Peter Hook On His Past, ‘Joy Division Orchestrated’ & Learning To Let Go

Despite being on the other side of the world at the time of taking the call, Peter Hook is coming through loud and clear on the phone line. He’s quietly taken aback by the whole thing, having no doubt spent decades attempting to speak to journalists and reporters down crackly landlines with spotty, inconsistent reception. “Technology must have moved on and I didn’t even notice,” he says with a laugh. “It’s amazing, I must admit. It’s so clear. Mate, I remember the 10-second delays… I even remember the ISDN [Integrated Services Digital Network]!”

It might not seem like much – some may even see it like forced small-talk – but even from something as minor as that, you can tell Hook is really taking the time to stop and smell the roses. With a career spanning over 40 years, the Manchester-born bassist is still as active as a touring musician as he’s ever been – perhaps even more so now than when New Order were in their heyday. His latest project is ambitious, divisive and more than a little experimental – alongside conductor Tim Crooks, Hook will perform the music of Joy Division as it’s never been heard before.

Joy Division Orchestrated is a reworking of the band’s catalogue with, as the title suggests, all-new arrangements. It marks the first time any surviving member of Joy Division has participated in such a project, and has already garnered the interest of audiences on a global scale – next week will see the show premiere in the iconic Royal Albert Hall, before arriving in Australia to perform at several massive theatres including the Sydney Opera House’s concert hall.

Of course, taking the angular post-punk of a band like Joy Division into the classical realm is no easy feat. With that, Hook gets to explaining the creation of the show, as well as what he gets out of it and an update on the exhaustive Joy Division memorabilia auction.

Music Feeds: You’ve spoken a lot about getting into music, but classical music is never really something you’ve touched upon. Was it something you were exposed to – or, dare it be said, interested in – when you were a kid?

Peter Hook: Not really, no. The first time I really paid attention to it, funnily enough, was in a situation not all that dissimilar from this one. It was Deep Purple, who performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra back in 1969. I immediately paid attention, because I was such a huge Deep Purple fan. I must admit, it was a very radical thing for me to see as a young man – there they were, up on stage, and they were jamming! With an orchestra! They could well have just gotten up there and played the songs the exact same way, just with the orchestra behind them. That’s not how they played it. I was quite taken by it.

Obviously, I’d been aware of that sort of music beforehand. I genuinely do like classical music, too. That said, I’d never done anything with one before – right up until New Order split up for the second time back in 2007. The first time I ever played with one was for a cancer benefit. It was me, [James frontman] Tim Booth and [former Happy Mondays singer] Rowetta, and we all sang with an orchestra that night.

MF: That would have been quite a different experience to getting up and playing with a band.

PH: They do work in a different way. They’re very unionised, and they’re very regimented. That doesn’t bother me, though. What I will say is that getting up there and performing with these musicians certainly made me feel like a bit of a fraud [laughs]. They’re just so good. That said, I realised that I could pretty much get away with murder while I was up there with them. I can ad-lib, I can mess up, I can make mistakes… and there’s nothing any of them can do about it now, is there? I can layer on the feedback and really rip in, and they’ll all just look at one another, shrug and say “he’s self-taught.” [laughs]

MF: Talk us through the initial creation of Joy Division Orchestrated.

PH: So, what happened was that we were putting on this event called the Haçienda Classical, which was a celebration of dance music. It’s an event we’ve done very successfully for four years now. One of the people involved in making that event happen was a guy named Tim Crooks, who’s a conductor and an orchestrator. Every year he’d come up to me and tell me, “I’d love to get my hands on Joy Division.” Instinctually, I’d always say, “In your dreams, mister!” [laughs] For whatever reason, though, I eventually came around to the idea of it.

Now that I’m moving into the orchestra, as it were, every day we’re playing together I’m glad I made that decision. It’s challenging, and it’s daunting… but at the same time, I’m getting in there and I’m watching everyone in there play. They’re incredible. I think my decision had a lot to do with Tim’s insistence that he could bring something new to these songs that I’ve been playing for all these years, all without losing the heart of them. In the end, that’s what persuaded me – and now, that’s what I’m seeing before me.

MF: What was your reaction when you heard the arrangements for the first time?

PH: When I first agreed to it, I said to Tim “Let’s try a couple of the songs first, just to see how it goes.” Soon enough, he brought me in to hear it. Lo and behold, I was like, “Oh my god. This really does lift these songs.” There’s no major changes, really – in any way, shape or form – to the songs themselves, but there is just something there that brings it up to this next level. 

The funny thing to me is that, through both Joy Division and New Order, we were using synthesizers to emulate the sound of an orchestra for years and years. It features particularly heavily on [Joy Division’s second album, 1980’s] Closer. We had Martin [Hannett, producer] teaching us how to layer the keyboards, and how to have the electric instruments perform like an orchestra. In a funny way, I think Tim and I are giving these songs what they should have rightfully been given in the first place. We’re giving the orchestra what they should have been given in the first place, too: Their jobs. [laughs]

MF: Recently, the 40th anniversary of Unknown Pleasures was commemorated. What do you get out of revisiting Joy Division’s catalogue after all these years?

PH: When we were together as New Order, I always felt particularly stifled by the lack of activity; by the lack of use by the extensive back catalogue. Once I was free, I was able to do that and revel in it with the fans in these wonderful treasures. Joy Division was neglected – those songs weren’t played for 30 years, and the entire time I was always wondering why. That seems ridiculous.

I’ve managed to take Joy Division around the world through playing with The Light. I’ve gotten to take this music to countries that Ian [Curtis] never got to, and would have loved to go to. Ian always wanted to bring this music to as many people as he could. He was so ambitious. He was such a fan of Joy Division. He wanted this music to go everywhere, and I’ve managed to make that come true for him. I’m hoping to do the same with Joy Division Orchestrated. I think that Ian would have been very proud of it. It’s just a shame that the other two [Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris] don’t. Still, can’t win ’em all.

MF: For those that might not quite understand what the show itself is, can you explain the format of Joy Division Orchestrated as a performance?

PH: Well, I’m involved – obviously. As if I’m gonna throw a party and then not go. [laughs] Wild horses wouldn’t stop me from coming back to Australia. The main difference between this and one of my normal shows is that I won’t be leading this show – Tim will be. I’ll be there, my bass will be there and we’re planning on having some guest singers as well. The musical director for the show is David Potts, who also plays with me in The Light. I’ve worked with Pottsy for longer than I’d care to remember. Something like 25 years, I’d say, we’ve been working together. We even wrote a new track together that is going to be part of the show. It’s an homage of sorts to Joy Division, called “Higher Higher Higher Love.” It’s the first new song that I’ve written in quite some time, so it was really nice to be able to do that.

I really think that the show is a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very nervous. The thing is that we’re not so much changing the music itself as we are changing its impact, shall we say. The breadth of it. The songs will remain the same, but it will have a different feel to it. A more emotional feel, I would say. We will have some surprises during the show too, which I obviously can’t tell you about.

It’s still organic, and we’re still working on it. Pottsy’s coming over today, and we’re going to go over the arrangements and the voices that we’re implementing during the show. A lot of it is changing as we go.

MF: No pressure.

PH: It’s going to be bloody terrifying, mate. [laughs] Still, what can I say? I love Joy Division. My heart and soul – no pun intended – belongs to that wonderful group. Four wonderful individuals… at that time, at least. The whole world was laid out before us. We had the music. We had the potential. We had a fantastic line-up. In material terms, we had nothing – and on May 18th, 1980, we lost everything. Joy Division has endured, and I am one of its biggest fans. To be in company with other fans is just great. It’s exactly what I wanted to do, right from the moment I saw the Sex Pistols and became a musician. I am happy as a pig in shit doing anything like this.

MF: What has the song selection process been like for curating the show? Was Tim pitching all of the songs to you, or were you vetoing which songs ended up getting played?

PH: From my point of view, it was really important that I didn’t lead this one. This is very much Tim’s way of looking at Joy Division, which I thought was really important. Here’s the thing, right – I’ve been to Australia with The Light to play Joy Division songs a good three or four times now. I didn’t want it to be the same as it was before, and this is a new way of looking at the band. Tim has been more instrumental in picking the setlist, and it’s been really interesting to see what he’s come up with. It’s different. It’s not how I would have done it. I’m party to it, but the whole deal with he and I was that we had an understanding. He wasn’t going to railroaded or sidelined by me, even though my presence is a part of the show.

MF: It feels a little like you’re already expecting people to not really get it. Is that a fair assessment?

PH: I mean, if people want to see Joy Division the way that I think Joy Division would have played it, they can come and see me with The Light. I’m making it very clear from the outset that this is an orchestral interpretation of the songs. This is different, and I’m the first to admit that. I’ve had to bite my lip on more than one occasion, just to give Tim the freedom that he requires to make the show possible. I know how he thinks, and I know how he works. There have been times where I thought he was making the wrong call, and then I’ll see it in action and I’ll know that he was right. I’ll put my hands up there – “You’re right, mate, well done.”

MF: While were on the subject of Joy Division, can you give us an update on how the memorabilia auction went?

PH: It went really well, yeah. The only people that didn’t seem to enjoy it were the other members of the group – which is pretty standard for me. [laughs] After the court cases, which were very traumatic, I felt a bit weird being surrounded by all this Joy Division stuff that I had lying around. Some of it I’d had saved for 40 years. I think, in my mind, I was hoping that one day Ian would walk through the door and I’d have all his stuff waiting for him. It’d be complete again. The grim realisation that I came to after the court case was that things had changed, people had changed… and Ian definitely wasn’t coming back.

I felt like King Midas, being surrounded by his riches in a tower. I felt a bit weird about it all. It would be construed as not being healthy. I thought, “Maybe it’s time to give this stuff back to the people that are going to enjoy it the most – the fans.” Most people had never seen this stuff, and I had a huge collection of it. When I saw the whole catalogue written down, it was amazing. I wanted to buy it all back immediately. [laughs] My wife literally had to sit on me while it was being auctioned.

It’s all gone to great homes. There’s some really interesting stuff in there, but I’m not able to use most of it anyway. There’s restrictions between members of the group – including me – so I couldn’t do anything with it. I feel fantastic about it. It actually spurred me onto my next project, which will be the New Order memorabilia. There’s five times more stuff there – it’s a mountain of a task.

MF: There’s a lesson in there about learning to let go.

PH: It made me realise that all I needed – and all I’ve ever really needed – was the music. And the fans. I’ve never needed anything else in my career. At all. As long as I can still play the music that I love, and the fans still come out and see me, and we can both revel in this music that we can’t get enough of… really, that’s all I need. Even though deep down I’ve always known it, it still hit me like a real revelation. I just don’t know if it was ever properly at the forefront of my mind the way that it is now. It’s such a joy to play… again, no pun intended. [laughs]

Peter Hook Presents Joy Division Orchestrated 2019 Australian Tour

Friday, 2nd August

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Tickets: Ticketek

Friday, 9th August

Perth Concert Hall, Perth

Tickets: Ticketek

Sunday, 11th August

Plenary Theatre, Melbourne

Tickets: Ticketek

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