As we celebrate the life and music of Ian Curtis, who died 40 years ago this week, we revisit Peter Hook’s thoughts from earlier this month on his late bandmate and Joy Division’s legacy.
“The best thing you can do in life is stick on that smile and get out there and enjoy as much as you possibly can,” Peter Hook says over our lunch on Skype. “Because as we’ve seen from the way that you’ve suffered in America — the way that we’ve suffered here in the UK — time can be very short. You don’t know what’s around the corner, do you?”
With the utmost tragic timing, an alert flashes on my iPhone screen, informing me of the death of Kraftwerk legend Florian Schneider, who I learn has passed away from his battle with cancer. Absolutely destroyed, I tell Hook, who reflects, “There you go, Phillip. A prime example, isn’t it? Life can be very short. Too short … and not filled with harmony…”
Hook knows a thing or two about harmony, both off stage and on it. The veteran musician, who laid down some of music’s most iconic basslines with Joy Division and New Order, has lived a life full of harmonies. He still does, as he continues to perform with The Light, but also keeps the party going in Manchester, UK, with his own nightclub FAC251.
Much of that life has settled down amidst lockdown and the coronavirus, but Hook has found new ways to maintain such harmony. He’s started a new series of virtual DJ events aptly dubbed the Hacienda House Party — and they’re working. The first installment drew in a whopping 1.6 million viewers, prompting a second event for this Saturday.
“It has to be said that good people come together at times like this and do good,” Hook tells me. “These people that we’ve got doing this, United We Stream Greater Manchester, are good people.” Needless to say, those fine folks he speaks of will be back behind the boards tomorrow, Saturday, May 9th, from noon to midnight UK time.
In anticipation of the event, we spoke to Hook about what goes into setting up such a house party, in addition to his current life in quarantine, his recent work with Gorillaz, and his sprawling legacy. This month marks the 40th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ tragic passing, and Hook reflects on missing his friend and the art they created together in Joy Division.
On the Pandemic and Life in Quarantine
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Considering I’ve been locked in the house for several weeks, I’ve just tried to stay away from it to be honest. We did lose a grandad in the family.
We’re certainly not alone in this, though. A few of our friends have had it or they think they had it. They’ve not been tested. It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? It’s so alien to our way of life. I think it’s been bit of a shock for everybody.
I’m high-risk, you see — I have asthma. Pneumonia scarring on me lungs. I’ve got pneumonia three times. I’ve got so much scarring. I’ve got to be really careful.
On the Ignorance over Covid-19
It’s quite weird because obviously they haven’t had COVID-19. I think people that have had it — most of them change their opinions rather quickly. The saddest thing is our grandad went into hospice with something else. Cellulitis. They cured it!
They apparently give you a test before they send you home, though, and the test came back positive for COVID-19 for him. Within four days, he was dead. 88. Shows you, while people might be derogatory, you’re much better off being on the safe side.
It’s life. It’s 50/50. You either survive, or you don’t.
On throwing the Hacienda House Party
It’s a matter of hard work and getting the message over and out to people. It’s taking a long time, but we’ve built up a following since the Hacienda closed, and that following is very faithful and very satisfied. So, whenever they see our name, they want to participate.
I’m DJing on this one, so I hope I don’t fuck it up for everybody. It’s funny. I’ve gotten out of the habit of DJing because I’ve been playing with The Light so much. To be honest with you, even though it’s completely different, I prefer playing with The Light. While DJing isn’t as tiring, I certainly wasn’t going on at four o’clock in the morning with The Light!
It’s nerve wracking, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to play. I got jealous. So many interesting people, I thought, Shit I’ve got to put myself on! We got Arthur Baker and so many greats as well. I just hope it does as well as our first one and raises as much money.
I hope it shows people that we’re all in the same boat and that we have to be careful and considerate of each other. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it? You know, in a way, this pandemic has been a great leveler for everybody. And I think the thing is: It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, where you are in life, we’re all exactly the same when it comes to COVID-19.
Speaking to the logistics of the event, United We Stream Greater Manchester has basically been living together since COVID-19 began. They haven’t been mixing with anybody. I suppose, in a strange way, it’s like the workers in the hospitals, right? They tend to leave their families and be isolated in their own way.
Well, lo and behold, this lot have been isolated since it began! They live together and they don’t really see anybody else. So, they are safe … ish. When it comes to recording, some DJs go down to the station, but some do it at home. Doing it at home is easy: Someone comes in with a camera, they just shine it on you while you play, and then they go.
But, yeah, they’ve more or less devoted their lives to doing this. It has to be said that good people come together at times like this and do good. These people that we’ve got doing this, United We Stream Greater Manchester, are good people. So, it’s nice.
It’s often quite weird with the charity stuff, but in this occasion, it was easy. You’ve seen people on the Internet take action. Because really, you can’t ignore what COVID-19 has done. You’re not going to be able to ignore what it does in the next couple of weeks and months from a financial and a business point of view.
The ramifications and the repercussions are gonna be horrendous.
On What He Misses
I’ve lost a year’s work. It’s unbelievable to sit here and even think, Good god! A year’s work. You become a victim of your own success playing to large amounts of people. Financially speaking, the arts community are going to be last in consideration. The last thing that’s going to happen is letting large amounts of people be allowed to get together with this going on.
And it’s still very hard to get used to meeting people that you’ve been talking to a lot and not being able to give them a pat on the back. Like, if someone’s done really well during a performance, you want to give them a big hug. It’s a very, very strange feeling.
But, human beings adapt really quickly.
On Working with Gorillaz
I’ve known Damon [Albarn] for a long time. I’ve collaborated with him on a few things that he’s done. But, I’m a great fan of the Gorillaz mainly because of Jamie Hewlett. My favorite cartoonist. He used to contribute to a magazine called Deadline a long time ago in the ’90s that I was a massive fan of: Johnny Nemo, Tank Girl, they were all from this one magazine.
I was an avid comic reader. So, I knew Jamie Hewlett art wise before he started working with Damon. When they started working together, I just thought the idea of a cartoon rock and roll band — which, I mean, most rock and roll bands aren’t far from being cartoons anyway — was such a great concept.
Damon is a fantastic songwriter, it has to be said. I was with him funnily enough when he was going through the Oasis battle. I used to see him a lot in London, and we used to share a lot of tears on each other’s shoulders, shall we say, during those times. I’ve known him a great deal. He’s a fan of New Order and Joy Division.
However, for some reason, when he asked me to play on [“Aries”], I was incredibly nervous about it. If I do any collaborations, I tend to do them on my own terms. You send me the song, I put all the bass on, and then you do what you want with it. This one was different because he asked me to do it with him, which made me even more nervous! [Laughs]
It was hilarious because on the day where I was driving down to London, I was talking to my wife about my nerves. She was saying, “How can you be like this? You’ve been doing this for years! He’s a good friend…” Then I got a phone call where they said, “Damon wouldn’t be there.” So, I was like, “Oh my god, thank god!” I can relax, not worry, and just piss off! Then Damon can sort it out later.
I was absolutely delighted. So, I finished the rest of the journey down to London with a big smile on my face, drove over to his studio, sat down, and I was waiting for the engineer to come in. Eventually, the engineer said to me, “We’ll go down to the studio now.” I turn around and there was Damon. I was like, “Ah ya bastard!”
But no, he was absolutely wonderful. He was great to be with. He was easy. The setup he’s got there is amazing. The whole thing was not difficult, and it came together really, really quickly in the odd way that some songs do and some songs don’t. You know, if you look at a song like “Perfect Kiss”. That was nine months. “Blue Monday”. Six months. “Temptation”. A few hours, maybe three. “Age of Consent”. Two hours. That was one that came together really quickly. Literally, I was out of the session in two hours. It was really easy to do.
With the Gorillaz now releasing each track as a single, there’s no waiting for some massive campaign or anything like that. It was much more relaxed and much more easygoing. Damon was very, very generous in all respects, which was absolutely fantastic. I must admit, while this lockdown has been very difficult — and it has — to hear that “Aries” had reached No. 10 in those Billboard charts … it really gave me a good week.
Oh, and with The Hacienda House Party being so successful? I was like, “Wow!” This shouldn’t be happening, but I did feel very lucky last week. I’m hoping that luck extends to Saturday. We’ve got a couple of surprise guests for Saturday that will be popping into the show, all of which I’m very excited about. I’m really looking forward to that aspect.
The strange thing is, for the first three weeks of the lockdown, every time I opened my emails, each gig was gone. This was supposed to be our celebratory year in the life of Ian Curtis, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to sell out the gigs and not be able to do them. So this news with “Aries”, and these events … I’m in good company. Let’s put it that way.
On the Legacy of Joy Division and Ian Curtis
The oddest thing is that the nostalgic aspect doesn’t actually seem that big. What I love about playing the music is playing it to people like me that love it. It’s as simple as that. Playing it on our own, when we practice, is pretty good, but playing it to a load of like-minded people that appreciate Joy Division? Nothing like it.
Look, Joy Division was very pure, you know? They didn’t embarrass themselves the way that New Order have. Joy Division kept the mystique, the purity, the heart all quite intact. We weren’t sullied by success. The music wasn’t watered down by it, and the money didn’t change anything.
We were literally only professionals for six months. We had only been a group together for three years — and it just finished. It finished before the second LP came out. It finished before “Love Will Tear Us Apart” came out. We started when we were 20, and we were finished by the time we were 23. Actually, I had just turned 24. It was a ridiculous situation.
None of us had the vision. The one who had the vision was Ian. [Laughs.] He always said to us, “You know, when we get to Brazil, when we get to Mexico, when we get to America, this is gonna blow up out the doors!” Well Barney [Sumner] and I didn’t even know where the doors were. We really had no idea how good we were. How solid the group was.
And I must admit, I’ve never been in a group as solid as Joy Division. The four members were so balanced and so equal, and their inputs and their creativity were so important to the group as a whole. There were no passengers in Joy Division. It was absolutely perfectly balanced. We never got to appreciate “It” because “It” was overshadowed by Ian’s death.
Barney and I, along with Steve [Morris], made the decision in the same way we did with New Order, actually, where if one member left, it would be the end. They seem to forget that in New Order.
Joy Division is a fantastic story. The music, Ian’s lyrics, his image … the mystique it creates within rock and roll is what makes it perfect. So, I try not to live up to the myth. I try to just play the music.
The thing that strikes me is that hardly anybody actually heard Joy Division live. Joy Division live was a much different experience. When I play with The Light live, we celebrate the art of the record. Joy Division live was much more spikier and filled with punk. I don’t try to emulate that. I pay homage to the records.
When I put the record on, that’s when I go off into Joy Division’s world. There’s not enough to listen to with Joy Division. I do wish we’d had done more. If I had a pound for every moment I’ve sat there with the lads when we come off after a gig and I say, “Oh my god, I wish we had some other songs to play.” It’s a very, very strange thing.
I do celebrate the music and I do celebrate Ian’s life. It’s very important to me. I’m immensely proud of the fact that I’ve been to Mexico, and I’ve been to Brazil, and I’ve been to America, and I’ve been to all the places that Ian Curtis wanted us to go. The success that he wanted [Joy Division] to have. It’s in a different way, but we have had it.
On a Forthcoming Live Stream Event
We did a concert in Macclesfield, England, at Christ Church, where Curtis used to go when he was a child. We played every Joy Division song. That was another fantastic achievement — not just for us — but for the Epilepsy Society! We didn’t do it for commercial reasons; it was coupled with a charity night to save that Christ Church. It was such a crazy thing to do to. I can’t believe it — four hours.
There were 450 tickets, and it was subscribed. In fact, over subscribed by 10,000. That’s how many people wanted to see it. It was such a wonderful thing to do. So, we’re hoping to broadcast that gig because it was filmed, and it’s been finalized and mixed in its entirety. Should be out by May 18th.
We were scheduled to play on May 18th in Glasgow — sold out gig Barrowlands — but we’ve lost that now. So, we’re hoping to show that concert in full on the Internet and hopefully on the Joy Division sites, which will be absolutely wonderful.
On the Legacy of New Order
The atrocity of the way [the split] happened is unforgivable to me. It seemed cowardly. It seemed unjust and unfair. There’s never been a conversation between us to put an end to that argument. I understand that they wanted to survive as a band financially, but the way they did it … certainly was not a way to end an argument.
Look, if you were in partnership with somebody, and all of a sudden you came to your shop and your key didn’t fit. You look into the window and they’re sitting there waving at you and then ::gives middle finger:: saying, “You’re not working here anymore. Your 25% is now 1%. Piss off.” I defy any human being, not to be very, very upset and irate about the way that resulted.
After 31 years of a relationship, you would have expected a little bit more. The repercussions of their actions make it difficult for both Joy Division and New Order’s back catalog to go forward. Because there is no meeting and no like-mindedness between us. No love between us. Just pure hate, I suppose.
It’s not until you reconcile an argument where you have the ability to move on. Every time a business thing comes up, we don’t get to talk about it together. You know, you just can’t take advantage of opportunities when you behave that way. Someone asked me why we weren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I think the reason why is because we’re not together. People don’t even know how to approach that subject or even make the best of it because we are so splintered.
There isn’t a day where I don’t feel hurt by what happened, and I think it was very unjust. But you know, if you look at the bright side, there’s two of us playing the music. If you want to hear an honest, passionate, wonderfully enthusiastic rendition, you can come and watch me and go and watch the others for what they do. You know? It’s funny paying your own way, isn’t it? It’s like living as a couple. You’re always compromising because it’s the only way to move and go forward — compromise.
Now that I do The Light, I actually don’t have to compromise anymore. I can make Joy Division sound exactly how I want them to sound, and I would imagine that Bernard has the same thing going on in the so-called-New Order in that he gets them to sound exactly like how he wants them to sound.
I suppose you can listen to both entities and go, “Which one do I prefer?” But, the biggest frustration I found with being in New Order was the way we wouldn’t play any of the old material. The old material was wonderful, and we’d been playing the same set year after year after year. Bernard and Stephen wouldn’t really entertain any of the old stuff — and I just thought it was criminal.
To be able to play the LPs and dig up all those wonderful songs that hadn’t been played with The Light … I mean, I got the shock of my life when I was told we hadn’t played “Age of Consent” for 28 years. That’s just ludicrous. So, it was wonderful giving those tracks a rebirth. And ironically, every time these songs are brought back to life by The Light, the so-called New Order will rebirth them as well … without me.
The biggest shame is that I’ve known Barney since I was 11. We started the group together when we were 20. We were together in the group for 31 years. And the fact that I can’t even go up to him on the street and say, “Hey, how you doing? How’s it going?” because he’s still daggers drawn with me is the most ridiculous, almost shameful, thing in the world to me.
I suppose anybody could say it’s shameful of both of us to be in this position. But we are and I can’t find a way out of it. We just have to keep on doing what we’re doing and enjoy what we’re doing because as everybody says: it is what it is.
We work so hard to achieve what we’ve all achieved. The great thing I love about Joy Division is that it never got to this. At the end of the day, the argument is about money, and what happens with the money is that it can show a lack of respect. There was no respect shown, I felt, for the 31 years of being in New Order.
You may have your arguments against that, but none of us could have done it without each other. As I said before, my friend, it is what it is and people are what they are. The best thing you can do in life is stick on that smile and get out there and enjoy as much as you possibly can. Because as we’ve seen from the way that you’ve suffered in America, and the way that we’ve suffered here in the UK, time can be very short.
You don’t know what’s around the corner, do you?