- 15 Jul 19
To mark what would have been Ian Curtis' 63rd birthday, we're revisiting an interview with the legendary Joy Divison/New Order bassist Peter Hook, who discusses his memoir, music and Curtis.
"Special K, please. At my age your body needs the roughage… Fuck it, no, I’ll have a fry. My body can take care of itself!”
Peter Hook has chosen the decidedly un-rock ‘n’ roll time of 9am on a Monday to talk to us about Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, his new memoir, which you just know that Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris have already read cover to cover, mobile in hand and solicitors on speed-dial.
“I’m just back from sitting on the TV3 breakfast couch, which was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” Hooky resumes in between crunches of newly-arrived toast. “It was good though – the bloke’s a mate of Dave Fanning and the girl knew her stuff too.”
I’m sure Mark Cagney and Sinéad Desmond will be delighted by the Hooky vote of confidence. Never exactly the bezziest of mates, his relationship with Messrs. Sumner and Morris flatlined completely last year when they decided to resume New Order touring duties without him.
“I’m still taking legal action against them because of their excluding of me and the business antics they’ve done to seize the New Order name,” Hooky told Hot Press in May. “I think it’s despicable, I think it’s cowardly, I think it’s wrong and I will fight them to prove that.”
To emphasise his pugilistic point, he added: “I’ll have ‘em anywhere, any time, I’m not scared of them.”
Many – yours truly included – expected Unknown Pleasures to be a settling of scores but, nope, it’s remarkably even-handed and in parts downright self-deprecating.
“I might hate the bastards for carrying on as New Order without me, but I’m not going to use something as important as Joy Division to score cheap retaliatory points,” he says, turning his attentions to a sausage. “Steve and Bernard weren’t, shall we say, very helpful. They tried to get copies before it was published, which came with an inbuilt threat. I find it hard to believe that they know me so little after 30 years.”
Messrs. Hook and Sumner decided to start making music together in June 1976 after seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, a gig also attended by the Buzzcocks, Mick Hucknall, Mark E. Smith and one Stephen Patrick Morrissey.
“There were only 46 people there but they all ended up forming fucking bands. We tried during New Order to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Lydon’, but he was so difficult. He thought by PiL going on first that he was headlining! He didn’t ‘get’ New Order. He couldn’t understand the lack of personality, the artwork… the whole thing! Eventually we hit it off though, and John asked me to play on his record. This was in the ‘90s after we’d done a tour with Echo & The Bunnymen.”
One of the most moving moments in the Pistols’ The Filth & The Fury documentary is when Lydon breaks down and tearfully says he should have done more to help Sid. Does Hooky feel the same way about Ian Curtis?
“It’s different because Sid was a heroin addict, wasn’t he? The drugs Ian was on were legal, but they affected him very badly. They took his prescription from the ‘70s to a modern-day epilepsy doctor who said this was guaranteed to kill him. That’s how much treatment and the medicine have come on. The condition is controllable. But they were just throwing stuff at him – uppers, downers, everything. It’s no wonder Ian looked possessed with that sort of witchcraft going on. If it hadn’t been the medical Dark Ages, he’d in all probability be alive now.”
Uncertain Pleasures not only explores the four years Joy Division spent turning the rock ‘n’ roll world on its head, but also Hooky’s highly eventful childhood.
“I wasn’t going to talk about my early life but then I read someone else’s book – Gary Barlow’s it may have been – and thought, ‘Hmm, I might be missing a trick here!’ You need the back-story to understand the impact being in Joy Division had on me.”
Did he make any discoveries about his younger self?
“No, I’ve always been a twat!” he laughs. “It was nice to sit down and talk to my aunties about my mum who’s dead now. She eventually got divorced from my dad who was abusive and remarried a bloke who through his job fixing glass-bowing machines took us off to live in Jamaica. That was a pretty fucking mindblowing experience for a kid!”
It’s obvious reading Unknown Pleasures that Hooky remains in awe of Ian Curtis who joined the band two months after that famous Lesser Free Trade Hall gig. Stephen Morris completed the jigsaw a year later.
“Musically and personally, Joy Division only worked out the way it did because of Ian. He was the one who somehow managed to get all these very different personalities to work together for the common good. He was the glue that held us together. I really miss him.”
Is he still in contact with Curtis’ widow, Debbie?
“No, we don’t have anything to do with each other; we’re just tied together by the business. It’s quite sad – a friend of mine from America transcribed all these Joy Division rehearsal tapes. Ian and me used to try different lyrics to see which suited the song best. Some of the unrecorded ones were fantastic, so I said to Debbie, ‘I’d love to put them in my book.’ She was like, ‘Great, I’ll get back to you over the weekend’ but I never heard from her. One way or another they need to be published.”
The other riddle who Hook tries to unwrap from his enigma in Uncertain Pleasures is Factory Records boss Tony Wilson.
“Factory and the Haçienda were all about art, idealism and ‘do whatever you want’ but at the end of the day they didn’t survive,” he reflects. “The anti-business stuff – leaving singles off albums, not doing promotion and wilfully pissing off journalists – was great until Tony was diagnosed with cancer and he didn’t have the three-and-a-half grand he needed to buy the drugs that might possibly have saved his life. He’d done so much and ended up bankrupt. My lawyer told me that when they had the appeal to help Tony, he’d be round the office on a Monday morning opening the letters and going, ‘Look at that tight bastard!’ when less than 50 quid dropped out!”
For all of his recent sniping at New Order, Hooky is generally a glass-half-full bloke who’s quick to big up other musicians.
“I tell you who’s really underrated – Andy McCluskey. Not just for what he did with Orchestral Manoeuvres but also those pop songs he wrote for Atomic Kitten – ‘Whole Again’ is a fucking belter! Another person I love is Siouxsie Sioux. We were in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios and there was this drug dealer knocking around – he was a bit odd but you don’t have them for the personality, do you? Siouxsie was there one night when we were partying, told this guy, ‘I don’t like you’ and when he didn’t fuck off went over and punched him. I fell in love with her there and then!”
With his Full Irish disappearing faster than my hairline – male pattern baldness is a bitch! – there’s just time to ask Hook for his favourite Joy Division moment.
“When we were writing great songs and were appreciated for our art; when it wasn’t spoilt by bickering over money or publishing,” he reflects. “Every single gig we played was so tight and the chemistry was amazing. It was only when we got to New Order that it became a car with a wonky wheel.”