“Teenagers always need music for solace and inspiration, Joy Division fills that role” Peter Hook on the enduring power of Love Will Tear Us Apart
The legendary bassist looks back on the lasting legacy of Joy Division and New Order, working with Gorillaz, and why he’s found comfort in celebrating Ian Curtis’ life with his band the Light.
Image: Carla Speight / Getty Images
Peter Hook is sound checking in the lauded Barrowlands Ballroom standing where legend has it, one of the venue’s proverbial stars fell from the roof while David Bowie was rehearsing for a show during his Earthling tour. The singer popped it in his pocket and arranged for it to be attached to his bathroom ceiling in New York. Today Peter Hook is hunched over his Shergold Marathon bass, festooned with stickers next to an Ampeg SVT-15E graffitied with the words ‘Salford Rules’. Later, he’ll make an appearance at a nearby guitar shop before popping backstage for our chat.
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As a young man, former Joy Division and New Order bassist tried everything from working at Butlin’s, to a tea warehouse and the Manchester Ship Canal Company before having something of an epiphany when seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester. At that famous gig also attended by Morrissey and Mark E. Smith on 4 June 1976, Hook realised what he needed to do with his life.
“I saw them four times, twice at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and twice at the Electric Circus,” he tells us. “I remember everything about it, the feedback was fucking horrible. I remember thinking, “What the fuck is this about? Telling everyone to fuck off? I could do that – I could tell everyone to fuck off!’
The sound was dreadful, I have to thank the sound-man because the band played quite proficiently. I said to Barney [aka Joy Division bandmate Bernard Sumner] after it that we should form a band. I became a bass player by default. I went to buy a guitar at Mazel’s and said to the bloke: ‘It’s only got four strings’, he said: ‘That’s because it’s a bass’.
The roots of Joy Division were cemented when the pair met Ian Curtis at another Sex Pistols gig later that year. “Ian gave me [Stooges album] Metallic K.O and it blew my mind. I’d never heard of Iggy (Pop) or the Velvets; he introduced me to it all. Barney would sit there saying: ‘Who are these Doors? Everyone says we sound like them. He then lent me the first Doors album and I thought, ‘We do sound like them!’ We used to do Riders On The Storm”.
A few months after seeing perhaps the most legendary gig in Manchester’s music history, they would have a once-in-lifetime experience when Iggy Pop was backed by David Bowie, also in the band was the Sales Brothers, later of Tin Machine. “They were a hell of a unit the Sales brothers,” says Hook of an essential early bass influence. Tony Fox Sales had himself been inspired by another of Hook’s favourites. “Carole Kaye didn’t write the bass lines, she confesses to being a session player but my appreciation came from her riffs and melodies”.
As Hooky suggests there is a lot of myth about the life of Ian Curtis. He is currently planning to sift through the late singer’s original vinyl collection. Iggy Pop’s The Idiot was said to be the last record Curtis played before his death from suicide. “That is true”, confirms Hook. “His wife (Debbie) took it off the turntable and put it with the rest of the records. Ian’s best friend (Kelvin Biggs), who is a good friend of mine, has got the collection now and we’re planning to do a podcast about it”.
Hook adds that he recently visited Ian’s grave at Macclesfield Cemetery. It’s now a place of pilgrimage for a new generation of fans around the globe. “There were a lot of flowers there when I visited a couple of days ago” suggests Hook. “The same reason Joy Division caught that generation between 1978 and 1980 is the same reason it was captured ten years later, then twenty years later and so on.
“He spoke very well to confused teenagers not knowing where they were going. His bleakness, storytelling and his life of unrequited love, having a child and ending up divorced as he was going to be, this was all going on before he died at the age of 23. Young people go through the same things now and they need music for solace and inspiration, Joy Division fills that role”.
It was back in 2010 that Hooky formed Peter Hook and the Light after leaving New Order in 2007. The band’s stature has grown with Joy Division and New Order albums being toured live in their entirety with Hook taking on lead vocals and sharing bass duties with his son Jack Bates.
“I never expected it when we started playing in 2010 which was to celebrate Ian’s life. New Order never did anything like that, we may have played Love Will Tear Us Apart on occasion and that was okay. It was when I was outside of it I thought this is nuts because Joy Division was earning as much as New Order and we were still a going concern”.
Love Will Tear Us Apart was like a parting gift from Curtis, the song released posthumously in June 1980 is widely regarded as one of the greatest singles of all time. “It was weird the first time I heard it on the radio” adds Hook. “I was going to get my car taxed in Stretford and just before parking, I turned it off. I’m fine with it now. The requests you get for Joy Division and the amount of money you can make from films is insane. It took three hours to write it from start to finish. Blue Monday was six months. Those two songs pay for everything”.
Play it again
The audiences today however aren’t turning up to hear just the hits, Unknown Pleasures has lost none of its power and effect. “If anything the audience has got younger, especially after Covid. It goes fucking wild, it’s not something to play down. To come back to it was easy for me and I felt really at home. I’m such a fan and I wanted to connect with others fans”. The bass many Joy Division fans will be familiar with seeing Hook play on Joy Division’s 1978 and ’79 television appearances “was a Hondo II, it was a Rickenbacker copy and it was shite. The first amp I had was a Sound City 120 with a 10-inch bass speaker, it was awful. I played high notes to cut through and Ian would point and say: ‘play high, that sounds good, keep doing that’ that’s where the riffs came from and it was quite a natural change.”
The rudimentary equipment was part of the alchemy that helped shape Joy Division’s enduring sound. Just two years after the death of Curtis, New Order would begin to record Blue Monday. While Hooky doesn’t have a lot of good to say about his old bandmate Bernard Sumner these days, he does pay tribute to his experimental drive.
With the Oberheim DMX drum machine and the Prophet sequencer Barney’s foresight and persistence in being so pedantic about wanting it to work was amazing. Most people would just give up, my attitude was ‘Can’t we just write some fucking songs like Ceremony and Love Will Tear Us Apart? We don’t need all this shit!’
“Ironically that’s what ended up being our sound; him bringing in the drum machine and sequencer and me dragging it back to rock and guitars. It lead to something absolutely unique because there were a lot of other synth bands like Heaven 17 and Human League but no one sounded like New Order and that became the template for most American and British bands; if they didn’t sound like New Order, they sounded like Joy Division”.
By his admission Hook, compares himself to Zelig, the Woody Allen character who turned up in a variety of settings. He has long been a sought-after figure and was earmarked to produce The Stone Roses debut after working on their 1988 single Elephant Stone but was unable due to recording Technique with New Order.
“I loved it but it wasn’t the easiest session, they were funny. Reni would say, ‘I should be the singer Hooky, let me sing it.’ I said: ‘That’s not what being in a band is about mate, you’re the drummer. He’d still be like ‘No, let me sing it’ I thought, ‘Fucking hell…’.
More recently Hook admits to being scared stiff when asked to work with Damon Albarn on the track Aries for the Song Machine series by Gorillaz in 2020.
“I was fucking terrified, the man is an absolute fucking genius!” he exclaims. “He asked me and I knew I couldn’t possibly turn it down. On the way down I had a call from his assistant saying he wasn’t going to be there and I thought: ‘Thank God’ I was instantly relaxed after that because I knew I could do it and I was looking forward to it. Then when I got there he came in. I was like ‘You bastard’ he said: ‘I managed to make it’, I thought, ‘Fucking great’
“But it worked fantastically and I couldn’t thank him enough because he gave me a number one in lockdown when I needed it the most. The song is amazing and it was one of the best compliments I ever had to be asked. He [Albarn] never stops, he’s incredible. I had a lot of comments after saying this is how New Order should sound, and what the fuck are they doing? I was just made up with it.”
Peter Hook with the Manchester Camerata Orchestra & special guests present ‘The Sound of Joy Division Orchestrated’ on 14 October, Manchester Apollo they will perform at The Palladium London the following night. For tickets and more information visit www.peterhookandthelight.com