Interview: Peter Hook performs Joy Division's new wave, melancholy masterpieces, Unknown Pleasures and Closer
- Allan Brown
- 27 November 2012
Uber-fan of Joy Division Allan Brown gets a chat with one of his musical heroes, Peter Hook
Peter Hook is one of the most gratifyingly paradoxical figures in all of heritage indie-rock, if that’s a thing. The man and the music just don’t match. The latter, as represented by New Order and particularly by Joy Division, is by turns intense, vexed, haunted, darkly neurotic: a journey into urban night and emotional collapse. The man, meanwhile, gives the impression he’ll fix your dodgy boiler by lunchtime.
Hooky is one of the most fondly regarded musical cartoons ever sketched: a no-nonsense, two-fisted, plain-speaking northener; a long-haired rock Viking; the man who has conducted the longest stag night in history. Yet also the co-creator of some of the most exquisitely maudlin music in the annals of heritage indie-rock. If that’s a thing. Having cherished his work since 1978, I tell him I attended a signing he held in Glasgow last month, for his recent Joy Division memoir Unknown Pleasures: 'That’s right,' he says. 'You were the tall blonde in fishnets, weren’t you?' And then we laughed.
Renowned primarily for his fluid, melodic bass style and his low-slung playing stance, Hook is back next month, in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, with his band The Light. He is soundly, but happily, in nostalgia mode these days. The Light play the albums of Joy Division - the New Wave nervous breakdown of Unknown Pleasures; the funereal majesty of Closer - complete and in the proper order; even the 1981 rarities collection Still. Next year they move onto the corpus of New Order: 'At their last gig New Order played 23 songs,' he notes. 'We do 26!' Around this, he has built up a portfolio of associated pursuits: as globetrotting DJ, consultant at the university of Lancashire, chronicler of the Madchester and Hacienda scene; author, curator and raconteur now approaching the status of a post-punk Peter Ustinov; he’s a tribute act to himself, effectively, and to the others with whom he played: Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s late vocalist; Bernard Sumner and Steven Morris, his now-estranged confreres in both groups.
Does he worry that he’ll run out of yesterdays, that his back story will prove finite? 'I’m not really bothered, and I’m not bothered that it’s all nostalgic,' he says. 'I just like keeping busy and having ten things on the go. Usually, if someone asks me I’ll do it, and worry about it later. The bands were brilliant, Factory Records and Manchester were filled with the most amazing characters and I was in the middle of it all - why would I turn my back on that?'
There’s no shortage, though, of those who wish he had. The split between him, Sumner and Morris is vicious and irreparable, expressed in scandalised aggression on Hook’s part and theatrical disappointment from the others. The latter can’t forgive the bassist for buying rights to the Hacienda name and for setting up a full-time Joy Division covers band. The ghost of Ian Curtis needs considering too. The troubled vocalist hung himself in 1980; inducing some need, Sumner and Morris argue, for taste and sanctity around any exploitation of the brand.
Hook’s response is flinty and Anglo-Saxon. The others were content to let Joy Division’s heritage fall into disrepair and expressed interest in their pasts only when Hook revisited it to acclaim: 'The thing is, Bernard’s a twat and always has been,' he says. 'It’s all just business to them. This is the way their minds work. If a band splits each member walks away with their share. If you leave, you walk away with nothing. So it’s always been in their interests to say, well, Hooky is volatile, he walked out, he wanted to do this rip-off Joy Division thing and we wouldn’t let him. No, we split up over a long time because we grew apart.
'I much preferred it when we did everything for love, because it’s shit being a grown-up and dealing with all this petty penny-pinching. It’s just a fact of life, bands make their best records when money isn’t an issue, because no fucker has any.'
The legacy of Hook’s past confronts him in hauntingly, typically Joy Division ways too. His son Jack (has there been a name more piratical than Jack Hook?) plays bass in The Light; as does Hook, though he concentrates on the vocals. 'Because no other bastard can do them right. It was Rowetta from the Happy Mondays said to me, they’re all shit, Hooky, do them yourself.' Jack is currently 23, Hook’s age when Joy Division made Unknown Pleasures. 'He’s got the same kind of stance as me, the same aggression,' Hook says. 'I look over at him when we’re playing sometimes, he’ll be doing a riff I wrote way back then. Let me tell you, until you’ve experienced that you don’t fucking know what spooky means…'
Peter Hook and The Light play The Garage, Aberdeen on Tue 4 Dec; Fat Sam’s, Dundee on Wed 5 Dec and the Liquid Room, Edinburgh on Thu 6 Dec.
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, by Peter Hook is out now, published by Simon & Schuster.