Peter Hook

As a founder member of Joy Division and New Order, Peter Hook remains one of the most influential bassists of post-punk music. But after New Order split in 2006, things got strange. New Order eventually reconvened, but without Hook… and without asking him to be involved.

The bassist has since gone to form Peter Hook and The Light, playing early Joy Division and, now, early New Order albums in their entirety to solid acclaim.

It’s been a controversial move, for many. But “Hooky” remains upbeat, albeit with old wounds still to heal. Peter Hook and The Light recently toured Joy Division’s two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Next up are U.S and U.K. tours reviving New Order’s first brace of albums, Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies.

On the eve of a long touring stint, asked Hooky about his past, present and future…

Peter Hook

The Light have toured Unknown Pleasures and Closer: now it’s Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies. Is there something special about those albums to you, or is it just logical to perform the next albums in the catalog?

It’s just chronological. After doing the Joy Division shows, the idea is to go through the New Order catalog. One of my greatest frustrations before New Order broke up in 2006 was their reluctance to change the set much. Or revisit older material. I always felt it was a shame.

So, when I started playing the Joy Division songs with The Light – which was to mark the 30 years since the end of Ian Curtis’s life – I decided to keep going. We never celebrated Joy Division in New Order, oddly. Once New Order broke up and I was outside, I thought: why not? It’s great to play these songs that haven’t been played for 25 years.

What do you now think of New Order’s 1981 debut, Movement?

I think it’s a great album. But an interesting one. It was underplayed vocally. Our producer, Martin Hannett, was very upset by Ian Curtis’s death. And he didn’t like what I’ll call our new “vocal direction.” Basically, he thought all three of us were crap. [Hooks sings lead vocals on two tracks.} He thought we should get another singer in.

Movement is a very Joy Division-style album in music, but the vocals are very tentative, almost reluctant. But, now, with The Light I feel we can do them with more gusto. They’ve got the strength they should have had 30 years ago.

Peter Hook

Power Corruption and Lies seemed to cement the then-new New Order sound: is that how you see it?

Musically, Power Corruption and Lies was a great leap. Movement was all “acoustic” instruments, as it were. On Power Corruption and Lies, the sequencers and drum machines came in. But I love Movement, because it was that great stepping stone between Joy Division and New Order. To play Movement live is fantastic. The way the guitar, bass and drums move around each other. Fantastic interplay. It’s hard to play live, but when you get it right, it’s very satisfying.

Did you have to re-learn parts to play these albums live with The Light?

God, yeah. A lot of the time, New Order didn’t really finish songs in the studio… we finished them when we were on the road. There were a lot of changes, some subtle, some major, when we played live. So I had to look at a lot of early New Order videos which was weird. How we got away with some gigs, I really don’t know. It was either a riot or absolutely amazing. We had a weird attitude, very offhand, almost angry with the audience. We sometimes played short sets, very perfunctory, didn’t sound rehearsed… It was a great punk attitude. I do miss that cockiness of youth, I’ll be honest.

How did your bass playing style evolve?

The two people I picked up on were Jean-Jacques Burnell [of The Stranglers] and Paul Simonon [The Clash]. The first bass I really invested in was a Gibson EB-0. I love the sound of Gibson basses, but I needed a double-octave scale for my style of playing. So I had to get a copy of an EB-2 made by [U.K. guitar maker] Chris Eccleshall.

That’s an interesting bespoke instrument. It’s the same, for the width and depth of the neck, as a Gibson guitar. But it’s a straight-through neck, which I don’t think Gibson ever did? Medium-scale basses seemed renowned for losing their tuning, and I couldn’t have that.

I spent a fortune on my first Gibson EB-0, too! Maybe one day, Gibson can build a long-scale through-neck EB semi-acoustic bass. I’d buy it.

Was it always an idea that you played “lead bass” high on melody?

It was Ian Curtis, of anybody, who picked up on the way I play. Hard. Aggressive. When we’d be rehearsing and writing in Joy Division, he’d always say, “Hooky, play it high, play it high!” I don’t whether that was because he considered Bernard’s guitar playing inadequate or whatever… But I still think the music in Joy Division was absolutely fantastic. Three instruments taking a separate role… but when they come together with Ian’s lyrics and vocal melodies on top of that, we couldn’t go wrong. The chemistry in Joy Division was exemplary, and that’s what I love about Movement.

Power, Corruption and Lies was different. “Leave Me Alone” is very like “acoustic” Joy Division, a couple of other tracks, too. But it’s mainly sequencer-led. We cut our teeth with sequencers on “Hurt,” “Everything’s Gone Green” and “Temptation.” But sequencers and drum-machines paired were heavily-featured. “Blue Monday” was recorded as the same time as Power Corruption and Lies, but we always viewed it as a separate piece of music so it wasn’t on the album.

Was the increasing layer of synths behind you in New Order a prompt to play bass like you do?

“Well, I don’t know. It could lead to problems. There are plenty of jokes, such as: drum machines were invented so the singer didn’t have to talk to the drummer. And bass synths were invented so the singer didn’t have to talk to the bass player! More than a grain of truth in that. Some singers are perfectionists and controlling – I guess if they can “program” the whole band, that’s quite liberating… for them.

But Power, Corruption and Lies was still about real band chemistry.

Any advice on a great bass sound?

The hardest thing in the world for bass players is to make the bottom-end sound great, and the top-end sound great. I was lucky. Martin Hannet said to me early on: Hooky, what you need is a huge amp. And as Bernard rightly said, that will suit your huge ego very well.

Martin Hannett built a set-up for me, an Alembic valve/stereo preamp going into a stereo Amtron DC300A. Although it was Peter Hooksolid-state, the Amtron gave a really warm bottom-end but also made the higher notes really bite. I’ve never used a compressor. Don’t need to. I hit the bass so hard, my playing is always at the same level. Really loud. I got that set-up just at the end of Joy Division.

And when I started playing 6-string bass, early in New Order, the Alembic and Amtron amps seemed really suited to that. I had two channel settings – one for 4-string, one for 6-string. It worked perfectly.

And I was inspired by Jean-Jacques Burnell to get a Hiwatt amp. It seemed like you could get some great ones and some bad ones. But I got a few good ones with wonderful valve distortion. I still use Hiwatts now.

Do you feel vindicated with the reception The Light are getting? There were a few bad words flying around before between you and the rest of New Order?

A few bad words? Haha! I’m amazed I’ve had the strength of spirit to do this, to be honest. It was only the people really close to me that enabled me to do it. It’s been difficult. But The Light have played some really great, wacky places that Joy Division never got near. And some people – just some people – really, really like it.

Doing New Order songs now has irritated the other members even more, but what do they expect me to do? Roll over and die? It’s odd. The other members of New Order are now playing quite a lot of Joy Division in their set. I guess the fans are at least doing really well out of it.

It’s funny. I’ve just a read a review of Krist Novoselic’s shows in America, where he’s playing some of Nirvana’s Nevermind. At the end, the reviewer just said: I blame Peter Hook for this! But I don’t mind that. I’ll take the accolades for getting people back out there, and playing great songs.

Photos credit: David Sultan

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