Since their debut with the Australian Unknown Pleasures Tour in 2010, Peter Hook and The Light have been playing to capacity crowds from Sydney to Seattle. This year’s dates will be the most comprehensive showcase of the Joy Division and New Order catalogues to date. These shows, described by one critic as ‘a masterclass in euphoria and heartache’ have been universally hailed as musical triumphs and ‘the most authentic live performance of (the bands’) music’, eclipsing performances by the current New Order line-up. The Light, featuring Hook’s talented son Jack (Smashing Pumpkins) on bass, will be playing Joy Division’s Substance as well as New Order’s Substance. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we had the great privilege of chatting with the legendary bassist about everything from the bands’ histories and his recent memoir, Substance, to his relationship with Australia and the upcoming tour.
SR: In your autobiography, Substance, you describe yourself as ‘a daft twat from Salford’. Joy Division’s image, as a band, was of quite solemn fellows who possibly had a tendency to take things quite seriously. Is that really how you see yourself, and has your image of yourself changed, over time?
PH: (Laughs) No, I’m amused that I’m gettin’ away with it. And I am. I’m always expecting someone to go, ‘Oi, you! Back to work!’ So no, I’m amazed. I mean, yeah, you know it’s really weird. Northern humour is quite self-deprecating and I’m used to it. And yeah, you feel like a fraud sometimes, you know what I mean? You have to live normally and one of the great things, actually, about Joy Division and New Order with Factory Records is that it kept us very realistic. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t earn any money for years and years and years and it actually helped, because you weren’t able to disappear up your own arse. It’s only since we earned money in the nineties that we disappeared up our own arses.
SR: The biography is 768 pages long and I understand that it was edited down from 1200.
PH: Well, you know, I would’ve loved them to publish the 1200. I really would. There were a lot of stories left out. I mean I was crying, do you know? 100,000 words we lost. I was just heartbroken – it’s another book! An average book is 100,000 words. So I’m hoping to do it as an e book when it comes out with the paperback. So, hopefully it’ll be a full-length one. But yeah, it did end up having a lot of impact and I was very happy with the way the book read and the way the book went. But you know, there are only so many drug and groupie anecdotes you can stand, isn’t there? (Laughs). But I did think it was very important to balance out the fact that we played hard. We were young, we fell for every cliché in the book, but we really worked hard, you know? I think it was important to balance that out. And one of the things about doing the Geek Alert [sections throughout the book outlining the musical equipment being used at the time] and doing the equipment was to show how radical and how unique it was that New Order performed…under very difficult circumstances. So I like to think that we earned the outrageous behaviour.
SR: What does it feel like to think that these outfits have almost surpassed the status of ‘band’ by now and are almost considered institutions?
PH: Well, I mean, it’s a very dodgy institution, New Order. I think Joy Division has a much better reputation than New Order. I think New Order have acted absolutely ridiculously and continue to do so – and I include myself in that. I mean it’s great, but again, when I go and pick up the dog shit in the yard I can’t say it’s uppermost in my thoughts, you know? I still have to get through day to day. And it’s wonderful being appreciated. I mean, we did a gig in Brighton last night and it’d been sold out for three months. It was great to play Substance there. And it’s nice, you know? I mean, I’ve got a great job – I really have. I’m a very, very lucky boy and I don’t forget that. As a wandering minstrel, I am blessed. I mean, I was reading a big article today about robots and I was thinking, ‘Shit’, you know, ‘at least I’m in a job.’ It’ll probably be one of the last that’ll be replaced by a robot. So it’s one of those things. I have been very lucky.
I mean, song writing is a great talent and it has to be said that not a lot of musicians have got that talent. They can play an instrument, but they can’t write songs and it is very difficult. I mean, if it hadn’t been for the Sex Pistols, I wouldn’t have discovered that I could write songs, as ridiculous as that seems when you listen to the Sex Pistols.
SR: And you’re self-taught, too, aren’t you?
PH: Yeah, I’m self-taught and, amazingly, I’m tone deaf as well. I can’t pick up other people’s tunes. Luckily, my son who plays bass with me…he’s self-taught and he’s not tone deaf, so he can pick up other people’s songs. So it was just something that was unique to me. I used to be consumed with envy. We’d be in the dressing room and Barney [Bernard Sumner] would go, ‘Oh, should we do a cover version of Lust for Life?’ and he’d work it out, you know? How to play it. And to me, it was just impenetrable. I just couldn’t do it. I can’t do it now. I can play my own music and learn my own music, but I can’t play other people’s. As my mother said, ‘You can’t hold a tune in a bucket, our Peter.’
SR: When you’re up there on stage now, are you ever transported in time to past gigs? Are there any shows that burn more brightly than others in your memory?
PH: Well, generally all the ones that ended in a riot are the ones that you remember, to be honest. You don’t really remember the gig, you know what I mean? The interesting thing about Joy Division was that Joy Division always performed very well; and, even though the punk audiences were very edgy, they never really had any problems with the performance. When we got to New Order, we were always a bit shaky and we were shaky for a long time. And some of those shaky performances would lead to amazing riots. You don’t get those these days. People are much more forgiving these days, or much more even-tempered, maybe – even you Australians.
SR: Even us, rowdy miscreants that we are.
PH: Yeah! (Laughs) I do get absorbed when I’m playing, because I get to listen to all the music. Because my son’s playing bass, I’m listening to something that I wouldn’t normally get to listen to, because I’d be playing it. So yeah, sometimes it does strike a chord. And there were quite a few moments, actually, when we were rehearsing – especially when we were rehearsing Closer by Joy Division – that I got some quite frightening, shivery moments listening to the music coming together. It really did take you back to that time and place. This is like Hot Tub Time Machine for musicians. For me to go back and play the albums in their entirety, it’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling. And I must admit that when I get to the end of a cycle…you know, like moving from Low-Life and Brotherhood to Substance, I’m really sorry to let those LPs go. Because I let them go before in New Order, you know? And one of the greatest frustrations in the world is the fact that Bernard and Stephen just wouldn’t play those old songs – it was heartbreaking. They just wouldn’t do it and it was scary – it was weird.
SR: I read that Leave me Alone is your favourite New Order song, but which song or album are you proudest of and why?
PH: It is, yeah. ‘Proudest of’ is a weird thing, isn’t it? If you look at two songs like Atmosphere, which moves people so profoundly – I’m very proud of that – and then you look at Love Will Tear Us Apart, which moves people in a completely different way – I’m very proud of that. But my god, I’ve been very lucky. If you look at the bass riffs for Age of Consent, Leave Me Alone, Insight, Waiting For the Siren’s Call, Krafty…you know, I’ve written some fantastic bass riffs. Sometimes even I forget. When New Order reformed without me, apart from the disgusting way they did it, it really did leave me feeling very, very vulnerable and very, very alone. But I’ve come to realise, they might’ve done the shitty trick behind your back, they may have undervalued your importance in New Order, but the thing is that those riffs and those records live on with the people that matter most – which is the audience. And every time I play them, it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful that you’re received and the reaction is fantastic. People appreciate you doing it, and sometimes I have to remember that. The fact that the others don’t want me to play and don’t like me playing the Joy Division stuff is insane because they play it at their bloody shows. It just shows you what a shower of shit they are to criticise you for something that they do. They really are weird fuckers.
SR: When comparing you with Bernard, One Guardian writer described you as ‘melancholic, raw, and a more analogue presence’ and Bernard as ‘a more polished, electronic presence’ in the band. Clearly we now know that that combination made for an innovative creative output, but were there disputes at the time as to which direction you wanted to take the sound in?
PH: Oh yeah, it started with the electronic gear. I mean, it’s not a joke when people say that a singer in Venice created the drum machine so he wouldn’t have to speak to the drummer. And a singer invented the synthesiser and sequencer so he wouldn’t have to speak to the bass player. So there’s a grain of truth in it.
PH: It has to be said. So, you know, once Bernard could do it all on his own, his personality led him to do it on his own. I haven’t got a personality like that. The thing that turns me on about music is playing it in a group, with other people – like-minded people. It’s that chemistry that drives me on. And I have an intense loyalty to the group. Barney hasn’t got a loyalty to the group – he’s just got a loyalty to the song. As long as he finishes the song, he doesn’t care whose head he stands on to get there. So if you’re drowning in quicksand, love, and he’s got a knob to twiddle with, he will be putting his foot on your head, don’t worry about it. And as long as you know that, you’re okay.
SR: It’s a terrible shame that it turned out this way.
PH: Well yeah, but people are different. At the end of New Order – it took me a couple of years to realise it, but I actually realised it – we were too different to carry on. We’d grown so far apart it was useless, it really was. And his attitude to the group and his attitude to the music was so different to mine that we needed to split up. We really did need to split up. Which is what we did. You know, I don’t mind them getting New Order back and pretending to be New Order, if that’s what they want to do. What I mind is the way that they did it. Behind your back, with no consultation – it was disgusting behaviour. It really is immoral. The only person that cares seems to be me (laughs), ‘cause they’ve still got their audience. But you do have to fight for what you believe in, you really do.
SR: I was a teenager when New Order was at its peak. Back then, you could call the phone company and hear the latest hits for a fee – 50 cents or something, I think it was. I think I called and listened to Bizarre Love Triangle about a dozen times in a row one night when it came out. My friends and I were on the phone to each other saying, ‘Have you heard this?’ It was like nothing else on the airwaves. Did you find yourself playing to an entirely different audience during that period, or had the Joy Division fans remained loyal and followed you across?
PH: Well no, the thing is that when we started, everybody just wanted to hear Joy Division. And we were ramming this new stuff that was different down their throats and they did react against it. That’s human – that’s human behaviour. That’s why groups have to struggle…and they have to work to make their impact. You have to fight against all the odds, which is what we did. We did go into a more commercial market, but the thing was that we were able to temper it, because we didn’t do many interviews, so you actually didn’t act like a pop star. We were acting like rock stars, as the book shows, but we didn’t act like pop stars. We were still sort of able to be an enigma, even though we were very commercial and very poppy. We managed to keep our punk credentials, a little, even though we were having commercial hits.
SR: Returning to the old days now, when you lost Ian, did you think that was it, or were you confident that you’d be able to continue with a different vocalist?
PH: No, we knew that a different vocalist wasn’t really on the cards. I didn’t want to go back to work – I really didn’t. I mean, I loved it. I’d had a sniff of the barmaid’s apron and I thought she was lovely.
PH: I really did think she was gorgeous. I thought ‘fuck that, I’m not going back to work – it’s bollocks.’ So, it was a matter of finding a way to carry on. Luckily for me, Stephen and Bernard were on the same page.
SR: You’re coming down our way soon. What have you got lined up for the Aussie shows?
PH: Well, we’re playing the chronological LP sequence, and the next one we’re playing is Substance – New Order and Substance – Joy Division. We were with you about 12 or 18 months ago, when we played Low-Life and Brotherhood, so I’m doing a journey through the whole of Joy Division and New Order’s back catalogue. And this is just the next step. And we’re doing it very passionately, very enthusiastically, if I do say so myself, and yeah, that’s what people can expect…an honest rendition of the songs.
SR: Will your son, Jack, be joining you on the Aussie dates?
PH: Yeah, yeah – he’s a fantastic bass player, actually. He plays almost as good as me (laughs)…or, according to him, better. He’s a great guy and I was very proud of him last year because he played with the Smashing Pumpkins – he was the bass player for the Smashing Pumpkins which was fantastic. I was very proud.
SR: And will Rowetta be coming down, too?
PH: No, no. We can’t afford Rowetta, sadly. She’s got diva taste, so we’re leaving her for the Happy Mondays (laughs). It’ll just be me singing.
SR: Ian was such a unique presence and I’ve heard you discussing how singers have backed away from opportunities to tour with The Light, for fear of not measuring up. I know Rowetta encouraged you to sing, eventually. When you look around today, do you see many singers who stand out as having that kind of individuality?
PH: There is one, actually, who I’ve been enjoying greatly. It’s the guy from The 1975 – Matt Healy. He’s a fantastic frontman, he really is. I’ve known him – I know his mother – he’s a neighbour of mine… I’ve known him since he was about nine. It’s been quite weird watching him grow. And then when we toured America last year, he was playing the same venues as us. He’s had a number one album in America and now he’s playing arenas. And he’s a lovely kid. Every time I see him, he’s just exactly how he was when he was ten (laughs). And it’s really nice. He does have a very honest presence on stage and I’m telling you this – it’s a great record and he writes really good music.
And there’s another band that I love called The Cults. I’ve got them on my iPod all the time when I’m jogging.
SR: You’ve talked about the ‘happy accidents’ on tracks like Blue Monday that would be edited out now, since everything’s become digitised. Do you think you’d have created different music if you were starting out now?
PH: Well yeah, I mean we would have. The thing about writing on a computer tends to alienate the other members of the group, because only one person can do it. But it’s the way everything’s done now, so you have to adapt, you have to grow, and you’ve got to go with the flow you know? So, the thing is that yes, as a musician, I still make music. I use computers. I do it in a different way. So I think yeah, we would’ve done. Song writing, as I said earlier, is an art that not many people possess. It becomes a vocation, a drive. I mean, we don’t sell records. You don’t make much money doing it, so you have to think, ‘Why the fuck are we making new music?’ (Laughs loudly). It’s insane, isn’t it? You know, the two professions that suffer from bootlegging the most are yours and mine. Journalism is stolen as well as music. It’s a really odd situation to be in.
SR: What sort of relationship have you had with Australia throughout your career and how would you typify an Australian fan compared with those from other places?
PH: You know what was great about Australia the first time we got there, which I was amazed about? The audiences were 50/50 men and women. It was fantastic. The thing is that in England we were used to the audiences being nearly 100% male, so it was really nice to get that atmosphere. And then when we went to America, we discovered that the audiences there were much more balanced than they were in England. We were amazed that the pubs in Australia opened so early (laughs). We went to Selina’s in Coogee Bay. The doors opened at 6 o’clock and we said to the guy, ‘What time do you want us on?’ and he said, ‘1 o’clock in the morning’. And we were going, ‘What?!’ So we went on at 1 o’clock in the morning. Everybody was as pissed as arseholes. It was a fantastic, fantasic show. I mean, you Australians – you are a race apart. I must say that it’s one of the only places I’ve ever been to in the world where I could consider living. Myself and a very good friend have discussed it many times – moving to Australia. It really is a beautiful place. If it weren’t for all your creepy crawlies, I’d be there like a shot.
SR: And we’d welcome you with open arms, Peter. Do you have a message to send out to your fans ahead of the tour?
PH: Well I mean the only thing that I ask is that they have a little trust, they are open-minded… you know, they realise that I’m doing it with the best of intentions. I enjoy what I do immensely. And if you want to come along for the ride, it’s as simple as that, isn’t it? It’s all about passion. It’s all about enthusiasm. And I think we’ve got buckets of it. I’m looking forward to it, you know? We’ve always had great audiences in Australia – ever since we first came…ever since we arrived in 1981. There’s been a kinship and that’s the absolute truth. There was a Factory Records Australia and we’ve been through some tough times together. And I look forward to it very much, actually. Very much.
Peter Hook and the Light Tour Dates – October 2017
Thursday 5th – The Studio AUCKLAND
Saturday 7th – Metro Theatre SYDNEY
Sunday 8th – The Tivoli BRISBANE
Tuesday 10th – The Gov ADELAIDE
Friday 13th – Corner Hotel MELBOURNE
Monday 16th – Astor Theatre PERTH
Get your tickets to Peter Hook & The Light performing the albums “Substance” by Joy Division & New Order from Metropolis Touring metropolistouring.com/peterhookandthelight
Pre-Sale: Wednesday 15th March 9am to Thursday 16th March 5pm (local time)
On-Sale: Friday 17th March 12pm (local time)