Taking time out from a legal battle with New Order, legendary bass man Peter Hook is touring Joy Division-reviving band The Light. And he wanted to chat when David Dunn caught up with him
IT’S like a scene from a comedy sketch show yet to be made.
Turn your mind back 30 odd years and Joy Division were playing lamented Sheffield club The Limit on a first visit to the city.
“Phil Oakey helped us load in,” says Hooky, sipping water in the city’s Fusion cafe before breaking into a smile. “I remember his fringe was getting over his eyes and he kept ramming the flight cases into the wall. It was really weird.”
The 56-year-old – looking a few years younger than that after seven years off the booze – also recalls playing the old Top Rank as New Order and with The Buzzcocks as Joy Division.
He finally bumped into the Human League frontman again two years ago when Oakey’s band were on a bill on which he was DJing at a “middle of nowhere in Germany” festival. “
“We had quite a relationship with Sheffield,” says Hooky, back over with current band The Light on May 29 reviving the revered sounds of seminal album Unknown Pleasures.
That came about partly because he felt JD needed celebrating 30 years on. Also New Order were inactive, having split in 2006 – although since reformed without him. It’s something of a sore point to the extent he frequently refers to them as ‘New Odour’.
“As soon as New Order split I started doing it (playing live) all the more, doing everything I could. It was a funny thing being in NO in that we never did much and we were encouraged to do even less.
“I was reading an interview with Bernard Sumner slagging me off saying I was dragging him away from his kids. That’s such a load of crap. I enjoyed playing and I always thought the perfect expression of the music was when you played it live, the most important thing. That, for me, has never changed. Barney didn’t like playing live, touring. To him the perfect expression was in the studio. So it was a very healthy discussion.
“But once he ‘got the power’ in NO we started doing less and that was one of the disenchantments when we started the group again for Get Ready and Waiting For The Sirens Call.
“You don’t spend three years in the studio and do 10 dates. That doesn’t seem right to me. Now they’re trying to make me out to be some kind of villain.”
Even so, Hooky says he knew nothing of the latest NO chapter until he heard about it on Radcliffe and Maconie’s radio show. Branding it “disgusting, despicable and cowardly”, he says: “They never told me about it. If someone doesn’t want to work with you you’re not going to insist they drag you round.
“But to me they’ve killed a great band. It holds such bad feeling. It wasn’t one person made that band great, it was the combination of all of us.
“To my mind they’re a tribute band and by not sorting out the use of the name properly they’ve got a legal fight on their hands. If they’d come to me we could have talked and sorted it out.
“I don’t want to stop them playing. I tried to get them to play for years. Now they won’t stop.”
While that’s left to the lawyers, Hooky is back in the saddle with The Light which, after 200 gigs around the world, finally play their first UK tour.
“The criticism about doing this in England was pretty intense, which is why I avoided England for two years,” he says.
“But before The Light I was thinking why do we never celebrate anything to do with Joy Division? Why did we ignore it for 30 years? When you’re in NO that seems perfectly logical because you devote your heart and soul to another thing. The problem was we never faced and never grieved for Joy Division. We threw ourselves so much into NO – too busy.”
When a council project in Macclesfield for a retrospective of Ian’s life and Joy Division fell through, Hooky put something together in his Manchester club, Factory.
Happy Mondays singer Rowetta took vocals on selected songs, but with the Mondays now touring again Hooky handles singing while his son Jack plays bass. At 22 he’s the same age as his dad when Unknown Pleasures emerged
“It’s too freaky. When I look at him I get the shivers. He’s picked it up very easily. He’s now as passionate about the whole thing, if not more, than me. I did wonder because it’s not his kind of music; he’s into Pearl Jam, Metallica. I didn’t know if he’d get it or not.
“As a kid if my dad had given me something to listen to I’d have thrown it out the back door. But the ageism we had as kids seems to have gone. The thing about punk, getting rid of all the old farts, has gone. When I DJ in Factory the kids are really happy. If I’d walked in as a punk and the DJ was over 50 I’d have gone ‘f*** that’.”
Even so, Hooky says he was petrified taking the mic for The Light.
“It took me about six months to get to the point where I was happy doing it because they are pretty big shoes to fill. Now I’m actually happy because it keeps a thread, purer than if you’d brought in another vocalist.
“We don’t pretend to be Joy Division, it’s an interpretation. Most people know Joy Division from the records, not from live, and they were a lot different than they were on record. But when I listen to the records I can safely say I got them; it took me 30 years to get what the producer Martin Hannett was doing.
“The very things I used to slag him off for were what made the music last. It was quite a joy to realise that and start putting those elements into The Light. We actually sound like the record.
“The boys work hard and there’s nothing ordinary about the way they approach Unknown Pleasures now. Sometimes I think they’ve written it, they put that much into it. And I’m amazed how much I’ve come on. It’s taught me a lot about myself.”