Peter Hook Talks Lost Joy Division Tapes, How Not To Run A Club And Ian Curtis’ Legacy

Beautiful, brooding, fractured, naked, evocative – you could throw any number of epithets at Joy Division’s seminal 1979 album “Unknown Pleasures”, an almost mythologized post-punk touchstone and one of modern music’s most fully realized odes to light and shade. It also just might be the greatest record of all time. And if it falls just short of that lofty accolade it’s certainly one of modern music’s greatest debuts. Over thirty years have passed since its release and spurred by nostalgia and a recent commemorative show for Ian Curtis, the enigmatic Joy Division frontman who hanged himself in May of 1980, founding member Peter Hook will be resurrecting “Unknown Pleasures” in its entirety for audiences in Australia. We recently caught up with Hooky to discuss the upcoming Australian tour, remembering his friend Ian and the band’s mythologized legacy.

Hi Peter how are you mate? Very well how are you?

I’m great. Where are you at the moment? I’m in Manchester in England.

And what have you gotten up to today? Nothing really. I just came down to work and I’d actually forgotten I was doing all these interviews (laughs) so it was a bit of a shock getting a few Australians on the phone. But it’s raining so I’ve not done much actually.

Still reeling from England’s World Cup exit? I’m assuming you watched the match. Unfortunately I did. But the Germans were just so much better weren’t they? Without a shadow of a doubt you couldn’t fault them. I think our team from start to finish in this World Cup have not been very good, have not been very together, so I think we got what we deserved.

I feel your pain. Though Australia probably weren’t expected to go as far as your blokes. Anyway I guess the reason we’re talking is because you are bringing “Unknown Pleasures” to Australia. What first prompted the idea to tour an album that’s over 30 years old? It was quite easy really. What happened was that Macclesfield in England, which is where Ian and Stephen were born, finally decided to honour Joy Division, which I thought was well overdue. And we were actually involved separately, Stephen and I, we were involved in helping plan it and they were doing a celebratory gig playing Joy Division cover versions and they were doing an exhibition in Macclesfield and I thought it was a fantastic idea, as I said well, well overdue. And we got involved but then it fell through. So simply because I’ve got my own club in Manchester which I played at in February and I’d played a lot of Joy Division numbers just to open the club. Just purely for fun. I thought “sod it I’ll do it myself” and amazingly I managed to pull it off. I was also a bit spurred on when I saw that Primal Scream were doing Screamadelica. That gave me the idea to do “Unknown Pleasures” from start to finish because people hold that whole LP so reverently and it exists so fondly in people’s imaginations I thought it seemed like a great idea. And I didn’t know actually, til I went to transcribe it and learn it with some friends of mine, just how much it works playing it together. And it was quite a revelation because I was quite terrified frankly, about doing it just because of what people would say. But we got it together, we played it and it was fantastic. Literally, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Then after we sold out two nights in Manchester, I didn’t envisage doing it anywhere else to be honest, I did one night in France in a city that’s twinned with my hometown of Salford here in England. They were doing a big music festival that included people from my hometown so we decided it’d be a good idea to do that. Then to be honest with you I was quite happy to leave it. I thought that was going to be the end of it. You know, I’d done my celebration of Ian’s life and we were going to leave it. But then we started getting offers from all round the world for me to come and do it. And the thing is obviously nowadays it’s quite easy for people to see what you’re doing. There’s no mystery involved is there? You can go on Youtube and you can actually see what people have done. And it was a great compliment to be asked, as I have been, by people in Australia to come over and do the show. I’m also doing a tour of Spain and a tour of Italy. I probably won’t do England.

Not after that World Cup performance. (Laughs) I’ll let them rest on it.

And I guess the interesting thing for you is revisiting these songs with a whole new perspective after having written them over thirty years ago. When you revisit the songs now, what do you learn about the songwriting? Well I’ve actually learnt that it’s a fantastic record and that Joy Division were a fantastic group. There isn’t any way really, that I should be humble or embarrassed by it. It’s enabled me to look at what we did as a group in a completely different light and really appreciate it. You know, I get told all the time what an influence Joy Division were and you just go “Oh yeah whatever”. You’ve got Interpol, White Lies, Editors, loads of bands that sound like Joy Division and you think “Oh yeah whatever” then I actually listened to the record to celebrate Ian’s life as I did for May the 18th and I thought “Oh my God! It’s taken me thirty years to really appreciate that record”. Because when Martin Hannett first produced it he put a completely different slant on the music than I would have envisaged. I wanted it to be like Black Sabbath. In your face knocking each song down your throat. And he took it to another level. A level that was evocative and ethereal and very deep, very subtle but very, very powerful and to be honest that’s what’s given it the longevity. And that was a rare gift to be given by a Producer, that was amazing. And it was only when I listened to it this time round that I’ve really appreciated the record and I thank God that I did (laughs).

So in a career that’s spanned over 30 years is “Unknown Pleasures’ The best album you’ve ever had a hand in? I would say no. To be honest with you I prefer “Closer”. As an album, and I don’t know exactly why, I love the songs on “Closer” more. Whilst “Unknown Pleasures” is rockier, for me “Closer” is one of my favourite records that I can always listen to. It’s right up there and I’ve not got many. I’ve got Nico “Chelsea Girls”, Ian Dury “New Boots and Panties” and Joy Division “Closer”. There aren’t not too many LPs that I class as my all time favourites and “Closer” is definitely one of them.

And what for you was the fondest memory of those times? Or more specifically what was so magical about that particular period in all your lives that made those first two albums instant classics? The thing is as young men we were all very focused and very together. And the wonderful thing about Joy Division is that it wasn’t sullied in anyway by money. There was no arguing about publishing as most groups are wont to do. There was no arguing about money. We were all very much pointed in the same direction, going at the same pace and there was a hell of a lot of support for each other. And Ian Curtis, I must admit, was a wonderful frontman and leader. In that whenever you faltered for a minute he would be the one to pick you up and drag you along by the shirt collar going “Come on we can do it”. That was once of the strangest things about him. Even through his illness and to the end of “Closer” he was very, very supportive of you as a person. And if you faltered in any way he would be the one to grab you. If you felt insecure about the group or thought you weren’t going to make it or something like that he would always be the one who would get you going. He had a great gift for that. For doing what he believed in.

And are there any recordings from that time that are yet to see the light of day? I hope so. Funnily enough I was given an old tape last week actually. Chris Nagle who was the engineer on “Unknown Pleasures” with Martin Hannett, I met him, he came to the gig in Manchester and we was saying to me “I’m sure I’ve got an old tape of Martin’s knocking about at home” and lo and behold he went home, had a look through his basement and presented me with a reel of tape with five versions of “New Dawn Fades” on it. So ironically these things still do turn up. Of course, it’s a very difficult process getting tapes transferred these days but I’m very much looking forward to transferring that one. There aren’t many now but I’ve got a few that I haven’t transcribed downstairs in my cassette collection. A lot of rehearsal tapes and stuff like that. And one day when I finish doing everything else in the world I will sit down and do it. But I haven’t gotten to that bit yet.

It’s amazing that there are still pieces of recorded material that you guys aren’t aware of and that these surprises can still occur thirty years later… Well you know, people appropriate them. To be honest with you I spend a lot of my time buying back things that have been taken from me anyway. With The Hacienda and Factory and with New Order and Joy Division there’s always someone who’s got something that’s disappeared and I suppose it’s that thing possession is nine tenths of the law.

You mentioned the Hacienda before and I have to ask, after writing “How Not To Run A Club” how’s the new club in Manchester going? Have you learnt from your mistakes? (Laughs) It’s going very well actually. I work with what I would term a “proper businessman”. He has fifteen clubs in England, fifteen successful clubs in England. And you look at things in a completely different way so it’s an interesting blend of idealism on my part, because I want to recreate what we did with The Hacienda, and realism on his part because he doesn’t want to recreate what we did at The Hacienda. Which was ultimately go bankrupt and lose 14 million pounds a ridiculous amount of money even when you say it now in 2010.

Wow that’s crazy. And for the audiences in Australia, what personnel are you bringing over for the shows? I’ve got my son on bass actually who’s exactly the same age I was when I started playing with Joy Division which is uncanny. Sometimes I look at him and I see me in those pictures from 1979 which is quite odd. My drummer and keyboard player are friends of mine from Monaco and the guitarist is a friend of mine who played in Freebass, my new band. It’s a good little unit and it made me very happy because we sound fantastic. It’s like “Unknown Pleasures” with added woomf.

And what does it feel like for you to run through these tracks considering you wrote them with three other guys thirty years ago and you’re the only kind of common link to that past in this new roster? The weirdest thing about going through the tracks is I don’t dislike any of them. When we used to play as New Order we had so many tracks to choose from that there was always one you didn’t like. Or one you were fed up with. Or a couple you thought were okay. And playing the Joy Division stuff, I think the sets are about 18 songs long, I don’t dislike any of them. I actually enjoy playing every single of them and that was quite a nice revelation for me, to get back to that. And if anything I’m really looking forward to doing “Closer”. That’s going to be an interesting one because “Unknown Pleasures” has been received so well it makes you think “Oh shit we should do Closer”. It’s been a great compliment to be asked to go to all these places in the world and play it because it’s difficult not being in the band and not having the security of the other musicians, Bernard and Stephen. You’re literally putting your head above the parapet and as we know these days sometimes you get hit in the head with a flying keyboard by an internet terrorist so you have to be careful. There’s an insecurity to you beginning anything especially with an LP that’s as revered as this one. But I must say, I’ve enjoyed playing it so far and I don’t think bringing it to you will make me enjoy it less in a funny way. I’m really looking forward to playing it as what you’d term in apostrophes a “normal concert”.

This is an overly sentimental question so I apologize but after playing the show in Manchester to celebrate Ian’s life did you feel a kind of responsibility to honour him in these performances? Like, does his spirit lives on when you play these songs? I hope so. It’s an odd position to be in because you almost feel guilty for enjoying it because of what happened in the past. So it’s quite an odd situation to be in but I’ve lived with Ian everyday since he died. In my office I’m surrounded by pictures of Ian and Joy Division and barely a day goes by without me being reminded of our wonderful past. So I suppose in a strange way I’m actually used to being surrounded by him constantly. I mean, I would like to think that Ian’s up there on his cloud with his harp tapping along going “Come on Hooky give it to them” that would make me very happy. I’d hate to think he was up there tutting disapprovingly. The interesting thing is that Bernard with his band Bad Lieutenant, they play a lot of Joy Division songs as well so it’s not as if I’m the only one from the band doing it. Both of us are actually enjoying our heritage so that’s nice.

Is that a source of contention? Because you once said that Bernard and Stephen had no right to anything New Order-y after the split… No. I mean, I don’t speak to Bernard. I haven’t seen him for years and I don’t speak to Stephen either. Because of the acrimony over the New Order split you have no relationship which is a great shame but that’s just the way of the world and I think it’s what most groups go through anyway, which is quite a normal thing with groups, they do get very, very childish. So I honestly don’t know and whilst you would be interested in a macabre way wouldn’t you? To find out what they think. To pick at the scab and rub salt in the wounds you know? But at the end of the day I’m doing this with the nicest intentions and it’s not like you’ve been cashing in on it ever since it stopped, you’ve literally waited thirty years to play a record that was instrumental in setting up the whole of your life and the whole of your career. And I think you have proved to everybody that this isn’t some cheap cash-in. You actually have come to a point in your life where you can look back at that music and enjoy it for what it was and appreciate it and take it to other people who will hopefully do the same.

It’s amazing that when you play these shows there will be people in the audience who weren’t even born the first time round. And I suppose a lot of that has to do with the strength of the music but also the way that Joy Division has been mythologized through films like 24 Hour Party People and Control. How do feel about the portrayal of the band in those films and are you still in the process of writing a Joy Division book? Yeah I am. Because “How Not To Run A Club” was so successful they’ve asked me to do a Joy Division book next and I’m delighted. That is going to be strange actually, reliving everything that you went through. Remembering all the minute details and all that will be very strange. But I’m looking forward to it because there’s been so many books and the movies as you mentioned about Joy Division and I think it’s well overdue for someone who was actually in Joy Division to add to the literature. It’s quite odd that I have to read all these books about myself and catch all the mistakes that are inherent in them. I’m looking forward to maybe putting those mistakes right…but maybe not. I don’t want to destroy the myth because in all honesty I love the myth. I love the reverence that’s lorded over Joy Division and I love that worship and that wonderful aura that Joy Division’s music conjures up. So I won’t be destroying it. Hopefully I’ll be adding to it.

It’s interesting that you should say that because it’s kind of an admission that Joy Division no longer belongs to yourself, Stephen and Bernard but to the people who love Joy Division. Actually that’s quite a perceptive observation because I was thinking that as I was saying it. I mean, you’re completely right. It was quite an odd thing when we did the exhibition in Manchester because this guy had done an oil painting of Ian that we raffled for charity and the girl who won it with the highest bid – she was seventeen. And I said to her “when you collect it I’ll meet you with the painting and I’ll sign it and give you a certificate with it” and all the rest. And she turned up with a Joy Division t-shirt on, she had “Love Will Tear Us Apart” tattooed on her arm and she was a huge, huge fan and she was seventeen. And I was totally shocked. It’s such an amazing compliment that your music can last and still get across to people and mean as much to them now as it did to people back then. That was quite a humbling moment actually.

That’s amazing. Well Hooky thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure mate.