‘I’m here now … sorry,’ read my text message, and after a couple of days struggling to locate Peter Hook, it seemed I finally had my chance. We’d missed each other a few times, but seeing as it was a rare Saturday afternoon when my football team weren’t playing, I was happy to finally get through.
The legendary Joy Division and New Order bass player was in Belfast for that evening’s Peter Hook and the Light performance at the Limelight, and clearly enjoying himself across the water.
“We’ve sold out all three nights, which is pretty fantastic. We’re certainly riding the crest of an Irish wave!”
I told him he seemed to have swapped venues with The Undertones, the Derry outfit having played the Limelight the previous night and moving on to the Dublin Academy that night, just after Hooky’s visit.
“Well, it just goes to show – 39 years apart, we’re all still playing. They were with us on our first tour. They were 15, we were the princely old age of 22. The Undertones, Joy Division, and The Rezillos, would you believe.”
Wow. What a bill.
“Yeah, it seems a great bill now. After supporting the Buzzcocks before, we were moving up. We’d gone from bottom to middle!”
I should point out that The Undertones, who’d just released debut single, Teenage Kicks, weren’t really 15. Youngest member Damian O’Neill was 17, his brother John was 21, the others somewhere between. Perhaps they just looked more youthful. Also, as it was a Sire tour, I reckon Joy Division were actually first on for the few dates that survived. For that was the tour when Rezillos singer Fay Fife had to pull out because of vocal scarring, her band soon imploding and splitting, the rest of the shows scrapped.
Either way, Joy Division were making an impact, audiences somewhat mesmerised by Ian Curtis’ striking stage presence. Saying that, my brother and his mates saw the Buzzcocks on tour with Joy Division the following year (Guildford Civic Hall, November 1st, ‘79) but missed the support, only realising later the magnitude of their actions in pursuit of an extra pint in the White Horse Hotel.
“Well, let’s hope that taught them a lesson then!”
Does Peter remember much about that tour?
“I remember pretty much all the Buzzcocks gigs. It was such a delight to blow them off completely, which was really weird, because they were being very radical and experimental, dumping all their old stuff, just playing new material. And the fans hated it. I must say, we were at our youngish best, and managed to cream them every night. Strange. They’d disappeared up their own arses. I think they were probably one of the first bands to do that.”
I’m guessing he meant dropping old material rather than Houdini-like tricks involving their posteriors. There were plenty of examples of that on the scene before.
You’ll no doubt know about Peter’s music past, but I’ll add a brief résumé. Born in 1956, he formed the band which became Joy Division (previously called Warsaw) with Bernard Sumner in 1976, the pair inspired after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester.
Hooky (bass) and Barney (guitar) soon recruited charismatic lead singer Ian Curtis, and later drummer Stephen Morris, the band soon drawing the attention of Manchester TV presenter Tony Wilson, who signed them to his fledgling independent label, Factory Records. They went on to complete two highly-acclaimed, influential albums before the death of Curtis in 1980, the remaining trio drafting in Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and reconvening the following year as electronica indie crossover outfit New Order.
The original New Order quartet stuck together until 1993, then reconvened in 1998, working through to 2007. Yet while Peter’s been out of the picture ever since, the other three originals got together as a reconstituted five-piece in 2011, bringing out new album, Music Complete, in September 2015.
Two months later, their former bass player sued Sumner, Morris and Gilbert, claiming they set up a new company behind his back and it had generated £7.8m in four years, while he received a fraction of that. His old bandmates insisted they’d treated him fairly and his stake in band royalties was reasonable, the judge ruling there was ‘at least a reasonable prospect’ of him proving he was not getting a fair share, urging the parties to come to an agreement rather than suffer potential legal costs of around £900,000 if a case came to court. And on September 20th, this year, a New Order official website post announced a full and final settlement had been reached.
Back to the beginning of the story, though, and while it seems Peter’s been asked time and again about witnessing the Sex Pistols’ two Lesser Free Trade Hall shows in ’76 (supported by Buzzcocks), how about the two Electric Circus shows on the Anarchy tour that followed, 41 years ago this month?
“Oh, God, don’t remind me! Do you mean when The Clash played with The Pistols?”
Yes, two of the few gigs that actually survived on that tour, with the Buzzcocks taking over from The Damned, who’d been kicked off by Malcolm McLaren.
“Was that before or after the Bill Grundy thing?”
It was after, hence all the cancellations, The Filth and the Fury headline, and the backlash that followed.
“Yeah, it just seems so tame now, doesn’t it? But it was a bit of a shock for us, having seen the first Lesser Free Trade Hall show with barely 40-odd people there …”
With all of those attendees about to play an important part in the music business too, if you’re to believe the hype.
“Well, yes, then for the next gig there were about 200, about 60 of them coming in a coach from London and about the same number from Wythenshawe to support Slaughter and the Dogs. The others were probably those who’d gone on the first night.
“Then we went to the Electric Circus, and it was bedlam! All hell had let loose. It was full of people outside, and they weren’t fans. They were just there because they’d seen the furore about Grundy. I remember all the punks queuing outside, and in the flats opposite these yobs were on the roof, throwing things over. It was absolutely bizarre. There was a set of railings, and they were removing the spikes from them, throwing them like javelins.
“When we came out afterwards, it was the same, like a football crowd waiting for you. I remember the police were called. All the punks were saying, ‘Listen, we can’t get to our cars, up the road, can you help us?’ The police said, ‘Alright, run behind the van and we’ll escort you back.’ So we all started running, and then the van just drove off and left us all to the mercy of all these football fans!”
He’s laughing at it all as he recalls that chaotic scene, but you can imagine his terror at the time.
“Luckily, my mate’s car was pretty close. That was Terry Mason, who became our tour manager, so we managed to scramble in and get to safety. Then they came back about two weeks later and there was a sizeable crowd then – 600 to 800, something like that. The football supporters had come in by then, I suppose you’d say!”
I got the impression the Pistols came back purely because this was just one of five venues – as it turned out – that would allow them to play on that tour.
“Yeah. I’m not sure the promoter was. I’ve never found out who put the Electric Circus gigs on. But they had their bus and it paid for that. They were stuck really, struggling to earn enough to pay for it all. So, infamously, the Sex Pistols played four times in Manchester in a very short period of time.”
And I’ve since spotted that there was another show at Didsbury College as well as two each at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and the Electric Circus. At this point, we talked briefly about The Clash and the impact they had, not least as it’s rumoured Hooky got his own low-slung bass stance from watching Paul Simonon. He’s of the opinion that The Clash’s ‘strange image’ didn’t go down well with the North West ‘homegrown grass root punks’, but added, ‘I think musically they were a far better group, without a shadow of a doubt, but it was so anti-fashion led’.
“I think Bernie Rhodes was one of those old-fashioned mangers who took advantage of the group. Malcolm would make no bones about the fact that it was his group, while Bernie Rhodes led you to believe it was your group, but was in charge. When you see the Svengali aspect of it, it’s not really pretty. It’s really just taking advantage … the business has never changed! But they were fantastically exciting.”
“Yeah, although by the time we saw The Clash we were an established group. We’d been going for months! We were almost old hands at it! It’s quite odd looking back. The saddest thing for me was when they sacked Mick Jones, and got rid of Topper Headon. Sadly every group acts exactly the same, and it’s all just a terrible cliché.”
Of course, the other sad thing is that we lost Joe Strummer so early, just when he’d properly re-found himself with The Mescaleros.
“Yeah, I liked the Mescaleros. I only met Joe once. I met him in Groucho’s in the late ‘90s and he was a little bit the worse for wear. He took us over to Soho House. He was a member and took us in … then went home! So I didn’t really get much of a chance to talk to him, but he was a hero to a lot of people.”
A bit late, perhaps, but I should explain my excuse for talking to Peter is that after his band’s widely-acclaimed world tour playing in full the Substance albums of Joy Division and New Order – taking in North and South America. Europe and Australasia this year – they’re off to the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton on Thursday, December 14th, have a homecoming at Manchester Academy the following day, reach Wakefield’s Warehouse 23 on Saturday 16th, and then finish at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, on Tuesday 18th. And at time of going to press, it seemed that tickets remained for just the Manchester show, but were limited.
And what of the albums featured in their set? Released in August 1987, New Order’s Substance compilation became the band’s best-selling album on its release, the double album going on to sell two million copies in America alone. Factory Records’ 200th release featured 12″ mixes of the singles as well as re-recorded takes on Confusion and Temptation, running from 1981’s Ceremony up to that year’s True Faith. Then, released the following July 1988, Joy Division’s Substance featured all the singles which didn’t appear on their albums, as well as B-sides, tracks from the An Ideal For Living EP and a Factory Records sampler. Factory Records’ 250th release began with Warsaw, taking in the band’s development right through to the final tracks.
Peter Hook’s band have toured Joy Division and New Order’s albums extensively since debuting Unknown Pleasures back in 2010, with dates around the world well received by critics and fans alike. But it’s not always been about those two outfits, and while New Order were on hiatus in the mid-’90s, Hooky recorded albums with Revenge and then Monaco, and in more recent years with Freebass (with fellow bass players Andy Rourke of The Smiths and Mani from The Stone Roses). And it will be 20 years now since debut Monaco LP, Music for Pleasure, one of the first CDs I bought (unfashionably slow to move on from vinyl). In fact, I’ve a bone to pick with him there, on account of a hidden message on the CD’s run-out after last track, Sedona, and the amount of times that frightened the shite out of me. I tell him this and he laughs.
“Yeah, that nearly caused our A&R woman to crash her car on Dartmoor, because of that voice. It’s so dry. It sounds like someone really close to you, and she swerved off the road and only just got it back on. So yeah, that was a great little trick, that … it could almost kill people.”
I think it’s just the right amount of time after the last track, so even if you know it’s coming, it’s still a shock when it does.
“The idea was that I noticed when you left a CD running, the last track gave you no warning, so I thought about a minute’s silence. I guess it was one of those wonderful moments where I was exploiting being allowed to do whatever I wanted to, without being in a sort of democracy, shall we say. My experience allowed me to railroad Pottsy (bandmate David Potts), and I didn’t have three other members to argue with.”
“Well, Revenge was very much a learning process. I sort of realised that while New Order taught me a lot, it hadn’t taught me how to do everything. Barney did it the other way round. He did Electronica with established musicians, while I did Revenge with complete beginners. Then we turned that round, and I did Freebass with established musicians and he did Bad Lieutenant with beginners. The thing was, I was learning, very much so, and by the time I got to Monaco I’d learnt, and it was a great album.”
While it’s surprising that was 20 years ago, I find it even more surprising that just 10 years had passed between New Order compilation, Substance, and that point.
“Yeah, it’s amazing the way time flies. It’s my wife and I’s 20th wedding anniversary, and we were like, ‘Where the hell did that go?’ Then suddenly you realise that playing with The Undertones was 39 years ago! But I’m very lucky I’m still doing what I love and enjoying it as much as I do. It’s been wonderful. It’s the same with the Hacienda, getting the name known and for it to be so successful, the way it is with the Classical, is such a compliment to everybody involved … maybe apart from the accountants!
“But everybody creative who helped do both should really give themselves a pat on the back. And it’s the same with all three bands. What we call New Order nowadays is on hiatus, but people are still digging the records, they’re still brought to people’s minds, and obviously it’s very important to a lot of people, which is great … because it keeps me in a bloody job!”
There’s been a great response from fans and press alike this year, to your shows with The Light and your Hacienda dates.
“Yeah, we had to earn that though. When I first broached the idea and put the first gig up, which we did for charity, there was a lot of keyboard banging, shall we say. That’s the thing that cost me all the singers, who were scared off by the expectation. God bless her, but it was Rowetta who said to me, ‘You’re going to have to do it’. And I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I’d never considered it for one moment. My ego just never wanted to go there.
“I was happy being the bass player, and really looking forward to that. But to have my son (Jack Bates) do that is almost like being able to live with it. And definitely as a musician, my one love is bass playing. If anything, singing has made me sympathise more with Bernie. When I got to Revenge and Monaco, I sympathised with him a lot more, but you do tend to forget very quickly.”
I recall seeing a clip of you playing live with The Light, somewhere in South America, and you look absolutely knackered come the encore. Is that just another night?
“Ha! Yeah, I keep myself fit and that sort of helps. Being an alcoholic in remission, I spend most of my time in the gym now. But it’s wonderful!”
It’s a long show too.
“Yes, we play for two and a half to three hours. I’m the Bruce Springsteen of Salford! And the weird thing is that the passion you put in is mirrored by the passion the audience gives you. It has to be. The reaction we get playing is fantastic, and that really spurs me on … in the same way that when we toured with The Undertones, I had that passion. And I’m lucky to have kept it.
“I have to say I enjoy it more now than I ever have. I say that without fear of contradiction. And I have to thank … God (laughs) that I’ve actually ended up like this, which is wonderful, because it wasn’t always that way.”
When you’re out revisiting the back-catalogue of Joy Division and New Order, do you get moments where you’re suddenly back in the studio, something coming back that you haven’t thought about for ‘x’ amount of years?
“Yeah, watching Jack play as you get a song together is the most evocative. It’s those learning bits and that seeking that transports me right back. Not the playing of the finished song, but the bit where you’re putting it together. That’s the most evocative.
“And I’ve been very lucky with an LP like Closer that I actually got to play it, whereas the others – to my knowledge – hadn’t, other than the odd track or two, but not the entire LP. So that was a wonderful moment, because we were so cruelly denied it.”
Did you get the impression there’d been just the right amount of distance between then and when you first got to that?
“Yeah, although I don’t mean about Ian Curtis. I mean by fate. Ian unfortunately had reached the end of his tether, for one reason or another, and we were too young to help him. The saddest thing was that he worked so hard on that record, and was so optimistic and looking forward to getting that record out. I do feel it was denied him, in many ways. So one of the nicest things was to be able to play it, and watch the reaction on people’s faces when you did it. It was amazing.”
You point out in the introduction to The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club (Simon & Schuster, 2009) that Joy Division are somehow still huge, all these years on, and perhaps even bigger in a sense. Ever tried to put your finger on why?
“It has to be down to the music. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve since realised I was definitely in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions. And the Hacienda actually added to our myth, shall we say, because of acid house, Manchester, post-punk … We really were in the right place at the right time. I do feel very blessed to have done that, and I’m not sure that many musicians will ever be that blessed again. I don’t think those happenings will happen again, if ever. If anything does, I can hardly wait.
“I do feel for modern musicians, because these young kids have so much competition. It’s really difficult. Then, lo and behold, not content with bringing two bands back – as in playing Joy Division and New Order’s back catalogues – as well as going forward with the newly-called New Order, they then drag the Hacienda up, doing classical interpretations of the songs!
“I think the very reason no one’s seen most of these songs performed ever, captures a vibrancy and also strikes a chord with these people who spent their lives in the Hacienda, from first going out as a young teenager through to mid-life crisis.”
And you’re probably reminding a few of those turning up what the hell they were actually doing during that period.
“Oh God, yeah! My daughter did the guest list at the Apollo in Manchester last week, and said, ‘Oh, my God, Dad, I’ve never seen so many old people off their heads!’ I said, ‘Love, it was like that in the Hacienda every night!’”
Getting back to 1987, somewhere in this house, there’s a less than pristine cassette box version of New Order’s Substance.
“That’s a collector’s item, that one, mate. You better get it found!”
True. Mind you, it tells you a fair bit about my slow embrace of technology, seeing as Anthony H. Wilson supposedly wanted that compilation put together and released on CD so he could play your songs in his car’s brand new CD player.
“Yeah, he did. He bought a new Jaguar, an XJC, which he had modified to look more like Steed’s. And it was one of the first cars to have a CD player in it.”
Well there you go, and that suggests how far apart Tony and I were at that stage. I had to settle for a tape player in my Ford Escort Mk.I.
“Well, yes, but don’t forget I still had a cassette player, mate. Don’t worry about that. But yes, his idea was to put it together just to do that. And I only found out when I was writing the New Order book that he wanted a new single on it, so they could market it in America. Him and Rob (Gretton) cooked up the idea of getting Stephen Hague – the pop producer of the time, doing the Pet Shop Boys. He didn’t tell us any of this, and only suggested it to us in quite an off-hand way. We actually went for it, even though it proved to be very difficult. It was really our first undoing, those sessions, I have to say.
“It was very much concocted by him and Rob. We were definitely in the dark. But it worked, Substance was our biggest-selling record. We tried to emulate that with the Joy Division compilation, but of course the tracks were much darker. But it had a great feel, and playing them together, as we do, it’s a toss-up which one’s going to go down best.
“And I have to say, and I don’t know what this means, but I’d have to say the Joy Division Substance goes down better than the New Order Substance.”
That does surprise me. That said, I love them both. And only yesterday was playing 1963 from the New Order collection, taking me back to driving round with that on my cassette player.
“It’s a fantastic record. I think the biggest mistake we ever made was giving that away as a B-side of True Faith. We’ve done some monumental cock-ups, and there was another. That could have been another huge hit single. But never mind, it’s all done now.”
Substance was a favourite, and the first of your products I actually owned, even though I was 19 by then. But I guess there was always someone to borrow from before … or I’d tape you off John Peel. By the time of Technique and Republic, I was definitely buying the albums though, catching up.
“Well, we’re playing Technique and Republic next year. I’m looking forward to that. Those were both 1989. When we get to them it’ll be 10 and 11, and we’ve just got three left. Then I’ll have to start again … unless I retire.”
If those numbers are confusing, I reckon the first seven shows (before the two Substance sets) were for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and New Order’s Movement, Power Corruption and Lies, Low Life, Brotherhood, and the So This is Permanence – A Celebration of Ian Curtis show. But I may be wrong. Whatever the case, is retirement ever likely to be on the cards for Hooky?
“According to my wife, no. She told me I’d never retire, because I like it too much. I suppose once you get over 60, it’s one of those things you long for, then unfortunately you don’t know what you’re going to do. I don’t know. The thing is I’m very happy. I really enjoy it and it’s a fantastic thing to do.
“I’d probably drive my wife mad if I was at home all the time. So it’s not something that’s on the cards. The first thing anybody says to me these days is that I don’t look 61, so I suppose that’s what I have to bear in mind … and carry on being that 22-year-old kid touring with The Undertones in 1978!”
Dare I ask the last time you properly spoke to the rest of New Order? At least without solicitors.
“Mmm. When did we speak? Erm … 2011 was the last time. And they were very unkind words. Yeah, I mean the argument is over. We’re both just picking up the wounded from No Man’s Land at the moment, bringing them back for medical attention … shall we say (laughs). I don’t expect a reunion any time soon, so … erm, we’re both getting on with doing – in our own ways – what we want to do.”
Who came closest to the real Peter Hook with their film portrayals – Ralf Little in 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, or Joe Anderson in 2007’s Control?
“Definitely Joe Anderson. The thing is, he was schooled by Anton Corbijn, who wanted it to be as real as possible. I must admit, everybody’s portrayal in Control made me go, ‘Ohh, God! That was very alike!’
“The difference was, Ralf Little was playing it for laughs, because Michael Winterbottom felt the whole thing was a bloody farce. And in many ways he was absolutely correct. So yeah, he just hammed it up … to good effect. That film, my God, it’s been popular around the world. 24 Hour Party People was a great success.”
You know you’ve truly arrived when your band are name-checked in a Half Man Half Biscuit song. Just ask Len Ganley, Ted Moult, Vitas Gerulaitis and Tommy Walsh. Do you own any Joy Division oven gloves?
“Ha! I don’t think there ever have been any. But I still think Joy Division oven gloves would be very popular. I think Joy Division tea towels would be even more popular. Maybe I’ll save that for my retirement plan.”
There’s another job for Hooky too, as he’s involved with the Music Industry Management and Promotion courses at my old seat of learning, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. So where does he keep his certificate for his honorary Fellowship from UCLan?
“Oh, that’s in the office. I still work there, because we have our course at UCLan. The boys and girls I mentor have just been down to a Hacienda Classical show – 13 students coming down to help us, and they’re coming to the (Manchester) Academy for Peter Hook and the Light when we play there.
“When you go for a job, the first thing people ask is what experience you’ve got, and I felt that was something lacking from most college courses. There are things you can’t teach, like dealing with a drunken drug dealer at midnight in a club – easy enough to learn in a classroom but very difficult to deal with in real life. But these kids now get to go to Fac 251, get to work there, do projects there, encouraged to work in a proper working environment, working with Peter Hook and the Light and the Hacienda, getting a much more hands-on experience.
“In educational value, it’s worth its weight in gold. It’s wonderful, and (course leader) Tony Rigg is an old hand, who used to work at the Ministry of Sound. He knows what he’s doing. And whether they like it or not sometimes, his kids are getting that. It’s usually a safe environment, being in a classroom. Regardless of what they want to do, stick them in a position where it’s a lot more imposing and frightening. And there’s a lot of responsibility. That really sorts out the chaff from the wheat. I do believe in that, and you’re actually teaching people something they will be able to use and can then take to an employer, saying you’ve had experience.”
I got my Master of Arts there six months earlier. Perhaps I should have put my date back and waited so I could have to walked across the stage the same day as you.
“Well, there you go! That’s strange, innit! Ha!”
Were your ears burning back in the summer when I was talking to Rowetta (with a link here), when she was saying nice things about you and Mrs Hook?
“Rowetta’s a wonderful woman, and without her there’d be no Peter Hook and the Light, to be honest. I do owe her that. It was wonderful to work with her on the Hacienda show. I think she’s going to have a break from it now while concentrating on the (Happy) Mondays. But she’s a great, great talent, and works so hard at what she does. She’s an incendiary character, shall we say. But talent burns bright, don’t it, mate!”
It does indeed. One of the things I talked about with Rowetta was the Manchester Arena bombing. She told me more about your personal link, with your daughter there that night. How’s she doing now. Do you often talk about that with her at home?
“Yeah, we do. The thing is, both me and my wife are always on at her to be careful. It’s a terrible world our children are being left with, and much as I hate to say it, it’s becoming something you have to be aware of and something we’re going to have to live with for a long time.
“So yeah, you have to look after yourself. We all do. The thing you worry about with your kids is that they don’t have the experience you think you have. That’s what scares you. It’s a big education for them as well.”
Finally, I haven’t quite managed to collar John Cooper Clarke, Mark E. Smith or a certain Bernard Sumner yet, but I’ve interviewed Elkie Brooks and Graham Gouldman, now you. Broughton, Salford, is clearly a rich area for talent. Why’s that then?
“Well, I hate to break it to you, but I’m from Ordsall, mate. Not far from Broughton, mind, and Barney was from there. We used to go to North Salford, which was the Broughton youth club, where we mispent our youth.
“But, you know, Manchester had always had a rich heritage, and the thing that used to piss Tony Wilson off was that Manchester stole all the Salford musicians. Alan Wise, the great impresario and presenter, would also get really annoyed we were all lumped in together as Manchester. The thing is, we’re so used to it, so when I say Manchester, I mean Manchester and Salford, so it doesn’t confuse the rest of the world.
“But what a great musical force. It’s waned off a bit lately for the first time in 30 years. I don’t know what’s happening to the youth of today. They need to buck their ideas up in Manchester. Too many tourists, mate!”
An Evening with Peter Hook & The Light, performing Substance By Joy Division and New Order, visits Manchester Academy on Friday, December 15. For tickets try here and for full tour information and other news about the band head here. You can also keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Meanwhile, Hacienda Classical are back in 2018, in a show being prepared by Peter Hook (executive producer) alongside DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, and musical director Tim Crooks. Featuring Manchester Camerata and the AMC Choir, a five-city tour visits Glasgow’s Braehead Arena (Saturday, May 19th), Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl (Saturday, June 30th), Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Centre (Saturday, August 18th), London’s Royal Albert Hall (Friday, September 28th), and Leeds’ First Direct Arena (Saturday, September 29th). For ticket details head here.
Meanwhile, if you step across to the excellent RetroMan Blog, you’ll see a nice piece by photographer Paul Slattery about his 1979 photo session with Joy Division and the Strawberry Studios Exhibition.