Former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook ended a partnership with bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris that had lasted more than three decades when he quit seven years ago.
The rest of New Order’s original line-up began touring without him in 2011 after a fractious and public dispute between himself and Sumner.
However, Hook can now be seen taking both bands’ music around the world with his group The Light. Far Out Magazine caught up with him at the BBC 6 Music Festival in Manchester last weekend…
What have you got planned for The Light in the near future?
I started with the Joy Division stuff and now I’m continuing with every song I’ve ever recorded or written. In September we’re doing Low-Life and Brotherhood and after that we’re going to do Monaco [Hook’s former side project with members of The Light], Technique, Get Ready, When the Sirens Call and then I’ll probably retire… or die. Hopefully retire.
Is it nice going back to playing smaller venues?
It’s a weird one. The first gig we ever did as Joy Division was at Oldham Tower and nobody came, there was just one guy sweeping the floor. Then you look at a gig like Glastonbury where we played to 125,000 people and think ‘as long as I’m somewhere in the middle, it doesn’t matter’.
I do think that’s something that spurred Bernard into getting Stephen and New Order back together. He did that tour as Bad Lieutenant [before the 2011 reformation] and he couldn’t stand playing in the shitholes. I’ll bet you a pound to a thousand that he must have been sat there in some shithole in Newcastle going ‘fuck this, I’m stealing New Order off that bastard. I want my comforts’.
But the bottom line is as long as there’s someone to play it to, we’ll do it. We [The Light] got a lot of bad press before we’d even done it, which made me laugh. You do have to prove yourself though.
A band like Joy Division started from nothing and we were just getting somewhere when it finished. New Order then went back to nothing and we really had to work, it took a long time, ten years. But as long as you enjoy it, and I must admit at this point in time I’m really enjoying it.
Do you also enjoy having the control to do it yourself?
It’s the nicest thing in the world. Because I’m doing it on my own and I’ve got the concept, I don’t have to compromise. Now ‘twatto’ has gone back to New Order, he must be having to compromise again. When he was in Bad Lieutenant he could do whatever he wanted.
Men are very bad at being able to compromise as they get older. That’s what happened with Freebass [side project with fellow bassists Andy Rourke and Mani], we were all too old to start a new group. You get so used to doing things in your own way that it doesn’t work.
I do miss the chemistry of songwriting though. I was looking at it the other day when I was doing the New Order book [Power, Corruption & Lies – released later this year] and I realised that New Order, or ‘New Odour’ as I call them still haven’t made any new music since we finished in 2004.
It is better to be able to smell your audience. What I do is more difficult anyway because I don’t play a greatest hits set. I’m playing the LPs in their entirety and by virtue of being long-playing records they have lulls and downs.
It’s an odd collection of music that caught the spirit of the time. It’s more difficult for an audience to get but it’s also more difficult for the band to play. I like that discomfort. You’re not getting your rocks off. If the band say ‘we wanna get our rocks off’, it’s like ‘how fucking dare you, concentrate!’
One of the things that you aspire to as a musician is being counted as arty. So it’s not just ordinary, like The Spice Girls, you want to be in the realms of people like Talking Heads or Beck.
I like to think that by making it more difficult for myself, it keeps you going on. To go out and play a greatest hits set was really fucking boring and I was delighted when the twats came back and fucking did it again, it was so lazy.
Is that your biggest problem with it?
To me it was the really early music that was the most cutting edge and that’s the stuff they won’t play. To just concentrate on those small bits seems ridiculous. It seemed ridiculous in 2006 and to do it again in 2011 was fucking preposterous! But they’ve got the audience, they’re playing the big arenas so I can’t argue can I?
The difficulty when you’re playing to an audience in the bigger venues is that you have to make them think that they’re getting a one-to-one. There aren’t many bands than can do that.
I remember seeing The Killers at Manchester arena and they didn’t know how to do it, but then you go and see a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers and they know, it’s another art that you have to learn.
Does the chemistry of songwriting you mentioned never tempt you to get back in the studio?
With bands, if there’s one thing it’s taught me, it’s that anyone can play it. Joy Division made fantastic music because of the chemistry between four people, New Order made fantastic music because of the chemistry between me, Bernard and Stephen.
I must admit I haven’t gone out and sought it. I’ve fallen into the old musician’s trick because I used to get thousands to do it and now I’m expected to do it for nothing. I can’t get my head around that.
I know it sounds like a whine, but to lock yourself away and bare your soul for a record and not get paid for it? Any other job, like a plasterer or a car mechanic, and you’d think ‘you fucking what?’
Do you ever feel more pressured to play certain songs at festivals?
No, at the ripe old age of 58, I do what I fucking want. I’m a cantankerous old bloke, in a nice way it is about getting the freedom to do what we should have done years ago.
At the time I should have put my foot down, but then it didn’t feel wrong. At one time it was so difficult to get them to do any fucking gigs. I would have gone out there and done the Birdy Song and thought ‘thank fuck for that, at least we’re doing a gig’.
Peter Hook and The Light will perform at festivals including Camp Bestival, Alt Fest and Bearded Theory this summer and also showcase Low-Life and Brotherhood at two special shows in London and Manchester this September.