The Collapse Board Interview: Peter Hook
Interview by Tom McCall
Photo by Laurent Bruguerolle Photographie
Peter Hook and the Light have been performing tours across the world to play the music of Joy Division and New Order since it’s formation in 2011. His unmistakably unique and now legendary basslines forming the backbone of Joy Division and continuing his extraordinary career through New Order until his split with the band, Peter is now out on a mission to celebrate the decades of landmark and influential music that he has been a key component of, accompanied by a band including his son Jack and members of the band Monaco. They are currently set to tour Australia for Joy Division: A Celebration which will see them perform both Unknown Pleasures and Closer in full, as well as an opening set of New Order songs.
I talked to Peter over Zoom while he was preparing for a quick string of Ireland shows before he embarks on the Australia tour. He’s always been a musical hero of mine so seeing “Peter Hook has joined the waiting room” on my Zoom meeting was a uniquely surreal and daunting experience that was immediately brought down to earth by how affable and full of great stories he was in our conversation.
Collapse Board: You’ve been touring the Joy Division and New Order albums for quite a while now, about a decade if I’m correct, what initially led you to start playing the Joy Division albums again after so long? It seems like there were decades between the end of Joy Division and when you started revisiting the material, so what sparked this?
Peter Hook: To be honest what sparked it was the New Order split. When you were in New Order, it was all too easy to just ignore everything to do with Joy Division. We were very fixated on making New Order a success regardless of anything else. When we split up, and looking at things from the outside, I thought why haven’t we celebrated anything to do with Joy Division? When Ian left us and the band finished we were a very small, very cult group, his death attracted a lot of attention but it didn’t really have much of an effect on the stature of the band. Then New Order became very big and Joy Division caught up and yet as a group we’d not celebrated anything to do with Joy Division. 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 25 years of Joy Division and you’re selling the same amount of records as New Order and yet we blithely ignored it. As soon as we split up, I thought, shit, we should celebrate something to do with Joy Division. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand my thinking. I think there’d been a very mutual crumbling of our relationship in New Order anyway and Joy Division always has the wonderful untouched feeling. Because I was doing nothing else and I wasn’t employed I thought how could I celebrate something to do with Joy Division? I was reading an interview with Bobby Gillespie and he was talking about how his favourite tracks on Screamadelica were the ones they didn’t play and I thought that was exactly like us in Joy Division, your favourite tracks became the ones you didn’t play.
CB: Is that just because you haven’t played them much and so they’re still a bit fresh and new to you?
PH: I think it was just because the ones that were difficult you didn’t do and you’d just play the simplest ones just because it was easier. The thing is that Joy Division never got to play most of the tracks on Closer because it was released posthumously. So you’d never actually finished off your work, so there was still a lot of yearning for it. I didn’t want to pretend to be Joy Division – my big bone of contention with New Order is that, in my opinion, they’re pretending to be New Order. I was desperate to find a way to celebrate it without falling into that trap. Now the idea of playing the album in full, it struck me that most people have only heard the albums, they hadn’t really heard Joy Division. I had the idea of celebrating Martin Hannett’s input, which I must admit I didn’t appreciate at the time but over the years I’ve grown to realise the guy had a lot of vision so it was all there: play the albums.
CB: You were saying that the Closer tracks are really nice to finally perform and there are obviously difficult times to contend with but does playing these albums again mainly bring back fond memories of the Joy Division years, do you look back and see them as exciting times more than anything?
PH: (Laughs) Doesn’t bring back many fond memories of New Order mate, I’ll tell you that. It’s the strangest feeling in the world because to be honest with you talking about it now it seems like a dream and in many ways it seems like a fragment of a dream because it was so long ago and we were so cruelly thwarted, to have Ian taken away was devastating without a shadow of a doubt. But to be able to play the music and to watch my son play it as I did is great. Because I couldn’t find any singers, because they were scared off by the keyboard terrorists, Rowetta from the Happy Mondays said to me “You’re gonna have to sing Hooky, no-one else has got the guts.” I was the only one that would, I mean Ian Curtis’ shoes were very big shoes to fill. I must admit I did not relish it but having my son playing bass was quite a nice compromise.
To be honest with you the weirdest moments I’ve had are when we were working out the songs, that gave me the real déjà vu moments. Watching Jack, who looks like me when I was 20, because he was the same age I was when we made Unknown Pleasures. It was crazy, just a really strange thing to witness but to get those songs back and to be able to play Closer was absolutely wonderful and exorcised a lot of ghosts for me to get that album in particular back. The weird thing was that when I was starting to do the gigs, I did wonder what audience it would attract because I love the music so much and it seemed like such a pleasure to play it that I didn’t know whether there’d be a lot of like-minded people but as it turns out there is a lot of likeminded people.
Practically the only people who’ve criticised the playing are the other members of Joy Division (laughs) which is a bit weird. So I’m in good company and we’re all there to celebrate a great band and celebrate great music in the way we know best and it’s just a great thing to do, I love it.
It really has given me, if anything, a reason to live as a musician. Getting those songs back and being able to play New Order’s catalogue as well which was for the 95% part ignored by New Order is wonderful too so I get to do both. If anything for the fans, while they don’t like to be witness to the cat-calling fight that the members are having over both New Order and Joy Division, they do get a lot more of the music played than they ever did before. It’s quite an unusual situation without a doubt but it’s great to do it and I love it and I’m very lucky to have the members of Monaco with me. I actually worked out the other day, I’ve played with Pottsy from Monaco for longer than I did with the members of New Order, I’ve been playing with him for 30 odd years. Anyway I’m very lucky, I never thought I’d be at my age and still playing music.
CB: You mentioned before that with Joy Division in its original run, you didn’t have that level of acclaim and it wasn’t nearly as well-known a band as it would become. Did you have any sense that any of this would happen, that these recordings would be seen later as landmark albums that would become really influential over the decades or was it just completely not part of your thinking?
PH: No, it wasn’t part of my thinking to be honest with you, it was just about survival and getting to the next gig, or even getting a next gig. The only one that foresaw that type of acclaim was Ian Curtis. He would sit there and deliberate at length about how big we were going to be and how influential we were going to be and all the places we were gonna go and us three would just sit there with our mouths open going “Wow, this is some ultimate self-belief.” It was fantastic, and it did teach you a lesson, being in a group is about having self-belief because if you get a bad review you don’t give up, don’t you? You go “He’s a fuckin’ idiot” and carry on. There’s a lot of self-belief in pushing yourself in the hope that if you play your music the world will catch up and Ian had that down to a T.
CB: He was right in the end, out of everyone, he completely saw how your music would reach a worldwide audience and be so influential.
PH: Yeah he would tell us that we’re gonna tour Brazil, we’re gonna be massive in America, we’re gonna be all over Canada and we were like “Wow” and at this point we’re playing to like 100 people in Manchester. He did have that foresight which in a funny way makes it even more tragic that he never got to see it or got to realise that he was actually 100 percent right and Joy Division would go on to be one of the most influential bands in the world. I hold my hands up, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been in two massively influential groups, Joy Division and New Order and in a completely different way, it is absolutely incredible. I am very lucky and I know that. My wife always goes to great lengths to tell me to shut the fuck up and to realise what you’ve got and what you’re doing and how much you enjoy it and there are aspects of course, like the ongoing fight with the members of New Order which is a very sad and traumatic thing to go through. But what I do is I look at it as a balance – I have a great time playing it, I love meeting people who love music as much as I do and on the other hand for me to be allowed and able to do that I have to put up with all the shit that comes with the rest of it. It’s like you buy a new pair of shoes, you love ‘em and then you step in dog shit, it’s like that isn’t it? Life’s like that.
CB: Along with how influential Joy Division’s music has been, it seems that generation after generation of young people are still finding those albums to resonate with them and they always remain relevant and widely popular. What do you think it is that keeps the music appealing to new generations of young people even after all these years?
PH: Well personally I think the generations don’t really change. Unknown Pleasures was written when we were all around 20 years old, so we were very confused, coming out of our teens and it wasn’t a great time economically or from a culture point of view in England. We were desperate to do something, we didn’t know what. We found a solace in punk – in its rebellion, in its anarchy, in its unpredictable way of living whereas it seemed like your life was quite predictable in those times. You get a job, you stay in it all your life and you should appreciate that. We were like “No, fuck that. We wanna burn the world.” The thing is that every kid goes through the same thing – that uncertainty about what’s gonna happen in the future, what’s expected of you, what you’re going to do, how you’re gonna make yourself happy. You’re looking around the world and thinking “How am I going to be a part of this” and how am I going to enjoy it, that is still the same for every human being at that age and we were lucky to find a cause which was punk and to be able to work through it and to dictate as a group how we were going to treat our fans and how as a group we were going to treat ourselves and try to be true to the cause that we championed.
Joy Division were one of the longest lasting independent groups because of Factory Records. Joy Division might not exist as a group but they were still independent until about ’96 when Factory went bankrupt. New Order were also independent, we also handled ourselves in a very unique and very uncompromising way, until we signed to a major label and you just became another commodity but we were actually one of the longest running independent groups in the way that nobody could tell us what to do, nobody could tell us how to act and people appreciate that I think still. The Hacienda played a big part in it, so did the championing of post-punk, acid house, Madchester. It was all intrinsic with Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order and The Hacienda. All that massive cultural explosion was centred on Manchester and it was because of Tony Wilson and his attitude towards Factory Records. We were happy to be involved with all of that and it was fantastic.
CB: It’s pretty amazing, just as a music fan looking back at that initial scene in Manchester in the late 70’s because you had bands like Joy Division, The Fall, The Buzzcocks and Magazine all coming up at the same time, all very different bands but all still so important and influential in different ways over the years.
PH: All passionate about what they did as well, very passionate.
CB: I guess you wouldn’t have had that much of a sense when you were starting out where it was all leading to but it’s amazing how much creativity was coming out of the same place at the same time.
PH: Believe me mate, we were very aware of the competition (laughs). There was a lot of competition and the bands you mentioned are what are considered the more well-known bands, maybe from a commercial point of view. But there was a lot of other bands that you were fighting with for gigs, a lot of other competition and Manchester was very, very healthy. The Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall inspired a generation of people to become musicians and try to change the world in their own way and the trouble was you kept tripping over each other because there’s so many of you. If you look at bands like The Passage or you look at Ludus, there were some very influential groups from a cultural point of view that were also around at that time. So it was a great time to be a musician and I will always think that somebody up there must’ve liked us because we were in the right place at the right time on many, many occasions. These are happenings that I think we’ll never see again, like punk and the Sex Pistols, you’ll never see a revolution like that again. Factory Records, Fast Product, all these wonderful record labels that went on to literally change the world of music.
CB: It doesn’t seem like there’s as much of the same sort of infrastructure and ability to support yourself independently that allowed those types of scenes to flourish anymore.
PH: But is it more about characters, about people than infrastructure? Because the thing is that there aren’t many Tony Wilsons in the world, there aren’t many Rob Grettons [New Order’s manager]. What they did in creating The Hacienda was so influential in many cultural aspects whether it be fashion, music or politics. I don’t know, I mean obviously you’re not as old as me but sometimes you think “God, do we go on about it too much”, is it off-putting to other people, does it stop people doing things because you’re always going on about these earth-shattering moments that you were party to. I can see that it would make some people give up.
CB: Well it’s definitely a very high bar to clear.
PH: Well the truth of it is as a musician, the bar comes from within. I was talking about a wonderful musician just today actually – a friend of mine was telling me about this fantastic guitarist who was in a group in Manchester. They nearly made it, were just about to break through and their singer left and he never recovered from that. That is an awful position to be in, because it wasn’t anything of your doing that stopped you being successful, somebody else did it and the poor kid has never been able to rise from that shadow. Instead of bursting through it, it still colours his life. It does take a certain type of person to be able to carry on against all the odds and fight right the way through to be heard. I’m just delighted if someone comes up to me and says “Hey Hooky! I started bass because of you”, I’m like “Yeah man, I hope it works out for you the same way it worked out for me” (laughs). But it is about inspiration, I was inspired by watching the Sex Pistols for no apparent reason really. It seems ridiculous now that I’d go and see a group and give up my day job and risk the ongoing wrath of my mother for year after year going “Why did you give up your job!”. No matter what you achieved in the group, she never recovered from the fact that I gave up a good job, she just didn’t get it. So it does take a lot of courage, and there’s a lot of luck in the world and I was very lucky to meet Barney [Bernard Sumner] and Steve Morris and to find Ian Curtis because it gave me a bedrock that my whole career has been based on. It is about luck, but what do people say? You make your own luck.
Australia has always been a wonderful market for Joy Division and New Order ever since the early 80’s. The first time we toured Australia was with Viv Lees and Ken West, who went on to do Big Day Out and we were the first international band they brought to Australia in 1982 and it started a very healthy, very wonderful relationship with Australia for both bands. It is always such a pleasure to have that support, I think Australia’s been one of the places we’ve toured the most since I started celebrating the music of Joy Division. I couldn’t be happier, it’s just such a gift.
CB: The shows have been selling out too, in big venues so there’s clearly a huge amount of support over here.
PH: Yeah thank God (laughs). I’ve always tried really hard to show the right amount of respect not only for the music but for the people that I’m playing music to. It’s humbling, it really is and, like I said to you before, I could not be grateful enough and I’m gonna do my best to do it justice.
CB: So you’ve been obviously performing the Joy Division and New Order material for a while and you’ve had a few features on other musical projects recently, have you been recording or writing any new material or do you have any plans to?
PH: Well to be honest with you I never stop. I’m doing a track at the moment with Rusty Egan – drummer from the Rich Kids and Visage. He keeps phoning me up and going “Hooky have you finished that track?” and I’m like “Fuckin’ hell give me a break mate, I’m trying to play Joy Division.” I’ve also got a wonderful project on the go with Leeds University which is quite an interesting one. We work there with a guy called Alan Dunne on the music course and he does an experimental course for the students annually. So I’ve got to do a track with him. I love it because he gives you quite a good brief, he emailed me a couple of weeks ago and said “Right Hooky we want a track that’s 2 minutes long and it’s an answer to Paul Young’s song Tender Trap.”
CB: Wow that’s quite a restriction
PH: Yeah and the Paul Young LP he’s talking about which is No Parlez was the first time Joy Division made any money because he covered ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. So it’s quite interesting, I’m looking forward to it and his brief is “Do whatever you want as long as it’s 2 minutes long exactly and somehow culturally answers Tender Trap by Paul Young” (laughs). So that’s a thing I’ll be working on when I get back from Australia.
You know, I’m going to be honest, I miss being in a group for that aspect of writing and having the tour, LP, tour, LP process. I do miss that, I have to say. I haven’t found a situation I’ve been in which feels in any way permanent so I still flip from group to group and project to project. Some are more successful than others – Aries, the Gorillaz song was wonderful.
CB: That’s a fantastic song
PH: It’s a wonderful achievement. He (Damon Albarn) gave me a #1 in America when I really needed one. Going into lockdown and not being able to play and having nothing going on, for him to do that was wonderful.
CB: Yeah because that was right around the start of the pandemic so it must’ve been nice to have that bit of insurance
PH: Yeah it came out right in the middle of lockdown, it was such a great track and I must admit that when the Gorillaz fans started a petition for me to be put in the band permanently I was very flattered (laughs).
Peter Hook and The Light – Joy Division: A Celebration Tour Dates
November 17 MELBOURNE – Croxton Bandroom
November 18 MELBOURNE – The Forum
November 19 SYDNEY – Enmore Theatre
November 21 AUCKLAND – Powerstation
November 22 WELLINGTON – San Fran
November 23 CHRISTCHURCH – James Hay Theatre
November 25 BRISBANE – The Tivoli
November 27 ADELAIDE – The Gov
November 28 PERTH – Astor Theatre