.
Hook’s singular high-fret bass is arguably the most distinctive aspect of both bands, often taking the lead melody, notably on Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control, Transmission and Dead Souls, and New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle, Ceremony, Temptation and many more. So there was no chance he’d spend his divorce from New Order in the wilderness.
Hook said before he wanted to play all the songs he’d worked on, “even the shit ones” from Republic (“but I’ll take out the girly backing vocals”.) Even when he was still in New Order, Hook complained that the setlist was stagnant for years, but with this live album project he’s resurrecting long-shelved tracks, saying “there’s an artiness and an awkwardness, more work for the audience, more work for the band”.
But in his grand scheme he’s up to the Substance tour – the title of both Joy Division and New Order’s late-80s singles collections. So while other full album shows may be deep dives for ardent fans, this show is also a crossover for casuals, as many of the songs in the setlist are part of our shared collective pop culture memory: Blue Monday, True Faith, Temptation, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Atmosphere… it goes on.
As with all of The Light’s other back-to-back album shows, there’s no support – just Hook and his band playing for three hours with an extended encore. It’s a hark back to the club gigs he fondly recalls in his memoir Unknown Pleasures, playing with a group of mates – The Light also includes his son – with the crowd at arm’s length.
Who knows where this’ll all end up once he’s ticked off all the albums to tour, but he won’t be zipping up his bass case for a few years yet. As he said in that interview: “Listen mate, I’m not relaxing, I’m showing no signs of slowing down.”
- Peter Hook and The Light play both Substance albums back to back at The Academy in Dublin tomorrow, December 1.