In 1976, Peter Hook was involved in the founding of one of the most important British bands of the last 40 years. For most people, the work of Joy Division is overshadowed by the suicide of Ian Curtis on the eve of the band’s first US tour in 1980. Admittedly it can be hard not […]

In 1976, Peter Hook was involved in the founding of one of the most important British bands of the last 40 years. For most people, the work of Joy Division is overshadowed by the suicide of Ian Curtis on the eve of the band’s first US tour in 1980. Admittedly it can be hard not to see their music through Curtis’ eyes, particularly the sombre and isolated Closer, released after his death to great commercial and critical success. But there were four members of Joy Division, and each contributed their own part to a sound that has been imitated countless times since, Peter Hook himself primarily playing bass guitar. After recruiting keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, the remaining trio of Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris then went on to form another milestone musical act, New Order.

Since splitting with New Order in 2007, Hooky has been involved in the opening of The Factory (FAC251) in Manchester, a sort of re-imagined version of the legendary Hacienda (FAC51), one of the greatest clubs in the North during the 80s and 90s. He is now touring Joy Division’s debut album Unknown Pleasures in the UK with his new band The Light, putting the finishing touches on a new book out in September entitled Inside Joy Division, and making preparations for the 30th anniversary of the Hacienda.

Why have you chosen to do Unknown Pleasures on this UK tour?

I never really thought I’d do more than one gig of Joy Division songs. I got the idea from Primal Scream, because they were doing the whole of Screamadelica a few years back. I knew I wanted to do a celebration of the band and Ian’s life, because I’d been frustrated with the one in Macclesfield. When we were in New Order, it felt ok to ignore it. Outside, somehow I thought, how did we ignore it? It just seemed daft. The significance that Joy Division has with so many other groups – you can’t not acknowledge it.

The first gig sold out so we added another night in Manchester at the Factory. That was it as far as I was concerned, but then I got a request to do a festival, and then another, and I just thought “this is fucking great”.

In England the criticism was heavy, especially on the internet. Originally I had singers that I’d known for years who were going to be involved, but the critique was so heavy that they bottled it. The only one who had any balls was [Happy Mondays vocalist] Rowetta, who said, “Let’s face it, you’re going to have to do it”. At first I thought, “I don’t want to step into Ian Curtis’s shoes, I just want to play bass…”

But it makes sense for you to sing…

Well it gives it a thread, which is nice. But the thing is, you can play to 10,000 people, and they can all be going nuts and loving it, but there can be one bloke with his arms crossed. And it’s all about him! They’re all saying, “Why don’t you look at us? We love you!” and you’re looking at him thinking, “Bastard!” That’s what it became with doing these shows in England, so that’s why I didn’t do it originally.

Well hopefully you’ll enjoy Sheffield.

I’ve played here a lot. The first gig we ever did in Sheffield was at The Limit, and Phil Oakey [of the Human League] loaded in with us, pushing our flight cases! His fringe kept coming down and he kept banging stuff into the walls. We used to come over here to see Cabaret Voltaire. When Ian died, they were really good at helping us get our mojo back. We went to the Weston Works studio and we used to play there quite a lot, because it felt like there was something missing and working with them we kind of got it back.

I did an interview with Richard H Kirk a few months ago actually.

He’s a mad fucker, isn’t he? Has he still got all that make up on? He’s such a nice guy. You know, they were one of the weirdest groups to work with. They used to write a great song, listen to it and say, “That is a great song – let’s fucking destroy it!” And you’d be saying, “Hang on that chorus is great that,” and he’d say, “Yeah it is, isn’t it?” [pretends to twiddle knobs violently]. That was just how they liked it, and that was quite nice to see, because they weren’t precious or courting stardom. They were really radical and they meant it, to their own detriment in fact!

How did returning to Unknown Pleasures compare to re-learning Closer?

Because I imagine that was probably a harder task in some ways. Unknown Pleasures was very aggressive, very rocky – four people at their most confident. That gung-ho aspect is easy to hide behind. When you get to Closer, it’s completely and utterly different – very melancholic, very delicate. But because Closer was released after Ian died, we ignored it. We never read any reviews, we never even got to play the songs live. I must admit that Closer is magical to play because I never got to play it before.

Did you feel under pressure to keep as true as possible to the studio versions in a live setting?

I never appreciated the beauty of what [producer] Martin Hannett did for us. I loved the band, but we were always completely different live to on record – much faster, much punkier, much more raw. When I came to transcribe Closer, it struck me that most people had heard us much more on record than live. Martin used his production techniques to fill the music out. I must admit it took me 30 years to say it, but he did a fucking great job. He enabled Joy Division’s music to last all the way through. If I’d have produced it, it would’ve sounded like the Sex Pistols.

It’s ironic that you started as a punk band, but what you ended up with was something very un-punk.

Really early – we got something completely different to a punk band really early in our career.

I wanted to ask you about the scenes of Joy Division in the studio in the film 24 Hour Party People. In particular the part when Ralf Little, who plays you, is recording a bass part and Martin Hannett says, ‘You wear it very well – now play like a fucking musician.’ Was he really that hostile in the studio?

[Rolls eyes] Yeah, it was really, really difficult. You never knew what the fuck he was talking about, but his thing was that he was a catalyst. One of my mates once said that Martin Hannett is the only producer you can put in with a group, and regardless of how well they’re getting on, within two hours they’d all be at each other’s throats.

Let’s talk about your new book. I’ve read [Ian’s wife] Deborah Curtis’ Touching from A Distance a couple of times. It’s really interesting but every time I read it I want more of an insider’s perspective.

But maybe you won’t like the insider’s perspective when you get it! I remembered pretty much everything there was to remember, I think. When I started the Hacienda book [The Hacienda – How Not to Run a Club], I thought I wasn’t to blame for the problems, the loss of money and whatever, but by the time I’d finished I realised I was. Not entirely, but if someone is spending your money and you don’t tell them to stop, then it’s your fault. In a weird way I thought writing the Joy Division book would make me realise that it was everyone else’s fault, but by the end I once again realised I was just as much to blame. I re-read Debbie’s book before I started mine, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I think her annoyance was that she was excluded, but you give four lads a bite of the cherry and it’s “see you darling!” It’s a very selfish age – 21 or 22.

How has the live show gone down abroad so far and which album did you do?

This time around we were doing Closer. We’re doing it all chronologically, so the idea is that the first time we visit a country we do Unknown Pleasures, second time Closer and third time Still. When we played at The Factory we even did the early EPs and samplers. I can’t reconcile doing a ‘Greatest Hits’ tour, but I can reconcile playing the LPs in full, in the right order. That said, my son has convinced me to do a few tracks from Closer on this UK tour.

What’s the plan for the Hacienda 30th anniversary celebrations?

I was going to do a low-key party at FAC251, but my partner suggested doing it at the Hacienda, which is now an apartment block. I thought it was a stupid idea at first, but lo and behold, he sent me off and I’ve talked them into doing it. Not only have you got a Manchester revival, you’ve also got a Hacienda revival. The last rave! It’s great, especially with the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and New Order, and the fact that it’s all come back round again. Having the Hacienda back for one night only is pretty wild!

For the chance to see Peter Hook and the Light perform the entirety of Unknown Pleasures at the Leadmill on 29th May, simply ‘like’ our Facebook page and express your interest. We’ll pick a winner at random a week before the gig.

Interview by Sam Walby.