Written by Andy Hazel on 20 March 2012
As Peter Hook, one time bassist for Joy Division and New Order and now frontman for Peter Hook and The Light, brings back the music from Joy Division’s revered album Closer, he awakens a lot of the conflict and deep emotions. Emotions associated not only with events surrounding the creation of album but with his ex-bandmates and the inestimable legacy of them, and their enigmatic frontman Ian Curtis, who tragically ended his own life amid intense personal conflict.
“Ahh, you’re the one from Australia,” says Peter Hook testily, the Salford lad’s strong Northern tones clearly intoned from his English home. “A friend passed on an interview Bernard [Sumner, guitarist with Joy Division and singer and guitarist from New Order] did with you lot last year. He said ‘I wouldn’t read this before you do your interview’, but, you know, what could I do? I read it, so at the moment I’m a little bit feisty. Actually, I’m fucking feisty.”
The past, with all of its tragedies, triumphs and personal dramas, is inseparable from the indisputably brilliant music Hook and his band The Light are exploring on their forthcoming tour. Having recently completed a book entitled Inside Joy Division, Hook’s acrimonious split from his ex-Joy Divison/New Order bandmates and what he views as the public’s imbalanced view of their continuation of the band without him means he’s very keen to set the record straight.
“Bernard is entitled to his opinion of events and I to mine. Mine just happen to be right,” Hook continues. “The interesting thing about this fracas is that it is in public. Most fights within bands tend to be in private, this one isn’t. This is what happens when you get stubborn people working with stubborn people,” he pauses.
“You lot, you journalists, you do like to pounce on one particular piece of information and take it out of context, that’s your job and I understand, that’s the way you work. It’s quite sad really the way they [New Order] have gone about it, doing it all like this,” he continues, his Mancunian accent becoming stronger.
“But the saddest part of it is to my mind they shouldn’t be using the New Order name at all. They’ve basically said ‘We’ve done it without you, so fuck you’, but it’s business, that’s what happens, and I don’t agree with it. When Bernard and I stopped working together in 2006, I thought there’s no chance we’ll ever do this again.”
“He can drag Gillian [Gilbert, keyboardist] and Steve [Morris, drums] along but whether he likes it or not, it’s all of us or none of us. My argument is, if you want to use the name then if you should use the name, but it has to refer to the actual band. They’re not and never will fucking be New Order, that’s the gist of it.”
Barely pausing for breath, he continues. “Bernard always said was that one of my problems was that I was too melancholic and I looked back on the past too fondly,” he says with a loud crackling laugh. “Which is a wonderful contradiction when he’s looking back on New Order and playing our music. I knew then and I know now – sorry to be so humourless – but we made two monster records with Unknown Pleasures and Closer.”
“Even on Still there are some great songs we never featured on the albums; there is so much fantastic music there, I’m very proud of it and always have been. When we went into New Order, we totally ignored Joy Division, which felt perfectly right. When New Order split, I felt like we were on the outside again, and said to the others, ‘Why have we never celebrated Joy Division? We celebrate New Order, why not Joy Division?’”
“It’s an interesting correlation to see that they played them [Joy Division songs] in [Sumner’s post-New Order band] Bad Lieutenant, but they’re saying it was me that did it first and that was the reason they reformed New Order! It’s wrong. They never asked me permission, and they’re turning it round like I did it first.”
“We all know that you’re entitled to play other peoples music live; a lot of bands play Joy Division and New Order, or come damn close,” he says laughing and calming. “It’s when you use the name you’re trying to grab the audience. I’d never have the gall to call my band Joy Division; they are NOT New Order and never will be. In Joy Division Ian hated if anyone put Ian Curtis And Joy Division or singled him out from the rest of us.”
It is with the mention of Ian Curtis that Hook pauses and something bigger than the falling out between two lifelong friends emerges. Sighing, he slows, and ponders the emotional weight behind revisiting Closer. “The interesting thing I found when I started to do the music is that most people have heard the record and not the band. There is very little live footage of us on Youtube, and the music is very different on record. For the first time in my life I actually sat and listened to the record, and you know what, [producer and Factory Records founder] Martin Hannett has done a fantastic job.”
Before I can point out that Hooky’s possibly the last person to realise this, he continues. “It took a lot for me to think that and rightly so. At 22 and 23 Barney [Sumner’s nickname] and me wanted to sound like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and he made it sound like a band we hated. Everyone else thought it was great so we went along with it, but we were upset and it stayed with me for years; remember we were ignoring Joy Division throughout New Order – never listened to it.”
“It wasn’t until I came to transcribe the LP that I realised what incredible work he’d done, especially when you consider the equipment he was using, which in many ways was almost barbaric – two-inch tape and analogue effects. We didn’t realise how good everyone working around us was at the time, we were just daft kids looking to play really. That has dawned on me recently.”
The trigger for this reflection, and the rebirth of New Order and birth of Peter Hook and The Light came from an unlikely source: a film. Anton Corbjin’s film Control brought a new audience to the music, reignited interest in older fans and generally impressed everyone who saw it. Despite current acrimonies, Hook still sees himself as very much a part of his old band. “Bernie, Stephen and I had no idea that the music was so highly regarded. It’s a great compliment to me that New Order are selling out their gigs. I did write the music and create the atmosphere so it’s a massive compliment to me. It’s wonderful to be alive and have compliments like that, to be the subject of two very popular films; I’ll take those compliments.”
Another thing he sees as a surprise and compliment are the demographics of his audiences. “The interesting things about playing the records live is that I thought the audience would be full of fat old blokes like me reliving their glory days, but the crowds are very mixed and actually very young. Ageism in rock and roll seems to not be an issue now. We wanted to kill old musicians in my day, that was the whole party line for the Sex Pistols and Joy Division, so I’m very thankful for that change.”
The reverence in which Closer is held is almost unlike that for any other album of the last 40 years. The funereal music, the gauzy ominous cover, the weighty lyrics, the tragic death of Ian Curtis within months of its recording. Revisiting it was never going to be easy and it has been harder than Unknown Pleasures for the band.
“Closer is a much different album, in a lot of ways you wouldn’t think it was the same band,” says Hook. “Bernard said he [Ian] took 21 years to write Unknown Pleasures and nine months to write Closer, which is correct. It was the culmination of how he’d felt being in Joy Division and it is a very different record.”
“Unknown Pleasures is very balls-out punk rock – four young men at the peak of their confidence, songwriting and really rehearsed up, you can hear it in the music. Closer is much mellower, more melancholic and soul searching and it’s got a completely different feel. For me it’s like sitting a difficult exam every time I play it,” he chuckles. “You want to give it the gravity, the passion and the respect it deserves. It requires much more concentration from the audience’s side and our side. It is strange, after 30 odd years, to play those songs again and even if Bernie won’t play, it’s worth every second if I never get to do them again.”
Despite recent forays into running a club (FAC251), DJing at that club, writing a book (entitled How Not To Run a Club) and singing, Hook still identifies himself with his original job. “I’m a bass player, I love playing bass, and to be considered one of the world’s most unique bass players is a great badge to wear. But now that other geezer is playing my bass lines in New Order and [Hook’s son] Jack is playing them in The Light!”
He laughs again. “Now that I’ve grown into the role of singing, I’ve come to realise how fantastic Ian was. The onomatopoeia of Ian’s lyrics, the little tricks he does when he writes; it’s great. He uses a lot of repetition in Unknown Pleasures and very little in Closer, he’s such a wordsmith…it’s been quite magical actually. When you listen to it, it’s very natural and seems very simple but it’s hard to replicate. Revisiting Closer has given me a huge appreciation for two people; Ian and Martin.”
He pauses again. “You know, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to wear the ‘I don’t feel guilty’ badge,” he says quietly of Curtis’s death. “At the time of course, I couldn’t wait to get out there and play, and Ian was as much into that as us. Now it seems obvious that we should have asked more questions, or somehow known what was going on, but Ian was the same as us; he wanted to succeed with the group. He was always the one who would notice when you were down, and he’d pick you up. He was his own little version of Saving Private Ryan,” he says with another laugh.
“When he said he was okay you believed him. Does he sound insincere on record? No. He was that sincere all the time. The people we were around; the psychiatrist, psychologist, the doctor, the specialists in epilepsy, his parents, we should have been pretty low in the pecking order when it came to noticing and acting the right way. What happens with any kind of suicide is there is always the sense of mystery. You have to be that depressed to feel that way, me and you have never got to that point – I’ve been close but never there. They say suicide is a long-term solution to a short-term problem. You do have to thank the world you’ve never come across it as Ian did, you’d have to suffer to that level to understand.”
His new roles as DJ and club manager have changed the way he views music and presents music to an audience, something he is relishing doing his way. Most renowned for being an involuntary part-financier of the most legendary clubs in history the New Order-owned Hacienda, FAC251 is done with a view for viability.
“The Factory club is interesting,” says Hook, brightening. “The Hacienda was run on ideals without regard for money and business, so the interesting thing about FAC251 is that this time, my business partner is a smart businessman. He said to me: ‘since the original Factory Records building is going to be knocked down and redeveloped, let’s start it as a club again, we’ll make this one a blend of reality and ideals. You don’t get to do the wildly mad stuff because no one is financing it.’”
“With the Hacienda, we entertained a whole city for sixteen years and it was incredible, New Order financed that whole club, so when we went under the club went under. My wife won’t let me do that now!” He says laughing. “What makes me happy is that I saved the building and the boardroom and kept the entertainment happening. We’re doing the 30th birthday celebrations soon, celebrating the music and Ian’s life. I like the use of the heritage,” he continues reflectively.
“We created something for Manchester and when you get people like New Order, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays coming back and celebrating that period – which they never did at the time I can fucking tell you – when they get a chance to put themselves in that period, lo and behold, they all come back! I still DJ once a month and DJing keeps you on your metal so you have to be right current. Staying young – thinking young – that’s what you want in life.”
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18