The way that former Joy Division and New Order founder Peter Hook’s presence is revered onstage has been unrivalled by the status of any of history’s bassists. In fact, Australia is already gearing up to welcome Hook to our shores this October for a performance of both Joy Division and New Order’s Substance records with his backing band, The Light. He’s trying to achieve a mission of playing every song New Order and Joy Division have ever recorded, and by all accounts, he’s doing a damn good job of it.
“The Light is purely a vehicle for playing the old songs, so getting these old songs back when you’ve not played them for thirty odd years is like being a kid with a new toy”, he excitedly notes. “Bernard, in particular, didn’t like the acoustic music of New Order and he just went off the old stuff, and I just thought it was a great shame”. That shame is enhanced by the fact that not only was their frustration from the death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, where “the whole back catalogue” of Joy Division was lost, there was also the loss of some of New Order’s best songs”.
“They both contain a great collection of tracks”, Hook praises. “I must admit that playing the New Order Substance I thought would be well received, but I’m amazed at the reception that Joy Division’s Substance gets every night. It’s a wonderful compliment not only to me but to all the members of Joy Division that people love it so much. It compounds the fact that I can’t believe why, as a group, New Order ignored it all”.
There is forever a shadow hanging over this all, and it’s the fact that between Hook and New Order lies a deep conflict that’s been thrust into the public eye and to this day remains unresolved. It’s interesting to consider whether that prompts a sense of competition between two artists playing the same songs, or whether what’s more pertinent is simply a feeling of betrayal.
“It’s an awful position to be in”, Hook admits. “It’s like a messy divorce, and it’s been ongoing now for six years”. Having said that, Hook doesn’t really pay value to the idea of it being a competition. “I think we play [the songs] very well, we play them faithfully to the records, and I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. They’re an absolute mystery to me”.
Despite the animosity, there isn’t regret to detect in what Hook is recounting. Disappointment, but not anything that suggests that Hook isn’t content with where he is now. He says it best himself: “You have to admit the fact is that we wrote great music together, they didn’t do it without me, I didn’t do it without them”. It’s a humble statement from someone who seems to have been wronged. “I was very lucky to be in New Order and Joy Division and have the people around me, which again makes this unseemly spat all the worse”, he adds. “Because we changed the world, not once but twice. We changed the world musically and culturally”.
The impact of that change can be traced all the way through from the people who show up at their shows to the people who emulate their sound. There are no crowds dominated by “fat old geezers balding prematurely”, which Hook expected, and up-and-coming bands can be seen wearing the influence of Joy Division in their sound more than ever.
“Millions, everyone from the bloody Killers to Interpol, every band that doesn’t sound like Joy Division in one way or another sounds like New Order, so I really was very lucky to be in both. It’s a weird thing as a musician.” He mentions someone asking him what it felt like to have such a connection with the world through Joy Division. “I’m so close to it”, was his response. “I don’t appreciate it like people looking on the outside”.
Though the music may be great, and as Hook says himself, “great music lasts”, the reason that people go to see Hook is also his respect for the music, for the songs that have reached out to so many and which continue to inspire generations. If you’re going to see Peter Hook and the Light, it probably isn’t because you wore a Joy Division t-shirt in your hipster phase of high school. It’s because “fantastic music is timeless” because Joy Division wasn’t about the money they didn’t make they were about love, and that respect for a calling is far more important than any trend or spat.