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Seeing the Light: An Interview with Peter Hook

Peter Hook portrait by Julien Lachaussce

Peter Hook is a man who marches to the beat of his own drum, and that beat will lead him on a world tour this year as he and his band The Light present New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption, & Lies in their entirety. The group will dig deep to play all the singles and B-sides in order as well.

“It seems that people seem to have an appetite for the fact that you’re playing the songs as per the record as well as for the album format which seems very undervalued nowadays,” Hook shared. “Some of the album tracks and lesser known singles are absolutely fantastic and as good as what you might call the commercial hits, some of it’s a lot better in truth.”

The tour continues Hook’s latest trend of revisiting his early repertoire, which started with a 2010 performance of the 1979 Joy Division album Unknown Pleasures. It was with Joy Division that Hook inspired a generation of bassists with his distinct chorused tone and high, melodic playing. It’s a style he credits to faulty gear; his first rig was so bad that he had to play in the upper register to hear what he was doing over guitarist Bernard Sumner’s powerful amp. Tragically, the band only released two albums before lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. The remaining members went on to form New Order while retaining producer Martin Hannett for 1981’s Movement.

New Order went through several high and low points over 25 years before ultimately breaking up in 2006, leading Hook to form The Light. The band has an interesting format as Hook takes up vocal duties and “lead” bass while his son, Jack Bates, also plays bass. Following the success of Hook’s Joy Division retrospective, the rest of the members of New Order went on to reform without him, leading to tension between both camps. More drama was introduced with the news that several early recordings of the bands made by Martin Hannett have been put up for sale without their consent.

We caught up with Hook to get the scoop on the upcoming tour, his gear, his relationship with the members of New Order, and his feelings on the Martin Hannett recordings.

On your upcoming world tour, you’re playing New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption, & Lies in full. What made you decide to revisit those two albums?

Peter Hook & The Light - 2013 North American Tour PosterIn 2010, we started playing the Joy Division material by performing the first album live, Unknown Pleasures. It was just supposed to be one show in my hometown of Manchester in order to celebrate the life of Ian Curtis, as it had been 30 years since he had passed away. The gig sold out in just a few minutes, which was amazing, so we added a second night. That really was supposed to be it, but then we were invited to come and play all around the world to some truly great audiences. When I saw that people were enjoying it, we decided to progress the show and perform the second album live, Closer, and then followed this by performing the last Joy Division release, Still live, which meant that we had then played every single Joy Division song live once again. As we had played all of this material, going on to perform the first two New Order albums seemed like the next logical step in the journey of this project.

I am very proud of the members of the band, and I think they do a great job in performing this material live. The set list for the new tour performing the New Order albums came about quite simply really. We usually begin the show with the two very first New Order songs, which would be “In A Lonely Place” and “Ceremony,” then we move on to the first album, Movement in full. After that, we play the songs that came in between the two albums such as “Everything’s Gone Green” or “Mesh,” and then we play the second album, Power, Corruption & Lies in full. After that, we play a few more songs to end the show. It is quite a big set list, something like 25 or 26 songs every night, but it is a great set because it really shows the musical journey from Joy Division to early New Order and then on to later New Order which was a lot more confident and dance-influenced.

Performing albums in their entirety sort of goes against the current industry trend of focusing on singles. What’s your take on that?

Peter Hook performingI really enjoy playing the albums in their entirety because I think it is something different and gives a different edge to the show. Also, when I was in New Order, I had become very tired of just “playing the hits” every single night. I think presenting the album live, as a work of art almost, is great because it demands a lot of concentration not only from the musicians but also from the audience. I feel like the set we have put together for this new tour really takes the audience on a journey, and it showcases the transition from Joy Division to New Order.

Did you have to relearn all your lines from the B-sides and less commonly played songs?

Yes, there was a great deal of relearning involved when it came to getting this new set together. I actually really enjoyed the process because hearing some of the lesser played tracks such as “Mesh, Cries & Whispers” or “Denial” for example was wonderful, and it was a thrill to play them live again in a live band format.

What do you remember the most from recording Movement and Power, Corruption, & Lies?

I remember the sessions for Movement being quite difficult really. Obviously, we were still reeling from the death of Ian, and we were still finding our feet as New Order. We were not very confident, and I think this shows on the album – particularly with the vocals. We didn’t really know what to do at the time. We had all had a go at being the singer for example, and I ended up singing lead vocals on two tracks on that record, “Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here.” Movement was the last record of ours to be produced by Martin Hannett, who had produced both of the Joy Division albums. I remember it being quite a difficult process working with Martin on Movement because he in particular took Ian’s death very badly and simply did not like the idea of us singing or trying to move on. We decided to do Power, Corruption & Lies without Martin, which was a lot easier and meant that we could express ourselves a lot more, which again I think shows when you listen to that record.

Peter Hook with son Jack

Your son Jack also plays bass in The Light. How did that come about, and what’s it been like to watch him play all your parts from when you were his age?

Yes, Jack plays bass alongside me in The Light. Basically, when I started this project and decided to play the Joy Division material, my original idea was to get guest singers… and I was just going to play the bass. However, a few people I approached did not feel entirely comfortable doing it, partly because of criticism [on the web] unfortunately – it is a great beast, that internet criticism. So when it came down to it, I realized that I would have to sing it myself. However, I think this turned out to be for the best. The down side of that though was that I am not particularly strong at singing and playing at the same time, so it was then that I turned to Jack. He had been playing bass since he was 12 years old and is a very, very good player. So I drafted him into the band and it just works great. When both basses are going together, the sound is huge! It’s a great feeling to see him playing on stage, sometimes quite eery as I look over and see myself! But I am very proud of him.

When is your New Order book due out, and what can fans expect from it?

I am writing the New Order book at the moment actually. It will be my third book following on from the Hacienda book and the Joy Division book. It will be released at some point in 2014. I guess fans can expect the same style of writing from my first two books but the story will be quite different, obviously. I am looking forward to it a great deal though.

What’s your current relationship like with the members of New Order?

Well, to cut a long story short, there simply is no relationship any more. It’s a shame because we did some great things together but that’s just the way it is. We could not work together anymore for a variety of reasons. And now, I don’t agree with what they’re doing, and they don’t agree with what I’m doing! So unfortunately it seems there is no end in sight.

What’s your current gear setup?

Peter Hook studioWell, I have always been a great fan of the Yamaha BB1200S. That is the bass my son plays during our live shows and that’s always the bass that I write with. In terms of my live gear, I play a custom made cherry red Eccleshall hollow body bass, which I love. We also use 6-string bass guitars, and we play Shergold Marathons. To my ear they are the best 6-string basses in the world. I use HiWatt or Trace Elliott amps on tour, and it’s pretty well known that my one of the main pedals that I use is the classic Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory.

Several readers asked: what is the status of the Hacienda Bass?

The Hacienda bass guitars are actually made out of the wood from the actual dance floor of the Hacienda. Originally, people thought they were nothing more than just a gimmick but they do actually sound really, really good. Brian Eastwood did a great job on them. There are only six of them in existence at the moment.

Will we hear any more unreleased Joy Division, similar to “Pictures in My Mind” from your EP 1102/2011, or original tracks?

I don’t think there will be any more recordings of unreleased Joy Division material – I think “Pictures in My Mind” was the last one! But it was great to do that because Ian Curtis always said you should finish everything you start, because someone will love it. So it was a good feeling to finish that one off. I think my band did a very commendable job on that one. In terms of original tracks, yes I would love to do something new with these guys but the problem we have is that we tour so much that it is often quite difficult to put aside the time to do it. The lads in the band are kicking around various ideas, which are great. I am sure we will get around to doing it eventually.

What’s your take on the newly surfaced Martin Hannett tapes?

I was amazed that the story seemed to go viral this time. We first heard of the tapes a few years ago, but then like these things do, they mysteriously disappeared off the radar. The idea that we weren’t interested in them wasn’t correct at all. The first we heard about them again was the Facebook post the other week and I’m pleased to be able to report we’re now in contact with Ms. Adamson about recovering the tapes – not just for us, but for all the bands.

Hook & The Light North America 2013 Tour Dates:

  • September 10, 2013: Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
  • September 11, 2013: The Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI
  • September 13, 2013: Webster Hall, New York City, NY
  • September 14, 2013: The Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA
  • September 15, 2013: Riot Fest, Chicago, IL. (US Exclusive Joy Division Set)
  • September 17, 2013: The Belmont, Austin, Texas
  • September 18, 2013: Club Soda, Montreal, QC
  • September 19, 2013: The Hoxton, Toronto, ON
  • September 21, 2013: Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
  • September 23, 2013: Venue, Vancouver, BC
  • September 25, 2013: Decibel Festival, Neumos, Seattle, WA
  • September 26, 2013: Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
  • September 27, 2013: Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA
  • September 28, 2013: Gothic Theatre, Denver, CO

Photos by Julien Lachaussce, Al De Perez and Craige Barker.