Last month Peter Hook did something he had never done before. The bass player turned frontman performed all 49 songs by his former band Joy Division in one evening.
The concert – So This is Permanence, at Christ Church in Macclesfield – marked the 35th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s singer, and raised money for the Epilepsy Society and the Churches Conservation Trust.
Reflecting on the huge success of the event, 59-year-old Hook says: “It was very nerve wracking and very strange having to pace yourself because it was so long.
“Normally I can just go on and let rip but I had to be careful because I was singing so much. But I must admit it was a fantastic compliment that the tickets were oversubscribed something like 5,000 times. It makes me wonder where they all are when I play the big venues in Manchester. Typical, that.”
It’s five years since Hook began playing Joy Division material with his own band, The Light, having been ousted from New Order.
Hook says the past half-decade has been “a wonderful time” despite the opposition of his former comrades, including Bernard Sumner.
“It was wonderful to celebrate it again at 35 [years], to say thank you to Ian and to do it all for charity. It gave me a good feeling inside.”
Hook had initially lined up three singers to front The Light – “I didn’t want to sing, I wanted to play bass,” he says – but all three quit because of uproar against the project. “In the end it was Rowetta [the Happy Mondays singer], very loyally, that said, ‘Listen Hooky, you’re the only one that’s man enough to do this so you’ll have to do it’.
“Ian’s shoes were very big shoes to fill and I must say it took me six months before I could even start to relax. Doing it, it was such a different thing. I’d not sung for so long since Monaco [his 90s side project], but I really enjoy it now.”
When Hook was in New Order, they only played Joy Division songs once. “It was sort of an unwritten, unspoken rule,” he says.
“We only resurrected Joy Division to do [the charity concert] Versus Cancer in 2002 and when we were doing the set – nine, 10 songs – Barney [Bernard Sumner] really didn’t like it. I do understand, he wanted to sing the stuff that he’d written and it is a bit jollier. But the thing is when we were in New Order, before we split in 2007, it was OK to ignore Joy Division, it was only when we’d split and I was on the outside that I thought why do we never celebrate anything to do with Joy Division? That was bizarre.
“I was still earning a lot of money from its continued popularity. Joy Division was getting bigger and bigger and its inspiration to groups was becoming more and more remarked. It felt quite odd. Now I’m free of that, really, and I don’t feel any guilt.”
In 2013 Hook wrote a memoir of his time in Joy Division. Unknown Pleasures, he says, was an attempt to redress the balance over the band’s sombre post-punk image. “What I wanted to do was show that we were normal people that were inspired to take a chance and go for it,” he says.
After Curtis’ death, Hook admits the rest of the band – who renamed themselves New Order – hid their grief in hard work.
“We were 23 – just – and when I look at my son now, who’s 26, he’d struggle to deal with something like that,” he reflects. “We just ignored it for about 30 years, it felt like the right thing to do just to hide it away and have nothing to do with it and it did work for New Order, the fact that we ignored Joy Division made New Order a far bigger success internationally. But now, as an old man, there was no rush, we could have taken six months off, we could have walked round in black clothing for months and months if it had made us feel better, but there was nobody around to show us the right way to do it.”
Hook found being a member of New Order much more difficult but, he says, the problems weren’t brought on by greater commercial success.
“You have to remember the Hacienda kept us poor until 1997. I’m just doing the New Order book at the moment and I can see where it went wrong. I can see the struggle for power that changed when Rob Gretton [the band’s manager] got ill. Bernard became the leader and I felt his leadership qualities were lacking, so everything changed.
“Also throw into that mix a lot of adulation, a hell of a lot of drugs and people disappearing up their own a***s. I don’t exclude myself for one second in that.”
Hook will play New Order songs alongside Joy Division material in his headline spot at Willowman festival in North Yorkshire. He says such occasions are no longer tinged with sadness that the original band line-up is not together.
“Really it’s just anger over the way I was treated,” he says. “I don’t mind doing the songs – in many ways it made me feel a lot better because it was like getting the kids for the weekend after a nasty divorce.
“When we did move chronologically to playing [New Order songs] I’ve got such a fantastic thing to be able to do because New Order also managed to ignore most of their songs. It’s actually stopping me writing new music because I keep getting these songs and going, ‘My God, these are fantastic, I want to play these over and over again until I get sick of them’.”
• Peter Hook and The Light play at Willowman Festival, at Hillside Rural Activities Park, Knayton, near Thirsk on June 20. Also on the bill for the festival, which runs from June 18-21, are Echo and the Bunnymen, Hazel O’Connor, Dreadzone and Andy Kershaw. www.willowmanfestival.co.uk