Peter Hook talks about celebrating his musical past with The Light

Peter Hook

When the 1980 death of Ian Curtis prompted the other Joy Division members to regroup as New Order, they wouldn’t perform any music from their prior project initially.  It wasn’t until 2005 that they began including some Joy Division songs in their live sets.  But for bassist Peter Hook, this didn’t seem to be enough. He found it ‘ridiculous’ that they never did any full-scale celebrations of the now legendary Joy Division. Hook decided to do just that with his current project, Peter Hook & the Light.  The group started in 2010 with a performance of Joy Division’s entire debut album “Unknown Pleasures.”  Positive response led them to do “Closer” as well, and they have subsequently been adding New Order albums.

No longer part of New Order, Hook serves as frontman for Peter Hook and the Light.  To focus on singing, he brought in his son Jack Bates as an additional bass player.  The group is rounded out by Paul Kehoe, Andy Poole, and David Potts, all of whom had previously worked with Hook in the band Monaco.

Peter Hook and the Light have been actively recording their shows and in 2017 released a quartet of live albums:

“Unknown Pleasures – Live At Leeds Cockpit” – 29th November 2012
“Closer – Live At The Factory” – 18th May 2011
“Movement – Live At Dublin Academy” – 22nd November 2013
“Power, Corruption & Lies – Live At Dublin Academy” – 22nd Nov 2013

In a phone interview, Hook discussed the albums, his motivations for starting The Light, working with his son, and more.

How did this series of live albums come about? Were the shows recorded with the release in mind?

Peter Hook: “Well, funnily enough, it was the guy at the record company, Steve Beatty. He’s an old friend and had been trying to do something with Joy division for years, but never got anywhere. He saw us live and said ‘Why haven’t you released anything?’ With playing and with the legal case, I suppose I had my hands full and never thought about it. So, he said ‘well, have you got anything recorded?’ And the answer was that we’d got loads recorded because our keyboard player recorded nearly every show. Then it was just a matter of finding one that we liked and he did the rest of the work, God bless him. His concept was to go as far as we’d got, which is ‘Substance.’ So, the next live album will be us playing New Order and Joy Division’s ‘Substance’. It was very nice of him to do it. Steve is a music fan and it’s nice to be on a label that is based around that.”

Was it challenging deciding which recordings to use?

Peter Hook: “Yeah, I mean we had so many for each. We just earmarked a few that we remembered. There had been a couple that had been recorded on 24 track so they were an easy choice. It’s quite weird. It was something that I’d never considered doing. We did a very early live album, which was our seventh ever concert, actually. We did the show for the flood relief in Australia as a favor to a friend of ours who got caught up in the floods. It was that album that Steve had spotted after he’d been to see us live. As a musician, you always think of live concerts being recorded as special occasions. I didn’t really see them as a series the way that he did. But I’m very proud of them, actually. We worked on the sleeves to make them different, but alike, and with a flavor of the original sleeves. Obviously, the others [members of New Order] wouldn’t let me use anything to do with the original sleeves. So we had to just do something that gets the flavor across to the fans. It’s been quite nice actually; the reception has been very good. I’m very pleased.”

Going through the recordings, did you feel that The Light has changed or evolved in any particular ways?

Peter Hook: “No, because our ‘gimmick’ is to play the [original] LPs. We’re not pretending to be the band, I think that would be in extremely bad taste and I’ll leave that to the others to pretend to be something they’re not. So it was difficult to envision how we were going to do it. I knew I wanted to play the music, but I didn’t want to pretend to be the band. It was Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream who gave me the idea for doing the albums, because he was doing ‘Loaded.’ And what he said–which was quite interesting–was that it was the tracks that Primal Scream didn’t play live after they’d finished the album that he loves now. On a lot of our LPs, there is stuff that we never played live because it was simply too difficult. But of course, playing the albums–I don’t have that luxury. However difficult they are, they have to be played. Whereas a band would normally just leave the difficult ones and go for the pleasing ones, we have to go on a journey through the LP. Sometimes it’s difficult, and it’s difficult for the audience, and I must admit I quite like that. I think it’s quite arty. You’re not just taking the easy way out, you’re actually doing something that’s difficult and pulling it off well. Which I think we do. So, it’s interesting doing the records, it’s much more interesting after 30 odd years to be playing a set.”

What are some songs that you found difficult?

Peter Hook: “Each album had its own little difficult “gems,” shall we say, ‘Movement’ in particular. Joy Division’s music is a lot more easy and natural to play than New Order’s. While Joy Division’s albums are quite easy to play, there are a couple of vocals that are particularly challenging, like ‘I Remember Nothing” on “Unknown Pleasures”. Also “New Dawn Fades,” where Ian was being very ambitious with his vocals, in both delivery and melody. They were hard for me because I don’t consider myself to be a natural singer, even though I can sing. ‘Movement’ was a great challenge because a lot of the numbers were written with the three of us playing: me, Bernard and Stephen. And then Bernard would go off and do the vocals. So a lot of the album was recorded with us as a three-piece with no guide vocal, because Bernard couldn’t play and sing at the same time. They were difficult to learn, because the interaction between the people had to be learned. And when you get them right, it sounds fantastic. The Lights worked very hard to conquer ‘Movement.’

“The interesting thing about The Light of course is that it’s mainly Monaco, apart from the addition of my son Jack on bass. So, we’ve actually played together for a long time and it came together well. But it took a lot of learning, being able to rely on each other. ‘Power, Corruption, and Lies’…you look at songs like ‘We All Stand’ and they were difficult to translate. The slower ones are always difficult to play. The boys have improved by leaps and bounds. If you listen to the first live LP, which was only our seventh concert, it sounds very raw. And when you listen to these, you think that The Light could have written them! We play them that well. It’s amazing how far we’ve come along. When I first started singing, I was terrified. To step into Ian Curtis’s shoes, they were big and there were a lot of negative expectations that scared off the people that I had lined up to sing. It was difficult. It took me about six to nine months before I could relax and enjoy it. Now I enjoy it as much as I do playing the bass, which is wonderful. But for vocal performances, ‘Leave me Alone’ was tricky, and Bernard has a higher register than me, which means I have to work hard to pull off some songs. But it’s nice. I never thought that at the ripe old age of 55/56 I’d ever be testing myself as a musician. You tend to find your niche and stick in it. But here I am being taken out of my comfort zone. Luckily Barnard’s shoes weren’t as big as Ian Curtis’. And because we wrote the vocals and lyrics together, it felt slightly more familiar. Ian’s lyrics and vocal lines are very familiar, but learning to sing them and looking at the words as in-depth as you do when you sing them is completely different. It gives you a much better insight into his little world.”

What’s it like having your son in the band?

Peter Hook: “Well apart from that he doesn’t listen to me and always thinks he’s right…whenever I say to him ‘I don’t think it’s right, that riff’ he always goes ‘yes, it is’ and unfortunately, he usually turns out to be right. I don’t know where he got it from, that arrogance [laughs]. Must be his mother!”

How did his involvement in the project come about?

Peter Hook: “Well Jack learned to play bass a lot younger than me. He started at about 14. The music that he loves is Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, Megadeth–it’s completely different. He was always shouting up the stairs telling me to turn off the bloody awful music I was playing as opposed to the other way around. So he learned to play more heavy metal/heavy rock. It was strange, really, because we got asked to do a couple of Monaco charity gigs to reform the group. We had no bass player, because I can’t sing and play at the same time. So, we needed to get a bass player in and we tried a few, and they didn’t work. Then Potsy [David Potts] suggested Jack, as he knew Jack had been playing for a while. And I was like ‘Jack? Oh, that seems weird.’ So yeah, he played with us at 15 for a couple of charity gigs. Now when we got The Light together, which was to celebrate Joy Division’s music, I had no relationship with Bernard and Stephen. We weren’t far away from legal litigation, so I knew I had to get a completely new group.

“As I said before, the internet expectations, a few keyboard terrorists, scared off all the singers. I wanted to play bass, obviously, as that’s my love. So the singers were scared off, we had no singer, and I was like ‘shit!’ And it was Rowetta who said ‘Hokey, you’re going to have to do it.’ So then we had no bass player! Jack was nearly 21 when we started and ironically, it’s exactly the same age I was when I did ‘Unknown Pleasures.’ Every LP that we’ve played as The Light, Jack has been the same age as I was when I did that record. That’s really weird. When we’re getting the songs together, and I’m watching him, because he looks like me and he plays like me, there are a few spine chilling moments. It’s usually when you’re getting the songs together, oddly enough, not when you’ve got them together because then you’re concentrating on your bit. But when you’re listening as the songs are coming together, that’s when it was spooky. And he will be the same age when we get to ‘Technique.’ It is a bit scary. “

As The Light performs the music of Joy Division and New Order, have you been working on new music with any other projects?

Peter Hook: “Yeah, I’ve done loads. Phil Murphy and I have got a group called Man Ray; we’ve been writing for ages and have done a lot of tracks together. I’ve also done loads of collaborations. It’s been good. Doing collaborations is quite easy because you don’t get the angst of being in a group and jockeying for a position. They usually welcome you with open arms. It’s not like a group where you’re fighting. I had a collaboration that was #1 in France last year with a group called the Limiñanas. I did a track with Rusty Egan for the Rich Kids, which was done for Trainspotting 2 but it sadly didn’t get in it. And then I’m doing a track at the moment for an American record label. I’ve got a few on go, actually, and I think that I’d better get to bloody work. I’m supposed to do a couple of tracks with Reverend and the Makers, and I’m also doing a track with Kraftwerk. I’ve got a lot to do!”

Do you think revisiting your older work has influenced your new work at all?

Peter Hook: “No, I’m pretty much set in my ways. The way I approach things and the way that I do things is pretty standard these days. I miss aspects of being in a group; I miss the challenge of working together the way that we did as New Order. It wasn’t easy and it could be very, very difficult. But when you’ve pulled it off and you’ve got yourself a great bassline and a great track that you’ve helped to write, it was a wonderful, wonderful, satisfying moment. New Order’s back catalog is fantastic. I must admit, I was quite amazed because I thought the reviews that they got for “Music Complete” were completely unjustified. I didn’t think it was that great of a record and I feel we’d done many, many great records. The press’s gimmick seemed to be to write off ‘Get Ready’ and ‘Waiting for the Siren’s Call’ and say it was as good as ‘Technique’, which I thought was lazy journalism. It was a bit weird, because there are some great tunes on ‘Waiting for the Siren’s Call.’ If anything, I think that it suffered from over-production, which takes the immediacy out of it. It’s weird. It was like seeing your ex-girlfriend on the street, there’s always that thing about what could have been. I have to say that judging by their attitude to the legal case that we’re fighting, I think that we’re definitely better off without each other. Without a shadow of a doubt.”

You’d said that initially vocalists were scared off from working with The Light. Now that the project is more established, have you considered trying again to seek out a singer?

Peter Hook: “No, I enjoy it. it’s nice to be in control and I must admit that every time we go to LA we’re always joined by Moby, who comes and does a few tracks with us. And there are a few other people who we regularly use for vocals, which is nice. So no, I’m happy. My aim is to play every song that Joy Division wrote and recorded, and every song that New Order wrote and recorded, including the B-sides, once before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

“I’m doing quite well at the moment. It’s nice playing in these venues. It’s like you’re going on a journey with the audience. They audience has really grown. Now we’re actually playing some of the same venues that New Order are playing, which hasn’t helped with the legal battle. I must admit that it’s made it increasingly bitter. But to win the audience’s trust and to win their support has been wonderful. And I’m starting to see the same people every gig who are like me, fans of the music. The interesting thing was that when we got back together again as New Order and Bernard was very much in control, the set was resolutely the same and we couldn’t put any of the old stuff in. We wouldn’t play any of the older rocky ones. The look on his face when you suggested ‘Sunrise’–you’d think you just stood in dog shit. It was a bit heartbreaking and very frustrating to be in that position.

“It’s like being at Costco and your partner wouldn’t let you open the door and there are loads of people waiting to come in and he’s going ‘no, no, no, I don’t feel like it.’ It was a really tough place to be, it was awful. I knew we’d not played most of the Joy Division material for thirty years…but to look at the other songs like “Age of Consent’, “Sunrise’, ‘Faceup’–great songs. We’d not played them for years either, and it was a hell of a shock. It’s been great to go back to the old LPs. Every time I translate an LP, because of the way we recorded them, there are loads of mistakes in the early LPs because of the ways that the sequencers worked. You couldn’t cut and paste like on a computer. And those mistakes are what make your music absolutely unique. As soon as you get to computers, you don’t get those happy accidents. ‘Blue Monday’ in particular is full of happy accidents. Stuff that you couldn’t change because it was on tape. It’s been wonderful rediscovering and playing those. My gimmick, as I said, is about celebrating the LPs, so for Joy Division you’re celebrating Martin Hannett’s input.”

New Order didn’t perform Joy Division material. Was that mainly because it didn’t seem right to do those songs without Ian, or was it more of a case of needing to establish a separate identity?

Peter Hook: “I think it was a way of coping with your grief, to be honest. I think there was a deal that we made when we were Joy Division that if one member left we’d never play again, which we stuck to with Joy Division. We made the same deal with New Order, which they’d conveniently forgotten in 2011 when they reformed the band without me. It just shows you what a word-wide financial crisis can do for your morals. The things is that we put Joy Division in a box, put it in the back of the wardrobe, and left it. That enabled us to focus completely on New Order and luckily still have the songwriting talent to make New Order a commercial success all around the world. And then the odd thing was that when New Order split up in 2007, and I was on the outside looking in, it struck me as absolutely ridiculous that we never celebrated anything to do with Joy Division. Not after one year, five years, ten years, or twenty-five. Joy Division were getting bigger and bigger. At thirty years I thought, this is fucking ridiculous, why have we never celebrated it? And the reason I started The Light was to celebrate Ian Curtis’s life. I had no relationship with Bernard and Stephen apart from a very antagonistic legal one, so it just grew from there. The offers have come flooding in, and I’ve been able to go all around the world playing Joy Division in many, many places that Joy Division never made it to. It’s been absolutely fantastic, for example, to play in Mexico to 5000 people where the average age was 16-18. It’s bonkers, but I think that Ian Curtis would have been very proud.”