Meet: On the eve of his tour of Australia and New Zealand, we have a chat with the legendary Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order) about the origins of Joy Division, bass playing, being in a gang and touring.

It’s a slightly surreal experience to be talking to Peter Hook (Hooky), legendary bass player for Joy Division and New Order, thousands of kilometres away. I’m at the end of my day, his is just beginning, and he is resplendent in a silk dressing gown, sipping on a cup of tea with a pair of very stylish glasses.

Hooky and his band the Light are about to commence a sold-out series of shows in the antipodean region, so this was a perfect opportunity to have a chat about the tour and of course, ancient history. For those of tender dispositions, beware of fruity language.

Of course, I had to ask – and he wryly noted that he had been asked the same sort of question five times already that that morning – what was it like to be at the infamous performance of the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, on June 4, 1976, where all of the small numbers of attendees reputedly went on to form famous bands likes Joy Division, The Smiths, Buzzcocks, The Fall and Simply Red.

Hook laughs.

Not all!

You know I had a very boring job and I used to read the musical press vociferously as a diversion. I was reading about the Sex Pistols and punk right from the first time it all appeared in the press. I went on holiday to Cornwall – the four of us sleeping in a car – and while I was in Cornwall I bought the Melody Maker, and it had a picture of the Sex Pistols fighting at The Screen on the Green venue on the front cover – only a small part but it was on the front cover. I thought ‘wow, this looks interesting – what is this?’ – the contrast! You know I was into heavy metal – a heavy metal kid, I was a pop kid into normal discos. I wasn’t particularly interested in music, but I was getting into Roxy Music, the Cockney Rebels and bands like that. I was branching out.

I read it and I came home, and I simply said to Barney (Bernard Sumner) – I phone him up at home and said ‘oh, we should go and see this band – they are on in Manchester tonight for 50p’. I told him I read about them having a fight every gig. He said (Hooky mimics Sumner in a falsetto whine) ‘a fight at every gig? That’s not like Jimmy Page, is it?

So we went along – 50p – I had been to the Lesser free Trade Hall before because I worked at Manchester Town Hall and they used have their parties there, so I knew where it was. It was only a small, I think the maximum capacity was about two hundred and there was forty people there. We were all sat down. The support band did a twenty-three-minute cover of Nantucket Sleigh Ride by Mountain, so there was no surprises there (they were a heavy metal band). And then the Sex Pistols came on, and the sound was awful, their attitude was terrible – they spent all the time telling us to fuck off and I watched this and though, fuck me, I could do this – tell everyone to fuck off over a cacophonous noise.

So, on the way out, I said to Barney we should form a band – we should become a punk band – which was absolutely fucking ridiculous. He had a guitar but nothing else and that next day I bought a bass guitar. Not easily – I didn’t know what a bass guitar was – and we started a band.

The next night I went and met him at his grandmother’s house, and we started writing punk songs. I’d never played before – he had hardly played – and we wrote our first tune that night. We managed to blow up his grandmother’s stereo because we wired the jack plugs to the needle of the record player, which lasted about ten minutes before the fucking thing blew up and she was chasing us down the street with a wooden spoon (waves his arms around wildly) because we had blown up her record player.

So yeah – it was a very punk beginning for Joy Division.

One of the most distinctive things about Joy Division and New Order is Hooky’s scything bass playing – lifting the traditionally anaemic anonymous background bass playing role into a lead instrument role with their celestial melodic lines. I wondered if these bass lines came first or developed later to match the other instruments. Hooky stated that for Joy Division, all the songs developed organically through jamming together.

Seventy-five per cent of New Order’s music was written by jamming. I can say this without fear of contradiction. It used to piss Barney off in the end, to be honest (mimics Sumner again) ‘Eugh do we have to jam’ (pulls a face). It was too much like hard work for him to fucking jam, and yet all our songs would come from jams – even the sequencer songs. You’d get a sequence; loop it and you would play over it – me and him would play over it. And that was how the songs were written, and then you would pick the best bits off your TEAC eight track or sixteen track and that would be the song – ‘oh that bit’s great innit? We’ll repeat that’.

Ian Curtis used to do this – he’d go ‘that bit’s great, play it three times’. So, our tape machine became Ian Curtis – we actually wrote ‘Ian Curtis’ on it.

The great thing about Joy Division is that each member was very equal – the input from Steve, Barney and I was completely equal, it was all our own writing, and Ian was the same. The marriage of that group was very balanced – there was no problem with the writing. I’ve never been in a group since that’s been like that. Me and Pottsy (David Potts) were balanced in Monaco – fifty-fifty but New Order was not like that.

I was still intrigued about how Hooky’s style of bass playing evolved into something so unique and distinctive. Hooky didn’t beat around the bush:

Well, that is all down to me, isn’t it! Barney did say to me once, ‘can’t you just play the root note’ and incredibly I didn’t know what a fucking root note was, but it didn’t sound good, so I said ‘no I can’t play the root note, fuck off. You play the fucking root note’. Cheeky bastard.

It was like when Badly Drawn Boy told me to play a pentatonic scale. I thought ‘you fucking cheeky bastard telling me’ – I didn’t even know what a pentatonic scale was – I said ‘fuck off’ and we had a massive row during a Cancer benefit in town. I nearly killed him, the cheeky bastard…

Not very punk!

No! ‘Can you play a pentatonic scale?’ – ‘Fuck off you knobhead’, I said to him. We have since made up and are great friends now, but I thought at the time, what an insult.

Hooky proudly goes on to say he still can’t play a pentatonic scale and still has no idea what it is. That’s what he is like, and he’s not going to change.

Pentatonic scale? It doesn’t sound healthy, does it? It sounds like something you go to the Doctor for.

Hooky proudly and passionately defends the role of the bass player:

I hate the fact that someone would say to another ‘oh you’re just the bass player…’. I remember being held back on stage once when I was watching Fad Gadget at a festival, and he threw his guitar at the bass player – he was mouthing off at the bass player and he threw his guitar at him, and the bass player didn’t do anything and they fucking had to hold me back – I was going to go stage and kill him – ‘you cheeky bastard, you’re throwing a guitar at a bass player’! I got dragged off stage…great band, though, Fad Gadget – one of my favourite bands. Very underrated.

Hooky’s self-deprecating humour continuously shines through – he doesn’t care what people think of him and his tireless defence of the bass player seems to have been born from what he sees as a deep-seated antipathy for his contribution to New Order.

I do know that specifically ‘Bernard’ (complete with air quotes) was less than enamoured by all the bass riffs and I remember one completely insulting moment when he said to me right at the end ‘I’ve left you the eight-bar bit in the middle for you to put your bass on. I said, ‘what about the rest of the fucking song?’ It’s supposed to be a group. His idea of a group was not what my idea of a group was, at the end. He did honestly say – I remember we were arguing once about a song (it was only ever him and me that argued – Steve never said anything) and he said ‘well, we will have to compromise’ and I said alright then, that’s fair enough, let’s compromise, and he said, ‘well, go on then, compromise’, and I said what? And he said ‘go ahead and compromise’, and I said that doesn’t mean compromise when only one of us does it – we BOTH must compromise! He was like ‘oh, does it?

Hooky speaks of his love for being in a group – the dynamics and the collegiate joy – in contrast to solo recording:

I love the fact that people play together – I can’t do anything on my own. You could give me the simplest of equipment that you could play and record on, and you start layering shit up and I can do it, but I don’t want to because I find it boring. The thing that I love is playing with people and having a gang that are moving towards a goal. The best gang that I have ever been in was Joy Division. They were fantastic as a gang.

At this stage, Hooky diverts into an episode where it was suggested there be no bass line in a New Order song, and his anger was palpable and a sign of his forthcoming departure from the band. He recounts a tale from the recording of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ where the engineer Mike Johnson fell out with Sumner who was pushing for the removal of the bass from a track:

The song was written on a bass and he wanted it to be (mimicking Sumner) ‘electronic, man – it’s the future’. I wanted the bass up, Bernie wanted it down, so Mike rigged up a fader on the desk for him (Sumner) so he could turn the bass up or down, and he was there (again mimicking Sumner) ‘just a gnat’s bollocks, just a gnat’s bollocks down’ – it never went up, it only came down. I was fucking fuming although I couldn’t hear any difference when he was doing his gnat’s bollocks bit, and he would be saying ‘oh that’s better, just a gnat’s bollocks down’. And Mike says to me when he was going out for a piss – ‘don’t worry – the fader’s not connected to anything…

At this point I commented that given the clear continued antagonism between Hooky and Sumner, there was absolutely no chance of a reconciliation, to which Hooky replied not after what they did to me but then mysteriously noted they were having a meeting soon and he had probably breached an NDA by admitting that. I press no further, but then Hooky dampens any hope by adding that he and the members of New Order had reached a huge legal impasse which could escalate and a meeting had been called for February to settle this.

Our other meetings have been less than successful so I’m not seeing any reunion tours in sight – it would be very difficult. It would be like going on holiday with someone who killed your dog. People say, forget about that – think of the money, but I loved that dog (laughs)

I commented on Hooky’s replacement in New Order (who I saw recently) wore his bass much higher than Hooky famously does. Hooky wryly says:

I’m not even entering into this discussion. And I tell you what, his bass might have been worn high, but I bet it wasn’t fucking high in the mix…

Hooky couldn’t resist to add more:

I suppose I should take it as a compliment, but I get to play my own bass lines sounding how they should and somebody is emulating (badly). If I had a pound for every fan who says ‘what’s happened to New Order, they don’t sound like New Order anymore’ and I say well the answer to that is pretty obvious.

In a funny way, there are now two chances for fans to hear songs you never got to hear before because they wouldn’t play them. New Order have now played more in their fifties and sixties than they ever did in their thirties and forties.

We discussed other musicians and bands in this situation – The Smiths with Morrissey and Johnny Marr separately continuing to play Smiths songs, The Stone Roses at one point, but Hooky gets serious and poignantly says:

I wish we weren’t at daggers drawn because life is too short and what happens to me every day is that I realise that life is too short to carry on with shit like this.

I’ve kept my good bit which is going out and playing to fans how I think it should sound and I really, really enjoy it, put my heart and sole into it. I love it – I’ve got that bit but because of that bit I have to put up with the shit.

I move on to the more joyful topic of the antipodean tour and the band he’s bringing with him. Hooky’s son used to play with the Light, but he has now joined Smashing Pumpkins on bass – a source of pride for Hooky. At the heart of what Hooky loves is the performance and theatre of live gigs, not the stultifying nature of recording studios.

Ironically, I’ve been playing with Pottsy now longer than I have with New Order. We started in 1990 which is thirty-two years ago – he joined Revenge as the bass player and ben stuck with me ever since. The band is a great unit – we have a lot of fun. There’s not the writing egos in the band. It’s the writing egos which always seem to be the problem.

I have a different attitude to it – it’s hard to explain. There were always frustrations in New Order and these were plain to see, and I don’t have those frustrations any more. The recipe for writing great music is to get the caustic fellows, the toxic boys, to write together and then don’t send them out on fucking tour! Like the Beach Boys did! They wrote great music together but couldn’t stick each other. The secret is not to put together a band where there is no the fighting for song writing, the beefs and bugbears you get in the studio (mimics) ‘I want it to be louder, I want it this way, I want it that way’ – all that crap you don’t get on tour. On tour you get together a bunch of musicians who are enthusiastic about playing live – ‘yeah we love to go on tour, we’d love to go to Australia, we love it there’.

I expressed my disappointment that the band wasn’t coming to Hobart this time:

We played in Hobart, we did make it there once to Tasmania, a really interesting place, we played at the casino there – it was a great gig, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place.

The band is slightly limited where you can go and it really isn’t my call. We’re doing nine gigs including New Zealand and we even got offered three more gigs to put on the end of it but we couldn’t do it from a time point. It’s going to be a very good tour.

The difference is when New Order used to come to play, we would do four dates over three weeks and now, we go over for three weeks and play twelve dates – there’s much more of a work ethic as opposed to a holiday ethic.

My manager is a lot more realistic than Rob Gretton was – God rest his soul – Rob used to book a holiday and stick some gigs on the end of it! Now what we do is book some gigs and stick a holiday at the end of it…but I have to say I’ve had wonderful times for days and weeks in Australia and able to tour around and really enjoy ourselves, so it certainly never felt like work when you were in New Order. The gigs felt like a hindrance on your holiday.

I was curious about what Hooky’s favourite song was to play and he said it changes all the time. He referred to a recent ‘The Sound Of Joy Division Orchestrated’ UK concerts he did with Manchester Camerata where they played ‘Unknown Pleasures’ with a classical accompaniment for months. They had to change their approach to the material completely – and now were in the process of changing back for the tour, relearning the songs again.

On the classical side, you have a completely different feel to all the songs and I really came to like it, so to go back to the harder, rockier, more aggressive edge of it is going to be quite strange.

I must admit, the bit I most like is the freedom to play the albums as they were done – I love the lows and the highs. The greatest thing about playing Joy Division albums in their entirety is because we never put the singles on the albums, you’re always going to have a great end to the gig when you can play ‘Transmission’, ‘Ceremony’, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Digital’ as finale. It really doesn’t matter what you play before – such a great end.

New Order was the same – you can play any New Order album with some not well-known tracks on it and low and behold at the end you can do ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Age of Consent’, ‘Thieves Like Us’, Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Crystal’ – you’re guaranteed that the end is going to go off and you can indulge yourself and then give people what they want in the singles. It’s like a ‘thank you’ – you’ve allowed me to indulge myself so now I will indulge you – it’s the perfect relationship.

I’m particularly liking playing all the more obscure New Order songs at the moment – ‘The Hymn’, ‘Elegia’, ‘Leave Me Alone’, ‘In A Lonely Place’ (New Order/Joy Division’) – the whacky New Order material, an eclectic collection that we use as a warm up, so I get to indulge myself. This is nice -the fans get to hear some really whacky stuff.

We’ve actually played a lot of the albums in Australia but there’s still a lot of songs people will never have heard live.

I am enjoying this immensely – I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy it as much as I do!

I asked whether Peter and the Hook are playing a carbon copy of Joy Division and New Order live or bringing their own interpretation to the songs. Hooky was quite clear that rather than emulate the bands live, his aim was to reawaken the recordings:

I would hate – I cannot imitate Joy Division – in the way that nobody could imitate New Order. New Order were New Order – they sounded unique. This to me isn’t New Order and never will be. Again, Joy Division were a three piece. Barney played keyboards or guitar. Joy Division were a very angular band – more aggressive than I play it now.

What struck me early on was that very little was actually heard of Joy Division the band on record. Most people have heard Joy Division only on the albums, so I thought as a way of a thank you of Martin Hannett (the genius producer of Joy Division albums at Factory Records) we would do a celebration of the album. I got the idea from Bobby Gillespie for ‘Screamadelica’ – I saw him talking about it and he was saying his favourite songs on ‘Screamadelica’ were the ones they didn’t play, and I thought – shit, that’s like us – the songs we didn’t play – like ‘I Remember Nothing’ were my favourite songs and I wondered if we could play the album as recorded.

That’s my gimmick: to play the album, celebrating the music plus making it sound more like the album than Joy Division live because Joy Division live was so different. The reason me and Barney moaned about ‘Unknown Pleasures’ was because it didn’t sound like Joy Division – like our version of Joy Division. Martin had caught another version of Joy Division and given it eternal life. Our version was like a punk band. Same songs, same lyrics, same melodies – his version lasts forever. I can’t thank him enough. He’s the one I would give the biggest hug to –  if I could ever stumble through the Pearly Gates, he’s the one.

It’s nice to be able to do it, to take aspects of the record and play them live in a way Joy Division didn’t do, through sampling, to actually get the atmosphere of the record.

When we started to pay ‘Unknown Pleasures’, I used to play the scratch from my copy of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ – I used to play the outro scratch and no-one ever mentioned this at all. I thought that attention to detail was wonderful. All the samples, like the lift, the crashing cups, they are taken from the original tapes. I shouldn’t say the original tapes otherwise they will be suing me again…they are COPIES to try and get the atmosphere of the original record.

And I love it – I love being forced to play the very difficult song like ‘I Remember Nothing’, every night – the most difficult song of all and the reason why we never played it as Joy Division. And now I have an excuse – I can’t leave it out because I’m playing the bloody album. And being pushed to doing something difficult is the greatest thing. I feel I have improved as a musician and certainly as a vocalist – I can now get away with it (laughs).

This was a conversation that could have gone on endlessly, but I had to bring it to an end regretfully for the sake of other interviewers in the queue. Hooky ended by expressed his keen desire to make it to Hobart next time. Perfect for a holiday with a gig tacked on the end.

For the rest of Australia and New Zealand, most gigs have sold out but details of the tour are below -tickets available here.

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  1. […] my interview last year with Hooky, he stressed these gigs were not about being a carbon copy of the […]

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