Time Out Brisbane

The legendary bassist talks Joy Division, the Light and, ahem, that other band he used to play in…

When Peter Hook announced that his band the Light were touring Australia playing Joy Division’s second and final album, Closer, he had no idea that his other band, New Order, would be touring at much the same time. He’d founded the band with the rest of Joy Division – drummer Steven Morris and guitarist Bernard Sumner – after frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide and his low-slung bass had been a key element of the band’s sound until 2010 when he announced that the band was no more. Since then New Order have returned for tours with Sumner and Morris, returned keyboard player Gillian Gilbert and new members Phil Cunningham (who replaced Gilbert in the '90s) and Tom Chapman on bass, recruited from Sumner and Morris’s other band Bad Lieutenant.
The members have been sniping at each other in the press for years now, but the (nearly) clashing tours lead to a fresh war of words – which is why the following was appended to the confirmation details for this interview: 
MANAGEMENT NOTES: Please note that Hooky won't be commenting about the ongoing situation with the purported New Order reformation and he will be making no additional comments on the matter at this time. 
Clearly, as you will see, no one told Hooky this.
Hooky, how is the world treating you?
The world is treating me OK, actually. I was just on a really good tour of Eastern Europe which worked out really well, I did a gig in Berlin on my birthday which was great, but I’m just sat here looking at the legal papers for my New Order fracas so it’s sort of brought my day crumbling down a little bit. But I’m fine – I’m 56 and still alive so nah it’s good.
Ah. What specific details of the fracas are they related to?
Well the details are very, very complicated. See, I don’t mind them playing the New Order songs – good God, there’s three of them, I have no problems with that at all: my problem is with their use of the name. I don’t think they’re New Order, in the same way that I don’t think that the Light are Joy Division. That’s my opinion, and what they’ve done is they’ve licensed the name New Order from our company. To my mind, I’m not being paid the correct amount of recompense, shall we say. They basically said to me, “Here’s a buck, Hooky, for the use of the name New Order.” And I’m trying to get two bucks.
So at heart it’s about what constitutes New Order?
It all comes down to the same thing: [Bernard] says I left and I say we split. The whole argument stems from that. It just makes me laugh. Steve and Gillian – Gillian in particular, she didn’t really quite add a lot to New Order’s music because she was always very much a silent partner, shall we say, and Steve’s interest waned over the years, very much, so it was always me and Bernard that were the principal songwriters. We were the musical force. And to me, when the two main songwriters stop working together, you have a split. But in Bernard’s world, he says that I left [laughs]. And this argument will just rage on and on and on.
It’s gotta be frustrating after a point though: on some level you must just be like “how are we stillhaving this argument this far down the track?”
Well, this is five years now, so... [laughs] the answer is “yes”. The thing that you do have to bear in mind, all the way through Joy Division and New Order, me and him are very stubborn, we’re quite alike. I always compromised more than he did, but on this I’m not willing to compromise. I don’t have to tow the party line, which is basically do everything Bernard wants. Once you’re outside of it, it becomes business. You have a different perspective: you’re not friends anymore, you’re not working associates, you’re just running businesses. You either run away, or you fight. And on this one we’re both gonna fight. It’d probably be better if you put us in a ring together, wouldn’t it? Just get it over and done with! [laughs]
I’d certainly buy a ticket.
You’d be my second.
Deal. You can tap me, I’ll leap in.
That’s wrestling mate, not boxing.
Well, we can mix it up a bit.
[laughs] At least it’d over with and we can get on with our lives. There’s this article where Bernard intimates that he’s got things that I’ve done that he’s ready to make public, like I haven’t got things that he’s done that I couldn’t make fucking public. My god man, this could be the most fantastic position ever! Unbelievable! [laughs] It’s just me and him, in competition, about this, right since we were 11 fucking years old. And it’s still going on now 45 years later. [laughs] It trundles on, my friend – but can we get back to talking about our celebration of the album?
Surely a lot of these songs on Closer would have been aired live, so this tour is like some weird debut of the songs on stage, 30-odd years late.
The strange thing about Closer is that, it has the feel, when you play it, of sitting in a really tough exam, in school. It really makes me feel like everyone’s listening out, and everybody’s looking at it, whereas with [Joy Division’s debut album] Unknown Pleasures it’s much more balls-out, much easier, and much more confident rock’n’roll. And we all know the connotations of Closer, the lyrics and the music are like a chronicle to Ian’s untimely death.
That’s got to be a huge weight to carry night after night.
Well, I’m singing the bloody thing, so it is, yeah! I’m in the unenviable position of having my son play the bass in the Light, so I don’t get to play bass – which I love. And also [Chapman] playing my bass in New Order, so I’m the only one who doesn't get to play my basslines! [laughs] No fair!
Has going through the record changed your relationship with the songs?
I must admit that singing and the appreciation of Ian’s words and the appreciation of Ian’s work and the vocals has been an absolute delight. It’s very difficult, because I don’t want to impersonate him – you do your own kind of interpretation, and luckily my voice is in the same register as him, or just a little higher. The way he used onomatopoeia is absolutely fantastic. And on Closer, each song barely repeats – and that is one of the tricky things as a vocalist. I have the vocals written down, and trying to learn all those vocals means each song is like a huge, wonderful essay. It is a hell of an undertaking, and again that’s something that I maybe took for granted with Bernard. I mean, the pressure you’re under learning all those words is something I never credited him with, but I’ll give him that one. [laughs].
You’re also writing a book on the Joy Division days, correct?
I just finished the book actually, last Friday. Going through everything in minute detail, is quite… weird. It’s like getting your brain out and cleaning it, making it work perfectly for a couple of weeks and then putting it back in and getting everything out. And to go through each track individually, and each recording experience, and each gig we did as Joy Division, was a mind blowing experience, and now I’m supercharged for Joy Division, absolutely I can remember everything that happened. It’s a weird position to be in, playing the music as well as writing the book… [sighs] A really strange position to be in.
It must also have hurt, going over all those times in that detail, remembering shows and sessions and rehearsals and so on, and to be alienated from the only other two people who you could share that with.
Yeah. There’ve been many occasions in the past couple of weeks.
I surmise that it’s not like you can ring Steve, say, and go “hey man, I was just going though our sets – remember that amazing show in Berlin…”
Bernard doesn’t remember anything. He lives his life not caring and not remembering anything [laughs]. Steve, on the other hand has a very, very good memory, and I must admit over the past few months I’ve really missed not being able to ring him up and say ‘oh, I just wanted to get a certain detail’. That is a great regret, but that’s life isn’t it? People come, people go, you have to get on with it. And that’s why stubbornness and obstinacy are a better settled in the ring, right? [laughs]
Well, you give me a call when have a boxing date. I’ll get some tights sorted.
You go out and get a bucket and a sponge. I want a blue sponge. It would be an homage to [Muhammad] Ali in his ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – but it’d be more like a fart in a bottle wouldn’t it? [laughs uproariously]


Updated on 20 Feb 2012.

By Andrew P Street   |  

Peter Hook video