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From melancholy sophisticates to disco evangelists and beyond, they've dominated British pop like no other band. Yet their mystery remains. On the eve of a Reading rebirth, we ask... just who are New Order?
NEW ORDER SIT AT A cloth-covered table on the airy bar d terrasse of the Mont-reux Palace Hotel. To one side of them a film crew buzz discreetly about their business. Above, the pot plants gentry sizzle amid the TV lights. Across the road the neon sign of Hazyland ("Dancing CLUB.. .DANCING club") has just been lit. It's 9.30pm. Just beyond Hazyland, Lake Geneva, huge and silent, flickers in the blurry moonlight. The bar is deserted apart from the TV corner, where Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Bernard Sumner and Peter "Hooky" Hook - surrounded by 20 or so crew and hangers-on -lounge in various states of drunken diffidence. Paul Morley sits opposite. He is interviewing the group for a documentary about them. Taller, thinner and edgier than he appears on TV, Morley's airy casualness belies a determination to niggle out the real story. But it's a tricky task. The band keep straying from the questions - "I don't tell the truth," says an indignant Gillian at one point - taking the piss. And they will bicker. "It could be conceived," Stephen is saying, "that the Hacienda is the one thing that binds us together. It's what we've got in common..." "Well, we're all equally at odds with one another about it," Hooky qualifies.
"I've had some of the best nights of my life there," says Bernard. "But I was living in a council flat while we were putting SI0,000 a week into the Hacienda. That's wrong."
Hooky: "510,000 amonth." Gillian: "Ooh, I bet you feel better about it now."
Stephen: "On the opening night of the Hagienda I had to pay to get in. It took me nine years to get a free drink..."
Bernard: "If you went more often they'd know who you were."
Hooky: "Still, nobody makes the same mistake twice..."
Bernard: "We did. We bought a bar (Dry 201 in Manchester). Yes, many's the time we've rolled about on the floor about that. We've had a lot of laughs about that one."
And Stephen suddenly points at Hazyland. "Shall we buy it?" he asks Hooky. "By your logic, then we can go in there whenever we want, wearing whatever we want..."
NEW ORDER, RUNS THE MYTH OF 16 YEARS STANDING, are awkward sods. Suspicious of journalists, slippery in interviews, obsessive about photo approval, sarky, uncompromising, elusive, grumpy. Awkward. Admittedly, in the four years since Technique' they've had their fair share of reasons to be churlish. The well-told tale runs something like this. Three potentially permanent solo projects ("We never thought >•
we'd get back together again afterwards" - Gillian) followed by death and violence leading to tne Hacienda's closure; money worries; LP traumas ('Republic'recorded in "an atmosphere of impending doom"); and finally Factory's collapse and a move to London Records. Plenty to whinge about there. And New Order have never resisted the call of the grumble. Indeed, the ever-wry comments of The Other Two have recently become so bitter that a final split has seemed more than a safe bet.
But seeing them together, tipsy and relaxed, the sniping and teasing take on a subtler tone. It's clear that they relish arguing. Their little digs and jokes keep outsiders away...
"Keep talking," says Bernard, "then Paul won't be able to get a question in." And tfie sly insults create a laidback clannishness that Morley finds almost impossible to shake. To his credit, he does his best - What do you think about Revenge, Stephen? What do you like about Bernard, Gillian? But they fudge their answers. There are unspoken rules that which New Order do not break,
"We don't step on each other's toes in public," says Barney. "It's confrontational."
AFTER THE INTERVIEW, THE BAND AND THEIR MANAGER Rob Gretton - a large, mellow, bullet-headed man with "a breast implant in his stomach" (Barney) -gather round another table to have a meeting. The Select photographer tries to take some pictures. Hooky throws a packet of cigarettes at him.
New Order are here, strangely, for the 37th Monlreux Jazz Festival. They'll precede Robert Plant at tomorrow's MTV-sponsored opening night. Bernard says he wouldn't have agreed to perform if he'd known the gig was essentially for television. He thinks a recording - in whatever form - is a recording, and live is live, and that you shouldn't mix the two. Still, they're here now, so they may as well make the most of it. Perhaps inevitably, someone suggests a trip to Hazyland,
Hooky, as is his habit, has disappeared without telling anyone (pausing only to nick Barney's key in case he needs to pay the bar bill) but Bernard, Rob, Gillian and a vivaciously drunken Stephen, plus four crew and Jim Swindell (the head of New Order's US recording company) all totter towards Montreux's hottest niterie. On entering they double the number of Hazyland punters, who, as a type, fall somewhere between Benny from Abba and George from Rainbow; beards and a smile so naively friendly you feel compelled to steal their drink. (Not that anyone does, Jim covers the club tab and is $350 lighter by the end of the evening.)
Stephen and Gillian are in fine fettle, bellowing along to Whitney Houston, accepting a bet to smooch to Queen. Stephen even dances to 'Losing My Religion' Barney watches from the bar.
"Steve always dances the same," he sniggers. "With his arm like this. Even when he's E-ing." And he jerks his right elbow upwards and earwards in a Michael Stipe-style twitch. It's quite an impression.
There's something of the mad professor in Steve. His nervous energy gives him a spiky, adolescent walk; his black parka .billows out behind him like a headmaster's gown. He never seems to relax completely, always reacting to people around him and unable to resist a wisecrack. You know about Hooky's easy friendliness, Barney's petulance and disarming charm, even Gillian's quiet irony (though not for her infectious giggling). But Stephen's barbed wit comes as a complete surprise.
At the moment the surprise is that Jacko, New
Order's long-standing soundman, is not lying in a crumpled heap outside the front door. He's graduated from dancing with the Bennys to grooving a la Gascoigne on top of the cigarette machine.
THE NEXT DAY, HOOKY, GILLIAN AND STEPHEN TROOP OFF to the all-new Auditorium Stravinsky to sound-check. Bernard refuses to go when he's meant to.
"I'm bored of playing," he remarks evenly. "I'll go later. I'm so bored now that when I have to soundcheck my guitar solo I only play the beginning and the end of it."
He's laughing when he says it, but Bernard doesn't do what he doesn't want to. He's always been the same, he says - he only got two O-levels, Art and English. "I can only excel at something that I 'm interested in. I can't make myself do something that I don't like. I can't knuckle under."
So instead of soundchecking, he has a vegetarian lasagne in a nearby cafe. Despite his near total abstinence last night - only one or two beers between Perriers - Barney is suffering this morning. He's always reacted hadly to drink, "even when I was 16". Something in alcohol causes his skin to go brown after drinking, and he gets the worst hangovers of anyone he knows.
Mind you, he's tested his tolerance in the past. Though his weeknights would be fairly drink-free, his long-standing Saturday routine was to cane it all night, come home at 8.30am Sunday and throw up till half past five. Every week.
"1 just couldn't see the point of drinking if you weren't going to get drunk."
Once he went to see 808 State with his girl-
friend Sarah and some friends. He never saw the group play a note, but subsequently found himself in bed with his S70 shirt, and 590 jeans ripped to shreds and covered in blood. He'd lost a S150 jacket with SI00 cash inside in the process of getting home (he vaguely remembered being sick in someone's car) and, by the devastating evidence, he'd got into his house by throwing a brick through the conservatory, thereby setting off the burglar alarm and bringing in the police. He awoke to find Sarah, perhaps understandably, flinging shoes at his head.
So now he's on a health kick. No exercise or anything, but he's avoiding sugar, trying to stick to white wine and Perrier "and not going where there's a party. I just can't control my partying".
Bernard is the leader of New Order. Not just because he's the singer, the one people most want to interview or photograph; not because, according to their engineer Michael Johnson "most of the ideas come from Barney"; not even because he's the most paranoid of the four (though that comes into it). It's because in a quartet of wilful personalities, Bernard's is the most wilful. It's wrapped around him. He's boyish, endearing ("I don't think the others would agree with you on that one") and incredibly softly spoken, but he is in control.
"I think I was more endearing when I was little," he murmurs. "Because life toughens you up. It teaches you that sometimes to sort people out you have to be a twat. You know, business-wise, if you're nice all the time, people view that as a weakness. I think you've got to be a bit of a twat to be a lead singer really. To be a fully fledged, all-the-medals lead singer. It's difficult. You need a certain swell-headedness. I've grown to fit the job, but unfortunately the job's grown as well."
Did you get what you wanted as a child?
"Well, I'm an only child, so I think I did a bit... I used to get all the chocolate I wanted, but we didn't have a lot of money."
Barney was born on January 4, 195B and grew up with Ms mum Laura and his grandparents in a two-up-two-down in Salford. He has never known his dad. When his mum married, he changed his name with her to Dicken, but later changed it back.
"A story in itself," he remarks cryptically. "I don't talk about stuff that's private to me."
Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:39:00 PM - 9:39:00 PM
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