Banjo chats to to Joy Division and New Order’s bass viking about self belief, starting again and the absence of a happy ending.
Peter Hook, his bass lines and his bands have been an integral part of this writer’s life since I was but a youth of some 16 summers.
Joy Division became the first band I saw at Eric’s, way back in 1978. Even then, they so impressed me so that I took every chance to see them again. When they morphed into New Order, following Ian Curtis’ shocking, awful death, their music was with me still, soundtracking my life. I would struggle to think of a musician that has such an impeccable canon of songs at their disposal, and of songs that have meant so much to me and many other people over the years.
In fifteen minutes I am going to be speaking to Peter Hook and I am beside myself with nerves and excitement. Hooky has long been one of those ‘celebrities’ (for want of a better word) who you can imagine going for a pint with, or going on a lads’ holiday with. In fifteen short minutes I could tell Peter Hook that I can imagine being on holiday with him. I must not tell Peter Hook that I can imagine being on holiday with him. The nerves are kicking in.
After all this excitement, Hooky instantly comes across as a normal, talkative guy and somehow, his normalness calms things down and within minutes we’re talking as if we’ve known each other for ages.
I wondered if he feels any special affinity with Liverpool, seeing as a good number of his early, formative gigs have been played out here.
PH: Well, in my youth, there was obviously the rivalry [between Liverpool and Manchester] and that was only dispelled when I joined a group, because then I started going to Liverpool and realising that the people did have a massive affinity with great music.
Roger Eagle, who started Eric’s, actually started out managing a club in Manchester didn’t he? And from the moment when we started playing there as Warsaw, we had a massive affinity with Liverpool. And it was quite odd really, because you have these football rivalries that are very deeply entrenched and then all of a sudden you realise that it’s bloody rubbish! [Laughs] And we recorded a lot of music at Parr Street and Amazon and I’m very happy to say that in many ways Liverpool feels like home to me when I get there.
Did you feel in the early days that Joy Division stood out from other bands who were around at the same time as you?
Well the oddest thing about being in a group is that you need ultimate self-belief. Now some of that self-belief with some groups may seem a little…misguided [laughs], but you do have to have belief. I don’t think there’s a group out there that thinks they’re crap! They all think they’re great and that they all stand out and it is, to be honest, a very important criteria of being in a group.
It really pisses me off when I watch the X Factor and it’s all about what other people think of you. And they’re begging to be told if they’re any good. And it always freaks me out because I’m thinking what would Simon Cowell have said to Joy Division, to Ian Curtis, to Ian Brown? What would he have said to Johnny Rotten? These are real characters that have lived with us for a long time, he would have written them off immediately. That’s one thing that’s never changed, you’ve got to believe in yourself.
One thing that stands out about your career is that you’ve never been afraid of starting again, paying and repaying your dues…
Well it wasn’t just me. Both Bernard and Stephen had a massive affinity on starting again, because every time we made it we would start again. In 1988/89 when we split up for the first time, we were playing to 30,000 people, and the odd thing is it meant nothing, we still split up.
Anyone watching it would think ‘Oh my god look at them, they’ve got everything. They’ve got success, they’re feted, what a wonderful world’ and yet really we fucking hated each other. And we couldn’t stand being in that position, so we all started again.
Barney [Bernard Sumner] with Electronic and I started again with Revenge. And being in a group is even more risky now than in my day, because then if you made a record and that record went well you could get on the road to success. Nowadays people treat being in a group as a hobby.
And speaking of Barney…
We really do have a lot in common even now. But I haven’t seen him for a while. We both live in the same village, he lives half a mile outside it and I live a quarter of a mile outside it on the other side. So occasionally I’ll drive past him or he’ll drive past me. But the legal case is awful. It’s still ongoing and its heart breaking.
The only good thing about it is that I had to wait 55 years to suffer from it. I remember Andy Rourke [of The Smiths] telling me that it was the worst thing he’d ever been through in his life, and I thought ‘What a drama queen’.
But it is awful, it’s awful. But you’ve got to fight for what you believe in haven’t you? It has to be said it’s about survival and what they did was very personal, taking the band off you. It’s like your wife divorcing you, never letting you back in and then telling you how much you’re getting.
They do say that the only people to get rich from a court case are the lawyers.
My lawyers are loaded man! They’re coming to the gig in Liverpool and it’ll be their limos outside!
You’re playing both Joy Division and New Order’s Substance albums on this tour. Which of them do you prefer to play?
New Order’s music is different to Joy Division’s, both aurally and in the way you have to play it. It might not sound it, because it might sound poppier, but New Order’s music is difficult to play. We have to concentrate and do a lot of work on New Order’s Substance and then when you get to Joy Division, all of a sudden it’s a completely different ball game. We click, we relax and it feels very, very natural.
It’s a lot like the story of the two groups – Joy Division was very balanced and very equal and then when we got to New Order the balance had tipped and it made it a little bit awkward. I never noticed it when we were together, but since I’ve come to play the music now I’ve noticed it more and more.
How is it playing your old songs with a new band?
I love it, I really enjoy it. When I started The Light I wouldn’t play in England, because I felt that the English were against us [laughs]. So I went everywhere else. But our manager, who’s from Liverpool, said ‘Why do you never play in England?’ And I said ‘Because no one likes us in England”. So he said to me ‘That’s bollocks’. And he was absolutely right because every time we do play we have a great time.
And it’s nice to do it. We got a lot of negative press for doing it, before we even did it! It scared off the singers, I had three singers lined up and none of them would do it because of the keyboard terrorists.
The weird thing is to be criticised for playing your own music. Some of the songs had never been played live, and it’s still the same for New Order – a lot of the songs that The Light play are b sides and so on, and most of them had never been played. You look at a song like Age of Consent, and I got the shock of my life to think that, until The Light started it hadn’t been played for 18 years.
It was always a big frustration for me with Barney and Steve that they would not play the older music. And it was a terrible waste I felt. I can’t believe that they would think I would somehow denigrate the songs or do it badly. And now, were creeping up on New Order, we’re playing the same venues as them, especially abroad.
I’ve managed to take Joy Division all round the world, which I think Ian Curtis would have been very proud of that, he really would. And to end up doing massive gigs in Brazil and Mexico Is a great compliment to Joy Division as a group. It’s not me, I didn’t write the music on my own.
Do you find it strange thinking how big Joy Division have become in their absence?
Well Rob Gretton was great at that. After the inquest in Macclesfield when we were sat there feeling very dejected, he said ‘Don’t worry, Joy Division are going to be huge in 10, 15, 20 years,’ and we just went ‘Bollocks!’ We just didn’t even entertain it, but he was absolutely right, they’re bigger now than they have ever been.
One last question before you go, are you planning on writing any more books?
Well I was tempted to write Outside New Order, because the legal battle has been a hell of a story. But the problem with the three books is that none of them have a happy ending. And if I did Outside New Order, that wouldn’t have a happy ending either. So I’m desperate to do a book that has a happy ending and I’m hoping that I don’t have to resort to fiction. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
And so will we all. The story of Peter Hook surely deserves a happy ending. Not that we’re wishing for an ending of any kind just yet, not while there are more gigs to play, more tales to tell and more surprises from one of music’s best.