How does it feel after a bitter split from New Order? I’m certainly not blue, says Peter Hook. Duncan Seaman talked to him.
As a marathon tour that’s crisscrossed North and South America playing the songs of his former bands New Order and Joy Division draws to an end, Peter Hook is, by his own admission, “absolutely exhausted”. Offsetting the tiredness, however, is a feeling of considerable job satisfaction.
“We’ve done 35 shows and I think 31 of them were sold out, so we can’t complain about that,” he says. “We certainly feel like we’re on the way up, shall we say, as opposed to the way down.”
His band The Light is currently only one of the strings to 60-year-old Hook’s bow. In 2016, along with DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, he was the executive producer of Hacienda Classical, a project which brought clubbing culture from the 80s and 90s together with a 40-piece orchestra, the Manchester Camerata, for concerts in Manchester and at the Royal Albert Hall (more follow in 2017).
To top off the year, he published his third book, Substance, a 700-page tome which laid bare in powerful – and sometimes painful – detail the 26 years he spent as bass player in one of Britain’s finest bands, New Order.
Salford-born Hook says when the idea of taking dance floor classics once played in the legendary Manchester nightclub the Hacienda and adapting them for strings and wind instruments was first mooted he thought it was “ridiculous”. Then he saw Radio 1 DJ Pete Tong’s Ibiza Prom on the BBC.
“Then it struck me the thing people like about these songs is that they’ve grown up with them over the years,” he says, “especially in the Hacienda you’ve got this thing where people started clubbing, they met their partner, they got married, they got divorced, they had kids, they had midlife crisis – and they were all having it to this music. The music has been the constant in their lives.
“Now no one’s ever seen it performed, but thank God, as we know the Lord giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. The fact that you don’t sell records any more so you’ve lost a huge part of your revenue; luckily for us people do like to see musicians perform. I thought this is why they like it because you’ve got these classic tunes – Black Box and all the rest of them, Strings of Life, you name it – and no one’s ever seen them performed. So you get to see a performance, it’s done with heart and soul, passion and enthusiasm and they adore it.”
Hook is frank about his experience of working with an orchestra. “While I grew up with everybody being on strike in the 70s and watched Margaret Thatcher disable the unions, it’s quite odd to be mixing with people that are very unionised and it does lead to some interesting situations, shall we say, when you’ve got a musician like me who’s self-taught, doesn’t read music and doesn’t give a damn and will do anything, then you’ve got classical musicians who can read music, who are very good at what they do and are very unionised. It is a bit like two worlds collide. They do what they have to do to survive and we do it in a completely different way.”
Hook credits the role the Camerata’s leader played in setting dance grooves to classical instruments. “Tim Crooks, I suppose you’d say, is like one of us born into an adjacent world. He’s a highly trained classical musician and he is a classically trained composer. What he did was a translation of the track for an orchestra, with no input from us. It’ll be slightly different next time, but this one is unique in that it’s very much Tim’s look on the music. I didn’t agree with some of it but I can’t argue with the fact that it added something that it didn’t have before. It was not something a rock musician would do, it was not something a normal synthesiser composer would do. He did add something to it which I think you can hear a lot in the treatments of the songs.”
In many ways I do feel we were the Motley Crue of indie rock. We all fell for our baser instincts and we all fell for every cliché in anybody’s book but we paid for it.Peter Hook
Originally Hook had no intention of appearing on stage during the concerts; it was the players from the orchestra who persuaded him to sing and play bass on their new version of Blue Monday. “Then Graeme [Park] finally achieved one of his aims on his bucket list by singing it at a gig when I missed the plane,” Hook recalls. “The Camerata did both of us a favour there – they gave me a new career and they gave him one of his bucket list favourites.”
The Hacienda nightclub itself might have ended in 1997 with crippling debts – Hook once estimated it lost £18m in later years – but recent experiences of promoting revival nights as well as writing a book about it had taught Hook its legend lived on. “The Hacienda as a myth is like the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, it’s got those massive elements going for it, and when I came to do the Hacienda book I did realise how important it was to so many people.”
As regards his feelings towards New Order, who reformed without him in 2011, things are still raw. “Without them – in my opinion – stealing the New Order name and basically leaving me with nothing I wouldn’t have done the book,” he says candidly.
“I didn’t want to air all our dirty washing in public but when Barney (Bernard Sumner, the band’s singer and guitarist) did his (book) it was a great inspiration to me because it showed me how not to do a book about New Order because it was awful.”
He adds: “In many ways I do feel we were the Motley Crue of indie rock. We all fell for our baser instincts and we all fell for every cliché in anybody’s book but we paid for it. I paid for it with alcoholism and drug addiction, you paid for it with massive fracas with New Order – we’re still arguing about how New Order ended and it’s ten years after, it doesn’t escape you.”
He went on: “It’s been one hell of a fight and it’s a shame because with it you’ve managed to drag down the heritage of two groups – Joy Division and New Order – you’ve managed to make yourselves look as though the only thing that matters to you is money and it’s not, there’s a lot of honour and a lot of pride involved. When they took New Order from me, I think they thought that I’d disappear, I’d be like a beaten dog and just go and sit in my kennel, but I’m afraid we’re not built like that in Salford – if somebody kicks us we bite back and this bite back is taking a long time.”
He adds: “Rob Gretton (New Order’s late manager) always used to tell us the same thing – ‘Be careful on your way up because you meet the same on the way down’. I do think that’s an important ethic that I try and teach my children and I’m a great believer in karma as well.”
Today it seems Hook couldn’t be happier performing with his own band, that features his son Jack on bass. “Now, as my wife never fails to tell me, I always come home happy.” Contrast that, he says, with his final show with New Order to a crowd of 120,000 in Buenos Aires 10 years ago.
“I had never been as unhappy and probably as successful, it was the most miserable affair I have ever been to in my life. It just seemed ridiculous that a group could have that much success and yet enjoy it so little. To be honest, I’m glad to see the back of that.”
Peter Hook and The Light will be at the O2 Academy Leeds on March 18. Hacienda Classical is at First Direct Arena, Leeds on April 14. Substance: Inside New Order is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20. peterhookprivatecollection.com