Dave Woodhall talks to legendary bass player Peter Hook.
Peter Hook and I share a birthday, but only one of us was a leading member of two of the most iconic and influential bands of all time. The less talented half of our newly-formed duo asks about the other’s project, Peter Hook & the Light, who are playing their way through the Hook back catalogue, including a date at Coventry’s Copper Rooms on Friday 4th March.
This time round there’s an opening Joy Division set, followed by the New Order albums Low Life and Brotherhood, releases which heralded their commercial peak in the dance-heavy late eighties.
“There’s a freedom to play songs that haven’t been done live for decades. When the band was together Barney wouldn’t play a lot of the stuff live but I’ve always wanted to do them all. We have such a huge repertoire that we’re working through and the interesting thing about Brotherhood in particular is the electronic side, recorded with an electric band and now played by a rock band so you get such a crossover and you can hear the split of opinions even in the crowd. It’s wonderful and the biggest shock is that some of this stuff on Brotherhood hasn’t been played live for 25 years.”
How does it come across on stage, after all this time?
“I’ve been accused of sounding too much like New Order, which is quite an interesting back-handed compliment. The programmer we’ve got specialises in this sound, so what you do is if you want a DX7 sound this guy is the guru. He samples all the analogue stuff, programmes it, because I’m not allowed access to the original tapes so I have to get the sound and recreate the record.
“The sound we used mainly on Brotherhood was Yamaha drum machines and synths; it’s quite easy once you know the people to do it and you get that intense feeling of nostalgia, of being in that place which is what people love. They love all these programmes about the eighties and nineties, they get a real nostalgia for the two decades. There’s a great passion, a great intensity and love for the music.”
Since leaving New Order you’ve always played Joy Division songs in your set. Do you see yourself as being the keeper of the flame where the band are concerned?
“I think Barney tried to sing them but he didn’t enjoy it. New Order did Joy Division sets twice; once in 2006 for the cancer benefit in Manchester and once at Wembley and he didn‘t enjoy it because he prefers his own songs, which is fair enough. So yes, I am the keeper of the flame and I don’t mind that.
“The big regret is that we never got to play Closer. Ian died just as we were finishing it, it was released posthumously and my greatest achievement is being able to play those songs. The reason we do that support set is to carry on playing them. It keeps me going, it keeps the band fresh. It never gets boring, and that was the thing about before New Order split up. It had all got a bit predictable, a bit dull. You’ve got such a fantastic back catalogue; why do you not draw from it?”
Do you think throughout New Order’s career there was still a shadow over the band, and they had to prove they were a different entity to Joy Division?
“There was, and that was a huge thing about the first gig in 1980. We wouldn’t play Joy Division songs, and that worked. It would have been like getting your new girlfriend to behave like your ex. It wouldn’t work and I was very happy to concentrate on New Order, who were a much more commercially successful band than Joy Division, a completely different thing and it was nice to have been in two bands that influenced so much.”
But as you get older, you become more comfortable about who you are and what you’ve been.
“It doesn’t bother me. I really enjoy it because as New Order we were different, we didn’t hark back to the older stuff. But you look at what they’re playing now and it hasn’t changed since 2000, 2007. It’s all very safe.”
Is there any new material in the pipeline?
“I’ve got a new song out this week with a French band called the Limananas, which is going well. I enjoy playing with them and I play with Man Ray. We put stuff out on the Hacienda label but I’m not good at pushing it.”
It’s also very difficult to sell music now, in fact to make a living at all from the music business.
“It’s a problem and it’s quite sad. It cuts across the whole creative industries. My mate’s in a band in London who can’t sell their music but he sells their guitar strings to their fans, who lap them up. How do you get into that situation? How do you get beyond that attitude from young music fans?
“Maybe with vinyl coming back people will start to treasure physical copies again but if you get a plumber round your house you don’t say to him that plumbing should be free. The two people who suffer most from this are musicians and journalists, there’s so many who will do it for nothing. The internet is a starving monster, ultimately starving artists for their work. Everyone spends all day reading your stuff and listening to mine, but they don’t want to pay for either.”
Maybe we have got something else in common then. Your career, like many of us in so many walks of life, started with the Sex Pistols. You were at the legendary Free Trade Hall gigs that spawned forty years of myth and legend. How different would life have been if you’d stayed in that night?
“The Pistols played four times in Manchester so I’d have seen them later. This year, on the fourth of June I’d have been a musician for forty years, which is frightening.”
And better than working in an office. For a start, you’ve managed to see yourself portrayed in two films. What was it like to see Ralf Little playing you, as he did in 24 Hour Party People?
“Ralf came into that just after the Royle Family, which was written by my ex-wife Caroline Aherne, so I thought he might have got into my character but he didn’t know me at all. He didn’t do a very good job but when I saw Joe Anderson in Control (the life story of Ian Curtis), it sent a shiver down my spine. The director Anton Corbijn got it spot on. 24 Hour Party people was more light-hearted but Control got the whole look.”
There wasn’t a lot in Ian Curtis’s life that was light-hearted.
“No, he had a disease that was getting worse and was exacerbated by the adrenaline the band produced. The doctors told him that if he led a quiet life, no loud noises, no alcohol and lots of early nights he would have been alright but he was a twenty year old boy in this very loud, very aggressive rock group. Sadly everything was stacked against him.
“The interesting thing about the Joy Division documentary was that they showed his prescription to a modern epilepsy specialist who told them that it was guaranteed to kill him. He just couldn’t survive.”
But his music lives on and will be played along with the New Order albums Low Life and Brotherhood at the Copper Rooms, Coventry, on Friday 4th March.
Front page pic Mark McNulty