Marko Kutlesa spoke to Peter Hook in length about Hacienda Classical, the rift in New Order, celebrating Joy Division and more.
As even your mum is likely to know, Peter Hook is the co-founding member of two of the most important British bands ever. The first, Joy Division, were formed in 1976 by Hook and Bernard Sumner but only settled on that naming of the band and their classic line up by 1978.
They recorded songs for the first ever release of Factory Records, run by local TV frontman Tony Wilson, who added Joy Division’s manager Rob Gretton as a partner in the label so he could represent the band’s interests. They recorded two landmark albums for Factory Records Unknown Pleasures and Closer, but on the eve of their first American tour their singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. They released the single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ posthumously.
Hook and Joy Division’s guitarist Bernard Sumner then formed a new group, New Order, along with Joy Division’s drummer Stephen Morris and his then girlfriend Gillian Gilbert on keyboards. New Order supplanted Joy Division as Factory Records’ flagship band and far out shined the latter in record sales too as their music began to display the influence of American dance music and incorporate drum machines.
They recorded multiple albums including Power, Corruption & Lies, several compilations like Substance and many classic singles such as ‘True Faith’, ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Confusion’ before going on hiatus. When they reformed in 2011 it was without Peter Hook.
Since that time, Peter Hook has done as much as anyone to maintain the legacy of Joy Division, New Order and The Hacienda, the famed Manchester nightclub that was jointly owned by New Order and Factory Records.
He has been in several other bands including Freebass, Monaco and his current project Peter Hook & The Light who tour the world playing the music of Joy Division and New Order.
He has revived The Hacienda from being a failed and infamous nightclub to being a living testament to dance music in Manchester, their most recent project being Hacienda Classical in which songs from the original club’s heyday have been reinterpreted by the orchestra musicians of Manchester Camerata.
Peter Hook has written two honest, frank and very funny books about different stages of his career. The first, How Not to Run a Club (2009) charted the rise and fall of The Hacienda, the second Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (2013) dealt with the time he spent with his first band. Both were critically lauded and widely read. They are soon to be followed by a third book covering Hook’s years spent in New Order.
Which songs from Hacienda Classical work best in the orchestrated format?
“Graeme Park anmd Mike Pickering were more or less 100% responsible for picking the songs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as we all know, so I think some of them work really well and some of them work OK. A lot of these songs have never been performed by anyone. I think people are so familiar with some of this music, that when they hear someone do it with a bit of passion and gusto, they just love it.
I think Graeme’s done a great job of replicating what could have been one of his live sets. It starts off quite slowly and goes off, banging, towards the end. As a DJ I never do that, it’s more like turning a tap on, I just go full tilt straight from the off. No subtlety. Graeme’s taught me a lot about how to be subtle, which isn’t bad at the ripe old age of 60, is it?
Which of the Hacienda Classical performances have you visited?
“Well I do the sound, so I’ve done all of them. There’s been some spectacular locations. That one near the Lake District, which Skiddle went to and did some filming from, looked amazing.
“Funnily enough I was in Lancaster House at school, but I’d never had the bug to go there (Lancaster), so when I got there I was absolutely amazed. It was really beautiful and a beautiful day as well, which made it all the better. We’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall, although I played that as New Order in 1982. We’ve been to some great places.
“It’s been a big learning curve because I normally work with a few keyboards and a couple of guitars, so to work with 50 or 60 musicians has been quite an eye opener. Especially doing the sound.
“We have quite a heavy backing track that we use. We did Castlefield in Manchester last week, which was fantastic, completely sold out, and my mate turned round to me and said it felt like we’d just had an illegal rave in the middle of Manchester.
“That combination, the strings, the banging house backing track and the acoustics there really made it lift. It was wonderful. Tim Crooks, who’s the conductor, and Graeme have done really well collaborating together. I did the backing track, it was programmed by a guy called Paul who works with M People.
“A lot of people have worked on this in order to get it to work as good as this. The real pleasure has been seeing how the audience reacts. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical at first.
“I didn’t think it was going to work. I’d watched Pete Tong and I thought it was cool, but I didn’t really get it. It wasn’t until we did the second night at The Bridgewater Hall that I got it. Graeme and Paul Fletcher, who’s the brand manager for The Hacienda, came up with the idea and we’ve pulled it off. I’m flabbergasted.
I think one of the nicest things I’ve seen in watching videos of the performances is watching the audience reaction, the proper out of their seats raving.
“Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve had a few old fogeys complaining. There have been a couple of people who thought it was a Spanish classical evening (laughs). Then we had a couple of people complaining at Castlefield because they thought it would be just the orchestra. Even though they used to go The Hacienda in the old days, they were proper rave heads, but they just wanted the orchestra.
“Really what we’re doing is more like a combination, an orchestra with a club night. It’s different. Weird. I really enjoy it, but it’s nerve wracking. It’s much more nerve wracking than playing, because of the amount of people you’re trying to get it run smoothly with. There are 70 people in the touring party. It’s 10 times more than we had with New Order.”
That weird combination of an orchestra and a heavy, house backing beat almost mirrors that other classically Mancunian combination of house music and ecstasy, doesn’t it?
“The thing I loved about Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson at The Hacienda was that they were never scared to do anything. The more outlandish it sounded, the more noncommercial it could be, the more of a potential disaster it could be, the more they loved it. That chaos, that anarchy, Rob Gretton brought with him from punk.
“I do think it’s very in keeping when everything you’re doing is that little bit unstable. It certainly makes it more exciting”.
Presumably a lot of the musicians you’re working with will be used to playing to more staid, sedate audiences. Have you had any feedback from them?
“Yeah, once they got over being terrified of Bez, they loved it. When he came on, the first night we did it, half of them nearly ran off, which was quite funny. But, yeah, they’re a completely different animal to someone like me. The process of running it in conjunction with an outfit like ours has had its problems. Not many. But I’m pretty sure almost all of them have come up to me at some point over the 10 gigs and told me what a great time they’ve had.
“Normally the audiences are so quiet for them and in Castlefield, 8000 people going mental, the noise from the crowd was amazing. They were blown away. They’re really appreciating this particular brand of madness.”
How different will your own band’s configuration have to be from previous outings in order to perform both New Order and Joy Division’s Substance albums?
“Well, the Substance LPs came about by default. We have Tony Wilson to thank for that. He’d bought a new Jaguar, he was doing very well with Factory at the time, and it had a CD player in it. It was quite unusual to get a car with a CD player at the time. What he wanted was to be able to play New Order’s singles in his car. So he suggested that we put them all together and make another LP. It was as simple as that.
“We weren’t that arsed, because as far as we were concerned they were already out. They were done with. We were very much looking forward, back then. But once Substance (New Order) was put together, with the 12 x 12”s, it was a fantastic hit. It sold 2 million copies of a double vinyl in America alone. It went on to become the biggest LP we never recorded. So, it’s quite an unusual record in that.
“You could say, if you were wanting to be a bit critical, is that it was like a greatest hits thing, but a lot of those tracks, b-sides, had a stand alone quality. Which is what Tony loved.
“Tony and our American manager thought we weren’t our own best friends, which is why they brought Steven Hague in to record a track specifically for the record. Just to please us. We didn’t want to put something out which had all been completely released before. We wanted something new on it. So, they came up with the idea of going for a pop hit, which is what Steven Hague was very good at.
“It wasn’t the most rewarding session, not for me anyway, but it did produce a couple of fantastic tracks in ‘True Faith’ and ‘1963’ (listen below). One of ours and Tony Wilson’s big regrets was that “1963” wasn’t a single on its own.
“Tony felt that we’d made a mistake and that we’d just given it away as a b-side on a 12”. He thought we should have had another hit with that one. But, again, we weren’t bothered. We were doing a new LP at the time and we were happy to just look forward.
“Historically it’s quite important because it was the start of Factory’s problems. They were loosing money and so Tony Wilson came up with the idea of us taking a lower royalty rate for ‘Substance’ and, ironically, it went on to be our biggest selling record ever.
“So, in a very New Order fashion we managed to fuck ourselves up completely with that one. It went on to sell 5 million round the world, just on vinyl. On CD it’s done over 10 million or something. It really was a very successful record and because of that Tony went on to beg us to do a Joy Division ‘Substance’ album”.
Thinking back to previous times I’ve seen your band The Light, when you were performing Joy Division songs, are you going to be adding to that, in terms of keyboards or whatever, in order to play the New Order songs?
“Well, they all have to be rewritten, because I don’t have access to any of the New Order backing tracks. I’m not allowed to use them, so I have to recreate them. Which is actually good.
“I’ve got a mate of mine, Si Brad, who uses old synthesizers and creates the tracks again for me. He does a fantastic job. In fact I did have rather a nasty letter from some former friends of mine accusing me of sounding too much like New Order. Which I felt was a great compliment actually. I had to prove that it was recreated. But what a great compliment.”
You’re soon playing in Primosten, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Croatia. Do you know much about the country? Have you been there before?
“I think we’ve been there before, Croatia (they have, in Zagreb – Ed). I don’t know a lot about it to be honest. But that’s one of the great things about The Light. Because New Order would never fucking go anywhere, there’s a lot of places I’ve never been.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful with The Light to discover a lot of those places. We’ve done a hell of a lot of gigs in eastern Europe and there are some really fantastic places, it’s really beautiful.
“As New Order we didn’t play a lot and we mainly stuck to America, so it’s been nice to discover some things that are a hell of a lot closer. The crowds have been great. The Joy Division stuff has gone down fantastically well. We’ve done a few New Order shows, but mainly Joy Division and I’m delighted to be able to carry the torch for both bands.
“It’s been difficult, finding a way to do it without pretending to be something you’re not. I’m not Joy Division. Transcribing the LPs, especially Martin Hannett’s input, was the way round it. Because Joy Division didn’t sound live anything like they did on record. We were completely different, much more raw, much more strict. So, that was the nice way of doing it and I’ve just moved into New Order by doing the same thing.
“I’m just celebrating the records. I’m not pretending to be something that I’m not, which is something that does piss me off about the others.”
You mentioned Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, God rest their souls. If they were still alive do you think this rift between you and your former friends would ever have got so wide? Don’t you think they would have just banged your heads together, the lot of you?
“You know what, every day I wake up I wish somebody would. Because it is the most stupid waste of time and effort. As Peter Saville said to me recently “You and Bernard have dragged Joy Division and New Order into the desert where nothing grows. I hope you’re proud of yourselves”. And I thought “Shit”. But the thing is, pride and ego have a lot to do with these things.
“What they did to me, by taking the name and by doing it all behind my back and then deciding how much I should get, after 31 years work, it just wasn’t fair, the way they did it.
“What I’m fighting for is fairness, a bit of justice. In divorce cases you don’t get one side telling the other what they’re getting, do you? You’re supposed to work together and I supposed that after 31 years – and I think I can safely say that New Order wouldn’t have been the same without my input – you deserve a little respect.
“Barney’s beef with me is to do with The Hacienda and me playing Joy Division. In a way it’s just a childish way of getting your own back. But, you’ve got to fight. If you don’t fight, you die, don’t you?”
Were they around, what could Rob and Tony do to resolve it?
“You know, if we got together, me, Barney, Steve and Gillian, we could probably resolve it, but it’s just that you don’t get to do that because of how the system works once it goes to lawyers and is all legal.
“They don’t want you to get together, they want to keep you separate, paying their wages. I’ve seen Mike Joyce in the past few weeks and he said to me, a while ago, that the worst thing he’s ever been through in his life was the legal fight he had with The Smiths.
“He said “I don’t envy you”. It’s an awful thing to go through. I’d never recommend it to anybody. But, unfortunately, I’m stuck in it and I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily. “
Do you think in the writing of yours and Bernard’s books you’ve passed a point of no return?
“I was quite surprised with Barney’s book because, in my opinion, he told a lot of lies and I had him down as a few things, but I never had him down as a liar. And that shocked me.
“When I read it I was quite surprised that he managed to dispatch 30 years of New Order in 100 pages. When I looked at the glossary I saw that I was in 66 of them, being called rotten.
“My New Order book is about New Order’s history. It tells the truth and I think that people who read the Joy Division book and The Hacienda book will make their own minds up.
“I’ve never been accused of or been called a liar about anything to do with it all. I simply told the truth about what happened. The New Order book, which is out soon, will do exactly the same. People will then have both and be able to make their own minds up.”