Peter Hook, sometime of Joy Division and New Order, returns with a new autobiography. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike meets the great man for a chat about the past, present and future of his career as an iconic bassist
BGM meets Peter Hook at the Forum in Kentish Town, London, before a sold-out show with his band, the Light, with whom Hooky is currently on tour playing the entirety of New Order’s 1987 album Substance and 1988’s Joy Division compilation of the same name. He looks trim, relaxed and ready to talk about his new book, Substance: Inside New Order, which hit stores in October.
During our interview, my inner 13-year-old superfan escapes several times, and while bass is obviously the mainstay of our conversation, I have to ask him if there’s any hope of an original New Order line-up reunion despite a falling-out and lawsuit between Hook and the other members, Gillian Morris, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner. Read on and find out…
Why was it important for you to write Substance: Inside New Order?
I was reluctant to write it, actually, because we [the members of New Order] always pretended that everything was OK. Now I’m saying that everything wasn’t OK and we were lying.
Was this a response to Bernard’s 2014 book, Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division And Me?
No, I started before Bernard’s. The interesting thing about Bernard’s book, in my opinion, is that he can’t say anything about Steve and Gillian because he’s still working with them. I don’t have that luxury. I can say whatever I want about anybody. But he was compromised because the only person he could have a go at [in his book] was me, which he did very successfully on 69 pages out of the 100 that he devoted to 31 years of New Order. I couldn’t believe how a man of his talents, with the amount he’s put into modern-day music, culture and heritage, could talk so little about himself and want to focus on me. I take it as a great compliment, actually.
Was it cathartic writing it?
Yes. Writing the book, I realised that we had a fantastic 10 years: we really did. New Order were a complete by-product of the 80s. We started in May 1980, and we finished in June 1990 with the World Cup song, ‘World In Motion’. It was incredible. Before Bernard began his reign of terror, we had a fantastic time. Andrew Holmes, my co-author, describes the book as the chronicles of a despotic takeover. It’s very sad. The reason [it is written like this] is not to make people sad: it’s to tell the story. And it’s 100 per cent the truth. Now I know a lot of people are not going to like that, especially the ones in New Order, but it is the truth.
What do you recall of leaving the band?
The sad thing about 2011 was that Bernard, Stephen and Gillian decided to take the group off me. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise that they couldn’t take the music off me. Really, it’s the music that people love, not the group. The group doesn’t do anything until they play the music. So they miscalculated. By playing the music and staying true to [New Order’s original] ethos that we started with, the Light have won over. As much as I hate to say it, we’ve got more passion, more enthusiasm for what we do than them lot will ever have. And I know that for a fact. I was with them for 31 fucking years. We got to a period when Bernard wouldn’t work: he wanted to do as little as possible. And that meant not changing the set-list at all. I’m delighted to see they don’t do it now. They play the same set over and over again.
Why did you feel it was important to include timelines and detailed elements about various gear?
If I read someone’s book, and they have shit like that in it, I love it. To me, it’s the mark of a great book. It’s called doing your homework, tying up the loose ends, and making sure that everything sits right.
How did you remember all the stories
Now that I’m sober, the stories came back to me. The timeline was the best thing for remembering the stories.
It was hard to read some of your recollections in the book about revered folks like Rob Gretton [manager of Joy Division and New Order] and Gillian Morris. Was it a difficult decision to include these?
It was tough. Especially writing about Gillian. Because we had never admitted that she had never written much [for New Order]. It was quite the sad position for me to be in. As I said in the book, we [Hook and Gillian] actually got very close for [1993 album] Republic. I felt bad doing it. They were tricky calls, but when it comes down to it, you’re writing a book, and she is perfectly entitled to write her own book, as Bernard did, as Steve is at the moment. You can tell your version of the truth. I suppose it’s for people to decide who’s telling the truth and where the truth lies.
What do you think the other members’ reaction will be to the book?
I think they’ll go fucking crazy [laughs]. Well, it is the truth. We actually got offered a million pounds to do a book as New Order. We sat there and thought about it. We realised that nobody is going to be able to say anything about anyone else because it would be in the book, and you can’t say it while you are together. It would be a shit book, so we didn’t do it.
If you were offered a ludicrous amount of money to play an event with the rest of New Order, would you?
[laughs] Of course I would. Without a doubt. When it comes down to it, I’m a businessman. If the Eagles can do it, then I can bloody do it. That tour wasn’t called The Hell Freezes Over Tour for nothing! I do think you can respect people’s talent. And you can also respect their professionalism. You don’t have to get along.
Let’s talk bass. First off, what kind of bass do you use?
I use a custom-made Eccleshall – it’s a copy of an EB-O1 semi-acoustic Gibson with Yamaha BB 1200 pickups. I’ve used it for a long time.
To slap or not to slap?
I went through a phase when Don Johnson from A Certain Ratio tried to teach me to slap. He gave me a couple of lessons, then he just turned to me and went, ‘Hooky, you’re white’. And I thought, well, that needs no further explanation, does it really?
What makes a great bass player?
The secret to playing bass well is just meaning it. You have to mean what you play. When I started to play the bass, I never got any of those connotations because of punk that you were somehow behind the guitarist. The idea that the bass player backs the guitarist and plays the root elements. Fuck off! Not any bass player from Salford that I know. You have to make the bass do what you want it to do, and not do what other people ‘think’ a bass should do. That has to be the secret.
Which other basses have you enjoyed over the years?
My favourite bass ever is the Yamaha BB 1200, which was one of those wonderful accidents of being perfectly crafted, and perfectly balanced, made by an obvious artist of guitars. They’ve never bettered it. They could do worse than just going back to that concept. But the thing is, I don’t want everyone to sound like me, so I shouldn’t really be saying this.
Yamaha actually gave me their new, top-of-the-range flagship bass to compare to the BB 1200. And I did. They said, ‘Can you send the review in?’ I said, ‘I can give it to you over the phone if you like.’ The rep said, ‘Okay, right. Let me get a pen.’ And I said, ‘You won’t need a pen. It’s shit.’ He said, ‘Can I ask why?’ I said, ‘It has a bolt-on neck, the pickup sounds dreadful. It’s just a crappy sound, mate. It has bad electrics.’ And he said, ‘Well, we probably won’t ask you to review it then. You can keep it.’ Lucky me…
Tell us something about your bass playing that you’ve never
One thing I didn’t put in the book was about my picks. When I started [writing it], I put everything else in, about the basses, about the equipment, and the guitars. My picks were a millimetre thick: I used to tear off the strings on the bass. I was young and mad. You don’t need a compressor because you’re hitting it so hard, and your pick is so hard, there’s no level drop. My record for snapping strings was three at once! They were white, and they had serrated edges: they weren’t smooth. You get a lot of grip for when you are sweating. They were the best thing ever. I stockpiled about 600. All gone – and they’ve stopped making them, so now I have to use a 0.8 millimetre pick. They actually started to give me pains because it was so hard on my finger, but it was great for me at the time.
What are your ambitions for 2017?
My ambitions are to get rid of this legal fight [with the other original members of New Order]. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce [of the Smiths] said to me that the worst thing to ever happen to them in their lives was that legal battle with Johnny Marr and Morrissey. I was thinking, could it be that bad? Fuck me, they were actually under-exaggerating. It’s terrible. It’s been absolutely awful. I want to get rid of it, and get my life back.
After that, what’s next for you musically?
I miss writing, I really do. I miss not being in a group, which is something I never thought I’d say. I miss not hammering it out in the practice room. I miss that wonderful feeling when you get a song. Rob Gretton, for all his failings, was a great man. He always used to say to us, ‘The best thing you’re going to write is the next one. Forget the rest. It’s all about the next one.’
To get back to the Light, my idea is to celebrate the albums. As New Order, I never got to play Joy Division’s music anyway, so I’m happy to get that back. New Order ignored most of the music for a long, long time. My idea is to help the fans celebrate it, by being true to the records. In my mind, we got away from a lot of the true essence of New Order. By staying true to what the records are, the way the mistakes are with the records, the tracks have a really idiosyncratic, unique feeling that you can’t replicate with a computer. With a computer, you fix everything. It’s really boring. ‘Blue Monday’ is littered with mistakes. They make it sound unique.
Substance: Inside New Order is out now on Simon & Schuster. Info: www.peterhook.co.uk.