The legendary Peter Hook takes a moment to chat to Rebekah Rennick about new beginnings, lost friendships and life without Ian Curtis
Every musically inclined teenager has been there. Standing in the blackened pocket that is a concert pit, slack-jawed and mesmerized by what they’re seeing on stage; a musician claiming their arena.
A sweeping notion glides through their mind, “I could do that.” This idea passes through many teenage minds watching a gig and this is exactly what happened to Peter Hook while at a Sex Pistols show circa 1976 in an unobtrusive hall in Manchester.
But not every adolescent goes on to form one of the most influential post-punk bands of the 1970s. “We left that gig thinking we can be musicians too, and the next day we formed our band,” says Hook. And that band was Joy Division.
Since leaving that smoky venue, Hook has accumulated quite a collection of life-experiences. Like all great stories, however, there are humble origins, and in Hook’s case these were rooted in Salford. “I am very much from a working-class background. We didn’t have a lot growing up, so that meant that I did develop a sort of do-it-yourself mentality from a young age.
“I think that definitely helped me to make it in the music industry, which is famously a very dog-eat-dog world and quite a ruthless environment. I did spend a few years of my childhood in Jamaica.”
He recalls, “Over there we were able to live a lot more comfortably. I couldn’t believe we had an inside toilet, for instance. We ended up moving back to Salford and although it wasn’t as comfortable it did feel like home. I think experiencing such a different culture at such a young age was great.”
Touching upon the much-narrated and intricately dissected quartet that was Joy Division, Hook reflects fondly on the organic nature of those beginnings. “It was just all about the music, there was no bullshit. All everybody wanted was for the band to succeed.
“Ian [Curtis] was a great leader in the sense that if there were bad times, he would pick everyone up and say ‘come on we can do this’. There were no drugs, no excess partying. We were just all very focused on the band. This changed when we were in New Order.”
The troubled landscape of Ian Curtis’ mind is a familiar concept to any Joy Division fan. An incredibly emotionally-tuned human being, his premature death continues to fuel the varicosity of love and appreciation his audience have for him and the band.
Hook, however, remembers all too clearly the first time Curtis’ epilepsy raised its brazen head. “He was our mate and he was in trouble. Remember that this is the late 1970s, so there was nowhere near as much awareness of Ian’s condition then as there is today.
“None of us knew what was going on with him or what he was going through. We didn’t understand the seriousness of it, so we just thought once he had come round from his first seizure that would be it, it was a one off, none of us knew the implications and none of us thought it would be the start of an ongoing problem.”
Early recordings of Joy Division aligned with those of New Order and Hook’s newest project, Peter Hook & The Light. They are a timeline of his growth and development as a musician. “I had only just picked up the instrument and so my playing was very limited at first; easy riffs and basic chords” confesses Hook of his early bass playing.
Even in those early stages, he asked himself why the bass could not be a lead instrument too. “My playing became more and more sophisticated as I got more and more of a hold on the instrument, I wanted the bass to be in the mix just as much as the guitar, not just sat in the background as part of the rhythm section.
“I first started playing on the high strings because my initial equipment was so bad that they were the only notes I could hear, and Ian would say ‘That sounds great Hooky, keep doing it’, so I did, I guess you could call it a happy accident, and then I developed it from there.”
Stepping out of the loaded legacy of Joy Division, not to mention picking themselves up following the loss of such an integral friend, was never going to be easy for the remaining members of the group. Yet, that is exactly what they did.
In 1980, Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and new recruit Gillian Gilbert arose from the ashes as New Order. With Sumner taking vocals, the band exploded from the basic, echoing melodies of Joy Division and cascaded into the new world of electronic, synth-infused dance.
Take a handful of New Order classics and they would fit seamlessly into our music collections today, a testament to the innovative minds and perpetual talent dripping from the members
“The songs sound as fresh today as they did over 30 years ago when they were written and recorded,” Hook reiterates. “The work I did in Joy Division and New Order certainly shaped who I am and how I play. Looking back on it all now, I can’t ever imagine doing it any other way. With The Light, it is just fantastic to be able to play this old material again”
Hook is certainly a man that marches to the beat of his own drum. This inclination saw him through the tumultuous highs and lows of New Order’s 25-year reign, before ultimately breaking up in 2006.
No longer on speaking terms with Sumner and Morris, Hook and his bass have continued touring and playing selections from his complete discography in their entirety to audiences far and wide. “You do get a bit tired of answering the same old questions about my relationship with the others, but it’s only natural that journalists will want to ask you about it.
“I don’t think you can over-emphasise it really because it’s a massive thing. [We] were together for over 30 years and wrote a lot of great material, that’s a big thing and shouldn’t be overlooked. But for various reasons, it just was not working anymore.
“It’s like a marriage in a way, and we got divorced. But I understand why people always ask about it, it’s unavoidable. All I can say is that we have gone our separate ways and I am a lot happier as a result.”
Filling the weighted shoes of Ian Curtis and Sumner, Peter Hook & The Light sees Hook in the vocal limelight. Tracing from 1976 to 2013, the emergence of the once quietly confident bassist hidden between drum beat and guitar natter, to the tenacious vocalist we see now is quite remarkable.
“Working with The Light really is fantastic because they are such a great bunch. I have never enjoyed touring as much as I do with this project. We have a real laugh and enjoy ourselves on tour, but then when it comes to the gigs everyone is focused on delivering the greatest show that we possibly can do.”
While he has toured much-loved Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures, including a scatter of New Order tunes, this new project has produced a well-anticipated EP. “Doing the EP was nice because it meant we could immortalise the project on a record and it also meant that we could finish the last ever Joy Division song, ‘Pictures in my Mind’, which at the time was an unfinished demo before we went in and finished it off. I am very proud of it.”
This transformation was not without its own trials and tribulations, as Hook was continuously berated, with critics and fans alike deeming his solo decision as sacrilegious and a last chance saloon. Not to mention the catalyst in his silent protest against past band members following the announcement made by Sumner, Morris and Gilbert that they were reforming New Order without Hook.
Unsurprisingly, Hook was undeterred and has been selling out shows with no signs of the drive to perform dwindling anytime soon. “I think if I ever lost that excitement [to tour] then it would be time to pack it all in.
“Going on the road is tough at times simply because the schedule can be very gruelling, but then all the shows we have done have been great in their own unique ways so that picks you up all the time.”
Adding to his already distinguished legacy, Hook has published a first hand account of Joy Division’s entire history in Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Similarly, he is in midst of a follow up with Power, Corruption & Lies: Inside New Order.
“I’ve been blown away by how well the first two books were received by the public, so it has spurred me on. I think it’s important to tell the stories because it gives people an insight that they may not ever get without you doing it.”
It’s been a long road since that stimulatory Sex Pistols show, but the impact Peter Hook has made, not only for bassists, but musicians alike, is profound.
Still, he channels his dedication to the cause to one special person, whose influence reverberates through to this day. “Ian always said you had to finish everything you started because someone, somewhere, will love it. That’s a great way to look at being a musician.” His accomplished career is a fitting tribute to his fallen friend.