“To be in one band that changed the world musically is pretty good; but to be in two bands that changed the world musically, that’s amazing.” So said Peter Hook – former Joy Division/New Order bassist – when we spoke last month. Hook is coming around the clubs once again. Over the past few years, he helmed Peter Hook and the Light, which was Hook and younger musicians (including his son) playing the first two JD albums (plus singles) with Hooky making a surprisingly strong Ian Curtis replacement. And the band perfectly recreating the crystalline sound producer Martin Hannett got on those Joy Division albums. (It wasn’t a sound Hook liked at the time; they were a much rougher live band, but he’s grown to love it.)
Now, Hook and the band are touring again – at Royale Saturday Nov. 8 – playing the New Order albums, “Low-life” and “Brotherhood.” (Bonus: They’ll play a shorter Joy Divison opening set. Expect “Shadowplay,” “Transmission” and five more.) You may think, “But isn’t there already a New Order out there? Didn’t I see them last year?” I did, at the (then Bank of America) Pavilion, fronted by guitarist-singer Bernard Sumner with drummer Stephen Morris and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. Plus a new bassist. Somebody who’s not Peter Hook. Well, that’s an issue to be addressed and we do so here with a long interview from England. (The photo is of Hooky, my wife Roza and myself, backstage at the Paradise after last year’s autumn gig.)
JSInk: This is not me speaking, Hooky, but a cynic might say: Peter Hook has flogged one horse to death with Joy Division, and now he’s come back to flog another.
Hook: Well, I suppose one man’s meat is another man’s poison, isn’t it? It’s an interesting theory, that, but you have to look at every group in the world: By playing their old material are they flogging it to death? The only redeeming factor I suppose you’d have to say for Joy Division was they hadn’t been played by anybody for 30 years and if it weren’t for one member of the group hadn’t have done it, it wouldn’t have been played at all. My yardstick is whether you’re up there playing to nobody and that hasn’t happened yet. I take it there are enough people out there who agree with what I’m doing to enable me to do it. It’s an odd thing – I do view what I’m doing as slightly more artistic than flogging an old horse because there aren’t that many people who actually play the LPs in full. Now for someone of my generation, LPs were what I centered my life around – be it Velvet Underground, be it Nico, be it Wishbone Ash, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple. I used to listen to the LPs for escapism and I didn’t listen to one track, I’d usually listen to the LP it its entirety. And there was that delicious moment in the middle when you turned it over. And it defined my life. I must admit, one of the things I did get criticized for was not talking in between numbers by a few people. And I thought if you were listening to an LP and somebody tried talking to you it really used to piss me off which is why I don’t do it. The odd thing is I’m not used to taking career advice from strangers so you have to do and follow what your heart dictates. The interesting thing about New Order is because they’ve reformed – without me, without my knowledge or consent, and I’m still seeking a legal remedy to that – they sort of … somebody’s stolen it from you. The reason Bernard said they done it was because I was playing Joy Division stuff and it conveniently escaped his memory that he was playing Joy Division stuff before me with Bad Lieutenant. Which is pretty typical of Bernard I have to say. The thing is, it was quite natural for me to play the Joy Division stuff and then move on to play the New Order stuff. My idea is to play every song I’ve ever written and recorded once before I go and join Ian in the great orchestra in the sky, or start gardening whichever comes first. I’m hoping it’ll be the gardening, obviously. Playing the LPs, particularly for an LP like “Closer,” and for an LP like “Movement,” which is much less well-known than “Power, Corruption and Lies,” it requires more involvement not only on behalf of the band but also on behalf of the audience. You could take the easy way out and do what New Order, New Odor, do and play a greatest hits set. That is the easiest thing to do.
People might think, well, resurrect Joy Division, yes, but New Order. Isn’t there a New Order.
I did see them last month and they played four Joy Division songs in their set at the encore.
Yeah, and [they’re] criticizing me for it? The interesting thing about New Order, before we split up, was that it became not do as I do, do as I say. It used to infuriate me and I found it very frustrating, the contradiction involved in what they did and what they asked you to do. It was unfair and they proved it over and over again. They proved it with Bad Lieutenant [2008-2011, with Phil Cunningham] and now they’ve proved it by carrying on the way they are and then criticize you for it. It’s tit for tat, isn’t it?
How was the power split up in New Order?
In what way?
Decisions like what to do? What to record?
[Our manager] Rob Gretton has a strange way of dictating what we did. Rob Gretton’s method was if anybody is really upset about what we’re doing then we shouldn’t do it. Unfortunately that played into the hands of shall we say, the more devious people amongst us, so there was nothing done by majority, it was all dictated by the least flexible member, shall we say. That continued for a long time and what happened was, when we first split up and it was perfect, really, because it was just bollocks to be honest. When we got back together again, I thought to myself if it ever got as bad as it was last time, I would split the band. And that’s what happened.
What got so bad and when?
The problem was I felt there was a divergence of taste, shall we say, “musical differences” between Bernard and I that was unbridgeable and it seemed that the way he was acting his attitude toward the music, to the group and to the audience. It looked to me like he didn’t want New Order to exist anymore. There was no communication between us. We were very separate. Steve was, and always had been, right in the middle on the fence, would jump either way. It was Bernard and myself that were writing the bulk of the material together, we did “Get Ready” together more or less, we did the bulk of the writing on “Waiting for the Sirens Call” and I just felt that it was like an empty shell. It seemed like neither he nor I was enjoying this and it felt like it was time for this to finish.
Eh, 2006. What happened then was we had amicably split, but it wasn’t announced, and then I announced. My line for the group was Bernard and I were no longer working together. And I carried that on until we did an interview with a guy in Manchester called Clint Boon and he said, “Then you’ve split up haven’t you if you’re not working together?” I said, “Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” and then it went “New Order has split” all around the world. Johnny Marr told Bernard years ago that you shouldn’t say you split so you can always come back. I remember him telling me that. But the group had split. We divided the equipment. I had meetings with Bernard and Stephen where we shook each other’s hands and said “It was great, let’s knock on the head now and get on with our lives.” Then, what happened was Bernard and Steve [Morris, drummer] issued that statement where they refused to accept that we’d split. It seems – and this is quite ridiculous to me as a musician – that you are treated much worse, shall we say, if you leave the band than if the band splits. If the band splits, each member retains their rights. If somebody leaves, then they relinquish their rights. For them to turn around and say that I’d left, it smacked of – I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but it looked like something was coming, shall we say, that they were cooking something up. Which is exactly what they did. If you left, it enabled them to give you a much worse settlement than if the band had split and they started the band up again. It’s simply about that. That’s what they did by not informing me. And not including me in the negotiations for the reformation whether they wanted to work with me or not, was not fair. You don’t get divorced by the wife just taking all your money, all your clothes and locking you out of the house, do you? That isn’t fair. And that’s what I’m fighting, the unfairness of it.
And that’s in court now, correct?
Yes, it’s ongoing now. We’re still seeking a legal remedy.
We touched upon this previously, your drugging, drinking years, your recovery. How did that affect them, do you think? Were they still doing what you used to do and was there a rift because of that?
My counselor actually, when I went for treatment, did say to me, “Don’t expect anybody else to change because they won’t.” And lo and behold, not just them, nobody changed. The only person that changed was me and that wasn’t easy. Because I suppose in your befuddled state and your very vulnerable state that you go into when you go into recovery, you sort of expect that everyone will make it easier for you. There’s that naiveté to life that I always have, and nobody did. In fact a lot of the time, they made it much more difficult but I got through it and I’ve been sober now for nine years.
Did your decision put a wedge there? He’s no longer one of us, he doesn’t party like us.
I don’t know. You would have to ask them. Certainly, one of the best pieces of advice I got came from our lighting guy and he was a recovering alcoholic and he said beware of the clarity. It’s blinding. And lo and behold, he was absolutely right the clarity was absolutely blinding. It is a problem. When you first get sober, you become this sorting out machine. I can sort everything out now because I’m sober. I want everybody to be like me. And there’s a selfishness – which is apparent in being an alcoholic – which is also apparent in becoming a recovering alcoholic. You have to deal with that as well. Probably then … In the old days, when anything went wrong and anything went wrong, maybe you were the same, when you’re really pissed off at work, I don’t know about you but I used to go and get leathered. It took me two weeks to recover. In your hung over state you don’t want to sort anything out, you don’t want aggression, you don’t want confrontation, and then if you get pissed off again you get leathered again and that’s what I was doing. When I got sober, I would have to say I realized there were changes that needed to be made. I think Bernard has learned more about the failure of Bad Lieutenant more by that than he has about New Order splitting up. I think he felt Bad Lieutenant would come back like Electronic [the 1988-1999 group he had with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr] and they didn’t. And he didn’t like it and he wanted New Order back and that’s simply what this is about.
There’s this great line Dennis Hopper had on “Letterman.” Letterman says, “You were quoted as saying you’d bring an eight ball of coke, a six pack of beer, and a fifth of Jack Daniels to shoots. Then you stopped. Why?” Hopper said, “It stopped working”
[Laughs]. Yes, amazingly the best part of being an alcoholic was when you were drinking and you weren’t getting drunk. That was the best bit. I could drink and not get drunk and it was fantastic. It’d stopped working and I’d have arguments with people in bars after they’d give me treble vodka and I’d say “There’s no vodka in that.” I got into arguments all the time. I was drinking that much that it was not having any effect. And the same with the drugs. All it did was put you in a permanent state of aggression. I could drink without being sick or falling over. Trouble is the hangovers are unbelievable which is why you kept drinking and I was a 24 hour drinker. You know what you’re doing is wrong because normal people do not do that? There are bigger people than me that alcohol has picked up and kicked to death and put down. And I don’t count myself as one of the greats. That is a very big monster you’re dealing with there, and I’m very envious of anyone who can handle it. I look at them green with envy, but I just can’t. There’s a terrible success rate for alcoholism. In America, it’s recognized as an illness but in England it is not. People don’t recognize addiction in that form so medical insurance won’t cover you in England, whereas they will cover you in America, which is sad because the English indulge much more as far as I can see.
Hooky, when we talked last time you said you were in the midst of writing the New Order book. Where are you now?
I’m doing quite well. It’s quite interesting to hear Bernard is writing a book as well. He’ll be playing the LPs in full next. I’m gonna try to bring it out on the same day as Bernard, Oct. 14, next year. I haven’t finished it yet. It’s actually fascinating. I’ve done the first half and one thing I did realize is we had a pretty good time. Until Bernard took over, I have to say, when he was one of us. We did have a lot laughs and we went about our business very well and we were still friends. We were anarchic as a group. The big change came on the tax investigation when we got into trouble with the taxes affected us greatly, in 1986. That to me was when everything changed, when it all became about money. To be honest, we nearly lost everything. It was a problem. We came very close to losing everything and it shocked everybody and made them look at it in a completely different way. And that was the start of Factory’s demise and the start of New Order splitting up because I think Bernard in particular wanted to be free of New Order, wanted the freedom … He didn’t agree with the way it was being run and he wanted to get out of it with Electronic which is what he did. I was never so shocked in my life as when he asked to split the band up in 1990 to go and work with Electronic. Sadly, we had to come back and do “Republic.” Really to keep the Hacienda solvent and to keep Factory solvent and blow me down it didn’t work. Which was very sad. “Republic” was dragged out in this vain hope of keeping our houses basically. We managed to keep them but we lost the Hacienda and Factory and it made for a very very unenjoyable LP. Very ironic situation, addressing that …. I always knew the New Order book would be very painful. A lot of the things we went through were not very nice, especially in regards to each other. And all of us were guilty of that. I think the problem Bernard is going to have with his book is because he’s working with Stephen and Gillian [Gilbert, keyboardist] he’s going to have to be nice about them. (laughs). Which to my mind is going to take half the story away. I’m lucky. I’m estranged so I can’t tell the truth. He can’t tell the truth because he’s working with 2/3 of the band.
What impressed me about the Joy Division book was the equanimity of it. Yes, you took digs at everyone, but there are a lot of digs at yourself. It’s a self-deprecating book.
The whole point about writing a book that is I got offered a lot of money to write a book about my life that included everything, just one book. I said there’s no way to write one book about these stories, you’d have to curtail it so much it’s ridiculous, and then I got dropped by all the publishers because I insisted on doing three books. If you’d have put the Joy Division book together with the Hacienda book together with the New Order book in one book, you wouldn’t have half the impact or for me the enjoyment. There’s too much to relate. I already said to Simon and Schuster the New Order book should be in two parts, from 1980 to 1990 and then we have time off till 1996 and then 1996 to 2013- or to when they formed without me and became a tribute band in the same way I’m a tribute band. I’m a tribute band to Joy Division and New Order and so are they.
I was talking to your manager James and he called them Fake Order.
I do appreciate Bernard’s frustration in it. It must be difficult because he’s had to pretend to be New Order basically because he couldn’t get away with stealing the trademark. They had to license the trademark so they could use it, as it didn’t include me in the negotiations. If they were in my position, they would be carping as much as me and they would be moaning as much as me. Knowing Bernard he’d be moaning twice as much. I do understand Bernard is under pressure. The way he is now, with Bad Lieutenant failing, is he’s so loving to the fans. You know when he hurt his knee he said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be doing me best. But I’ll not be doing my normal dance.” I bet they’re all delighted. Thing is, when I was with him, he could’ve hurt his knee, he could have given a fuck about the audience. He only thought about himself. Since Bad Lieutenant, it’s like he’s been kidnapped by aliens and they’ve sent somebody down who’s interested in the audience. He might be able to fool you lot, but he can’t fool me.
What are you playing, the first two albums or other tracks too?
We’re doing every track that was ever recorded and written by New Order, starting with “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place.” We then do “Procession,” “Everything’s Gone Green,” “Hurt,” “Mesh” and “Cries and Whispers” and both LPs in full. We also do “The Beach” and “Blue Monday.” The set list is 25 songs.
How many shows have you done so far?
Not a lot. We’ve done about five shows.
What’s the feeling now vs. playing the Joy Division material with the Light?
It’s completely different, actually. The vocal style is completely different, much less intense. It’s much lighter. I felt the vocals were very downplayed on “Movement.” [Producer] Martin Hannett hated us singing; he missed Ian so much. And I hate to say but he did take it out on us three; he gave Bernard a particularly rough time. It was while we were recording “Movement” that both Bernard and I said to each other, “We’re going to have to get rid of him. He’s going to destroy us.” He was so negative about the vocals; it was painful. When you needed him the most – because we were struggling – he was just destroyed by Ian’s death. He couldn’t handle it. He’d seen this fantastic band and he’d lost them. In the same way, that we had. But we were trying to get it back, but he just couldn’t put up with the singing which was a problem. And his drug dependency became worse and worse, and in the end you were looking at somebody who looked like Martin Hannett but acted like a complete despot. He was going to bring us down if we hadn’t moved on. The nice thing now, to me, is very Joy Division music with New Order vocals. Unfortunately on the album the vocals are very downplayed, very weak, very vulnerable. It’s very nice to be able to sing them with three years of Joy Division [lead vocals] under my belt with more confidence. I’m able to deliver it and to me it sounds a helluva lot better. It does highlight the vocal style of Ian – because “Movement” is basically Joy Division music with New Order vocals –and you get to “Power, Corruption and Lies’ it’s New Order music with New Order vocals. “Power, Corruption and Lies” is so different. If you listen to the LP in full you realize how much work Stephen and Bernard, in particular, put into the electronica, they really did embrace it and took it as far as it could go. We worked on the vocals and lyrics together. The whole thing was very much a three-piece and it sounds fantastic. “Power, Corruption and Lies” is a great record if I say so myself. The first production Bernard and I did with “Temptation” and the next production was “Power, Corruption and Lies” and we used Michael Jonzun [Boston based producer, Jonzun Crew] who was absolutely fantastic and he really did create something that sounded unlike anything that had happened before it was unbelievable. In its own way, it’s as shocking as Joy Division.
It was a quantum leap. I remember being in New York, summer of ’82, and hearing Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” and “Temptation” and those two songs were the songs of the summer for me.
It’s quite interesting. The only resistance Bernard and Stephen had from going fully electronic was me. I was like: “Can’t we rock? Come on, let’s rock! Get the guitars out!” I’d like to think we did drag it back to give it the perfect identity which was like a cross between new rock and dance. And that what gave you your uniqueness. To be in one band that changed the world musically is pretty good; but to be in two bands that changed the world musically, that’s amazing. It’s a treat to play them. Soon as you come in from “Ceremony,” “In a Lonely Place” and “Procession” – they’re very much Joy Division songs and sound like Joy Division songs – there is a difference in the music. It’s lighter, it’s more modern and then it changes when you get to “Power, Corruption and Lies,” well, it still sounds as modern today as it did then. It must have blown people away in 1983.
I can assure you, it did.
Who sang what back in the early New Order days?
When we played as a three-piece in America we were singing three songs each. We were still jockeying for position. Strangely enough, it was Stephen who did most of the vocals and the melody lines. And we would work on the lyrics together. But we were still very very much feeling the way. Bernard did 95% of the keyboards. Between us we all did the lyrics. Steve hated singing. Then it became apparent that the best thing for the group would be to have Steve and me play, Gillian come in and out with Bernard’s keyboard lines, Bernard to play guitar when he stopped singing. What happened was, you would have the singing bit and then when he picked the guitar up the whole band took off and that became apparent how we should be. And while I tried to sing, I didn’t manage to pull it off. Back to the bass.
It’s interesting me singing these lines and I’m enjoying it. There are a couple I can’t get as high as Bernard did, but I’m learning and I’m trying and I’m hoping by the time we’re finished I’ll have gotten it. It’s all about learning. There’s been a learning curve. I’ve learned the Joy Division stuff and then I had to push myself even further to do the New Order.
Tickets: $25 advance, $27. Early show, starts at 7.
279 Tremont St., Boston, 617-39-7699 http://royaleboston.com/live-music/