PETER HOOK emits a blokey chuckle. "Ian Curtis had very big shoes to fill," says the former Joy Division and New Order bassist. "Bernard Sumner’s shoes aren’t that big actually — about the same size as mine. So that worked out okay."
Curtis was the tragic Joy Division frontman who committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 23, while Sumner remains lead singer of New Order, from whom Hook is heartily estranged. Since falling out with his former collaborators in 2007, he has toured the world as Joy Division/New Order covers outfit Peter Hook and The Light, digging deep into the catalogue of two groups regarded as among the most important the UK has produced across the past 30 years.
“The first time I went on stage and sang Joy Division songs I was terrified,” says Hook, 58. “There was a lot of internet criticism of that first gig. People expected that I would fall flat on my face. I managed to pull it off. We stay very truthful to how the records sounded: I can’t say we are Joy Division. We give a pretty good It used to bother Hook that New Order would never perform many of their best loved songs.
“I found it so frustrating touring with New Order, playing the same songs all the time,” says Hook. “There was a marked reluctance not to look back at the older stuff. It is nice to have the freedom to play all the songs, to do a faithful version of them.”
New Order emerged from the ashes of Joy Division and of Curtis’s death. The original members, bassist Hook, guitarist Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris recruited Morris’ girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, as keyboard player and tried to continue where they left off. Things were never the same, says Hook. Joy Division had real chemistry, in the studio and on stage; New Order always felt like an uneasy alliance of relative strangers.
“We went from being a four-wheeled vehicle to a three wheeled thing,” he says. “Gillian could never give us what Ian did. We plugged the gap with Gillian. It was never the same.”
Hook has been accused of cashing in on Joy Division and New Order with his new project (which includes son Jack on guitar). He says he sees it as his mission to keep alive the legacy of Joy Division, and the memory of his friend, Curtis.
“As soon as we made [Joy Division debut album] Unknown Pleasures, my life was set in its present trajectory,” he says (he performs the LP in its entirety in Dublin this week). “That record is very dear to me. It means a lot to champion Ian, because he was so good: a fantastic musician and songwriter. I’m immensely proud of my part in that too. It’s nice to keep the whole thing going.”
Before our interview, there was a warning from his publicist not to bring up Hook’s ex-wife, comedian Caroline Aherne (best known for Mrs Merton and The Royle Family).
So it is a surprise that Hook brings up the topic of marital separation, albeit in the context of his difficulties with New Order. Asked if he could envisage the original line-up reforming [they continue to tour without him] he says: “It’s a bit like divorcing the wife isn’t it — lawyers get involved and you don’t really feel like coming back together.”
The exact reasons for his departure have never been fully elucidated though creative tensions between Hook and Sumner seem at the heart of the issue. Speaking to the Irish Examiner in 2009, Sumner attested to the bad blood with his former friend, whom he’d known since school in Salford, a working class suburb of Manchester.
“We are quite different people,” he said. “You probably wouldn’t see it from the outside. You can’t possibly get to know someone from an interview and from seeing them on stage. It just got to the point on the last New Order album where, if I said ‘black’, he’d say’ white’. It got very frustrating and pointless. It obviously didn’t seem to be working.
“I think people have an idealised view of what being in a band is like. We met at 14 and were friends in school. Being in a group for such a long period of time.... I mean, Joy Division formed in 1977. That’s a long time to be in a band together. It’s unnatural really. It’s like being in a relationship — and it’s like being four sardines in a very small can. You probably spend more time with the group than with your wife or girlfriend. And that tends to amplify any tensions.”
Hook believes poor communication was partly to blame. Throughout Joy Division and New Order, none of the bandmates ever really sat down and had a meaningful conversation. In Joy Division, Curtis was the focus: he was the one with the vision for what the band should be and also the one with whom everyone got on (Hook feels that he never really knew Morris and Gilbert).
“We never talked about anything,” he says. “That was probably our downfall. All we wanted to do was write music and play. And our manager Rob Gretton allowed us to do that.”
Following Curtis’s suicide the group struggled for a direction, he says. Their first album as New Order , 1981’s Movement, was essentially the work of a grieving Joy Division. It wasn’t until 1983’s Power Corruption and Lies that they began to find their feet again.
“Movement was very tentative,” says Hook. “Then we got to Power, Corruption and Lies, which is very much a New Order album. The thing that united us was Ian. We stayed together through that period and grew as a band. I’ve been performing all of our albums all the way through: I’ve done all the Joy Division records, and the next ones I’m doing are Lowlife and Brotherhood by New Order. They are some of my favourites: I could never get the others to play them… they just wouldn’t do it. Now I am doing all of them.”
Peter Hook and The Light perform Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division at Leopardstown Live on Thursday
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