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Hello My Name Is Peter Hook

| September 4, 2022

 

PETER HOOK

 

Arguably, Mancunian musician Peter Hook’s primary survival skill is his totally unique bass-playing style, a melodic, stage-scraping thrum that — ever since he launched with the legendary but short-lived outfit Joy Division, then perfected it in his ensuing combo New Order; it’s a sound that’s often been imitated but never once been equaled. But he has other similarly important abilities. A secondary skill, only tangible in sparkling, often snarky conversation with the man is his droll, rapier-sharp wit. So there’s nothing surprising about the hilarious preface he proffers to a recent discussion of his current Peter Hook and the Light tour — wherein he’ll be playing Joy Division’s landmark two-album catalog, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, back to back two albums long due to the untimely 1980 suicide of its baritone vocalist Ian Curtis.“I must admit that the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid was when I was reading an article about the bass player from Nirvana, who was going to play Nevermind completely with a new band,” he deadpans. “And the reviewer, his first opening line of the review was, ‘I blame Peter Hook for this!’ And I thought that was wonderful — what a compliment!”

At 66, Hook’s scrappy sense of humor has sustained him through some turbulent times, such as his ongoing feuds with New Order, financial and otherwise, with whom he permanently split in 2007— after the inimitable Curis, who created the trademark Joy Division sound? Many fans would side with Hook and his remarkable bass, although — after fronting side projects like Revenge and Monaco — he passed off bass duties in Light to his son, Jack Bates. He wanted to concentrate on singing, he explains, as descending into the catacomb-deep level of Ian Curtis is not an easy task. But he never took vocal lessons, he swears, as his new outfit began exclusively covering only the Joy Division and New Order catalogs on tour. “I did the best lessons in the world,” he says. “Which was to carry on doing it, so I got better from year to year. I was absolutely terrified when I started, but now I really enjoy it. And you know, you so desperately want to do it justice, not for me, but for Ian and for the audience. Because without them, I would be nothing.” Hook playfully expands on this topic and many others in the following candid mid-tour chat….

IE: In all the times we talked, I kept forgetting to tell you this story. Back in the early ‘80s, when I was still living in the Midwest, I interviewed Bono on U2’s “October” tour, when they were — weirdly enough — opening for J Geils. My best friend and I wound up spending the day with him, shopping for knickknacks, but at the start of the interview, I said, “You guys are my second favorite band in the world right now.” And he was miffed at first and angrily asked who ranked First, And when I responded, “Joy Division,” he laughed and said, “That is the only answer I would have accepted!” And then, he went on to tell a story of how he was desperately trying to finish a song at the piano called “A Day Without Me” when the phone rang, and it was Ian Curtis’ wife, who had just become a widow. He and Ian were actually friends, he explained, and he promptly sat back down at the keyboards and finished the song in 15 minutes, he said. I told him I was moving to San Francisco, and a few years later, on U2’s  War tour, I went backstage to say hello to the opening act, Mike Scott, when I bumped into Bono again. And he smiled and said, “Joy Division Guy! You made it to San Francisco!” And that’s what I became known by in the U2 camp — Joy Division Guy. I haven’t shared that story very often, but I swear it’s all true!

PETER HOOK: Ha! Well, I’ll tell you what — there’s worse things to be known by, aren’t there? But I was just talking about meeting U2 for a magazine in Brussels, Belgium, and the guy was asking how I met them for the first time, and they came to discuss doing their first single with Martin Hannett in Britannia Row, right when we were recording “Closer.” So as much as I admire Bono, his timing was, errr….we were recording Closer toward the end of 1979 into 1980, and Martin Hannett disappeared from the control room, and we were just sat there. I mean, we recorded Closer in three weeks, so we were being very energetic, shall we say, with our time. The idea being that we worked very hard during the day so that Ian could rest during the night and have a proper life. So we were on it, all the time. Then Martin disappeared, and we all sat there, going, “Where the fuck has he gone?” Nobody wanted to go and get him, but in the end, I said, “Fuck it — I’ll go and get him.” So I went into the office where he was, and he was sat there with these 15-year-old pimply kids, and I went, “Martin! What the fuck are you doing? We’re supposed to be working! Can you come back?” And he went, “Oh, I’m just sorting out a single for these lads!” And I said, “Well, we need to work — will you pack it in?” And that was U2! So if Bono managed to get together a friendship with Ian from that point — because he certainly didn’t know Ian then — then I will leave that to him.

IE: Is Martin Hannett still alive?

PH: No. Martin died from a heart attack. He had many, many problems with drugs, and he actually got clean when he had his son, and he was very happy about being a father. So he cleaned himself up after years and years of proper drug abuse, and then he had a heart attack, which I believe is quite standard when you get clean. So no, he’s been gone a long time; God bless him. But he did give us his immortality through Joy Division’s music, which is incredible, really. And that was the point of me playing the LPs, to feature as much of Martin’s contribution to Joy Division as our own. I didn’t want to just imitate the group — I’ll leave that to New Order.

IE: How did you accomplish that?

PH: How did I transcribe it? It was quite easy, actually. Because Joy Division, live, were completely different from Joy Division on record. Martin actually made us sound much more mature, much more lasting, more immortal. And the thing is that JoyDivision were a punk band, and when Barney played guitar, there were no keyboards, and when he played keyboards, there was no guitar. So there was no layering or anything. We were just a straightforward, meat-and-potatoes punk band, very angular, very edgy. And if we would have done Unknown Pleasures without Martin, it undoubtedly would have sounded like The Clash LP or “Never Mind The Bollocks. It would not have sounded the way that Martin Hannett did it. He recognized a maturity in our songwriting that we didn’t know because we were a bunch of raving lunatics. Martin quite rightly said that Joy Division was a gift to a producer because we were such idiots, but we wrote such great songs, And we didn’t have a clue what was going on — we didn’t know anything. We were 19 when we wrote Unknown Pleasures, and we were 20 when we wrote Closer. And I think you’re allowed not to know what you’re doing at that age, aren’t you?

IE: I still remember your notorious show at San Francisco’s  I-Beam after I moved here in ’82. The crowd kept yowling for you to play “Blue Monday” until the very end, when Bernard condescendingly sneered, “What song is it you wanna hear? ‘Blue Monday’? What a surprise.” And he sang it with his back turned to the audience.

PH: He’s not changed, mate! He hasn’t changed, I believe. But you know, it’s an odd one,  really— the attitude that we took into early New Order was very punk. We loved being awkward. We loved being nasty. We loved doing what nobody wanted us to do. You know, it really got us going. I mean, we did an entire tour of Europe as New Order, playing 21 minutes a night! And we had riots every night, so the promoter said to us, “I’m gonna cancel the whole tour if you don’t play longer!” So we put one more song in, and played for 24  minutes! And I can’t imagine what a bunch of dicks travel around as much as we used to do, turn up for a gig, and then get there and play for only 24 minutes.

IE: Actually, one band from that ‘80s era has you beat — The Jesus and Mary Chain.

PH: Yes! The 17-minutes-of-feedback tour! I did security on that tour — I used to work security at (Manchester club) The Hacienda; I was the head of security when they did that tour. And they were fucking awful. It was fucking disgusting; it was fucking shit. And the tour manager came up to me and said, “The crowd is going mad! They’re throwing bottles! You’d better get some security men into the pit because it’s really going off!” And I said, “You want me to put my security men into the pit to get battered after them cunts have just played that horrible shite? Get the band into the pit instead because my guys aren’t going in fuck off!” Ad now, we’re great friends — I see the Reid brothers all the time, and I see Bobby Gillespie all the time, and we all laugh about it now. Like, “Remember when you refused to grant us security that night?”

IE: A cool new folksinger on Rounder Records, Amythyst Kiah, at her manager’s urging, just did a great acoustic cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” And she told me she had no idea about the sacred turf she was walking onto initially and just how seriously fans took Joy Division’s songs. But everyone seems to love her version.

PH: Oh, wow! I’ll have to listen! And you know, it’s quite funny, though, because versions like that — and you hear them a lot in films now — were the inspiration for me to do the Joy Division Classical, to sort of find a different dynamic and take away a lot of the rock elements.

IE: Because for years, it was only Paul Young who dared to attempt a cover.

PH: Yeah, I know! And now there are so many fantastic ones. So to do the Classical is wonderful — I’m doing that in October in England — but to do the Classical versions of the Joy Division songs with the different vocalists, you can really bring out the melancholic aspect, and also you can use much more of Ian’s melodies, which were very delicate, and also get the message across in the vocal because there’s nothing hiding it. Everything complements the vocal, whereas, in Joy Division, Ian was actually fighting the rock side of it all the time. Which worked — don’t say it didn’t work. But it’s just nice to have something different. So hearing some cover versions, I must admit that it was Malcolm McLaren’s cover version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” mashed up with “Love Will Keep Us Together” that was the big inspiration for doing the Classical, as well. And considering that Malcolm McLaren sold me my 50-pence ticket to go and see The Sex Pistols in Manchester, it’s nice that it came right ‘round for him to do a cover version that inspired me to the orchestral production. He worked with a group called Nova Nova on his version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” with Ian’s vocal that they took off the internet. I’m not allowed to use Ian’s vocal, so I have a friend who sings it. But yeah, it’s good. And those cover versions — even though when I was young, I used to hate them, like, “How dare Paul Young do a cover version?” Until my manager told me that it was the first real money we’d ever earned — all thanks to Paul Young! It was quite interesting!

IE: What’s the weirdest cover you ever heard? Where you had to send a letter telling them to Cease and Desist?

PH: Oh, man! The German heavy metal ones! Yeah — German death metal, “Isolazione,” which is “Isolation.” I can’t remember what the band were called, but it was a death metal version of “Isolation,” and it was amazing. Some of them are really wild!  So you get a lot of beautiful ones, and then you get some really ugly ones. I mean, it’s been like that throughout our career. Don’t forget Orgy! Do you remember the group Orgy that did that cover version of “Blue Monday”? That actually earned us a Grammy? A death metal version of “Blue Monday”! It was bloody awful, but it still was the most played on the radio back in 1998 or 1989, and we got a Grammy for it! For one of the most-played death metal songs! So it has to be a compliment, doesn’t it? It has to be a compliment…

IE: What was the most difficult Joy Division song for you, personally, to wrap your head around again? “Atmosphere”? That would be a difficult one, I would think. It sounds like rain.

PH: It’s just wonderful, especially considering that we recorded that song in a 16-track studio in Rochdale, which I later went on to buy and run — it was called Cargo Studios, and Martin actually recorded it. We did it with “Dead Souls,” and we actually gave both songs away to a French record company for a limited edition run. We were so prolific at the time as Joy Division that we thought nothing of giving away these songs. So we gave away “Atmosphere.” and “Dead Souls”! You can’t believe it, can you? We gave them to this guy and said, “We won’t put them on an Lp — we’ll just let you have them!” And he pressed 1561 copies of the record, which was to celebrate the fact that that was when the French last beat the English in a war. So it was a double-edged sword, that one! But “Atmosphere” is a wonderful production; you’d have to say. Even the first ones we did with Martin, which were “Glass” and “Digital” —again, they’re 16-track, two-inch, which is the best recording medium in the world. And he did such a fantastic job, listening to them back, we were like, “Wow!” And it’s weird because when we came to do the LP, Martin did a softer version of Joy Division. “Atmosphere” and “Dead Souls” are very rocky but very had great sound. “Digital” and “Glass” were very upfront and powerful and also very rocky. But he seemed on “Unknown Pleasures” to sort of make them quite dreamy, soft, in a way that we didn’t appreciate at the time. But literally, now, I cannot thank him enough. His genius enabled Joy Division to reach generation after generation after generation of kids and give Joy Division a life that is undeniably incredible, you know?

IE: In San Francisco, in pre-video days, we had a cool movie rep house called The Strand, with three different films a day and big two-month calendars listing all the screenings. And as I recall, you guys had a similar list of movies up in the studio, which was how you randomly selected song titles — by throwing darts at the calendar, I think?

PH: That’s right, yeah! Well, we didn’t throw darts at it, but we used it as a great inspiration. And we stole them, actually, from a gig we did in Berlin at Camp Kino, which was the name of the cinema in Berlin. And they had these posters on the wall of different upcoming films, and we used those posters, I must admit, for nearly every bloody title that we did. And even Camp Kino — we stole that and changed it to “Komakino,” and used that for a song title. And it was great because you never seemed to run out. You never seemed to run out of ideas. If you just looked at one, you found ideas — “Dead Souls,” “Atmosphere.” They really were the gift that kept on going,

IE: But Atrocity Exhibition was a J.G. Ballard book.

PH: Yeah. Ian was reading the book at the time when he wrote “Atrocity Exhibition.” So he was inspired by J.G. Ballard. And Ian had a plastic bag, and it was a Tesco plastic bag that he’d had for ages, that had all his scraps of paper and all of his lyrics in it, and whenever we would play and jam and come up with an idea, he would reach into the bag and pull out all these little slips of paper. And he’d open until he found the little slip of paper that inspired him enough for him to put it in the song. And it was a wonderful thing to watch him do it. And I always wonder what happened to that plastic bag…I always wonder….

IE: How is your son Jack Bates doing? Is he still playing bass with you on tour?

PH: Jack started the tour with us. And now he’s gone off to join The Smashing Pumpkins. Again. He’s actually been playing with The Smashing Pumpkins now for seven years, so he’s doing a big, massive stadium tour with the Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction, and he’s really looking forward to that. It was quite funny because Billy Corgan came and joined us (The Light) in Chicago, and he sang “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” I think, and “Shadowplay,” and then promptly stole my son to join his band, the bastard! But Jack’s having a great time — he gets to play with us, and he gets to play with them, and he gets treated very well by them, I must admit. And he loves them, and he loves Jane’s Addiction — he loves that heavier, more metal-sounding music that Billy does, as well as the melodic ones, so he’s in his element there. And of course, Billy did the LP with New Order, too — on Get Ready, he contributed a lot of guitar and vocals, and we asked him to join us on the tour.

IE: Aside from maybe Simon Gallup from The Cure, it’s pretty much just you who perfected that singular, low-slung melodic-bass sound.

PH: Quite interestingly, though, did Gallup get publishing? Somebody should check because if the songs were all written by Robert (Smith), it meant that he may have been playing melodically, but it was Robert telling him what to do. I mean my mother, God bless her, I remember going to visit her one day, and she was really irate. And she said to me, “Have you heard that band The Cure?” And I went, “Yeah, mum! Why?” And she said, “Oh, my God — they’re ripping you off!” It was “In Between Days,” wasn’t it? But for my mother to spot that? Well, I take these things as a compliment. I mean, U2 are not scared of ripping off Joy Division, are they? So I take it as a compliment. And maybe, if I ever run out of money, I’ll start suing them all. But they’re okay for the time being…

IE: Obviously, you’re still a creative person. Is there an album of all-new Light originals coming?

PH: Yeah. Funnily enough, there was. But it was stopped by Covid. We’d actually started writing some songs together. But I mean, I do a hell of a lot of collaborations. I started a collaboration last week, actually, with Rusty Egan, who used to be in The Rich Kids and Visage — he’s an old friend of mine. And I’m actually doing two collaborations with American groups at the moment, which is quite exciting — I can’t remember their bloody names because it’s just beginning. But for me to get a #1 with (the Gorillaz-sponsored)  Aries, after collaborating with Denman, was wonderful for lockdown for me. It was #1 in America on the Alternative Chart, so that was a great boost for me. And I do miss being in that group-writing thing — LP, tour, LP, tour. I do miss that. But I don’t miss it enough to want to go back to it. Let me put it that way. And there’s a weird kind of guilt that you feel, but the collaborations make up for it. I’m supposed to be doing one very soon with Iggy Pop, with a band called The Limonanas, who I had a #1 hit in France, funnily enough — a collaboration with them, and they’re a great group. So I’m not short of things to do, and that Light LP is still languishing there. We did seven tracks, and my idea was to pool and maybe not even put it out as The Light — put it out as a different name, as Monaco or something. Because The Light is the vehicle for playing Joy Division and New Order, and I don’t want to confuse it — I don’t think the audience would be very happy if all of a sudden we went, “Right — well, we’re not gonna play Joy Division now. We’re gonna play a new song of ours.” I can hear the groans from here. So it’s nice to keep these things separate.

-Tom Lanham

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