Peter Hook, pioneering bassist for seminal Manchester band New Order, has a reputation of being, well, a bit of a grump nowadays.
Perhaps it’s understandable, as the icon is in an awkward, conflicted position; he continues to live off the considerable legacy of New Order, which of course he was partly responsible for, but is also locked in a bitter stand-off with his former bandmates.
Hook’s band The Light, for whom he sings, call in at Belfast’s Stiff Kitten tomorrow (ironically, reformed rockers The Darkness will be playing just a stone’s throw away at the Limelight at the same time) to play New Order’s first two albums, Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies in full. Taking time out from polishing his shoes to talk to Out There, the 57-year-old explains that it was the fear of “coming off as a desperate tribute act” that made him decide to play the records in the original album order, rather than perform a greatest hits set as, he claims, New Order are currently in the business of doing.
“New Order, or New Odour as I call them, are really doing the least amount of work possible to get by at the moment,” he opines. “They’re short-changing their fans.”
Despite this evident animosity towards the indie-electro group, from whom he departed in 2007 after a feud with singer Bernard Sumner, Hook is generally in good humour during our talk, whether he’s debating the lack of money in the modern music industry (“the record labels used to take us out for dinner, now we have to take them out!”) or his own current status: “I spend more time with lawyers than I do in rehearsal rooms at the moment.”
He’s partly referring to his ongoing spat with his former band here, who reformed in 2011 without Hook. “I’m still seeking a legal remedy for what they did,” he says, a quiver of sadness suddenly appearing in his voice. “The rift isn’t over. We can’t think of anything relating to a possible future for the band until everyone is happy with the way things have worked out. At the moment I’m very unhappy with the way things have worked out. At the moment, I’d rather play with Saddam Hussein and Attila the Hun than those f*****s.”
Cue more cackling laughter. Despite his obvious distress over the schism, the Mancunian is still willing to discuss it — even if he sometimes seems to cover up his anger and regret, at losing friends as well as bandmates, with jokiness.
Fundamentally, though, New Order is a hard topic to avoid when Hook is still playing songs from the band’s back catalogue on stage every night. Elaborating further on the unorthodox decision to play New Order’s first two records in full, Hook reveals: “It was actually (Primal Scream frontman) Bobby Gillespie who gave me the idea of playing the records in full, as he was talking about doing the same with Screamadelica. You have to remember how much effort goes in to the ordering and atmosphere of an album; it portrays where you were at a certain time, what you were doing, how you were feeling.”
And around the time of New Order’s first record, Movement, in 1981, Hook, Sumner and Co were absolutely distraught. Little over a year before the album’s release, Ian Curtis — Joy Division’s singer — had committed suicide. His death, the night before Joy Division’s first US tour, was the reason behind the collapse of Joy Division and subsequent formation of New Order, with Sumner taking over vocal duties. One member of New Order’s recording team in particular was feeling the loss of Curtis.
“The problem we had with Movement is that Martin Hannett, our sound engineer, was missing Ian more than anyone,” reflects Hook. “It broke his heart; he was so upset Ian wasn’t there. I mean we were all mourning, but he manifested it by telling us how s**t we all were, compared with Ian. They were very difficult circumstances in which to make an album. We were trying to find our way back after the tragedy, and he was really unhelpful.”
Hook claims that writing his revealing book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, last year, helped him to realise “what a negative effect losing Ian had on us”. He adds: “You know when you get a table and one leg’s a bit wonky? New Order was like that. No matter how much you try to even up the balance, it’s never really the same.”
If Hook momentarily gives the impression of playing down New Order’s brilliance (at least in comparison with Joy Division) such notions are quashed when he ponders Movement’s majestic follow-up, Power, Corruption & Lies.
“When I listen back to that album now I get the shock of my life, because it sounds bloody fantastic! All the technology we used, like synthesisers and drum machines, were very new at the time. That’s how we got the blend between dance and rock.”
German electro giants Kraftwerk were a big influence on the record, says Hook. “Ian in particular loved them. And The Velvet Underground. His taste was very left-field. We were all listening to Deep Purple and Black Sabbath at the time!”
With The Light, Hook claims he is able to relax. This may well be because he himself, for once, is the undoubted band leader, the centre of attention, the figure who people are paying money to see. Having also performed Joy Division songs with The Light, Hook reflects that he “is more comfortable filling Bernard’s shoes than Ian’s. Because, you know, Ian’s are pretty big shoes to fill”.
Divert your gaze away from the man on vocals tomorrow, though, and you’ll see a vaguely recognisable presence on second bass — Hook’s son, Jack. Does Hook senior ever fell tempted to pass down advice to his son?
“Ha! He wouldn’t take any tips from me, that’s for sure. He reminds me of me when I was 24; you think you’re right about everything don’t you?”
This last comment takes on added intrigue due to the fact that, earlier in our interview, Hook described the need for “democracy” and “compromise” in a band. Once more, New Order and especially Sumner are in for a kicking.
“The whole point about being in a group is that you must compromise,” Hook stresses. “As I’ve got older I’ve learnt to compromise, but Bernard seems to have got younger in that respect. It seemed to me like Bernard always used to think that compromise was just something other people did, that he didn’t have to do it! When that compromise stops, that’s when bands fall apart. God, we used to disagree all the time!” Then, chuckling again, Hook mentions a figure instrumental to New Order’s success — Tony Wilson, co-founder of both the legendary Factory Records and Hacienda nightclub in Manchester’s glory years. “Wilson had to intervene many times. He was like a school teacher, breaking up our fights in the playground.”
It’s interesting that Hook often talks like he is still in New Order, like when he remarks, half in jest, that “all of our stories have unhappy endings nowadays”. There is clearly an admiration that remains, perhaps even a mental connection still. The bassist may strongly deny any rumours of a reunion with his former band, or even a reparation of relations, but tomorrow he’ll be looking to rekindle the spirit of New Order at the height of their powers.
“The gig will be more difficult, but also more rewarding, for the fans, as we’re playing the albums in full. I like that bloody-mindedness though. It reminds me of when we were young; when we broke all the rules.”
* Peter Hook & The Light play The Stiff Kitten, Belfast, tomorrow. For details, visit www.shine.net
Bad blood and bust ups: when groups fall out ...
* The Smiths — as painstakingly detailed by Morrissey in his recent autobiography, the Smiths singer and drummer Mike Joyce were embroiled in a court case over band royalties through most of the 1990s. Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr took 40% of the royalties each, leading Joyce’s barrister to argue that the drummer and bassist bandmate Andy Rourke had been treated as “mere session musicians, as readily replaceable as the parts in a lawnmower”
* Pink Floyd — after leaving Floyd in 1985, bass player and singer Roger Waters launched a lawsuit against bandmates Nick Mason and David Gilmour over their rights to continue to perform under the Pink Floyd name. The rift has since been healed and Waters joined the other Floyd members on stage at Live 8 in 2005
* The Libertines — in 2003, Libertines guitarist and singer Pete Doherty was arrested for breaking in to and burgling the house of bandmate Carl Barat. The Libertines went on performing for a spell after Doherty’s release, but split up in 2004. Doherty has been engulfed in several other court cases since