Peter Hook: Joy Division Masters Hung Up in Legal Wrangling
Peter Hook is the first person to tell you that he is not a singer. The Joy Division and New Order bassist, who’s no longer on speaking terms with former bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, has been playing selections from his complete discography in sequence and in their entirety since splitting from the fundamental British rock outfit in 2007.
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Hook has previously toured behind Joy Division’s Closer and Unknown Pleasures as Peter Hook and the Light, with famous Joy Division fans – including Billy Corgan, Perry Farrell and most recently Moby, who joined Hook onstage for his performance at Seattle’s Decibel Festival – lending their voices to the lines crafted by the late Ian Curtis. Now Hook is wrapping up a run of North American dates that revisited New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies, and the tour is the first Hook has embarked upon since the publication of his memoir, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division.
“It’s nice to get into the New Order songs live, because it was like you had a nasty divorce and you’ve got the kids for the weekend,” Hook says. “I’m in the weird position of having other people playing my bass lines, and I have to sing! It’s a funny position, but it is nice to do it. It’s part of my plan that I happened upon, which was to play every song I’ve ever written and recorded once before I go off to join Ian in the sky.”
The timing for the tour is perfect, as Hook is working on his next book, Power, Corruption & Lies: Inside New Order as he frequents the songs and the stories that his band produced in the 26 years before their scathing split. Finding the right words has never been a problem for Hook – even if they’re riddled with profanity and cut to the core – but now, with this latest jaunt under his belt and another volume that chronicles his creative pursuits on the way, he’s finding his voice all over again.
You mentioned that you’re not entirely used to taking on lead vocals. Are there any other ways that you pushed yourself when it came to reacquainting yourself with Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies for this tour?
Most people had heard these older songs only on the record, and when I went back and listened to them, I rediscovered them, and what a great job our producer, Martin Hannett, had done in particular. It’s a very unique thing, watching one band change slowly into another band, and Movement is the perfect bridge in that it’s Joy Division music with New Order vocals. The problem with Movement was that Martin was missing Ian so much when we made that record that he had been really affected in the same way we all had by Ian’s death, and he took it out on us. He hated the fucking vocals, and he made no bones of it: “This music is great, but your vocals are shit.” You can hear that on the record – there’s a reticence on both the producer’s part and the band’s. That’s what’s nice about doing Movement now – I feel comfortable enough to belt it out properly and do it justice, and that’s been nice, to get rid of all the demons.
What was the biggest hurdle you jumped to achieve that?
Stepping into the singer’s shoes is the tough one, because I didn’t want to do it. Ian’s shoes were particularly large to fill, and there was a hell of an expectation from people waiting to see if I had the gall to do it, and then waiting to see if I fell flat on my face, I suppose. It’s the same thing when we got to the New Order songs – Bernard’s a different singer than Ian – but luckily his shoes aren’t quite as big. It wasn’t that bad. The whole point of doing this is that the people decide. It’s been nice doing [this tour] in America. I was very careful to come to America and play Movement, because the American audience was always our strongest market.
Do you think your fans’ expectations for your live show have changed as a result?
It’s weird – the antagonism makes you that much more determined to succeed. From a fan’s point of view, they’re getting everything out of it: they’re getting the old stuff off of me and the hits over and over again with [Sumner and Morris]. They just play a pretty standard set. I was absolutely delighted that they went through all the trouble of coming back, and then doing the same sets as we were doing in 2006. I don’t think I would’ve lasted with them. It would’ve been frustrating.
Did Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division change your relationship with your music in any way?
The book examined the relationships in the band. The great thing about Joy Division was that it was very pure, because it only lasted for such a short time and we never had any money. One thing I’ve learned with New Order coming back is that anybody can play the music as well as the people who wrote the music, but not everybody can write it. It’s the writing and creation of the music that’s the major thing, not the actual playing of it. The specialness is in the chemistry between the three of us that went on to be New Order. The book brought that out . . . Doing the New Order songs, because of the row, they’re tainted for me. The music reminds me of the bad things. When I sat down to do the New Order book, I was writing about the first five, six years of New Order, and I though, “Bollocks! We had a really good time!” Doing the book has sort of dissipated that a little bit. Where it went wrong was 2006, and before that, we’d had 26 years where it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. It’s a hell of a gravity to do a book. When I came to do a book, I thought, “How can you put these stories into one book?” You just couldn’t do it in 300 pages. I’m not looking forward to what I have to leave out, because the New Order story is such a huge story . . . I got the title the other day. Me mate said, “It’s so obvious you’ll kick yourself.” And I went, “What is it?” And he said, “Power, Corruption & Lies.” Fucking hell, that’s the title: Power, Corruption & Lies: Inside New Order. I don’t know how Bernard’s gonna do it, in his book. He’s writing one.
Fitting, as you’re playing Power, Corruption & Lies in its entirety as you’re working on this.
Yeah! Next September, we’re already planning to tour behind Low-Life and Brotherhood, with all the singles and B-sides in between. I don’t know how we’re going to do that. New Order was very prolific. We found a track New Order never finished called “Homage,” and we’re playing that, and that’s sounding great.
How’s the master tape debacle going? Have any developments progressed since the last time we heard from you?
It’s a much deeper story than the one that was first presented. [Julia Adamson] found them a long time ago, and we’d already tried to get them off her. She told us that they’d been stolen from her; she had a police report. This was years ago. It came out that she just found them this summer, but somehow, they got returned to her! How weird! As my wife quite rightly put it, there seems to be a very thin line between reward and ransom. We’re hoping Rapunzel will let down her hair and I’ll be able to climb up and get the masters. Her husband was Chris Nagle, who was the engineer of Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and he’s a very good friend of mine.
What does he have to say about it?
He phoned her up and told her she should fucking give them back. He said, “They belong to the band, they’re not yours!” She’s got loads of tapes, not just ours – Simply Red, Magazine. She’s got quite a lot of bands’ stuff that she should give back, because the bands paid for them. In Manchester, she’s perceived and known as quite a strange character. She’s quite a strong woman and wants her own way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when you put everyone in an odd position, you can’t really deal with them. Warner’s got really annoyed, and they’ve launched a legal action. I spoke to her only about two weeks ago, and I said, “Are you gonna give them back or what?” And she said, “No. The reward is not enough.” It didn’t have a happy ending. Most of what she’s got are copy masters. In the old days, you didn’t have the money to do loads of takes, because it’s not like a computer where you have fucking loads of memory. Chris Nagle told me, “Martin and I never did any outtakes!” because you couldn’t afford it. If you did a take, and you went, “Oh, fuck that,” you’d rewind it and record over it, so there’s very few outtakes – and she’s got a reel of outtakes. The other reel she has is a copy master of the LP. It’s a bit technical and that bit of it is boring. The bit where she found it is great, it’s like a fairy story, but that’s just it. It’s a fairy story . . . There are no Joy Division masters, the 24 original recordings of the tracks. This is the closest thing we have for a long time. People always think that they’ve found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, when they find something like that. It’s like winning the lottery. You can’t do that, because it’s illegal to use other people’s music, and give it away.
Right. It’s not “finders keepers.”
Well, that’s what she said. Warner Bros. are usually really reticent to do anything with regards to this stuff – there’s a hell of a gray area on the legal side of it. If you don’t earn any money on the record, you can’t earn any money back. You’re risking £100,000 taking her to court, and if you put the tapes out, you’d never, ever earn £100,000. The accountant says, “It’s not worth it.” People are really interesting.
So this hasn’t reached a conclusion, and we’re getting into legalities? I’m sorry to hear that.
So am I. The wrangling over it will make them absolutely worthless.
What about working on new material? What have you got coming down the pipeline?
I do a lot of new material – it’s just I’m pretty shit at promoting it. All my new material is on the Hacienda website. I’ve actually done quite a lot of new music. I just did two sessions with two Frenchmen, this band called De Stijl, I did four songs with them, and those turned out really well. I do loads. I just don’t present it, so people don’t hear about it.
Why not shake it up, then? Why not mix the new material in with Joy Division and New Order songs during a Peter Hook and the Light show?
I will get to it, but it’s going to be a few years down the line. My wife keeps telling me I need to do another record. Bernard and Stephen’s big aim in life is to get New Order as a group without me. They won’t get anywhere near that until they write new material. I do need to [write new material] . . . We talked about doing a charity gig in Salford, for an independent theater, and the idea is to play all five New Order LPs.
How long would that take?
Four hours! [Laughs] We’ve played every song Joy Division ever recorded, and I’ve never been able to supply this many songs before. You know the way Bruce Springsteen can just shout out a song title and all the band can play it? We can fucking do it!
I know that you said you want to play out every song you’ve ever written before you die, but I think that means you just have to keep writing. Cheat death, and all.
Our manager and the folks at Factory always used to say the same thing to you: the most important song you ever write is your next one. Get on with it. It’s important to keep going, and that’s what I got from them – that you’ve got to keep going.
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