Picture by Mark McNulty
Peter Hook is cheery. Effusive even. It’s certainly hard to get a word in as the words tumble out almost without breath, almost without need for an audience.
The former bass player of Joy Division and New Order puts this mood down, incongruously, to a run of gloomy days in Manchester.
“The weather has come back to what it was before global warming,” says Hook. “It has affected Manchester’s weather. We went through a phase when it was great and it was sunny a lot more. Now our name is the rainy city, don’t forget, but it never rained. Now, over the last couple of years the weather has gone back to being grey and wetter.”
Back in the 63-year-old’s comfort zone?
“When Joy Division started in 1976, although that was a fantastic summer, the summer of 76, you soon got used to it being very dismal and grey,” he says. “It makes it feel more like the old days, put it that way.”
Which is pretty handy, given the old days, the very old days, of Joy Division, is where his head is at these days. Old days seen rather anew though given his next tour of Australia will be as part of Joy Division Orchestrated (featuring The Metropolitan Orchestra to be precise), which exactly as it says on the tin, will be Hook, singers and a “band” of strings, brass, woodwind et al.
Much to the chagrin of his former bandmates – if chagrin isn’t too poncy a word for the bloke almost automatically referred to as Hooky; and too understated a word for those people he’s fallen out with quite spectacularly – Hook has been playing the songs of his old band in various forms in recent years. And talking about it, provocatively, something he didn’t do in Joy Division or, after the death of that band’s singer and songwriter, Ian Curtis, in New Order which the remaining band members formed.
“You know what, I remember doing the [Anton Corbijn-directed Joy Division biopic] Control premiere in Canada and there was a Q&A at the end and this kid asked ‘for the first 15 years of your career you never said anything and now you won’t fucking shut up’, and I thought fuck it you cheeky bastard,” says Hook breezily.
“It’s about experience isn’t? We were given the luxury in Joy Division of not talking. We had no experience and no confidence and we left it all to Ian. Ian was very charming, very erudite, and he was the man as far as we were concerned. Bernard [Sumner, guitarist in JD, singer/guitarist in New Order] and I used to look at him with awe. Steve [Morris, drummer in both bands] was always a different fish, and you don’t know what the fuck he is going on about. But over the years, you do have to do it, you have to get involved. But I’ll tell you, you will talk to no more grateful musician than me. To be able to do what I love after 43 years, I am over the moon.”
And yes, since you ask – or even if you didn’t ask as he is nothing if not on brand for this promotional round - that does include coming to Australia for these rock/classical shows, which he admits “I’m not completely in control of”.
“The concept for this is very much led by the orchestrator, Tim Crooks, and I’ve had to take a little bit of a backseat so that he gets a different look,” says Hook. “I didn’t want it to be my look because my look is [his solo band specialising in Joy Division songs] The Light and when I play with Peter Hook And The Light that is Joy Division the way I want them to sound, how they should sound in my opinion.”
So why this orchestral business?
“This is about adding something to it that Tim always felt he could do,” Hook says. “Not changing it: you’re not deconstructing it and making some sort of jazz fusion thing; it’s a sympathetic, very melancholic, orchestrated version. It’s like an enrichment.”
The 2016 Hacienda Classical shows, which set the songs of the Manchester club begun by, among others, the members of New Order, to arrangements for 70-piece orchestra and choir, gave him a sense of what might happen. And what effect it has.
“People are very moved by an orchestra playing these songs. There is the physical aspect and also a visual aspect to it that makes it much grander, much more serious in a way,” he says. “And it was that idea that led me to think that Tim could do this with Joy Division.”
Sorry to disappoint fight fans, but that doesn’t mean you will see Hook in tails, wielding a baton. He is “just a member of the orchestra”, which is not something he has been used to since the irrevocable split between him and the rest of New Order in 2007. And no, a joke isn’t inappropriate when it comes to Joy Division.
“There are sombre aspects to because Joy Division lends itself to that aspect, but this is a celebration of what, as Tony Wilson used to call us, four knobheads from Manchester created, really through no fault of their own. The chemistry that got us together when we were 20 was responsible for those wonderful songs and Tim, quite rightly, recognised something in Joy Division. It took him four years to convince me to do it with him and now that I’ve heard it I realise that he was completely right.”
There are different vocalists through the show, but Hook’s used to that by now having been playing these songs in his band since 2010, even if the others might object. Maybe even especially if the others object.
“I have no relationship with Bernard and Stephen now. I had no relationship with Bernard and Stephen in 2010.” And what’s more he reckons he has the ultimate approval.
No, not God. Please. No, this is from someone higher.
“The one who most wanted people to hear Joy Division was Ian Curtis. He was hellbent on taking it all around the world because he thought we were absolutely fantastic. He really did think we were the best thing since sliced bread and he was our greatest fan. To be able to achieve that dream for him, even if I waited 30 years, I still feel immensely proud each time we pull it off and I think, oh man, Ian would have loved that.”
Contentious? Just a tad. Is he backing away? Hardly.
“Even if sometimes I seemed to be fighting non-stop the other members of the group, I remember the moments when Ian used to say to me, ‘the only thing we want to do is play, that’s all we want to do. We want to play this fantastic music that we’ve written to the world, come on.’ And it’s like that, that is what I want to do.”
You – indeed many – may take issue with this, but with Curtis in no position to comment either way, the only vote left to fans now is buying a ticket or not. But Hook might politely point out that with Joy Division songs having been sung by a flash mob choir in Durham, New Carolina, cover bands everywhere, Paul Young, Nine Inch Nails and more, maybe being precious about it is putting too much weight on popular songs.
“The thing is I’ve always felt you should be open-minded. I must admit that there are groups that I love that have been covered by other people and I thought, cheeky buggers, from people like to the Go-Betweens to Velvet Underground, to anybody. Yet, when you approach them with an open mind people can bring something. But you know what, feel free to throw a rotten tomato at me.”
No, Bernard and Stephen, he doesn’t mean you. Actually, given how few fucks Hook has to give, he’d probably just laugh at it. After all, there’s another grey Manchester day ahead and all is right with his world.
Joy Division Orchestrated will perform at: Sydney Opera House, August 2; AEC Theatre, Adelaide, August 3; BCEC, Brisbane, August 6; Perth Concert Hall, August 9; Plenary Theatre, Melbourne, August 11.