STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
The acrimonious split raging between New Order and their former bassist/songwriter Peter Hook is right up there with the legendary rock feuds of Lennon/McCartney, Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd, the Gallagher brothers of Oasis, or Fleetwood Mac.
One of the precious few good things to come of it is Hook and his band, The Light, performing New Order’s 1985 and 1986 albums “Low-Life” and “Brotherhood” (featuring signature songs “Love Vigilantes” and “Bizarre Love Triangle”) in their entirety at The Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia.
Singing lead vocals will be David Potts from Hook’s ‘90s side project band, Monaco, who happens to sound exactly like New Order’s Bernard Sumner.
Hook was also a founding member of Joy Division, the infamously gloomy post-punk group that changed their name (to New Order) and their sound (to alternative dance) after their lead singer committed suicide in 1980, just as they were set to tour the U.S. for the first time. Peter Hook and The Light will open their show with a set of Joy Division music, making for a rare chance to compare and contrast the sounds of the related British bands.
Hook answered some questions by email covering everything from the days when New Order was getting along, to a bold foray into academia, to how not to manage a nightclub.
How does The Light perform the New Order songs? Close to the recordings? Change things up?
When we perform the New Order material as The Light, we try and find the perfect balance between sticking to how the records are and sounding like how New Order used to sound when we played those tracks live the first time round. When we play the albums in full, I do like to do things by the book because people know and love those records, so I am very wary of changing things. We use the same sounds and the same samples and I think we do a good job of recreating them and bringing them into a live format. With the non-album tracks, there is a bit more room to maneuver and we do like to put our own stamp on certain parts of certain tracks. I’m looking forward to getting back to Philadelphia with this tour because at last year’s show we had a great audience who really knew the music and challenged us to play even better.
Since there are members of Monaco in The Light, will you be making original music with them in the future, or is it more important to preserve the legacy of Joy Division and New Order with your live shows?
At the moment I see The Light as the vehicle for me to perform the music of Joy Division and New Order. I have wanted to play this material (Joy Division songs and New Order album tracks) for so many years, but the other members of the band simply refused to do it, and that meant that the music went ignored for so long. By touring as The Light, it allows me to finally play the music and get the songs back. Some of the material we are playing now hasn’t been played for over 25 years, or in some cases, not at all! So it feels great to be able to do that now. Eventually the time will come to write some new material, and I will do that soon with the members of The Light — in fact we have already started. But I think when the time comes to put something out, we may do that under the Monaco name, and keep The Light as the means of playing the Joy Division and New Order catalogue, which I do want to keep doing for the foreseeable future as I am enjoying it so much.
Was The Light intended to be just a band for the Joy Division tributes at The Factory (nightclub)? What was your reaction when fans in different countries started asking for the show?
The Light came about in 2010, when it had been 30 years since the death of Ian Curtis, and I wanted to celebrate his life and his work by playing (the album) “Unknown Pleasures” just as a one-off gig at my club in Manchester. I put the band together, which included some very capable musicians and great friends which I had played with in Monaco, as well as my son, who rounded out the new lineup. It was only supposed to be one show, but it sold out so quickly that we agreed to do a second night. From there, it just snowballed really, and we were invited to come and play all around the world. One year on from first playing “Unknown Pleasures” we played “Closer,” the second album, and from there we have been moving through the albums chronologically, which brings us to 2014 and coming back to Philadelphia with the “Low-Life” and “Brotherhood” set. But we’ll still open the show with a Joy Division set because we enjoy playing them so much. I’ve been blown away by the reactions ever since we started playing the material. I really can’t thank people enough for the support and we’re looking forward to going back on tour.
Because the bad blood between you and Bernard has spilled over into public eye (A Google search turns up some verbal barbs the two have thrown at each other which are not suitable to publish here), what kind of feelings do you get playing the old songs in concert nowadays?
I experience a wide range of emotions every time I play these songs. Sometimes I still get a bit nervous when I play them, because this is a totally new set and we have only played it a few times so far. Then when the gig begins and the adrenaline kicks in, I start to feel so happy just because it feels so wonderful to be able to play all of these songs again. As New Order, the other members of the band always refused to play them, so it’s great that now, with The Light as my band, we can learn over 100 songs and play them all over the tour. It also makes me happy because I have some great memories attached to some of these songs and it reminds me of good times in my life. However, some of them also make me feel quite sad at times because you also look back on things that were maybe not so good. The rift that now exists between us is very frustrating and also quite sad, but I try not to let it cloud my thoughts on the music. Then of course I have my son playing in the band with me, and while we are playing I also feel very proud when I look at him. So while I am playing on stage I definitely experience the full range of emotions.
You sang some lead vocals on (New Order’s first album) “Movement” (which still sounded very much like Joy Division), so how did Bernard end up becoming the lead singer for New Order?
I didn’t sing lead vocals on the whole album, but I did sing lead vocals on two tracks — “Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here.” After Ian had died and we decided to move on as New Order, we did not know who the singer was going to be, so we all had a go. If you listen to recordings of our very early live shows you’ll hear all three of us — Bernard, Stephen (drummer Stephen Morris) and myself — singing lead vocals. When the time came to record the album, we still hadn’t fully decided who was going to do what, so I ended up singing a couple, while Bernard sang the rest. After that, Bernard started to find his voice and became the natural choice for the frontman role. Having Bernard as the singer also allowed us to develop one of our early styles where the guitar would come in when the vocals stopped — because he could not sing and play together at the time — so we would have these brilliant instrumental choruses and it became one of our trademarks.
What would Ian Curtis think about how his music is regarded today?
I think that Ian would be extremely proud of how his music is regarded today. All of Joy Division’s songs were written almost 35 years ago now, and the band only existed for just over two years, so it really is remarkable that the music is still so revered all around the world, and I think he would be very proud of that. It is testament to his talent as a musician and a writer. Next week (the last week in October) we’ll be performing the Joy Division albums in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. I think Ian would definitely get a kick out of the fact that his music was still loved so much in places so far away after all this time.
I did not know you had been in the nightclub business. Tell me more about that.
Well the members of New Order owned and ran The Hacienda, which was a nightclub in our hometown of Manchester. The building was massive — it used to be a showroom for yachts actually — and we took it over and did a complete re-fit to turn it into an amazing-looking nightclub. Our designer, Ben Kelly, did an amazing job as the décor was way ahead of its time and would still look contemporary if it opened today, over 30 years later. It began as a live music venue and we would have some big acts come through the club — James, The Birthday Party, Madonna, who played her first ever gig in The Hacienda — and we played there ourselves a lot as New Order. In the late ‘80s The Hacienda was at the forefront of the acid house movement, which was something England had never seen before, and from that point onwards things really took off. But unfortunately we became overrun by fighting and gangs, as well as drug problems, which all contributed to the closure of the club in 1997. We were not businessmen so we made a lot of mistakes, and lost a lot of money, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a truly amazing period and I wouldn’t change anything. I wrote a book about the experience called “How Not to Run a Club,” so I’ll let you decide why I picked that title!
That’s amazing about the music industry education program at the University of Central Lancashire. How did that get started and how is that going right now?
My friend Tony Rigg, who is a lecturer at the university, asked me to get involved with the project. We offer students a chance to come out with a degree in music management, and they all seem to be enjoying it. The idea is that the course combines the classroom side of things with hands on experience through actually going and working in real, functioning venues and with real bands with real egos. I think it’s important because that is the best way of learning, by getting your hands dirty so to speak. The course is great in that it combines the two sides of learning that are needed in order to have a successful career in the music industry.
If the university had something like that when your music career was getting started, what would you have done differently?
I think it’s fair to say that I would not have made as many mistakes as I have done! That was one of the main problems when we had The Hacienda, that none of us were businessmen and none of us understood how to properly run a business. We came out of The Hacienda with fantastic memories and even better stories, but the reality is we lost a lot of money and had a lot of problems. With the university course we aim to teach the students properly about the business side of things, as well as putting them in real venues and watching them handle all sorts of situations. After that, we hope that they will not make the same mistakes that we did!
What did you think of the film portrayals of you in “24 Hour Party People” and “Control?”
“24HPP” and “Control” are both great films in my opinion, but they are obviously both completely different. “24HPP” is almost a comedy; it is a very light-hearted look at Factory Records and it is funny — Michael Winterbottom did a great job in that sense. I don’t think the portrayal of myself was that great, but Steve Coogan did a great job playing Tony Wilson. “Control” is obviously a lot more serious and it really looks at Ian’s life and illness in great detail. Anton Corbijn, the director of “Control,” was and still is a very good friend and he actually moved to England from Holland in order to follow Joy Division. He really did know us very well so his portrayal of us in “Control” was a lot more accurate.
IF YOU GO
What: Peter Hook and The Light in concert.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 6.
Where: The Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St., Philadelphia.
Info.: Call (215) 922-6888 or visit www.thetroc.com