27 Apr 2024

Peter Hook talks Joy Division and New Order

From Music 101, 1:20 pm on 27 April 2024

When the members of British band Joy Division were despondent, singer Ian Curtis was always the one that "picked them up", says bass player Peter Hook.

"[Ian's] dream was to play Joy Division's music to as many people as possible. Every time we play he is always there on my shoulder going 'go for it'", he tells Music 101's Maggie Tweedie.

Peter Hook

Photo: Steve White

Peter Hook is a founding member of Joy Division and New Order. His band Peter Hook & The Light will play tracks from the Joy Division and New Order companion albums Substance at two NZ shows in May.

On his distinctive bass-playing style:

"I wanted to sound like the Sex Pistols. I had a really crappy bass and my bass sounded awful. I knew that bass players just use the flat strings but it sounded terrible, so to hear it over the band I had to play on the high strings. When I played on the high strings, I could hear my guitar, which was a revelation.

"The other person who heard my guitar was Ian Curtis. So every time I played high E he went, 'Oh, okay, that sounds great. Do that...' and that was where the style came from. I suppose my gimmick, if you like, became a melody style of playing the lead line over the song that went with the vocal.

"Believe you, me, I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't. The thing is that it was a lucky accident. As my mother used to say to me, you couldn't hold a tune in a bucket."

"I suppose I do odd things with bass guitars than most bass players ... I'm very lucky to have this kind of idiosyncratic style that has attracted idiosyncratic guitars.

"When I saw people playing music, I felt inspired. What I hope is that people will see me and go, 'Oh, my God, if he can do it, anybody can do it.'"


On Ian Curtis:

"I do feel as if he's with me all the time. Ian used to work in a labour exchange (job seekers centre) and his job was finding people with disabilities jobs to do to help them sort of have a normal life and enrich their lives by being able to work.

"There was a girl that came into his office who had epilepsy and Ian was just beginning his journey with epilepsy, shall we say, when this girl who was suffering from full-blown grand mal epilepsy came to see him and she had a fit. Her mother said, 'Oh, I'm sorry about that. She's lost control.' I think it resonated with [Curtis], this poor girl who was suffering badly. And also he was looking at the story of his life in this young lady. It's very moving.

"The greatest thing that I always remember about Ian Curtis was that whenever the three of us - me, Bernard and Steve - would get despondent because we couldn't get gigs or we didn't feel like we were getting anywhere, it was always him that used to pick us up.

"[He'd say], 'Everybody's going to love our music because we're fantastic.' He was always the one that picked us up, which is the biggest irony of all, you know. We were unable to look after him, but he used to look after us so well.

"To be honest with you, the whole thing that I do is a tribute to him. I was thinking about it when I was getting ready for the interviews today.

"The frustration I feel with letting Ian down all those years ago is still there, the guilt is still there. You always feel like you could have done more. I lost a friend very recently to suicide, which was heartbreaking because everybody rallied around and tried to help him, but it just wasn't enough."

Photo of Joy Division, Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren  (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 16: ROTTERDAM Photo of Joy Division, Ian Curtis performing live onstage at the Lantaren (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns) Photo: Rob Verhorst


On the punk roots of Joy Division:

"The strangest thing about both [Joy Division and New Order] is that we did everything in our power to negate our success, which was a very unusual way of working. We always wanted to let the music talk for itself.

"For years and years, we never publicised ourselves. Well, we never put our pictures on the LPs, I suppose. Creating that enigma actually helped. I don't think anybody would want to see our ugly mugs on an LP sleeve, it probably would put you off.

"We actually stuck to our punk roots... We did have a very refreshing way of looking at the business that we were involved in.

"Playing Top of the Pops [in 1983] was like a revolution to a lot of people... It sounded awful and looked awful but that was what we were - we were punks. We just wanted to be true to what we were doing."


On conflict with his former Joy Division and New Order bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris:

"It's a weird thing because out of the four of us that began Joy Division, obviously, I have no love for the other two, which is reciprocated and our relationship - because of the way they acted with New Order - is non-existent.

"Bernard never wanted to play Joy Division after Joy Division finished, he was much happier playing in New Order, which was fine. Steve just went along with the general opinion, as he always did.

"I'm from Salford, we bear grudges very well. It's a frustration, but the way I look at it is that I have such a wonderful life and I'm able to go out and play my music to people that love it. So part of the deal is that I have to put up with them assholes. Quite simple, really,

"It used to make life very difficult. Now it just makes it difficult. I must admit, it breaks my heart in many ways that the three of us out of Joy Division cannot get on, but the reason we cannot is because of their taking of the New Order trademark, which I felt robbed by.

"We couldn't settle it from a legal point of view. But those, shall we say, gristmills haven't gone away. It really is a shame but we're not the first group [with] that unique combination of ego that is only prevalent in a group in the public eye. It does lead you to make some terrible errors and [display] some terrible judgment. Music is renowned for people being very antagonistic and very exploited… Listen, I'm still here. I'm enjoying myself greatly."

New Order circa 1982 (Left to right Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert)

New Order circa 1982 (Left to right Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Gillian Gilbert) Photo: Pictorial Press/Alamy


On the city of Manchester:

Hook lives in Alderley Edge - "quite a leafy village not very far from Manchester", where the medieval wizard Merlin supposedly buried an army of knights.

"The Edge has a sleeping army that is ready to defend Britain in case of trouble. Don't know where the bloody army has been because we seem to be in nothing but trouble.

"Ronaldo used to live here when he was at Manchester United, Beckham was my next-door neighbour as well as a lot of other footballers.

"Every time I go around Manchester, I wonder why? Because to be honest with you, it's in a mess. It's a complete shithole, shall we say?

"I realise that [Manchester] is in my blood. I am synonymous with Manchester, even though I'm not from Manchester… Everything we've achieved around the world has been probably because of Manchester, I would say.

"Most musicians are desperate to get out of Manchester for some strange reason. We're probably one of the only groups that achieved international success and stayed in Manchester.

"I don't know what draws me back to Manchester. It's just my family. The wizard is always there. Even when I'm long gone that army will still be there. They must be the happiest army in the world. They never seem to get into any trouble."


On his upcoming Australasian tour:

"As New Order, we came to Australia and New Zealand very early on and had a great following and were very well supported. We're going to bigger venues this time because on the last tour of Australia New Zealand, we sold out every single venue so yeah, it's this is a great step up for me.

"There's very few places in the world where I've turned around and thought 'this is where I should be' but Auckland is one of them. Thank you to my mate in Killing Joke Jaz Coleman who lives there. He's always telling me how great it is. Whenever I go down there and see it, yeah, it's very tempting [to move there]. Let me put it that way."