Feuds, addiction and beautiful bass lines – muscle-bound Salfordian Peter Hook discusses his new Joy Division memoir Unknown Pleasures, his plans for a New Order book and how his lawn-raking technique mirrors his low-slung playing style
For 32 years, there has been an otherworldly mist shrouding Joy Division, a lingering pall blanketing the memory of one of Britain’s most innovative bands. Various informed writers and film-makers have positioned gigantic wind machines by this immovable bank of fog but have invariably failed to give a true indication of what life in Joy Division was actually like. Much has been made of the elegiac soundscapes created by the foursome, of Martin Hannett’s insane production techniques and Ian Curtis’ deeply troubled lyrics, but until now the minutiae of band life, like the inability of drummer Stephen Morris to maintain a safe driving distance behind other vehicles and the semi-submerged bath-time dining habits of guitarist Bernard Sumner, have remained a prisoner of time. What was needed was a band member’s memoir – and now one has arrived.
Of course, Peter Hook is no stranger to writing historical texts. His 2009 treatise The Haçienda: How Not To Run A Club was a critical and commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies. Hook’s latest offering, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, is even better than How Not To Run A Club. Other band members may question its factual authenticity – although, to Hook’s mind, no one has read it yet – but it still stands as an immense account of Joy Division’s rise, cataloguing the group’s struggle for recognition, their rapidly gained superiority on the Manchester scene and the epic numbness following Ian Curtis’ shock suicide. Having read Hook’s book, you’ll feel like you were the fifth member of the band.
In Central London, it’s a sweltering day, tipping 30 degrees. It’s so mercilessly bright on Oxford Street that it’s like walking the ascent of the blessed towards the big gig in the sky – albeit with pedestrian crossings and slow-moving Mediterranean youth tourists. Peter Hook is seated in the clinical cool of the stylised Cumberland Hotel, sipping fizzy water. Fresh from a workout (in true Salford style, he became trapped in the gym and had to call security to release him), Hooky’s in ebullient form and not in the mood to pull his punches.
You’re looking in decent shape. Do you visit the gym every day?
Pretty much. I started in the gym when my waist size started exceeding my age. I went to a 34 before I got to 34 years old, and I thought: “S***.” Unfortunately, one of the by-products of cocaine is that while it keeps you slim at first, once you’ve been on it a few years, you bloat. I was at that point. I started putting on loads of weight. So I started going to the gym. In my mind, I thought it was OK to drink and do as many drugs as I could, as long as I balanced it with going to the gym. I’d wake up in the morning and feel d-r-e-a-d-f-u-l and I’d go to the gym and sweat it out. And once I’d finished at the gym, I’d think, “I feel all right now.” It became a cure for drinking and I’ve been into it since then. That was around 1984. It’s part of my life now. I do a lot of weights and I keep myself fit.
Morning or evening?
Morning. Bernard always used to say that one of our big problems was that I was a lark and he was a wren.
Unknown Pleasures, your new Joy Division book… Would you accept that, like your bass playing, you’ve developed a strong and unique writing style?
They say education is wasted on the young. Now, as I’m older, I’d like to learn how to write properly. I never had the hunger before. You learn – and I did, thanks to the Haçienda book [The Haçienda: How Not To Run A Club] – the skill of telling a story.
Could you confirm that you don’t have a ghost writer?
I’m the writer. I have someone who transcribes interviews and takes out swearwords, then he gives it to me and I do the rest. The Haçienda book took three years; this took two. This was more enjoyable because I’ve found out how to do it. It’s written by me, and when I read it, I have to be happy that it sounds like me.
Do you think if you were drinking, you wouldn’t have the time to write, play gigs and DJ?
I used to manage it. But I think if I hadn’t given up drinking, I’d be dead. I was that bad. It was all day, every day. I don’t know how I got through it, to be honest. Alcoholism is a terrible disease. I was lucky that I managed to survive without losing everything. I’m happier now, but once I stopped drinking, I couldn’t put up with bulls*** any more. This is one of the problems with New Order. When you’re not drinking, you have no escape. In the old days, if something happened in the group, I’d get p***ed. I’d get tw***ed. Whenever I got angry, I’d get rat-a***d. Once that stops, you have to live your life in a different way.
What happened when you stopped drinking?
I went in the Priory. I was in for cocaine and alcohol addiction. There were 12 people on the course and eight of them reoffended within two weeks. The success rate is pitiful. Out of the four who kept clean for two weeks, I think there’s only bleeding me that pulled it off. It’s a low success rate. I’m amazed I’ve done it. It’s very difficult at first. I thought, when I was recovering, that people would go out of their way to help me. The sad state of the world was, nobody gave a f*** and everyone carried on as normal.
Joy Division was over 30 years ago. When writing Unknown Pleasures, did you have to do some detective work to bring memories back?
I used joydiv.org, which had a list of the gigs. Once we transcribed that list and went through it all, I noticed that some of them were wrong. My book contains the actual, right gigs.
Do you think Joy Division became such a formidable force because of the characters within the band?
There was a fantastic chemistry in Joy Division. I don’t think any of us have had that since. I don’t think any of us have been in as good a group as Joy Division. New Order were good, they were different, but they didn’t have the sort of raw, emotional power that Joy Division had. Joy Division was a car that drove well. New Order was a car which had one back tyre that kept going down, and you’d think, “F***, I must get that pumped up at the garage.” And you’d pump it up and it would be all right for a bit and then… bump, bump. It was always going to be a struggle to fill the gap that Ian left.
You say that Ian was like the ship’s captain. Few people could have realistically filled that role.
We could have carried on as Joy Division. What happened was, we made a deal that if one member left, in any way, shape or form, the band was over. In Joy Division, it was obvious that if one of us went, it was over. Ian was the first one to say that, but we could have carried on. We were young and idealistic. And if Ian’s replacement had written decent enough lyrics, we may have got away with it. Some people may have said we were worse afterwards, but some people might have said we were better. But we stuck to what we decided, that we wouldn’t carry on.
Was there a lot of self-belief in Joy Division?
With Joy Division, we always believed that we were great and we were going to make it. If someone said to us, “I don’t like your music,” we’d say, “Get f***ed, you tw**.” That was it. It’s something that you have to do. Being in a group, you have to have ultimate self-belief. It’s another sad thing in the history of the group when you see how things changed. One minute you all love it, going round the world in a Transit van with no money, s***ing in parcels, and the next minute [affects posh voice], “Oh, where’s my five-star hotel, where’s my sniff?” You know… how did it get to that? It’s proper Spinal Tap.
It’s interesting to hear that when you toured in a van, Bernard would take a deckchair and sleeping bag with him. A good idea, when you think about it.
Is that defamation, saying he had a deckchair?
Do you miss those days?
I’ve still got them! It’s character building. What happens is, there’s a sense of unity because you’re struggling and suffering for your art. That’s what it was all about. That was the wonderful thing about us lot. We always suffered for our art. Even when we were a huge, international group with s***loads of money, thanks to the Haçienda, we were still struggling for our art. You had no money. Tony Wilson said to me, “You’ve got a lot to thank the taxman for. You write great music. If you were fat and happy, you wouldn’t write great music. He’s done you a favour.”
Yet the Haçienda and New Order played such a major role in ordinary peoples’ lives.
That’s the nice bit. The nasty bit was the perceived failure, losing money.
Would you say the situation with New Order is unsortable?
It’s not unsortable… but from their position, maybe it is. Ask them. If you took the emotion out of it, you could easily do it. From my mind, looking on, I think Bernard was really, really hurt that I decided to stop working with him. I handled it badly, I must admit. I should have gone and seen him, but I didn’t. I hid behind their managers, who were, funnily enough, also my managers at the time. I was rebuilding my life after my alcoholism. I just felt that me and Bernard had completely different ideas, we had completely different ambitions for the band, and unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, our musical differences were huge. He liked vocal-led pop that was produced within an inch of its life and I wanted it more musical, rawer, and I wanted it to have more life, as opposed to having the life crushed out of it by ten producers. That happens with age. You don’t expect people to stay the same, do you? When you’re in a relationship, you grow apart, that’s what happens in life. Our musical differences were huge. Now our business differences are huge.
What sort of problems did you have working with Bernard?
Towards the end of New Order, I was compromising too much and in my opinion, he wasn’t compromising at all. It’s what happens in groups. It’s not new. What p***es me off is that he makes out I’ve got this huge ego. My ego was about wanting my bass guitar to be on the track. “I’m the bass player – can’t I be on the track?” [Affects posh voice] “Your ego is disgusting! Look at his ego – he wants to be on the New Order track!” How could he do that? Because you wanted to appear in your own group, you had a huge ego.
In the book, you mention there were differences appearing between you and Bernard at the start of Joy Division, when you went on holiday together to the south of France in the late Seventies.
I don’t profess to be perfect, but I am the way I am. What happens is, you have friendships and then you have colleagues. The colleague that you work with, you might like him, but he’s a colleague. Bernard was a friend and then he became a colleague. That was sad for me, but we had differences in our approach to people, and that led to it. I’ll hold my hands up, and I will make the confession, that the best music I’ve ever made in my life, I made with Bernard.
It worked very well.
Yes, and it does work. And it probably would work if we were put in a room together – which is highly unlikely. We’d probably kill each other. But the thing is, if you put us in a studio together now, we’d make great music, and that’s just a fact of life. As a musician, that’s frustrating. Joy Division, when I play it, is not as good as when Joy Division played it. I’m not stupid – it’s different.
Despite the battles, you’re still fair with Bernard in your books – especially in Unknown Pleasures. You call him a great guitarist. And when we spoke a few weeks ago, you remarked that Bernard deserves success because he’s a hard worker.
He is a really hard worker, a total perfectionist, which can be infuriating, but ultimately he’ll work very hard. It’s the truth. I admire that. It’s a pain in the a*** the way he does it, but f*** me, man, he really works. So I’ve got nothing but admiration for what he does, but I might not agree with the way he does it, or his ambitions for it, but I’m very, very in awe of his work ethic.
Who would you class as a great bass player?
John-Jacques Burnel [the Stranglers] or Paul Simonon [the Clash]. I don’t really see many great bass players in bands now – and I do see a lot of bands.
Your bass-playing style, with your guitar slung low – where’s that from?
I went to see the Clash at Belle Vue supporting Siouxsie And The Banshees and I thought, “F*** me, he [Simonon] looks really cool.” It’s because he had his bass low. Then I went to see the Stranglers at Bingley Hall in Stafford and the sound on that gig, of Jean-Jacques’ bass, was electrifying. I thought, “I want to sound like that.” I went and bought exactly the same equipment. I borrowed the money off my mother, bless her, so that I could emulate Jean-Jacques’ sound and emulate the strap length of Paul Simonon. I always take things to the nth degree. As my wife says, “Do you have to go so far?” I’m like that with everything. Legal action, drugs, drink, playing the bass, doing the garden. Everything. My mate once said to me, “You garden like you play bass.” You know, with the rake, ha-ha-ha! I wanted the longest strap in the world and I wanted to play bass as far down as possible. The lower you have a guitar, the more difficult it is to play, because you can’t get your hand round the neck. When you’ve got it high, it’s dead easy. When you’re going down, the further you have it, the more bum notes you play. And I was renowned for my bum notes. But you’ve got to put coolness against bum notes. I play it in the studio high up and when people see it, they say, “My God, look how you play bass!”
So are we to understand that Peter Hook, bass god, has got a really nice garden?
I take all my anger out on the garden. And it’s chopped to f***.
A lot of the great Factory tracks are bass-led, like “Do The Du” by A Certain Ratio, for example.
The first album [The Graveyard And The Ballroom, 1979] sounded a bit like Joy Division. I really liked it, actually. And then they went funk.
Do you find it strange that people criticise you for playing music from your past?
And then quarter of a million of them go to Heaton Park – ha-ha! I got accused of robbing Ian Curtis’ grave. When I opened the Factory [club], I considered it to be using the past to form the future. But I was accused of cashing in, robbing Tony Wilson’s grave, and then, all of a sudden, 250,000 of them trooped to Heaton Park and do the same bloody thing! Happy Mondays reformed, New Odour [sic] reformed, Stone Roses reformed – everybody’s looking back. I was actually ahead of them! I was looking back before anybody else was! I was ahead of my time looking at the past!
In How Not To Run A Club, did any of your former colleagues come forward and disagree with your version of events?
I got a letter today that accuses me of having a lot of inaccuracies in How Not To Run A Club. But it doesn’t say what those inaccuracies are. Everybody has their own version. That’s the reason I put at the start of the [Joy Division] book, “This is the truth as I remember it.” If you put me, Bernard and Stephen in a room, all three of us would remember events differently. “Oh yes, I didn’t slip and fall on my a***. No, I didn’t – I managed to swerve past it.” That’s why I don’t include anybody else in my book, because you get loads of contradictions. I did an interview recently talking about the Durutti Column sleeve – you know the sandpaper one? [The Return Of The Durutti Column, 1980] – saying that Pete Saville came up with it as a way of destroying everybody else’s records. Alan Erasmus [Factory Records co-founder] texted me to say, “Hooky, that’s wrong, that. I came up with that idea.” I said, “I wish you’d told me that before, because I’d have put it in the book.” But I always thought it was Saville and Tony [Wilson]. It wasn’t. Alan Erasmus came up with the idea.
That’s a problem with writing – as soon as you go to print, something will appear from the past that slightly alters the details.
That’s why I realised that you can’t start interviewing a load of different people for your book. You’re better off doing it how you remember because you get nowhere otherwise. Everybody has a different idea of the truth. Who’s to say, unless you’ve got film of it, what’s the truth?
I was astonished to discover that Hook is the name of your stepfather, not your own father.
Yes, me and Bernard have a lot in common. We never knew our fathers. We were both adopted. It’s weird, that. It’s a pain in the a*** as you get older. One of my regrets now, as an old man, is that I didn’t know my dad. I’ll write more about it in my New Order book. When we weren’t that busy in New Order, I used to go to the pub every Friday night in Salford with my mates. I used to drive there, down the same route from where I was in Withington. My dad, I found out years later, used to follow me. He used to sit outside the pub and wait till I’d finished. He’d watch me.
That’s really sad.
It is. It’s really sad. I’ve got three stepbrothers and a stepsister that I don’t see. My mum wouldn’t let me have anything to do with his family. He was s***. He was hopeless in a way that most men are. Absolutely useless. Very old-fashioned. Even when he would demand to see us, then lock us in the house and he’d just go to the pub instead and get p***ed. So it was a waste of time. He did it just to annoy my mother.
There was a lot of it about then.
It’s something that I, thank God, didn’t copy. I didn’t become like my father, and I’m very happy about that. But, as I’ve grown up with my son and daughters, and I sit there and look at them, I think it would have been nice to have known my dad.
Is he dead now?
Yes, he died of lung cancer.
So you’re going to mention this in the next book – a New Order book?
Have you started it?
In here [points at head]. The New Order book will be a very interesting one. I wasn’t going to write it, but because of what they’ve done, I think the story needs to be told.
It’ll be bigger than the Bible.
It covers 32 years. It’s got a lot of phases. I thought the animosity we’re going through now had overshadowed everything we’d achieved. I was talking to Mark Radcliffe about it last week, and Mark said, “Don’t worry, it hasn’t.” I’m glad about that.
Your legal battle must be expensive.
Very expensive. When people say cocaine addiction is God’s way of telling you you’ve got too much money, legal action is definitely God’s way of telling you you’ve got too much money. I was watching Children In Need and it was embarrassing to think that there’s people starving in the world and we’re here squabbling like this. It’s pathetic. I wish we could have a boxing match or toss a coin and just get it over with, and then you could say, “Right, done!” But we’ve chosen this way instead. As Pete Saville said to me last night, “I wish there was a grown-up.” But there isn’t.
What was the height of your time in Joy Division, the pristine moment that you still think about when you go to bed at night?
I’m really, immensely proud of everything that we achieved in Joy Division. Those records are still fantastic. They’re amazing. But I lived to play live. Playing live is incredible. The one moment that springs to mind is when we did Brunel University with the Rezillos. Everyone was spitting at Ian. There was a dead area in front of the stage and kids would run in and spit. I had the Rickenbacker copy. It’s got a knuckle on the top. And I could see them, by the side of the monitor, running in. And I just went BANG! You’d get them right in the side of the head – and I got 12 of them. And I carried on playing. It was like a battle. Here’s another one! BANG! The sheer physicality of what you went through as a musician in those days… There’s never any fighting now, thank god. It’s very rare that you get any trouble at gigs, there’s much better security. Back then, you were literally fighting for your life. A lot of the time it was, “Whooa, are we going to get out of here alive?”
Was that your training ground to playing bass competently? The music had to take care of itself…
I always had an eye on the audience. I know what the audience is doing every second. Bernard doesn’t watch the audience. There’d be some beautiful girl at the front, and I’d say, “Did you see that girl?” and he’d say, “No.” I don’t know if he still does it, but he always told us that he veiled himself off. When he went on, he didn’t see anything. I see everything and I was always the one that got into trouble. If I saw a fight in the audience, it would always be me that dived in, and them f***ers would play on.
Are you one of nature’s policemen?
It’s human nature to me. I still do it now in the Light. If something happens, I have to sort it out, wade in. My zenith of sorting it out was playing to 38,000 people in Toronto. There was a bouncer at the front and he was obviously off his head. Speed or crystal meth, and he was fighting with people. I stopped the gig in front of 38,000 people, and I said, “You, yes you c*** – I want you out. He’s was a f***ing lunatic.” In the end I made them wait until it was sorted out.
Have you had any more thoughts about gigging Movement and working through the New Order back catalogue?
We’re doing Manchester on 17 January, and London on 18 January.
Who’ll be doing Bernard’s vocals?
Me, of course. I can sit here and safely say I have got no idea how me playing the New Order stuff will be received. But I’ll be playing Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies in full in the New Year.
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook is out now, priced £20.
Peter Hook And The Light will be performing New Order’s first two albums, Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies, at Koko, London (17 January 2013) and Manchester Cathedral (18 January 2013). Prior to those concerts, The Light are performing Unknown Pleasures across with gigs in England and Scotland in November and December of this year.