Love Will Tear You Apart: Peter Hook On Band Schisms, Court Room Battles & Being Seen As “The Villain”

40 years ago, a couple of old school friends in England were inspired to pick up instruments after seeing the Sex Pistols play a show in Manchester. They pulled together some friends and played their first show under the name of Warsaw at Manchester venue Electric Circus, supporting the Buzzcocks. Soon, the band changed their name to Joy Division – and the rest, as they say, is history. Although only together for four years, the band made a massive impact on British music that is still felt to this day. It also established the foundations of what was to come for those two friends that started the whole thing to begin with – Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. As New Order, the two reinvented their sound and became one of the biggest bands of the ’80s, through anthems like ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. Hook, in particular, was known for being the driving force behind both bands; his distinct picked-out style of bass playing serving as a major influence on countless bands and artists to come in his wake.

Those friends don’t talk anymore outside of court proceedings – the schism between Hook and the rest of New Order is well documented at this stage – but Hook still lives and breathes the legacy that comes with both bands. Through his work under the moniker of Peter Hook & The Light, the man affectionately known as Hooky plays shows around the world in which he goes through albums by both bands in their entirety. Up next for The Light is performing Substance – the title given to two separate singles collections from New Order and Joy Division; released in 1987 and 1988 respectively. Though sharing the same title, the two compilations are very different in purpose – New Order’s Substance is a look at some of the band’s biggest hits of the era; while Joy Division’s seeks out non-album singles. Even so, there’s a complementary duality to the two releases – one that will be explored in-depth as Hook and his bandmates go through both from start to finish.

Today, it was officially announced that Hook and co. will return to Australia after two years to perform the Substance show. A chatty and brutally honest Hook joined us on the line ahead of the announcement; discussing the generations of fans, legal troubles and huntsman spiders among a myriad of other things.

Music Feeds: The Substance tour is a massive undertaking – unlike anything you’ve ever really done before in any project that you’re involved with. Talk us through how it initially came to be.

Peter Hook: It’s a part of my challenge – to play every song I’ve ever written and performed on as a part of Joy Division and New Order. I’m going through my whole bloody career, mate. [laughs] These are the eighth and ninth albums, respectively, that I’ve performed in their entirety. We’ve done Unknown Pleasures, Closer, Still, Movement, Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life and Brotherhood. I suppose it’s been partly to do with my frustration at losing the music. I lost Joy Division through Ian [Curtis]’s untimely passing and the demise of the group. I lost the music of New Order through the other guys refusing to play 80% of the bloody material.

This is my revenge, I suppose; going through the whole back catalogue. I must admit, I’m having a great time doing it. It’s made me realise how great New Order really were. Just a fantastic group. With Substance, I’m playing the most successful album that we never recorded – it’s a collection of singles, you see – and it’s such a great release. The same goes with the Joy Division album, which came out after the New Order one. It’s a collection of lesser-known singles that we put out.

MF: Of course, you’re not alone in your endeavours – your backing band, The Light, have been with you through every tour and album cycle.

PH: The great thing about The Light is that we can kick up any Joy Division and New Order songs and play them again really quickly. If we were asked to do another Low-Life and Brotherhood show, we could have it ready within a week. The repertoire of The Light is amazing – they can play over 100 songs. It’s very different to how things became in New Order, where we’d stick to just playing the same 15 songs over and over again. I must admit, I’m delighted to see that the boys still do just that – I think if they hadn’t written Music Complete [the 2015 album recorded without Hook], the fans would be bored rigid.

MF: Substance is a massive undertaking for yourself and The Light; incorporating both Joy Division and New Order into the same show. Through the rehearsal process, do you tend to take on the more layered New Order songs, with more moving parts, first; or do you start with the relative simplicity of the Joy Division arrangements?

PH: They’re very interesting albums. The New Order album is very much based off commercial success, whereas the other is very much based on the opposite. It’s interesting with the backing tracks. Nearly every song on the New Order album has one. That sort of makes it easier in that you’ve got a backbone to do all your bum notes on. [laughs] To be honest with you, the bum notes sound worse compared to the backing track than the Joy Division stuff; where you’re moving through it. To recreate these songs, especially the ones with programming and backing tracks, is a big deal. It’s also a big deal to get it sounding good. I don’t have the luxury of any of the original material. It’s difficult, but it’s a great feat to accomplish.

When I look back at the fear on our faces when The Light was playing Unknown Pleasures for the first time, I know that we’re certainly a lot more confident now. But we’re still playing 30 songs a night, and to learn those 30 are really difficult. I guess we almost take it for granted now. We just got a new keyboard player, for instance, as our previous one has retired. As we were getting our new keyboard player up to speed, it made us realise how much we’ve learned. It’s amazing.

MF: If you look at the legacies of both Joy Division and New Order, they seem to have intertwined in this really fascinating way. Both are widely regarded as landmark British bands, even though commercially New Order far surpassed that of Joy Division. There was a time where New Order were basically popstars – something that Joy Division never achieved, but also something that Joy Division never really set out to do.

PH: That’s true. I’ll tell you one thing, though – most of the time, the Joy Division LP goes down better than the New Order LP. I’m not too sure as to why that is – the New Order LP is very well known commercially. It could well be that the Joy Division LP is in the second half of the set. Whatever the case, I definitely see a hell of a lot more Joy Division t-shirts at the gigs than New Order. Joy Division really does seem to hold a very special place in a lot of people’s hearts. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud to play the music.

It’s quite sad that the other two members of Joy Division have been so anti-me playing it. The fact that they play Joy Division songs in their own sets now is just a wonderful contradiction. I must admit, they haven’t changed. I’m proud to be the standard-bearer. It’s wonderful, in particular, to take Joy Division’s music to places it’s never been. We never made to Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Peru, Brazil… bloody hell, even America. I’m convinced that Ian would be very proud to have his music paraded around the world like that. He was its biggest fan.

MF: There’s also a generational aspect to it, as well. A lot of people coming to these shows would have discovered Joy Division and New Order through their parents, not even being born when the music was made. That’s an especially pertinent point for yourself, too, given your children are very aware and involved with your music now.

PH: That’s right – my son, Jack, plays bass in The Light with me. It’s wonderful to see. I was talking to a guy last night who brought his daughter along. She was an obvious Joy Division fan – I could see her singing along. He was telling me her group were going in to record their first EP, and telling me about the trials and tribulations of her band. It’s wonderful to see the world turn – I do have a wonderful job. I was reading an article over breakfast this morning about how robots are gonna be taking over everybody’s jobs. I thought “thank fuck for that – I’ve got the one job a robot can’t do!” [laughs]

MF: Not yet, at least.

PH: Fucking hell! It’d be a funny-looking robot, wouldn’t it mate? [laughs]

MF: Having been in the industry so long and having performed for so many years, there is a whole world of stories, myths and legends surrounding you and your name. Not just in regards to Joy Division and New Order, but you personally. It’s painted you as a very divisive and, at times, controversial character within the history of rock music in the UK. What do you feel is the greatest misconception surrounding you as a person?

PH: [pause] …well, I’m not going to bring up the obvious one involving Gillian [Gilbert, New Order keyboardist]. The book, Substance, did put right most of my wrongs, shall we say. Reading Bernard’s book about New Order [Chapter and Verse] felt like reading a book about a completely different bloody band. I was happy to put those facts straight. It’s interesting, being in a group – the right to redress that you all have is to write a book about your experiences, isn’t it? It’s the same with Fleetwood Mac, with Cream…. the audience is the jury. They have to hear the evidence and deliver their verdict. They’re either with your or against you. It’s been very difficult since 2011 when New Order so disgustingly stole the name behind my back while I was away working in China. They’ve acted deplorably to me since then.

The sort of assumption is that “Hooky’s a bastard, so they got rid of him.” That’s the myth that’s perpetrated. That’s what you try and dispel. I mean, New Order split up. It’s no surprise to me at all that in the wake of perhaps the worst financial crisis the world has ever seen, they decided to get back together. It’s as obvious as the nose on your face to me. The thing is the way that they did it – not including me, deciding to reduce my 25% share to 1% – is just grossly unfair. It was frightening at that point, I must admit. Now, in 2017, after the success of Peter Hook & The Light, it’s not as important now. I’ve reignited my career, and I’ve gotten a lot of support from working hard and earning it. The legal fight with them for redress is still ongoing and makes it very difficult. We’re in court next week, and it’s awful to live with this hanging over your head.

It’s ruined the band for me forever, and I know for a fact that a lot of the fans feel really compromised. I mean, they should be happy – you’ve got me playing all the old stuff, you’ve got them playing the greatest hits over and over again. Really, they’ve got the best of both worlds as a fan. A lot of them do feel uncomfortable with the acts of the others in the band, though. It was them that did it, not me – and yet, people seem to think that I’m the villain. If I’d like to put anything straight it’s that I didn’t do this. They did it – behind my back, without my permission, without consulting me. After 31 years of work in a group, to build it up from nothing to establish the name… to be treated like that. I defy anyone in this world to be treated that way to not react; to not fight. You have to fight for what you believe in. You really do. The fight goes on.

MF: So you see playing albums like Low-Life and Brotherhood in their entirety as a matter of reclamation for you?

PH: I do. I felt like they were trying to rub me out of history when they reformed. Their attitude and the way they talked about me was awful. There was no respect shown whatsoever. It’s like playground tactics, innit? You reap what you sew. But yeah, playing the music is great. It was always one of my greatest frustrations that we didn’t play more old stuff. ‘Age of Consent’, ‘Dreams Never End’, ‘Doubts Even Here’, ‘Death Rattle’… there were so many fantastic songs we never played. We just stuck to the same ones over and over. I felt like we were doing our fans a great disservice by acting like that. I felt it was really boring. So I’m happy now. My wife says she sees in on my face when we’re playing live now – it’s as simple as that.

MF: Australia has been a part of several Peter Hook & The Light album tour cycles, and we will be experiencing the Substance tour this October. You’ve been here several times over the years – can you remember back to the very first time?

PH: Like it was yesterday. Perfectly. If you read my book, there’s a fantastic account of the first time we came over… and the second, third and fourth. [laughs] We had fantastic adventures in Australia. I’ve been very lucky. The guys we worked with were Viv Lees and Ken West, the ones that did the Big Day Out. We were the first international band that their agency brought to Australia, which was in 1981 I think. We had a wonderful time playing in Coogee Bay, in Perth… we got bullied in Brisbane at the rugby club. It was a fantastic thing. It’s one of the only countries in the world where I genuinely think I should be living there when I get there. I could do without all of the creepy-crawlies, though – in the book, there’s an account of a run-in that we had with a huntsman spider. So if that’s of interest, you should buy it. [laughs]

Peter Hook & The Light will be performing the albums ‘Substance’ by Joy Division & New Order on tour this October. Tickets available from Metropolis Touring . Details below.

Peter Hook & The Light 2017 Australian Tour

Pre-sale from 9am local time Wednesday, 15th March to 5pm local time Thursday, 16th March.

Tickets on sale to general public 12pm local time Friday, 17th March

Saturday, 7th October

Metro Theatre, Sydney

Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Sunday, 8th October

The Tivoli, Brisbane

Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Tuesday, 10th October

The Gov, Adelaide

Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Friday, 13th October

Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Monday, 16th October

Astor Theatre, Perth

Tickets: Metropolis Touring

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