Peter Hook on Revisiting Early New Order Albums, Feuding With Bernard Sumner + More
The last time Peter Hook and his new band, the Light, toured behind classic records he made in his 20s, the elephant in the room wasn’t really an elephant at all. It was a sacred cow, and its name was Ian Curtis.
Throughout 2010 and 2011, as Hook and his crew revisited the music of Joy Division, playing top-down versions of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979) and ‘Closer’ (1980), the group’s first and only two studio albums, they walked willingly down a greased tightrope. Singing songs made iconic by Curtis, whose 1980 suicide ended Joy Division and led to the creation of New Order, Hook had to honor a late friend and conjure a passable approximation of his trademark baritone yet avoid sounding like an out-and-out imitation. Curtis, after all, is one of those inimitable legends, a Hendrix or Cobain for the post-punk generation. That he died at 23 instead of 27, like most doomed rock ‘n’ roll romantics, makes him all the more tragic.
This time around, Hook and the Light are doing ‘Movement’ (1981) and ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ (1983), the first two LPs he and his fellow Joy Division survivors — singer-guitarist-keyboardist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris — made after Curtis’ death. There should be no ghosts to contend with, but as Hook explains, that’s not exactly the case.
“Yeah, well, I’ve got the specter of Bernard,” Hook tells Diffuser.fm, chatting via Skype weeks ahead of a September U.S. tour. “Very angry specter, I suppose”
Hook is referring, of course, to his ongoing legal drama with Sumner, who reformed New Order without Hook’s knowledge or blessing in 2011 for their first tour in five years. Sumner’s version of the band, which features Morris, longtime synth player Gillian Gilbert and replacement bassist Tom Chapman, is still going strong, and that means NO fans have two sets of musicians competing for their attention — and their dollars.
“There is more pressure on you, because there’s obviously going to be comparisons to them, because they’re using the name or brand,” Hook says. “They can command huge fees and do a lock in production. Where as I’m doing it on my own name. It’s a scaled-down version.”
In Hook’s mind, it’s also a more faithful version. Using equipment similar to what New Order had back in the early ’80s, he’s striving to play the songs as they originally sounded — something he insists Sumner isn’t doing.
“I noticed that their bass player doesn’t play the riffs right,” Hook says, citing Chapman’s take on the hit 1986 single ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ as one glaring example of New Order Mk. II futzing, or perhaps fumbling, with the music. “I don’t know whether that’s because he doesn’t want to or because he’s been told not to. It seems like an interpretation of it, which basically leaves us more room, I suppose, to do it properly.”
Touring behind the Joy Division albums, Hook had something of an ulterior agenda: reminding fans how energetic the group’s music was and downplaying the notion Curtis was a gloomy malcontent hobbled by constant despair. He further made that point in the book ‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,’ released earlier this year, and just as people oversimplify the Curtis saga, he says, they tend to have the wrong idea about New Order.
He aims to clear things up with his next book, but in the meantime, he’s happy to blow the dust off of ‘Movement,’ an album Sumner has distanced himself from in recent years. Relative to later New Order releases, which found the group incorporating synths and club beats and fashioning a dance-rock fusion that continues to influence young bands, ‘Movement’ is dark, choppy and plodding, “a Joy Division album with New Order vocals,” as Hook says.
Sumner wasn’t the immediate choice for frontman — had Hooky found it easier to sing and play simultaneously, he might have gotten the gig — and as a result, the vocals are “tentative,” as Hook puts it. Maybe that’s why Sumner doesn’t consider it a New Order album.
“There are some wonderful musical moments on there that he was largely responsible for,” Hook says. “Maybe he’s just not sat down and listened to it. Maybe I should invite him to the show. You think he’d come?”
One thing Hook and Sumner’s group’s have in common is the mixed blessing of modern technology. On their initial trips through America, New Order didn’t play to prerecorded backings, and recreating their increasingly innovative music onstage proved challenging. It also made the performances more alive.
“Fans used to always say about New Order you never knew which one you were going to get when you got there, whether it be a great gig or a lousy gig,” Hook says. “I actually thought it was very punk and very true to yourself. Because there was no playing to a backing track like the way Depeche Mode did from a very early age.”
These days, though the equipment is more dependable, Hook keeps it fresh and spontaneous by tackling songs New Order long ago jettisoned from their live sets. He and the Light have also remained proficient with the Joy Division material — at Riot Fest in Chicago, they’ll take a break from NO and revert back to Curtis mode — and all told, they’ve learned some 70 songs.
“It’s frightening and exciting and every gig is a bit different because you throw in all of these songs,” Hook says. “I must admit, it makes me very happy. That wasn’t the case at the end of New Order. It all got a little bit boring and obvious. You wanted to do old stuff. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and Bernard said he didn’t like the old stuff. He wanted to concentrate on the stuff that he liked. You can’t contradict someone because — we did go through a period of making him do what he didn’t want to do which was gig. He didn’t wanted to gig. He hated it, he wanted to stay home and yet we made him.”
And while Hook has been writing new material, he’s far from finished reexamining the New Order songbook. He’s already booked shows for next September based around ‘Low-Life’ (1985) and ‘Brotherhood’ (1986), the group’s third and fourth albums, and beyond that, he’d like to do ‘Technique’ (1989) and possibly even ‘Waiting for the Siren’s Call,’ the 2005 set that seemingly marked the end of his creative relationship with Sumner.
“[We] may even do a cover version of New Order’s next record when they do it, just to finish it off,” Hook says with a laugh. “With bass properly played.”