A band ending under tragic circumstances only to be reborn and end again due to in- fighting within the band; record company collapses; financial ruin; writing and recording World Cup anthems; Blue Monday…there’s little Mancunian musician Peter Hook hasn’t experienced in music. Ahead of his appearance with his band Peter Hook & The Light at Live at Leopardstown on Thursday 10th July, Philip Cummins spoke to Hooky about playing previously unheard Joy Division songs on the road, band reunions in general, playing in a church in Ian Curtis’ hometown of Macclesfield and how Joy Division / New Order and Factory Records would have fared in the music industry under the current climate.
Philip Cummins: With The Light, you’ve played every Joy Division song ever recorded and you’re working on every New Order song up to ‘True Faith’. Are you a completest, naturally, and what sparked your interest in revisiting these records?
Peter Hook: Well it all started back in May 2010 when I decided to get a band together and play Unknown Pleasures live and in full as a celebration of Ian Curtis and his life and work, as it had been 30 years since his death. It really was just supposed to be the one gig but that one gig quickly became two nights and then from there it just snowballed and we have been invited to come and play all around the world. It was at that point where once I realised that people were enjoying what we were doing I just thought well why not, and since then we have gone on a journey that has seen us play Unknown Pleasures and then move on to the other records Closer, Movement, Power, Corruption & Lies… and then coming up this September we’ll play Low-Life and Brotherhood live for the first time. I guess there must be a sense of being a completist, we played every single Joy Division song there is, and now we are unearthing some really great New Order ones that have been overlooked for so long. I am really enjoying it.
PC: What previously unperformed Joy Division songs surprised you when they were first played live with The Light?
PH: There are lots of Joy Division songs that are so powerful when played live, some of which we did either never play or played very rarely. Songs like ‘From Safety To Where’, ‘Glass’, ‘The Drawback’… these are quite obscure really when you look at the Joy Division catalogue but we have brought them all back and they all sound great, and I think the audiences really appreciate hearing them.
PC: You’ve been playing these “hybrid sets” of New Order and Joy Division for some time, now, with recent sets leaning heavily on Joy Division material. Despite the differences in sound and image that audiences associate between Joy Division and New Order, how well do you think that the songs from both outfits blend together and why?
PH: The idea behind these ‘hybrid’ sets was mainly just to do it for festivals. I’m not really into just “playing a set” because to me that means that you end up straying into tribute band territory. I am much happier playing records in full as we have been doing. But festival promoters don’t really want that, they want the hits, which is understandable because at festivals not everyone is there to see us so if we play a bunch of obscure tracks I guess we could end up losing the audience. If we play a mixed set it is much more suited to festivals and I must admit I am starting to enjoy them after finding it a bit strange at first. What we tend to do is open with a few electronic New Order songs, move into the rockier ones & then from there it is quite a nice flow into the Joy Division material. It’s also been nice to be able to play some Monaco songs which we have started to do recently.
PC: You’ve moved to the centre of the stage, singing Joy Division and New Order material, much as Bernard Sumner did when Ian Curtis passed on. What have you learned from that move and has it given you a better understanding of Bernard’s transition from guitarist to singer/guitarist?
PH: At first I found the transition very scary and for quite some time I was very nervous, because I had never done anything like that before. But now we are something like 230 gigs into this and I would like to think that I am much more comfortable in that role now and I have started to enjoy it a lot more. It has certainly made me understand that it must have been difficult for Bernard too back when he made the change. I still like to hide behind my guitar though as much as possible!
PC: Bernard Sumner and Ian Curtis sang very differently; Sumner being a natural tenor singing in higher octaves, Curtis singing in a deep, low baritone. Has that posed challenges for you as a singer?
PH: It’s a strange one really – singing the Joy Division material is naturally easier for me because my voice is more similar to Ian’s, but then it is anything but easy because when you start to sing those songs and those amazing words there really is so much pressure because Ian was that good, sometimes it is quite overpowering. I find that there is much less pressure on myself when I am singing the New Order songs, but then they are a lot harder to sing at times, so it’s a bit of a double edged sword. I am always looking to adapt and improve and I would like to think that I do a more than capable job of singing all of it now.
PC: Last year, you played a set of Joy Division songs at a Church in Ian Curtis’ home town of Macclesfield, where both Joy Division and New Order were based and practised for many years. What was it like playing those songs in that particular setting and what closure, if any, did it bring you?
PH: It was an absolutely wonderful feeling to take the music home, as it were. After 30 plus years and despite being based in Macc a lot of the time we had never performed there, so it was wonderful to do it and the Barnaby Festival who put the gig on were great with us. The setting of the Church made it even more special, also because Ian had ties to that church and there were lots of people there who knew him. It was great to play there, I think Ian would be very proud that his music is still loved and listened to all around the world but especially proud that it was played in Macclesfield.
PC: New Order and Factory Records’ financial follies are well- documented: how do you think New Order, Happy Mondays, Factory et al would have fared in current climate facing the music industry and, particularly, new young bands?
PH: I don’t think it could happen now, I really don’t. The world is a very different to place to the one we knew back then, you simply would not be able to make the same mistakes now that we did then! It was all about circumstance really and at the time the circumstances allowed for us to be able to make mistakes but recover from them, learn from them and go on to make great music. Nowadays I think it would be very different indeed.
PC: Robert Plant recently slammed a Led Zeppelin reunion tour claiming that in such tours “You’re going back to the same old shit” and asserting that he wasn’t part of a “jukebox”. What were your first thoughts when you decided to go out on the road with The Light to play Joy Division / New Order tunes and do you ever wish you were back in band that created new material?
PH: I get that thrown at me a lot that I don’t make new material any more, but it simply is not true. I am always working on new material with my production partner Phil Murphy in our guise as Man Ray, we do a lot of soundtrack work & some great collaborations. While I also collaborate a lot with other artists, for example on Low Ends by NovaNova which just came out on vinyl as part of this year’s record store day. So it’s wrong to say that I am not making anything new, but yes I am aware that people would like to hear new stuff from me & the lads as The Light and that is something that we are beginning to look into. But I must admit I really enjoy playing the old stuff, I am having more fun with this tour then I have ever had before. The others in New Order would simply not play any of this material, so in a way it all feels like new stuff too even though in some cases they are very old songs.