It must be strange having played a major role in not one but two of the most significant bands of all time. Both Joy Division and New Order have left a huge imprint on the way we see alternative music. Peter Hook has seen it all and now he’s bringing Substance Joy Division and New Order to The Marble Factory for a special show. They are records that capture this magical journey through singles. We caught up with Peter for an in-depth conversation.
How does it feel to be bringing something as prolific as Substance back on the road?
I suppose to me on my quest to go through all of the albums this is just the next stop. Substance is a bit weird actually because Substance New Order was the album that we never toured. When Tony Wilson suggested it we weren’t interested because we were already doing the next one. To collect all of our singles and put them together wasn’t of interest to us at all because we’d actively decided against it at the start. To be honest with you, it had been out so long and in those days we thought it was going to disappear tomorrow. We didn’t think we’d still be doing it forty years later without a shadow of a doubt. We weren’t bothered but when Tony said can I do it to play in my car, which was his reason for doing the album. We just said yeah mate, whatever you want. Of course, it then went on to be our biggest selling album ever. Even now it’s still outsold more of the normal LP’s for obvious reasons I suppose you’d say because it’s got some of the great commercial New Order tracks on it. So we didn’t realise what was going to happen there.
The contrast between the two records is great…
Tony very quickly decided that he wanted to put the Joy Division singles and releases together in the way that we had with New Order. The interesting thing musically is that the Joy Division album is very intense and quite dark as an album. It’s a complete antithesis of the New Order one which is, bright, poppy, well-heard. So to play the two together is quite odd and strange. Depending on where you are in the world, one of them always goes down better than the other. I don’t know what will happen in Bristol. As I hark back to the old days of The Colston Hall, it’s going to be interesting. Every night is different I have to say.
What are your memories of that Colston Hall show then?
Oh man. I remember having our PA stolen. As we were loading the gear in through the front door, someone was very kindly loading it out through the back door. Luckily we caught them just in time. We had a couple of riots actually in the street. I mean it was pretty wild in those days, from 1978 up to about 1986. The climate changed then. I do remember coming out and there being a pitch battle going on in the street outside. Bristol was a great place to play. It had a great audience and always did. A very musical audience. We used to have some proper adventures in the after hours clubs around the city centre. I do remember that very well. We played in Colston Hall and then we’d be taken to some blues club after. It had a really thriving reggae and blues scene. So we had some great adventures there. It’s always one of my fond memories of playing in Bristol.
Joy Divison once played Trinity Centre a venue which people often remember, do you recall that show?
Yes. Every time we got a gig as Joy Division it was a momentous occasion because we did so few and they were very difficult to get. So they do weirdly stick in your memory for one reason or another. I remember getting threatened to be kicked out of the hotel we stayed at in Bristol. It was some right dive. It was because certain members of our entourage had brought some young ladies back and we were throwing fireworks around the hotel. The high of it all jinks was quite interesting because we were twenty. I must admit if somebody came along to that gig and said to me you’re going to be coming back in forty years playing a collection of your singles, you can imagine what I would have said to them.
It’s interesting that it was a slog for Joy Division but you always made the most of it?
We did, the most wonderful thing about when you’re that age performing in a group, it’s all about self-belief. That hasn’t changed. That’s the bit that’s a bit freaky about seeing X Factor and all that crap. It’s all about what people think of you, whereas punk was about ramming it down everybody’s throat whether they liked it or not. It was your belief in yourself and what you were doing that was the main thing. You believed in what you were doing, you were very close, very tight as a unit and that got you through everything. The horrible hotels, horrible nights, uncomfortable horrible gigs. The strength of the camaraderie was key. There was nothing that had spoilt it, you had no success, sold no records and had no money. In a funny way it was perfect.
Does it feel strange at all switching between the two bands in the live environment? It must be exciting for the audience to be hearing Bizarre Love Triangle one minute and a punk track like Warsaw the next?
Well its quite interesting actually because I take it for granted. My son plays bass so he plays very much like me. There’s a long thread of all the people who’ve been around a long time with the music. It’s quite embedded in all of us. The Light are a great group. They’re fantastic and play really well. So to be able to switch between the styles doesn’t phase us at all. So yeah, whilst it feels weird, it’s really enjoyable. I must admit, I’ve enjoyed every single Light gig that we’ve ever done. I think that’s because I’m the only writer, it doesn’t come with the same angst that it would be if you were all writers. There’s a relaxation in it shall we say because there’s no egos involved in the group. It’s quite weird I suppose. We know each other very well and have been working together for a long time. We’ve been around the block together a few times. I think that shows in the ability of the group to switch between New Order and Joy Division, and to do justice, to show great passion and enthusiasm for both.
You’ve been playing with The Light as a band now for quite some time…
Seven years now. I’ve amazed myself to be honest. We’ve just done a sold out tour of Australia which was fantastic. So it’s nice. I do have to be careful what I say, but now that New Order has, I don’t know what term we can use. We both have to co-exist and we both know that. They, it feels funny talking about them as New Order actually. I can’t get used to that. What they do is different to what I do. I personally think that the two can go together. I think it’s great for the fans because the fans get two bites of the cherry. Especially as New Order were never renowned for playing the lot throughout our whole career. So now fans do get the opportunity to hear the music and thank god in this day and age everybody seems to love performances still which enables me to not have to get a proper job yet. Not just yet as my mother used to keep saying to me all the time.
It’s an amazing journey isn’t it how the sound developed from that intense punk sound into something way more clean and crisp like New Order?
The odd thing is that in this day and age either compare new groups to New Order or Joy Division. I was lucky to be in both without a shadow of a doubt. It’s funny really because Joy Division now to me seem almost as big as New Order in their constant popularity. It’s great and I love it, every morning I’m asked for permission to use the track in some new film or documentary for both bands. The music is still very current which obviously must annoy a lot of new bands. I’d hate to be in a new band now because there’s so much competition from all those bloody old bands. It’s absolutely scary, if you open a paper and look at every single band you’ve ever heard of, they’re all playing. The competition is really intense, so I do think that you have to be able to deliver in what you’re doing. I think The Light deliver and do really well. People appreciate the length of the sets as well.
Yeah, your sets are huge…
I never thought that I’d be sitting here playing forty to fifty songs a night. It’s an amazing achievement for me because when we were together as New Order I’d only be doing thirteen at the most. When we started as New Order we were only doing five and that seems really strange. It keeps me fit as well. That’s the truth. It obviously helps that I’m not part of the rock and roll lifestyle anymore shall we say. I’m like the Bruce Springsteen of Salford now. If we go and do a festival and we play for an hour I feel absolutely cheated now. I’m going, is that all it is? It’s weird because you’re so used to playing for three hours. It does feel weird. It’s wonderful to do. I love Substance New Order and I love Substance Joy Division. The differences in the two really keep in interesting. Plus because of the B-sides we can change it around and play different one’s each night so that we don’t get bored. It’s absolutely fascinating to play. New Order and Joy Division fans seem to be quite separate, you get people grooving along to the New Order bit and then you’ll get completely different people grooving along to the Joy Division. I suppose it’s nice really. I’m enjoying it immensely.
It’s amazing the variety of emotions across the music, like Joy Division saw many riots…
Well thank god you don’t get those anymore. It’s strange, we played in Paris last week and I did a book signing before. We had 300 people at the signing and it was amazing how many people were there with children. It really was the greatest compliment that you could ever have. That somebody would like you enough to introduce their children to it. Then low and behold the children become fans as my son has become. It really was humbling to be there and watch these kids both male and female who were great Joy Division fans. They were literally fourteen. It really is strange.
It’s a great chance for your fans to feel that extra bit connected?
It’s quite odd with Joy Division though because it remains very pure and frozen in time, quite like Ian Curtis really. We were only professional for six months if you can call professional being on one pound fifty a day. It’s actually quite strange because Joy Divison’s memory and people’s feeling about it is completely different to New Order. That’s because New Order had a very long career and still have a career now. So there’s a very different feeling. I think there’s still that cult following with Joy Division. If I had a pound for every bootleg t-shirt that is worn to the gigs I’ve done I would never have to work again. We still are the most bootlegged band in history. We really are.
It’s almost become something more than a band…
The design embodies a feeling with the music that people latch onto every year. Every generation gets turned onto the music. I got the shock of my life when we played in Mexico because New Order never made it there when we were together. The average age in the audience was 21. The only old duffer there was me. They were going nuts for it and it was unbelievable. I literally could not believe the reaction in Mexico of all places. It was quite weird, we got 4995 people for The Light, The Stone Roses were on the week before and they got 5000. How great is that to get the same as the bloody Stone Roses? It was weird. It was very strange and a great compliment. That’s the thing that makes it worthwhile doing it. I know there was a lot of negative feeling towards me doing anything when I began. The keyboard terrorists were out in strength. I’ve proved that I still believe in it, I still love it and I still play it with massive heart and soul no pun intended.
I caught The Hacienda Classical open the Pyramid at Glastonbury earlier in the year, how amazing was it to hear Blue Monday rumble over that field again?
It was wild wasn’t it? Oh god I’ve never been so frightened. Me and Rowetta were literally both shaking with the importance and the feeling of it. It was wonderful to be able to do the classical after it to show that we’re all carrying on. Supposedly we got ten times more people for an opening act than any other opening act have. Which was again one of those moments. It’s funny, you don’t think that what you would consider to be the twilight of your career, forty years on that you’d be getting these amazing one offs happening. Manchester as a musical entity has left such a mark on the world. Bristol had a good go for quite a while with the new sound system thing. Manchester, whilst it’s waned lately, it’s great that we can all still go around the world parading our wares. It’s nice doing it with the orchestra I must admit. It has a completely different feel. It has a nice family vibe to it. We’re doing a new set for next year and I’m really looking forward to it.
To me it seemed like Ian Curtis was starting to bring the band into that electronic territory as he was interested in bands like Kraftwerk, would you say this is true?
Yeah it was mate because he introduced us to Can, Faust and The Doors. So you started getting all of the elements especially Kraftwerk and neither Barney or I had heard any of them. I do remember one quite surreal conversation we had where Barney and I were going, why does everybody compare us to The Doors? Who are The Doors? Ian and Steve were laughing. Mine and Barney’s musical education was nowhere near as good as there’s. Low and behold when Ian did give us a Doors record that was really weird because I did think we sounded like them. There was occasions when we used to play Riders On The Storm as a gag and nobody ever noticed because it fitted so well in the set. Ian was the pioneer and Bernard was the one that seized it with relish shall we say. Sadly we became the victim of Ian’s demise really because what happened was that we started to sell so many records that it enabled us to get the money together to make New Order a proper electronic group. Because it was so expensive then, every other electronic group other than us was middle class because there was no way anybody working class could afford those keyboards. They were £2000 each back in 1980. They were expensive items. It was only through Joy Division that we got to be electronic. It’s weird that Ian started it and then sadly because of the publicity around his death, the upsurge in record is weird. It’s one of those weird anomalies in life. Look at Prince, Michael Jackson, Elvis, death brings success. All the rest is history.
So it wouldn’t have taken such a dramatic turn sound-wise?
If you listen to the tracks that we did last they were definitely taking on an electronic dent. We were investing in the keyboards and the gear. If you listen to Closer you can hear that faint electronic element creeping though on Decades and The Eternal. You can hear it and it is there. You can hear that the influence was coming. So Ian definitely would have been singing on Blue Monday. He would have absolutely loved it.
Peter Hook plays The Marble Factory on December 9. For tickets and more information, visit www.marblefactorybristol.com/event/peter-hook-light-performing-substance-joy-devision-new-order/