PETER HOOK: THE ‘JOY DIVISION ORCHESTRATED’ INTERVIEW
It’s impossible to think of early 80s post-punk music and not remember the impact of the bands Joy Division and New Order. It’s also one of the most tragic stories in rock ‘n’ roll history. Just days before leaving for America on their first international tour and on the verge of an international breakthrough, armed with a powerful new single Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division singer Ian Curtis took his own life. Left to pick up the pieces the remaining members, guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris, and bass player Peter Hook went on to form New Order and enjoyed massive global success with hits such as Blue Monday, Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith, until they broke up (twice) with the final blow coming in 2007. Sumner and Morris then reconvened the band in 2011, however, didn’t include nor inform Hook and communication since between the former childhood mates has been through lawyer letters only. Though unimpressed with proceedings, Peter Hook took stock of his life, formed his own band Peter Hook and The Light and has happily toured the world for the last nine years playing material by both Joy Division and New Order, mixed in with his own newer songs. Then having witnessed the success of the crossover dance music/classical music project Hacienda Classical and being badgered by its creator Tim Crooks to give Joy Division’s music the Hacienda treatment, Hook finally caved and now is about to tour Australia with his ambitious new show Joy Division Orchestrated, which features that band’s music played by a powerful 44 piece orchestra.
Ahead of the upcoming tour Australian Musician editor, Greg Phillips gave ‘Hooky’ a call to discuss the tour, as well as his past, present, and future.
I believe that Australia was one of the first countries to get behind Joy Division and Love Will Tear Us Apart in particular, is that true?
I think it was late ’81 or early ’82 that we first managed to get to Australia (as New Order). We were brought over by Viv Lees and Ken West who went on to do the Big Day Out. Triple J was the one in Sydney that I think voted Love Will Tear Us Apart as the best song ever for 15 years or something. Watching that from the ashes of Joy Division was very gratifying.
When did the idea come up for you to do Joy Division Orchestrated?
I was working with Tim Crooks who was the conductor and arranger of another classical project, which was a dance music interpretation of the Hacienda (a Manchester nightclub which New Order financed) tunes with an orchestra which has proved to be very, very successful. Over about four years, every year Tim would say … oh, I would love to get my hands on Joy Division. I was like, in yer dreams mate! Over the years after being very skeptical from the start, now the interpretation is so powerful … we just did a sell-out concert in Manchester with 14, 15 thousand people, an absolutely wonderful night with the Hacienda Classical. It came through that … I realized.. when I was honest with myself that I’d been ripping off classical sounds with Joy Division with Martin Hannett with the strings, the brass, oboe sounds, these were elements that we were putting into Joy Division. I mean we didn’t understand it at the time. Then when we moved into New Order, we were able to sideline the musicians and synthesize them quite easily. If you listen to a lot of New Order’s Music … Blue Monday … there’s strings, brass, oboes, we were ripping them off a long long time ago. So I suppose in a karma kind of the way we are paying back our dues with this. I must admit Malcolm McLaren was a wonderful inspiration, obviously he sold me my ticket to go and see the Sex Pistols on the 4th of June 1976 for 50p, then 40 years later he ended up sampling Love Will Tear Us Apart for an LP project he was doing and put it together with Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together, which I thought was a wonderful compliment. So I am able to to use that version in our show to pay homage to Malcolm McLaren for his role in giving me what has been a fantastic life. One of the nicest things about doing this alone is that I don’t have to do it by the committee and this is very much my interpretation, in the same way, that the others have done their interpretations over the years. I must admit, that it brings an air of melancholy out in me. I obviously get reflective about what happened to us in Joy Division, so I am able to indulge in shall we say the fabric of it and in the end, use the music to elicit hope and power in going forward which, whether we like it or not we all have to do in this world. Without hope really we have nothin’.
What do you reckon Ian would have made of this orchestral project?
When we were together as Joy Division, his greatest wish was to take Joy Division around the world. I always swore in a funny way that I would do everything to keep Joy Division going. Joy Division didn’t work well within New Order. Bernard, in particular, tended not to enjoy playing Joy Division so we did very, very little. It was only in 2010 that I decided to celebrate Ian’s life with Peter Hook and The Light that I actually got that wish. Peter Hook and The Light went around the world playing everywhere, all the places where Ian never got to go. So I like to think that it fulfilled his ambition from that point of view. If he were here he’d probably stop me and the others from arguing. But yeah I think he’d be Ok with it, he was pretty easy going Ian. The only thing he wanted to do was to make you happy, which was probably one of his problems really. Instead of looking after himself, he was fixated on worrying about everyone else. I’d like to think that he’d be up there smilin’. This is very much a celebration and a thank you to Joy Division from me. I’d like to think that with the fans, we can share it together.
Is there one particular song that you think benefits more than others by the orchestra treatment?
The whole thing is done as an art piece if you like. It starts in a particular way with a piano version of Love Will Tear Us Apart and finishes with what I think are two of our most powerful tracks. It tells the story of Joy Division from start to finish with the orchestra. So tugging at the heartstrings is the way to describe it. It’s very sad what happened to Ian and sad what happened to Joy Division. That fact is that just as we were about to make it, the pressures involved … we were very clearly thwarted in what was very clearly looking like a successful career, it was beckoning shall we say. There’s always that sense of loss of a great friend, the sense of frustration that we always feel whenever anybody commits suicide. So you are bringing those elements out again but hopefully putting out an upbeat, hopeful message.
You say in your book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, that you never really dealt with Ian’s death properly at the time and it was only when you went back to an old rehearsal studio that it really hit you. Could you explain what you meant?
Yeah, that’s true. I mean as kids, we were allowed to ignore it. You know that thing when you are young and the adults go off to a funeral and we’d just be left at home wondering what the hell is going on. We just went to the pub and drowned our sorrows. We got a lot of strength from being together at that time and carrying on as New Order. The truth is that we threw ourselves into New Order completely to obliterate the grief and the frustration that we felt in leaving a great friend in Ian. It never really struck me until a long time after. It was The Swan in Salford, which was a pub where we used to practice upstairs. As long as we bought a pint and a pie the landlady would let us practice upstairs. I went back and stood in the room that we started in, you know, in 1976 and yeah it was a wild, wild moment and then I did realize, especially as I’ve got older that we should have grieved, we should have taken some time off and done it properly as most normal people deal with grief. Because we were in a group, we were encouraged to carry on writing, get going and put it to the back of your mind. Now I know it was the wrong thing to do. Now I’ve had 43 years as a musician, I realize I could have taken 6 months off back then to make sure we coped. When you are young you always think that somebody is going to come and seize it from you, take it away and you are desperate to cling on. Now you have a completely different way of looking at life. It’s a shame. I mean it worked, New Order was much more commercially successful than Joy Division were because of the effort we put into New Order by ignoring Joy Division. It was literally 25 years later when someone… I think it was me … decided we should do a Joy Division song for a charity concert we did in Manchester. We did our first Joy Division track, which must have been about 2004 and Bernard, in particular, didn’t enjoy it. He really didn’t enjoy singing Joy Division songs and we sidelined it after that, we only did it once more and went back to New Order, which is perfectly understandable and perfectly logical. It’s only since I started playing Joy Division more or less full time, that the others decided to amalgamate Joy Division into their set in Joy Division Forever. Maybe they think I have taken it off them somehow, which is not true. But let’s face it, it’s good for the fans!
What’s the most disappointing thing about the situation with Bernard and New Order, is it that you can’t make music together now or is that you don’t have that friendship anymore?
No we certainly don’t have the friendship. The rivalry seems to be … over the years I must admit since we split up in 2007 and they decided to get back together in 2011 without informing me or giving me any say in any of the negotiations or arrangements that were made … I tried to instigate an agreement between us. The only reaching we ever did was with all of the lawyers present, which has made things very antagonistic and very uncomfortable for everybody, so we have never managed to get a relationship back. From that, I think I can very safely say that the relationship at the moment is as bad as it ever was since 2011 and it is an absolute tragedy … now we have to sit there every day being very vocal against each other, which at our age is absolutely ridiculous. We’ve had a great life with both bands. I play New Order’s music, they play New Order’s music. It’s still very, very appreciated what we did and about the only people who can’t appreciate it are the people who made it. I mean really what we need to do is what most normal people would do … sit down, have a pint, hash it out, let lose a few tears and a little bit of anger and get on with your life and stop annoying each other. It’s a weird thing with the way the legal system works in England where lawyers basically profit from the altercations, so in a funny way, I suppose you are not going to get a lawyer saying, oh why don’t we all just meet in the pub and put this behind us.
I know with a lot of the Unknown Pleasures album, you weren’t happy with the mix at the time and there were bass parts that you weren’t happy within some songs, does this new project offer you an opportunity to play the music the way you always wanted it to be played?
You know what? The answer there would be no! The simple reason that I was unhappy with Joy Division albums at the time was that they sounded otherworldly, they didn’t sound like me. I wanted to sound like The Clash. In my head I was playing songs like The Clash, you know London Burning or The Sex Pistols. Martin Hannett didn’t capture that … but .. he caught something far more important, which is something I have realized over the years. We gave him a gift and he gave us a gift. Martin Hannett was right and we were wrong. So I am very glad that I and Barney didn’t get our way on the production of Unknown Pleasures or Closer because he gave it … an aura and they are very adult, shall we say accomplished songs but as he puts it, written by idiots! No one was more puzzled than Martin Hannett about how us idiots .. because he loved Ian, he thought Ian was incarnate in wonderful artistic impressions but his impression of me, Barney and Steve was that we were just idiots (laughs). One of his greatest frustrations was how these three idiots make music as powerful as this.
Have you had to change the way you play at all on this tour because you are playing with an orchestra?
Yeah, we have to be more delicate because we have to respect the amount of volume that the orchestral players have. We are used to turning up but we have to turn down so we are level with them acoustically, which is fine actually. It is actually nice. Over my work with the orchestral projects with the Hacienda in England I have learned respect, shall we say. A lot of musicians, me included, the answer to everything is to just turn up to eleven. To actually have to turn down to make sure we have a level with everybody else from the piccolo to the double bass, we have to be much more disciplined in our approach. I mean not disciplined in playing. They are very studious in their approach to the music whereas we are able to ad-lib because it is in our blood. There is a difference in those two aspects of it. We have to be much more respectful of the acoustics involved. Playing with 4 people has its wonderful moments, to play with 44 people and have wonderful moments is a completely different feeling and very powerful for that. At the Royal Albert Hall, the reaction … was such a wonderful compliment because nobody had ever heard it before.
What basses are you using on this tour?
From a bass point of view, I have now been given my own bass guitar by Yamaha which is the Peter Hook signature bass guitar. I have used a Yamaha bass in every incarnation from Joy Division for every song to New Order to the current day with the orchestra. Love Will Tear Us Apart was written on a Yamaha BB600. Then Yamaha got in touch a couple of years ago and said they’d like to do a Peter Hook signature bass, which was a wonderful compliment. I am using the Peter Hook signature which is a copy of my BB1200, my original bass guitar from 1980 that I have played for 40 odd years. It’s funny, even though we have our problems in Joy Division and New Order still, you do get your wonderful moments in your career where you realize that whatever happens, it is just part of your career. Moments like being given the honor to have a signature model with Yamaha makes life worthwhile. And the shit? You just have to put up with it because life for everybody is like that. I am sure you’re no different!
What are you most proud of in your music career?
My god, what am I most proud of? Well, the fact that I am still here! I’m still rockin’ which is a great compliment, you know to my mother and father. This business is funny. I have learned more about this business since New Order split up than I ever knew before and it is not a pretty business. It really isn’t. If anyone was going to get any advice from me, they would be getting a lot of, shall we say, warnings about the people in this business. I thought I had loads of friends in this business. When New Order split up and got together again, I found out I didn’t. It is called show business for a reason, it’s not called show friends. The worst thing that ever happened to me was that part of my musical career. Luckily I was able to get over it. Working now with The Light is very satisfying because I’ve got to be honest, it’s because of what I have now with my bandmates. My wife is the greatest advocate for every time I do a gig now, she says I come home with a smile on my face, I just wish that was the case for everybody. As to who is to blame we will never know. You can read the books and you can read everybody’s interpretation of what happened and you have to make your own mind up.
Joy Division’s legendary bass player Peter Hook is set to tour Australia with The Metropolitan Orchestra this August for a string of five concerts which will see him, special guests and a full orchestra perform the band’s seminal post-punk repertoire with classical elements.
Friday 2nd August 2019 Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Friday 9th August 2019 Perth Concert Hall, Perth
Sunday 11th August 2019 Plenary Theatre, Melbourne
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