Monday, May 30, 2011

Getting Closer with Peter Hook

Take a second and remember the first time you heard Joy Division. Remember the power and curiosity it had over your ears and emotions. Remember that prior to that band and after, you never heard anything like it before or since. Formed in 1976 during the punk explosion in England, the Manchester quartet of Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris started playing a much more darker, subtle style of music then what was out on the scene, yet they still managed to call themselves a punk band. Joy Division put Manchester’s music on the map and pioneered a sound that would be copied for decades. Though the band’s timeline was short lived after singer Ian Curtis committed suicide over 30 years ago, their legacy remains timeless. From the ashes of Joy Division, the remaining members formed New Order and took the 1980’s and 90’s by storm. While New Order called it quits in 2007, all of the remaining members have been keeping themselves busy, Sumner and Morris started a much more straight forward rock and roll band with Bad Lieutenant, while Peter Hook has been working on his own music as well as taking Joy Division’s classic albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer on the road. Just this month, Hook and his band, The Light which features his son on bass, will perform Closer for the first time ever in full, at a benefit concert in Manchester.

In a very candid and gracious phone interview with Hook, we discussed his roots as a musician, Joy Division and New Order’s legacies and his career today as he preps for the Closer gigs. When Hook and his friends were coming of age, Manchester was almost entirely an total industrial city, filled with factories and blue collar workers. Music and art did not seem to flourish in harmony with the factories the way it does today. Hook says “When I started, there was no scene, not that I was aware of, because my interest in music was strictly pop. It was only after seeing the Sex Pistols, that I developed an interest in music and then discovered the scene in Manchester, which seemed to me to be inspired by Sex Pistols.” It was at that gig, where he asked school friend Bernard Sumner to go, where they both realized they wanted to be in a band. “I was into heavy metal, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, you were reading about these people and this other world all the time and then the Sex Pistols started to sneak in to the music press. I remember one occasion where I was on holiday in the South of England, buying Melody Maker and it was the picture of Johnny Rotten fighting at a gig on the front. I thought, well that seems more like real life, because you never saw Robert Plant fighting, they seemed more grandeur and this seemed more street and more earthy and more realistic.” After that holiday, Hook saw an ad in Manchester Evening News that the Pistols would be in town for 50p at Manchester Free Trade Hall, it would be at that gig where his and Bernard Sumner’s lives would change. When I asked Hook if that 50p was the wisest investment he had ever made, he laughed and replied, “well, yeah, along side the 35 Pence which was for my guitar, which I bought the next day. Those were probably the best investments I have ever made and there are not that many.” After placing an ad out in local papers looking for a singer, a man named Ian Curtis, which the guys had known from school, fit the bill as the band’s front man.

Starting off originally as Warsaw and pulling in influences from punk, David Bowie and Kraftwork, the band changed their name to Joy Division. “Punk did give me a very healthy and tenacious attitude to life, it really did,” Hook told me about his love of the genre. While the band would take the UK and then the rest of Europe by storm with their passionate live shows and music, it was a gamble that would see them become one of the most talked about bands of their time and of all time. “In those days, it was not money, it was about wanting to succeed in something you believed in, because it was a hell of a struggle. The interesting thing about Joy Division and their years together is that it was not soiled by money or fame or anything like that, we were literally a jogging group who were doing a very difficult job because we believed in it.” The band would bend and break the rules of conventional music, not just in style and sound but in how they released their music. “When we did get ‘Top of the Pops’ for instance, it was a way of showing the people who didn’t know what you were doing, what you were doing!”
The band did not play by the rules that the major labels had set forth in those days. For instance they did not put their singles on their albums, and everything was sold separately. This was the way of their label, Factory records and owner Tony Wilson. “In those days, it was us and The Clash who would not put the singles on the LP’s. We did not want the fans to buy them twice because it didn’t make sense. In the way that the industry works, particularly in America, if you release an album in America and do not put the single on it, radio station in those days would not play it. We used to take great delight in the bloody mindedness of doing things like that, you were really rallying against the system.” In a time when decadence and material items were at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Joy Division wanted to just make music. “They did have a different way of looking and doing things which was not the most obvious, which you soon learned it was much more rewarding, sort of being awkward if you, than playing the game. The great thing we had in our arsenal was fantastic music, when you got fantastic music, you can do anything you like,” Hook says about Wilson and how he ran Factory records based on the success of Joy Divisions counter culture intonation. While the band were bound for glory and intercontinental success, Ian Curtis, who had famously battled epilepsy, would take his own life on the eve of the band’s much anticipated first American tour.

From the ashes of Joy Division, came New Order. “When Ian died, we just put Joy Division’s music in a box and just buried it. We never did anything about Joy Division, we never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division, it was an unwritten law that we would never talk about Joy Division and will never play their music.” Yet, Hook and his mates found opportunity out of defeat with New Order they were able to explore new wave, electronic and club sound rather than the textured and heavy tones set forth by their previous band. Though New Order may have released more records and stayed together longer, the impact of Joy Division seems to be much greater. “If Joy Division continued on, we would have probably ended up doing the same thing as we did with New Order and gone into more electronic sounding music. Don’t forget it was Ian that introduced us to Kraftwork!”

These days Peter Hook has been taking his latest band, The Light on the road around the world and bringing Joy Division’s albums to life again. For some, if not most of his audience, they are hearing Joy Division live for the first time. What was supposed to just be a one off gig in Manchester, it sprawled into a worldwide tour due to demands from fans and promoters alike. Just before he announced a full tour last year in support of the 30th anniversary of the band’s masterpiece, Unknown Pleasures; press, fans and even colleagues called Hook every disparaging name in the book. People accused Hook of living off the past; even going as far as saying he is “stealing from a dead man’s wallet.” Hook, just laughs it off. “You have to take it as a compliment or else it will drive you mental. There is nothing worse than being criticized in any way shape or form because it eats at you and makes you insecure.” His reason for plugging away and response, is simple, “I never had any idea that I would play anywhere apart from Manchester that one night (May 18, 2010), I have been asked to play all around the world and everywhere we have gone we have gotten a great reception.” Hook’s justification goes even further by saying “after 30 years of denying Joy Division, to actually get the music back.” With The Light, Peter Hook recruited a member who was born to play with him, his son Jack. After witnessing the show myself in New York last December, one thing is for sure; Jack is a monster bassist and has a long life in the music business ahead of him. Now as Peter Hook preps Closer for a special Manchester gig, he is realizing how difficult it is to sing in Ian’s shoes. “Whilst I have been rehearsing Closer, I have discovered that Closer is much more difficult to sing than Unknown Pleasures. I never expected that for one minute and I must admit, that whilst we have been rehearsing Closer, the feel of Closer is much more intense and much more melancholy and I am wondering about the reaction to it.” Peter Hook and The Light along with special guest Rowetta of Happy Mondays will perform Closer in full for the first time ever in Manchester exactly one year after Hook debuted Unknown Pleasures in full with The Light.

After a tour this fall, Hook will have a lot on his plate. Working on his original music and pondering the next step, he would like to bring some New Order material on the road, but says that page has yet to be written. “I am very lucky to still be out as a jobbing musician and play the music I wrote 33 years ago, it’s a hell of an accolade and I enjoy it very, very much. It does make you wonder what old musicians are supposed to do.” As for Joy Divisions legacy and his impact on Manchester, Hook says, “as a group we were very insular and we did things for ourselves, and I know that sounds a bit na├»ve but it’s true. You were doing things because you believed in it and doing it for no reward, it is quite an odd thing, it wasn’t even about surviving, it was about playing your music to your people.”

A version of this article, written by Officially A Yuppie owner - Salvatore Bono appears on UK's The Spectator - Night and Day website, take a look HERE.