Saturday night Peter Hook brings his Unknown Pleasures tour to Royale, the fourth of a nine-date stateside trek that finds him resurrecting the landmark 1979 Joy Division album in a live setting. But he arrives with a fair share of controversy. The legendary bassist for Joy Division, New Order, and a handful of other projects first performed the album in May as a one-off for the 30th anniversary of singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. But from that night at his FAC251 Factory night club in Manchester to now, the Unknown Pleasures tour has gone global.
Hook has taken heat for celebrating the Joy Division legacy without bandmates and eventual New Order collaborators Stephen Morris or Bernard Sumner. He was called out for cashing in and collecting blood-stained checks by Stone Roses bassist Mani, who Hook teamed up with for the short-lived and possibly ill-advised project Freebass. Others have rolled their eyes at Hook taking over Curtis’ iconic vocal duties and skeptics have scoffed at a legacy tour based on a quarter of the band doing the impossibly influential Joy Division any justice.
Undeterred and eager to defend his renewed interest in Unknown Pleasures, Hook is now here in America with the Light, his new band that includes his 21-year-old son Jack Bates on bass. Our feature on Hooky, the album, and the tour -- Age of Consent: Peter Hook rediscovers his Unknown Pleasures -- appears in this week’s edition, but here’s excerpts from our Q&A, which goes deeper into the fallout with New Order, a discussion about late production genius Martin Hannett and the spectulative evolution of what Joy Division might have sounded like in the 1980s.
The only things I did not ask him, due to time restraints, involved what the hell was it like to know Tony Wilson, and about manager Rob Gretton’s incredibly astute prediction at Curtis’ wake 30 years ago that Joy Division would be infinitely more popular in future decades than they were at the time. As Curtis famously sang on “Atrocity Exhibition,” this is the way, step inside...(photo above by Steven Baker)
Michael Marotta: So I’m 31-years-old, and this is as close as I’ll ever get to seeing Joy Division live.
Peter Hook: Well you’re in good company mate, because it’s as close as I’m ever going to get. It’s quite an odd thing, because when we finished Joy Division we neglected it as New Order, because thought it was right thing to do, to prove yourself again, to toss it to the side, because it wasn’t the same. Ian wasn’t there, it wasn’t the same so we just dumped it and carried on. And we were very lucky, very talented actually, a good combo again, to be able to pull it off again. And literally it was only right toward the end -- the only time we ever played a Joy Division set was at the Versus Cancer benefit here in Manchester and then one more Joy Division set when we played at Wembley Arena, as New Order, and then that was it.
It was quite an odd feeling, because I know Bernard did say after we played Wembley, that “it’s fucking miserable that Joy Division stuff,” where I thought it was more majestic than miserable. But without being facetious, there is a stark contrast between the Joy Division stuff and the New Order stuff, there’s a much different feel to it. I dunno, the thing that ... the nicest thing about it is that people still want to hear it, so I’ve been very, very lucky to get the music back, after 30 years.
Which falls in line with the anniversary of Ian’s death, which you marked by playing the Factory in May --
It was quite odd really, when I did it I wanted to do something to celebrate Ian’s life, and Macclesfield, his hometown, was planning an exhibition, a charity gig, playing Joy Division songs with different singers. And I thought it was well overdue for the 30th anniversary, because as people we hadn’t celebrated anything to do with it -- one year, five years ten years 15, we’d never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division or Ian. After our split as New Order... you do gain the ability to view things from a distance, and I thought we were neglecting Joy Division actually, so when it fell through I felt, fuck it, I’ll do it myself, which was the reason I did the gig at the Factory, my club in Manchester, and why I did the exhibition of memorabilia that I have, because nobody else was doing it, and I was sick of waiting, to be honest. Since then there’s been a couple of attempts, but it wasn’t done to celebrate any date, so now I mean it’s actually really good to get the music back, and while it feels weird to not have any of the other members there, to play it, it’s a new nostalgia, so I’m happy to take it.
Was there any discussion with Bernard Sumner or Stephen Morris about taking part?
No, I have no contact with them whatsoever.
Well even with the Light, it must feel good to get back to that raw sound, “Disorder,” “She’s Lost Control,” -- 30 years on you’re back in a punk band.
I don’t want to harp on New Order but New Order was very set in its way and everything had to be done a certain way to please a certain party. There were certainly no freedom, or joy de vivre in it whatsoever, and its nice to be able to do anything you like. I mean it was quite odd really, Unknown Pleasures is a very well respected album, and it means a lot to a lot of people and I’ve had to be very careful to treat it with the respect I would hope that someone would show me if someone else would do it. I’m very aware of the fact that people take this seriously and I’d like to think that I’m doing it seriously, and the interesting thing these days is whilst you can write about it, people can go on Youtube and watch it, so they know you’re not messing around. People know what to expect.
And you did sing on that record, on “Interzone,” you did have a mic in front of you.
Yeah, on the album I sang on “Interzone” and Ian did the backing vocals. Ian was very generous as a vocalist, in if you wrote a song for him he was very gracious in trying it and insisting that everybody did backing vocals and basically there was a lot of him that wanted to be a musician. So he was desperate to get you to sing, which is unlike a lot of vocalists; a lot of them get very untracked. And he was the opposite. If you said I want to sing on this one he’d be over the moon to let you do it, he was a very generous guy and very open to suggestions and things like that. But no, it has been weird.
Each time we play it's weird because I watch the reaction it has on people in the audience and I must admit, while its not uncommon to see some old geezer sitting there weeping while we’re playing “Day of the Lords” or “New Dawn Fades,” and it’s also not uncommon to sit there and watch some young lady as well. And I’m the worst person in the world to appreciate or analyze what people feel about Joy Division because I was there, you see. I have a completely different handle on it.
But one thing that does make me happy is that my fellow musicians play it so well. They play it with a passion and fire that I didn’t expect to ever hear again. I got my son playing bass, because I tried to get other people to sing it, and every vocalist I asked was really reluctant, because of what they termed as internet criticism, that they would be criticized by the whole internet, and the thing is they all backed away from it so I thought, again fuck it I’ll do it, and somehow when I started to sing it, it made sense to me, where if you got another vocalist it wouldn’t have the same gravity.
Yeah well no one wants to fill the role of Ian Curtis. But you still got some pushback, I mean everyone read Mani’s Twitter rants--
The fact that Freebase ended so badly before it even began is just another chapter in rock and roll isn’t it? And it was unfortunate and it was very sad because of all the work we put into Freebass, because nobody treated it with the respect it deserved because of mine and Mani’s little falling out, which has been resolved. But unfortunately the damage was done. But anyway it’s one of those weird things, Mani’s sort of to blame for Freebase, because it was his idea to start Freebase in the first place, but it was also him doing Screamadelica with Primal Scream that got me thinking that I should do Unknown Pleasures, so he was to blame for both!
It was quite odd, I thought it was such a great idea, Mani and Bobby to play Screamadelica, and if anything it was that spurred me on to play Unknown. I read what Bobby said about playing Screamadelica the way he felt it should be, and how he ignored a lot of great songs, and in a way that’s how it was with Joy Division -- we didn’t play half the songs on Unknown Pleasures ... and its been an absolute pleasure to play it.
We actually play longer than New Order played, because of the amount of songs we do, to celebrate Unknown Pleasures, we start with the first recorded track, which was “At A Later Date,” and we finish with “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” so it’s something like 23, 24 songs. It’s quite a long set, and I’ve had to be careful because I'm not a vocalist. Had to look after myself.
The fan response has been mostly positive.
We’ve done a sold out tour of Australia, New Zealand, we did really well in Spain; we did a club tour in Spain, brought a thousand people a night. But we’re still very young you see, we only played Unknown Pleasures 15 times. When we get to America we’re still going to be a young group.
A group that includes your son, Jack.
It’s great having the boys there, and Jack is the same age as I was when I did Unknown Pleasures. I was 21 and sometimes when the music’s playing, and I look on the stage it’s like watching Control, haha, or watching a window into the past. I see that young me and it’s eerie and a strange place to be, but I’m having a great time. And its great to have him with me, not many people can keep tabs on their 21 years old son.
All the support we got in America over the years in New Order, it was a done deal as soon as I was asked to play in America. New Order was huge in America back in the day. To be honest with you I cannot wait, I’ve DJed loads of times in America, but I’ve not played in years and years and years and in that way it’s going to be strange to get out and gig again. In that way I’m really enjoying it.
Are you DJing here at all?
No, since I started playing, I’ve concentrated on the playing. And I do miss DJing because it really is the second best job in the world. Being paid to play other people’s music is nearly as good as playing your own ... I have to say, I still DJ at my club in Manchester, I DJ once a month there, and to be honest with you, it’s something that I’ve really grown to love, completely different than playing in a band and it took me years to appreciate it, the skillful aspect of it. I always thought the DJs were arrogant, pumped up full of their own self importance assholes, and when I became one I fit in perfectly! But apart from that, I actually learned there was a skill involved and it’s a very tough skill. It’s one of those weird jobs that when you do a good job as a DJ people don’t notice.
People certainly notice when it’s bad --
And you don’t notice it when its great, you just go with it. Its been a good education and also in a funny way gave me an interest back in music that I lost, that’s been drummed out, because I wasn’t happy in New Order. I sort of lost interest in music, and DJing gave it back, gave me back the love.
Well New York’s club scene in the 80s really helped shaped New Order: Danceteria, Arthur Baker... If Ian Curtis survived, would Joy Division have evolved down that same path?
Well that’s one of the saddest questions in the world because we’ll never know. But I suspect we’d have evolved the same. Ian was very interested in electronic music, Bernard and Stephen really grasped the technology that was coming along, it was only little old me that wanted to be a rock n’ roller. So I was in quite good company, and Ian kept introducing us to dance music, and if you listen to the way the synths and the drum machines as they, in their fledging role, came into New Order through Martin Hannett, I think we would have gone down the same path. One of the great mysteries of the world, I think, is what would Ian have sung on “Blue Monday.” I would love to know and if I ever get up there and get to sit next to him, you know, outside the pearly gates, that would probably be my first question, outside of ‘why did you do it, you fucker’ -- “What would have been your vocal line for Blue Monday?”
These personalities from the time, in the Joy Division circle, Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton, Tony Wilson -- I grew up in the ‘90s in the suburbs, and to younger people growing up in America, these names are like folk lore.
Martin Hannett was very responsible for making Joy Division last through three decades. just the very way he translated our music, he gave it life, he made it ethereal, he made it long lasting. He made it so people could literally dive into the record. Where have Bernard and I done it the way we wanted to, it would have been a punk record like the Sex Pistols. And you can’t thank Martin Hannett enough for it. And when I listen to Unknown Pleasures as I have been, I’m so glad he got his way and I didn’t get mine because I would have bloody ruined it.
And in a way by doing Unknown Pleasures the way I’m doing it now, it’s a good combination of the things that Martin brought and the rock n roll aspect the band brought to it. And I’ve tried to stay very very faithful to the record, I use all the sound effects from the record, the aura, that ethereal quality, that big-ness that Martin bestowed on it. It’s been quite enjoyable.
Strangely enough we are bringing them with us because we’re showing a film that was made for my Unknown Pleasures speaking tour, that I did with Howard Marks, and I have a film that this guy made that I thought was great a compendium of New Order and Joy Division. We’re going to show that as well because I thought the guy did such a fantastic job with it, its got some footage that hasn’t been seen before and things like that. so we’ll show that as a support act, so in a funny way, we are bringing Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson with us!
If Martin Hannett were alive, who do you think he’d be working with?
Haha. Martin Hannett was the most destructive producer I’ve ever met. The fact that he worked on chaos theory, he lived and loved the mess he could inspire by being difficult, by being awkward, by being off-the-wall, really chaotic, anarchic attitude to production, and that’s what he loved, but he was very destructive. The great thing they’d say about Martin is that you could put Martin the studio with any group, no matter how well they were getting on, and literally within 48 hours they would hate each other. But he made some great records, I think he’d still be there, among it all. When I look back on it I think he was very underestimated as a producer.
You mentioned you’re not speaking with Bernard and Stephen, so no chance of a New Order reunion down the line?
Hey Pulp announced their reunion this morning, so --
It’s quite interesting with Bernard and Stephen, while everyone seems to round on me and go “Oh you shouldn’t be doing Joy Division, you shouldn’t be doing Unknown Pleasures and all this, Bernard and Stephen actually play a lot of Joy Division songs with Bad Lieutenant. So you know, funnily enough its taken us all 30 years to be happy, and feel maybe we’re in a position where we can play it without feeling like you shouldn’t be doing it. There was always a lot of guilt with playing Joy Division songs in New Order, which was sad really, it’s a shame we had that guilt, because we should have been celebrating and should have been celebrating Ian. And that’s one thing that comes with age.
Perhaps the time in between has elevated it to this level. Maybe if it had been done sooner, maybe it wouldn’t have this cult status.
Yeah, but again, it’s that wonderful devil of internet criticism, those who do a bit of keyboard terrorism, the first thing they accuse you of, like Mani did in his rant, was cashing in. “You’re cashing in, you’re ripping off Ian Curtis” and my god I must be the worst fucking businessman in the world, because I waited 30 years to start cashing in. It’s no wonder the Hacienda folded really, is it. I couldn’t even get that right.”
Well the legend of the Hacienda swallowing up New Order royalties kinda gets you off the hook.
It’s still hard work, and I still have to work to earn a living. I’m not in a position where I could stop working, and thanks to all those years -- I wouldn’t swap it. It’s an odd thing to look back on all the mistakes you made, but fuck me it was a great party. Almighty parties like that do not come ‘round often. I’m glad to have had my splurge, so now I can get back up there.
I’m enjoying meeting the people, and I’m enjoying hearing what a wonderful record I made 30 years ago still means to people in 2010. I’ll be honest with you, there does come a moment in your life where you say “Wow, I’ll take the accolade.” I was very flattered to be given the opportunity. When I played it in May I literally expected to play it and that’d be it. And really I've been inundated to play it all around the world. Its been absolutely fantastic, really, and humbling to think there’s still the interest to do something that we did 30 years ago, to this extent. And the emotion brought out in people is amazing.
And they can show you their Unknown Pleasures pulsar tattoo.
You’d be amazed. I did a signing last week for “How Not To Run A Club” and a girl brought me her foot to sign. She has the barcode across her instep -- now that is painful. If I had pound for every piece of flesh I’ve signed, I wouldn’t have to come to America. But it’s a great compliment.
Yeah I’d say it’s a pretty good gig.
I kept telling to my son, if you had half as much fun as I’ve had, you’ve had a good life.