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Far Out Meets: Peter Hook discusses Joy Division, New Order and new tour dates

Next month, the charismatic and unique bassist Peter Hook sets off on tour with his post-New Order project Peter Hook and the Light. The 12-date tour, entitled Joy Division: A Celebration, will kick off at Brighton’s Concorde 2 on April 7th and finishes at the O2 Academy in Bournemouth on April 30th after a string of dates up and down the country. An additional four dates in the UK have been announced for July as well as three nights in Ireland as the Light hits Limerick, Dublin and Belfast in November. 

In Hooky’s upcoming tour, the focus has been mainly set upon celebrating Joy Division with performances that will visit the Manchester group’s two seminal albums Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980). The Joy Division: A Celebration concerts will see The Light play the two Joy Division studio albums in full, along with an opening set of New Order material to commemorate over four decades of Joy Division and Ian Curtis’ prevailing influence.

Last week I was lucky enough to catch up with Hook ahead of the exciting upcoming live dates. When Hooky popped up on the screen for our video call, he seemed in great spirits. He told me to excuse his messy hair as he had just come back from a bike ride with his son where they had “been all over the place and got really muddy”. He looked perfectly presentable to me though, and after a bit of general natter, we got down to discussing all things music.

First up, our conversation begins with the start of his foray into music, and I asked why he chose the bass guitar or whether it was more the bass that chose him. He replied, “When I went to see the Sex Pistols, we came out, and I said to Barney [Bernard Sumner], ‘We should form a band’. And he had a guitar already. I didn’t have anything. So he said to me, ‘You should get a bass’. So I went, ‘Right, I’ll get a bass’.”

He continued, describing that he had popped down to the local gear shop the next day and had asked the owner for a bass. The man in the shop handed Hooky a bass guitar, and said, “How about this one?” Hooky replied, “No, I said, I’m not having that. It’s only got four strings. My mate’s bass has got six. And he said, ‘Well, that’s because you’re mate’s ain’t a bass you nob head, it’s a guitar!”. After being rebuked in such a way, Hook hurriedly bought the first one that was handed to him. The bass was a cheap Eko, and it would stick with him for several years, from the early days as Warsaw up to the Joy Division EP An Ideal For Living.

Hook asserted that “being a punk wasn’t about learning, it was about just doing and not having anybody tell you what to do, or criticise you. You listened to nothing apart from yourself”. That night after Hook had purchased his first bass, he met up with Barney, and they jammed and learned off the cuff. “We practised together, just pissing about, didn’t know anything,” he said. “And then we carried on like that basically the whole way through our careers. So yeah, it was quite an interesting … anti-learning”.

Later, Hook explained that this lack of conventional musical knowledge had been a string to their bow in the early days of Joy Division. His friend Peter Saville, who created the cover art for Joy Division and New Order records, had once said, “Groups are at their best before they learn how to make music because once they learn, they start following these rules and then it tends to lose the rough edge”. Hook continued, “I think people were drawn to Joy Division’s very rough edge, and New Order’s rough edge at the beginning”.

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While on the topic of bassists, I was interested to learn more about Hook’s views on some of the most famous figures to hold the instrument, and our conversation turned to Paul McCartney’s skills as a bassist and as a cultural icon. He responded: “As a bassist, he’s more of a songwriter. I think he’s confessed that he starts on the guitar and brings the bass in afterwards. He’s like, an orchestra leader”. Hook continued, explaining that he admires McCartney’s songwriting abilities despite never being the biggest Beatles fan, admitting that he was always more of a Rolling Stones man. Finally, Hooky expressed how impressed he was that McCartney was to be headlining Glastonbury later this year at 80-years-old. He said, “I never thought I’d have to go to 80. But now I’m gonna have to go to 80 to beat Paul bloody McCartney”.

Later, I asked what the most inspiring act he had seen was. Hook explained that it would have to be the Sex Pistols gig he had been to with Barney in the mid-1970s. “[It was] for no musical reason. It was just about the attitude. The fact that what they were doing was so different. The week before, I’d been to see Led Zeppelin, and that was great; they played fantastically, but they weren’t inspiring – as in, come along and change your life, inspiring. So, yeah, the Sex Pistols spoke to me and said, ‘pack it in’, okay, ‘give up your job, and get out and join the circus’.”

The conversation flowed towards the prevailing influence and relevance of Joy Division and New Order in modern music. Hook explained that he felt immensely proud that young punk-inspired groups today still cite Joy Division as a key influence. He went on to describe how he and the rest of New Order had “never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division after Ian’s death, we never celebrated one year after his death, we never celebrated 9,10, 20 years, and now it’s gone 40 years”.

Hook seemed to express a degree of regret that the group hadn’t celebrated their work with Joy Division more during the New Order days. He was upset that his time with the rest of New Order had ended on such a sour note, with the group squabbling in and out of court. He explained, “Now, I have no connection to the others,” he said, with a clear change in mood. “You know, we’ve had a terrible time – we’re still having a terrible time, even at the moment. I can say that, quite truthfully. So, it was obvious I wasn’t going to do it with them. So I thought, ‘How can I celebrate Joy Division’s music?’ I didn’t want to pretend to be Joy Division because that was impossible. And in all honesty, Joy Division live was a lot different to how we were on record”. Hook described the upcoming tour with The Light as a tribute to Ian Curtis and also noted that “it gave me a chance to pay homage to Martin Hannett as the producer, whose input shaped the sound and made it last forever”.

Clearly immensely proud of Joy Division, Hook continued to reminisce about his late friend and bandmate, Ian Curtis. He said that Curtis was the main drive behind the band, “All he ever wanted was to take Joy Division to the world”. It was for this reason that Hook found it so difficult to understand Curtis’ suicide in 1980, just one day before what would have been their first tour in America, a tour they had all been so excited about, especially Curtis. Although he admitted, while they hadn’t understood at the time, it was Curtis’ “mental illness and the drugs he had been taking for his epilepsy. That’s the great thing – well not so great – about hindsight, we now know a great deal more about how to deal with epilepsy than we did in those days”.

Before forming Peter Hook and the Light as a tribute to his former work, Hook remembered that it had been a difficult time. Starting out on his own, away from New Order, presented its challenges with keyboard warriors often writing things such as “you shouldn’t be doing this” and “It’s going to fail”. He recalled the support he recieved from his close friends in the business at the time, “People like Mark Lanegan offered their support very, very early on. And Billy Corgan, Moby. Perry Farrell … they’re all great fans of Joy Division, of what we achieved”. He explained that you need friends like that, who encourage you to keep moving forward.

As our conversation rolled onto the topic of prominent issues encountered for up and coming musical artists over the coming years and decades, Hook commented: “I mean, the biggest challenge was streaming and the internet”. Detailing further, he continued: “The death of record sales was a huge blow to all groups, not just me. Now, group members have to be businessmen too, they have to manage themselves, they have to marshal the internet and all the places that their music is played,” he said, adding: “I’d say it’s much more difficult now than it was in my day. Plus, new bands are not only competing with all the other new bands, but they’re also competing with all the old bastards like me and Paul McCartney who will not roll over and give up”. 

(Credit: Kevin Cummins)

I asked if he saw the fact that older artists remain so relevant today as a statement about the quality of modern music, and Hook explained that it’s hard to say; while there is some great music today, a lot of it is very derivative. “It’s very difficult to do something [now] that nobody’s heard before,” he said, continuing to explain that the modern climate lacks self-belief as he targetted the problematic talent shows that plague prime-time television. Aspiring musicians put themselves on a platter to be judged by people with very little talent or creative edge themselves. “When we [Joy Division] started, if someone didn’t like us, we’d tell them to fuck off – you have to believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “But if you start bending and bowing to every [criticism] and listening to an old twat like Simon Cowell … I mean, what would Simon Cowell have said to Ian Curtis, or Morrissey or Ian Brown?”.

I brought up Joy Division’s famous pranking feud with Buzzcocks while supporting their Manchester neighbours. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Hook and the rest of Joy Division had caught wind of a prank that was coming their way from the boys in Buzzcocks. In premature response, they began planning their trick, which began with a few pounds of maggots released on stage that would end up crawling all over the Buzzcocks while they performed. Meanwhile, the Joy Division lads were rigging the Buzzcocks’ tour bus with a mess of shaving foam and live mice left to roam around their belongings. When they finally saw the enraged Buzzcocks fleeing from the bus in disgust, they began pelting them with eggs. When Joy Division finally figured out what prank Buzzcocks had in store for them, they realised they had perhaps overcooked their response. All the Buzzcocks had done was coat the bottom of Steve Morris’ snare with talcum powder, which went mostly unnoticed. I asked Hooky if he ever made up with the guys in Buzzcocks after that and whether they ever apologised. He told me that somehow they had actually remained on good terms with the group over the years. “No, we never apologised, and I feel bad (he laughs), but oh God, I’ve been reading [Pete Shelley’s] book, and he was such a nice guy”. He concluded that it was just a “tribal instinct” between groups at the time … “very human”.

Acknowledging that the group had enjoyed their fun and games, I asked if Hook thought that perhaps Joy Division had been misrepresented in history. He hesitated for a moment, and then responded: “The myth is generally just as interesting as the truth”. He recalled playing on tour with Nick Cave’s old group Birthday Party in the early 1980s. Hook and the rest of New Order were expecting to see them all living a rock ‘n’ roll life of debauchery based on their on-stage demeanour. But upon knocking on their door asking, “Where’s the party?” they realised the image was deceiving. “We went in, and they were all sat around reading their books,” Hook explained. “I suppose you have to look behind the image”. He said that Ian Curtis was very well-read and had an artistic vision for the group, which presented them in a particular way. “The beauty of Joy Division was outside the group,” as he put it.

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Hook later elucidated that he was massively proud of what Joy Division achieved, “To me, Joy Division is very pure because it didn’t break into squabbling, an absolutely childish stupid mess like New Order has.” He kept looking off to the side of the camera and later explained that on the wall behind his screen is where he keeps a photograph of Curtis. “What we’ve done to New Order as core individuals is, frankly, very, very disappointing, and it shows no signs of abating at the moment,” he added. “So the thing is, that makes me happier about Joy Division, and to play the music as an honour, and the other honour is that I get to play it in front of loads of people who are just like me – massive Joy Division fans”.

Towards the end of our hour talking, I asked whether he thought Joy Division would have headed on the same creative trajectory as New Order had done if Ian Curtis hadn’t taken his life at such a young age. He asserted, “I think it would have been different, but if you look at [early New Order] tracks like ‘Ceremony’ and ‘In A Lonely Place’ which were Ian’s (…) or ‘Dreams Never End’ which was one I came up with after he had died. If you look at those tracks, you have a good basis for a third [Joy Division] LP”.

I then explained that I was a big fan of ‘Dreams Never End’ and the whole of New Order’s first album, Movement, for that matter. Hooky seemed to agree that it was one of his favourite New Order albums too, and said: “I honestly think Movement is very underrated.” Shortly after, Hooky wandered off-screen and returned with a bass guitar in hand. He started playing the catchy opening bass line from ‘Dreams Never End’. I asked what bassline was his favourite to play live for my final question. He answered, “I was thinking about this earlier because Mark Lanegan always said to me that he loved ‘Insight’, and the baseline for ‘Insight’ is one of my favourites. So today, thinking about him, it’s ‘Insight’ by Joy Division”.

As Hook embarks on tour next month, he looks to celebrate the legacy of his formative punk group Joy Division as a former member and a fan. It was interesting to hear how he regretted New Order’s lack of celebration of Ian Curtis over their years under the limelight. This latest tour will therefore focus primarily on Joy Division as a touching tribute to Hooky’s late bandmate and friend. While New Order appears to have tainted their legacy somewhat over the past decade with the ongoing disputes, it is our hope that one day they might be able to bury the hatchet. As Hooky said to me, not everyone gets the chance to be in one band that changes the world, let alone two – that’s something worth celebrating.

Peter Hook begins his upcoming tour on April 7th at Concorde 2 in Brighton. Click here for a full list of the dates and ticket access.

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