Peter Hook On Gurning Punters, His 'Ongoing Feud' With New Order & Ian Curtis' Legacy

27 July 2019 | 9:05 am | Bryget Chrisfield

Ahead of the Australian run of 'Joy Division Orchestrated', Peter Hook expresses frustration over the band's "completely unwarranted" serious image, explaining that Ian Curtis "was actually a very nice, down-to-earth, very pleasant and happy-go-lucky guy" before his illness "brought him crashing down". By Bryget Chrisfield.

More Peter Hook More Peter Hook

CONTENT WARNING: If you are suffering from depression or need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

When told this scribe was in attendance when New Order performed at Sydney Opera House with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) as part of the 2016 VIVID festival, and that it was a little bit patchy, their former bandmate Peter Hook cracks up laughing before remarking, "Well, do you know, I have absolutely no comment to make on that [cracks up laughing again] apart from this very unusual, high laugh for me. The interesting thing about New Order is that, you know, they spend the whole time being disappointed with me and yet it's things like that that I find disappointing. 

"New Order were a fantastic group, they really were, and that's the truth of it. And the thing is that Bernard [Sumner] and I, we - like in any relationship - changed: we have completely different ideas for the music, we have completely different ideas for the welfare, shall we say, of the group and for the performances et cetera et cetera. And after 31 years of being together, there really was no middle ground and that's why they decided to take control of the group in the way that they did - without letting me know, without telling me. And also making the financial arrangement for me, without telling me - or asking me - that I found completely unrealistic and that's what led to all the problems."

Back in 2015, Hook sued his former New Order bandmates for lost royalties - after a restructuring of the band’s finances following his departure - and the case was eventually settled out of court two years later. 

"I mean, you know what?" Hook continues, "Life - as we see when we look at things that happen like New Zealand [the Christchurch mosque shootings], when we look at, you know, Notre Dame burning down - it's very fickle these days and, really, we have enough in the world without fighting over something that we both love; we should be able to sit down and sort that out, because really all we want to do is work, make a living for our families and enjoy ourselves," he laughs, as if acknowledging the preposterous nature of this ongoing feud. "It shouldn't be as difficult as the three of us in Joy Division... have made it. It just doesn't make sense, it really doesn't. And I'm sure people like you, and most of our fans, look on in wonder at how ridiculous the whole thing is carrying on getting - it never gets better, it gets more ridiculous. 

"I mean, I s'pose in many ways, you know, Joy Division and New Order were unique, Factory Records was unique, the Hacienda was unique - it left a mark. We've left many marks, culturally and musically, on this wonderful world of ours so I s'pose now we have to make it the world's stupidest argument!"

The highlight of the New Order + ACO show was when they played Joy Division's song Decades live for the first time since Ian Curtis tragically died by suicide. "I've been playing Decades for nine years!" Hooky points out. 

So what was it that planted the seed for Joy Division Orchestrated? "It was the Hacienda [Classical] conductor, actually, Tim Crooks, that kept saying to me, 'I'd love to get my hands on Joy Division,'" he laughs, "and I said, 'In your dreams, mate, in your dreams.' And I must admit over the four years that we've been doin' [Hacienda Classical], because we've sort of amalgamated so many [Joy Division] songs in - I've actually seen the possibilities and I've actually seen the atmosphere, shall we say, no pun intended."

Hook says he noticed musicians in the Hacienda Classical orchestra often seem "very, very worried" pre-show. "Then they do the gig and you've got 10,000 nutters, you know, gurning in a fantastic atmosphere and nearly every one of [the musicians] always goes, 'Oh, my God, thanks for that! That was so much better than when we played Mozart at the so-and-so hall.'"

After mentioning we witnessed expressions of pure joy on the faces of The Metropolitan Orchestra (the same orchestra that's booked in to play the Joy Division Orchestrated shows in this country) during Basement Jaxx Vs The Metropolitan Orchestra's Melbourne show back in April, Hooky chuckles, "Well we'll soon put a stop to that once we get Joy Division down there." 

"We were so young we didn't know our arse from elbow."

It won't really be appropriate for them to smile while playing Joy Division, will it? "Oh, of course not, it's a very serious thing," Hook confirms before reflecting, "I mean, that is always something I found most frustrating about Joy Division was the image that we had - or particularly Ian's image - was completely unwarranted, 'cause he was actually a very nice, down-to-earth, very pleasant and happy-go-lucky guy, you know? I mean it was his illness, without a shadow of a doubt, that brought him crashing down in that way, you know?"

Public awareness surrounding epilepsy has improved out of sight since Curtis was diagnosed with the disorder back in the late-'70s and Hook recalls, "We were so young we didn't know our arse from elbow, without a shadow of a doubt. I mean, it doesn't help with the sort of guilt and grief that you feel afterwards, you know, but, I mean, in some ways, once I did the Joy Division book [Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division] I did realise that we weren't to blame; there was a lot of older people, and a lot more experienced people, that were s'posed to be experts that couldn't help him, either. So, the thing is, it sorta puts it in perspective when you look at it from that point of view: that it was a dreadful illness, it was very poorly handled - not just for Ian, for everybody at that time - and you can only thank your lucky stars that maybe one of the good things about the Internet is that people at least can read up and get a handle on it but, yeah! It was his medicines, without a shadow of a doubt, that didn't help."

So whenever Hook hears of another public figure who has died by suicide, is he transported back to that fateful morning in 1980 when Joy Division received the news of their lead singer's untimely passing? "Yeah, it does," he allows. "I mean, the thing is, I live with Ian every single day: there's not a day goes by that I don't have to deal with something for Joy Division, I've got a huge oil painting of him in my office - he stares at me all day [laughs]. So, you know, the thing is is that, yeah! I never, ever forget."

Although Hook states, "Throughout my whole life I regret nothing," he then admits, "The only thing I'd change is if somebody had shown me what was gonna happen at the end of that legal thing at the start; I just wouldn't have done it. And the interesting thing is, Andy Rourke - God bless him, from The Smiths - he said to me years ago, he said, '[puts on exaggerated, dramatic accent] It was the worst thing I'd ever been through, it nearly killed me,' and I thought, 'What a drama queen!' y'know what I mean? I was like, 'Oh, God! Give over, mate,' y'know what I mean? And, oh my God! As soon as I got in it [the legal dsipute], I phoned him up and I went, 'Mate, you were not exaggerating!'

"But anyway, you know, the thing is that we're still here. We're still smiling, we're still at each other's throats so all's well with the world!"