Interview with Peter Hook

Image by Mark McNulty

First published 14/11/12 on Interview carried out with Alexander French:

Peter Hook was the bassist in seminal post-punk band Joy Division. Following the tragic suicide of singer Ian Curtis in 1980, the remaining band members formed New Order, who Hook parted ways with in 2006. Now touring as Peter Hook and the Light, he has recently published a fascinating memoir of his Joy Division years entitled Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, and will perform the band’s debut album Unknown Pleasures in its entirety at Leicester’s O2 Academy on November 26th.



What inspired you to write your new Joy Division memoir?


Well, I’d written one book before about the Haçienda [the famous Manchester nightclub owned by Factory Records and kept afloat through money earned by New Order] so I sort of knew what I was doing.  And then I read the last book written by somebody about Joy Division and it struck me that everybody who was writing books about Joy Division wasn’t there.  So I got that ‘light bulb’ moment and I thought, “Right, I’ll do one!”  I thought at first, “it can’t be that hard, it was only two-and-a-half years.” I just thought I’d knock it off in a couple of days.  It actually took two years and sixty-five re-writes, but compared to the Haçienda [book] which took three years and eighty-five re-writes, I’m getting better!


Was a large part of writing the book an effort to dispel some of the myths around Joy Division, and Ian Curtis particularly?


Myths are very important to people and, in a way, that mythology around it does affect you.  It makes it all the more exciting, and I think it did help in giving it a mystique which has then been compounded by how great the music is.  It’s all very well having a mystique and a myth, but you’ve got to have great music. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Nirvana; you can’t name anyone who’s got the myth, died young, but had shit music.  It has to be a combination.  So because we threw ourselves into New Order so deeply – mainly, I think, to hide from the grief of Joy Division – it enabled New Order to become a fantastic group as well because it had your complete and utter attention. It also meant that because you were ignoring Joy Division, you wouldn’t let the myth get in the way of the adventure.


I get a sense that with Ian, he was ‘one of the lads’ as opposed to this overt intellectual that he’s portrayed as.


Well we were all portrayed as overt intellectuals, that’s the scary thing.  It was quite odd to switch off from Joy Division, as we did, so completely when Ian died, and then just leave it to become bigger at its own pace.  We never did anything to fuel the myth.  And after Still [1981 Joy Division compilation album], which we put out to clean up the tracks which we’d not put on a record, there was nothing for years to do with Joy Division, by the record company or by the band.  We really did just dump it, you know?  And it’s weird, but it worked for New Order without a doubt.


How seamless would you say the transition from Joy Division to New Order was? In the past you’ve spoken about it and said you all just assumed you’d carry on.  Was it that simple?


It was very nice and well-handled in that we all knew we didn’t want to go back to work – [adopts American accent] for ‘the man’ – we wanted to work for ourselves and we were enjoying being creative and the whole thing about being in a group.  But the cruel thing was that we’d just got to the point in Joy Division where everything was coming our way.  You know, the things you’ve longed for: success; journalistic appreciation; Top of the Pops…  And then it’s taken off you.  It was a very cruel way it happened – obviously it was worse for Ian than it was for us, ‘cause at least we’ve been able to enjoy the trappings of the success of Joy Division in our later years, whereas Ian never had anything.  Unless you believe he’s sat there on God’s right hand, which I like to think he is.  He didn’t get anything from it; it’s very, very sad, actually, considering he was the most believing that we were gonna do it.  We all had a tremendous passion, but he was the one that was convinced we were gonna be a success, and convinced you that you were going to be a success.  He was the one that had that ultimate belief.


Did you find it a difficult process when writing your book to be mulling over the Joy Division years again, having not thought about it in the immediate aftermath?


No, I mean, you do think about it, it’s just that you didn’t have anything to do with it.  You know, it’s still with you, we still talked about it in New Order, but we didn’t reform as Joy Division or we didn’t go out playing the music or anything.  You just let the record company distribute the records, you didn’t do any promotion for it or anything, just let it grow at its own pace.  There was a tremendous guilt at the time because of what happened to Ian, because we didn’t stop it, and the fact that we were party to it because we let it carry on, and the fact that with hindsight it was bleeding obvious what was going to happen.  But you were only 22/23, you didn’t know your arse from your elbow.  You’re not as educated or as worldly in any way, the way that people are these days, but you do have a sort of get-out clause. But writing the book made me feel a bit helpless again, a bit frustrated from that point of view.


What inspired you to start touring Joy Division’s music as Peter Hook and the Light?


It was quite easy, actually.  Once New Order split up in 2006 and I was outside [the band], I thought, why don’t we celebrate anything to do with Joy Division?  It’s fucking weird!  Joy Division’s work was being cited as many influences in very current bands – people are always dropping the name, from Arcade Fire to Editors to White Lies, loads of people – and I thought, I’ve never celebrated it!  And then I got offered an actual big celebration to be involved with in Macclesfield. They came up with this idea of doing a tribute gig at Macclesfield Town Football Club, where we had a backing band which I suppose you would say would be the start of The Light.  But funnily enough, Stephen Morris [Joy Division/New Order drummer] was playing, so that was weird, considering the animosity between us now. The idea was to get all Manchester singers coming to sing a Joy Division song with a backing band, for charity.  And then it all fell through and I thought,
“Oh bollocks!”  But now I’ve got my own club in Manchester called the Factory, and I thought, “Sod it, I’ll do it again.”  Then I read an interview with [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie where he was talking about [last year’s tour of their 1991 album] Screamadelica, and he was saying that he was really looking forward to doing the album in full because it had certain tracks on it that he didn’t like at the time but he loves now.  And I thought, “Shit that’s like Unknown Pleasures… that’s what I’ll do with Unknown Pleasures.” 


Which songs from Unknown Pleasures did you not like at the time, which you now appreciate?


It was ‘Candidate’ and ‘I Remember Nothing’ – primarily those two. I thought they were OK when we did ‘em, and because I didn’t listen to the record, it was only when I came to listen to it properly I realised what fucking great music it is.  Those two tracks in particular are fantastic, so I must thank Bobby for inspiring me to do that.


Was there anything on second album Closer that was the same?


Well, Closer was an odd LP because we finished it and then Ian died a month later, so we never really got to explore the songs on it and we never got to play them.  Getting Closer back, to be honest with you, was far more enjoyable than getting Unknown Pleasures back, ‘cause I’ve actually played a lot of those songs.  You know what, I don’t care what them two pricks say who used to be in the band, it’s so wonderful to hear the band pick up with ‘The Eternal’ and ‘Passover’ – it really made my heart go to be able to play those songs again… After 30 years it was mind-blowing, it really was wonderful.


How are you finding the role of being the frontman?


It’s tough.  Stepping into Ian’s shoes, as I did – I had a couple of people lined up to do it but they got scared off by the internet terrorists. It was Rowetta [Satchell, Happy Mondays backing singer], who said to me, “You’re gonna have to do it”. Luckily for me, my son plays bass – he’s the same age exactly as I was when I was in Joy Division which is pretty weird.  I was 21 when we played Unknown Pleasures, 22 when we did Closer, 23 when we did Still.  It sent shivers down my spine on stage, I’ll tell you.  So he did that [played bass] and I went to sing.  In a funny way it makes me happier because if you’d brought in somebody else to sing it, you’re getting into that really weird thing for a band which is tribute territory.  If I’d have brought a singer in I think it’d have felt more like a tribute band than it did by me doing it.  But I was terrified, for the first six months I could not enjoy it. I was just so frightened of what people would think and how they’d react, whether they’d like it or not. It took me six months, about thirty gigs, to get to the point where I enjoyed it. 


How have you felt about the feedback to the shows?


Well, I’ve not been hit on the head by a bottle – yet.  [Laughs]  So unless you’ve got any other ideas for when I play in Leicester, I take it most people like it and it does seem to go down well.  I like the arty side of it, I like the fact that you’re playing the LP and it’s a different gig.  New Order get up and they just play the greatest hits over and over again, same way we did when we were together.  I just can’t relate to that any more.  Playing the album [Unknown Pleasures] has a feel whereby it’s something different, it’s something more difficult to appreciate so it’s arty, it’s a struggle to do.  I like that people have to concentrate a little bit, you’re not just giving them hit after hit after hit.  You’re saying, “Listen, I want a bit more effort with this”.  Because it’s worth it, the record.  The thing is, I’ve spent my life listening to great LPs, not great tracks.  Now, when I’m on my computer, I listen to great tracks but in those days you listened to great LPs and I think an LP had a different feel, the way it gets you over a period of time.  That’s why I really enjoyed doing it and, I must admit, when I watch New Order performing the greatest hits, that feels like a tribute band.


Have you actually been to see New Order in their current incarnation?


No, God no.  Only if I’ve got a sniper rifle.  [Laughs]  If you can get me one I’ll go and see them.  Don’t you put as a headline there, “Peter Hook threatens to shoot rest of band.”  [Laughs]  No, I wouldn’t go and see them.  It’s funny really, when a friend of mine went to see them in Berlin he said that there were audible groans at some of the things they were playing and the way they were playing them and, to be honest with you, I just wanted to hear that.  [Laughs]  It’s like that thing with watching your ex go out with somebody else, having a sneaky look through the curtain.  You don’t want them but you don’t want anyone else to have them.


You mentioned that you’ve opened the Factory club.  How are you finding that in contrast to the Haçienda? Presumably it’s a bit more financially stable for a start?!


Well, it’s not particularly that it’s financially stable, it’s just that the guy running it is emotionally stable!  [Laughs]  My partner is a very successful businessman – he’s got twenty-three clubs in England, so he knows what to do.  It’s a glorious blend of idealism and creativity and realism – which is like life, really.  The Haçienda, it was all idealism and creativity with no regard to realism and if it hadn’t been for New Order and Joy Division with their ever-open wallets, it wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it did.  These days you do have to be a lot more realistic because there’s a lot more competition and everything’s a lot more cut-throat.  I can’t say I find that part of it exciting but when you DJ there on a Saturday night… I thought it’d be full of old blokes like me but it’s not, it’s full of really, really young kids who seem to dig the heritage.  When I was a punk it was all about getting rid of the old farts but I’m certainly glad we didn’t do that ‘cause otherwise I wouldn’t be able to DJ, would I?!  Now the young tend to actually show a lot of respect to old musicians.  If you go to see most big DJs, they’re all 40 plus.  Really, you’d think they’d be 20 but they’re not.


Do you think that’s a good thing or should young people have less respect?


If you’re being really cruel, I suppose it shows lack of ambition in youngsters, that’s what you’d say.  Why do you let these old farts do it, fucking get going, you know what I mean?  There’s sort-of a few coming through now, younger DJs, but it’s a struggle to get to that… the top is still held by Carl Cox, Sasha, John Digweed, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren.  They’re all quite old.  I’m not surprised you have all these older musicians because that’s a different culture but in club culture you’d expect them to be younger.  I mean, I’m going to Brazil tomorrow to DJ, in Sao Paulo – I’m still getting away with it at the ripe-old age of 56.  It’s fucking fantastic! 


Reading the memoir, it’s quite clear you’ve got a lot of issues with Bernard Sumner [Joy Division guitarist/New Order lead singer] but there’s also a sense of affection.  Is there any chance, even if you don’t reconvene with him on a professional level, you might reconvene on a personal level?


[Sighs]  The sort-of business fracas, which is regardless of the personal fracas… I mean, when I saw that Billboard interview he did the other day, he attacked me on several levels which I found very distasteful and it surprised me after all this time of him having New Order back, that he’s still so angry and bitter about me.  I take it as a great compliment.  It’s fucking proper got under his skin.  It’s like he’s got the prize but he still wants to have a go at you. It’s quite strange.


Maybe it shows he cares about you, the fact he’s still so angry?


Well, definitely.  Me taking my ball in, it upset him, and when he took his ball in in 1990, when he split the band to go off and do Electronic [Sumner’s first post-New Order band], it was OK then.  When I came to do that in 2006 it was not OK.  I think it’s definitely a bit of, “Don’t do as I do, just do as I say.”  It’s an odd situation to be in but mainly it comes down to business.  I’m not trying to stop them playing as New Order and I’m not trying to stop them using the name.  I’m just unhappy with the way that the business side of our relationship has been worked out and I’m mounting a legal challenge to try and rectify that.  The thing is, you sort of picked the wrong time to ask.  You know when you split up with someone and they’re throwing your stuff out of the window and burning your best shoes – it’s like in that moment somebody asking you, “Will you ever get back with her?” [Laughs]  “NO, SHE’S BURNING MY FUCKING SHOES!”  [Laughs]  “Maybe in a couple of years, when it’s all quietened down,” and that’d be your answer wouldn’t it? If you ask it me in two years when we’ve resolved the legal fracas then I might be able to go, “Well, you never know, I bumped into him the other day, we had a coffee, it was lovely”.


Do you have any memories of playing in Leicester, having played here with both Joy Division and New Order?


Yeah, De Montfort Hall.  Our lighting guy’s from Leicester so I know it quite well to be honest.  I like the accent.  [Laughs]  We always take the piss out of him for his accent.  That’s what you do when you’re from Manchester and it’s quite funny.  So yeah, I do remember it quite fondly.  I mean, we did some great English gigs in those days because you never had the choice.  As soon as New Order got the choice we fucked off to America and we hardly played in England at all.  But in those days you used to play a lot of places, like the Blue Note in Derby, and Rock City in Nottingham.  I love playing, I always have done.  It’s always been an absolute pleasure to me that I’ve never had to have a proper job in thirty-four years, it’s been such a blessing, and I can get out and fucking troll around on stage, even now at 56 without embarrassing myself – hopefully.  So no, I do remember them [the gigs] all very fondly.  I’m looking forward, actually, to doing the New Order book from that point of view, being able to relive that time, which was wonderful.  It was a struggle at first, when we first started as New Order, but in the middle there was a real sense of achievement that we’d sort of managed to put Joy Division to one side and get on with it, and create a new style of music as well.  That unique cross between rock and dance purely came about because Barney [Sumner] wanted to go dance-y and I wanted us to stay rock-y – and there you go, whole new genre.


In New Order or Joy Division, what bassline are you most proud of having written?


It changes but generally, my best one for dexterity – there’s a big word for me at this time of day – is ‘Twenty Four Hours’.  ‘She’s Lost Control’ not far behind, actually.  Great, great bassline, that one.  I did some crackers in Joy Division, I must admit!


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