Peter Hook on Joy Division, New Order and George Best

Peter Hook and The Light return to Belfast next month to perform the Joy Division albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer in full, plus a supporting set of New Order favourites. Richard Purden chats to the bassist about revisiting his musical past and the famous folks he's encountered along the way...

Peter Hook and The Light return to Belfast in November. Picture by Richard Purden
Richard Purden

BEFORE having a life-changing experience seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester, bass wielding Joy Division co-founder Peter Hook's first love was football, growing up as a proud Salford lad and United supporter.

"I was born in Ordsall near the ground, where I lived you could see Old Trafford," explains 'Hooky'.

"My best mate was a City fan so we'd go to one ground one week and the other the next. I used to park the coaches for the away fans which was really interesting, especially when Leeds came".

Apparently, he also once took George Best's old job.

"My mum worked at the Manchester Ship Canal Company and got me a job there. I was 18 and on the first day the guy said, 'The last person that sat at your desk was George Best'.

"In those days, players that had an apprenticeship at United had to have a proper job. We used to see him all the time at nightclubs and clothes shops. I was in Magaluf with my ex-wife Mrs Merton [Caroline Aherne, the late actor, comedian and writer], we were in a bar and George Best was there with Rodney Marsh [ex-Manchester City].

"We had done the soundtrack to their TV series Best & Marsh: The Perfect Match, and Caroline said: 'Go over and say hello'. I don't do things like that, but I went over and said: 'Hiya George I'm Peter Hook from New Order, I did the soundtrack for Best & Marsh.

"He just said: 'I know' and turned around. He f***ing blanked me – I knew it was a bad idea."

Hook worked at Butlin's, a tea warehouse and the Manchester Ship Canal Company before having something of an epiphany when seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester at one of the most famous gigs in British music history – it was also attended by Morrissey and Mark E Smith – on June 4 1976.

"I saw them four times, twice at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and twice at the Electric Circus," he says, and it was the first of those four gigs that would inspire Hook to change course.

"After it, I said to Barney [Bernard Sumner, New Order singer/guitarist], 'We should form a band' and I became a bass player by default. I went to buy a guitar at Mazel's and said to the bloke: 'It's only got four strings', he said: 'That's because it's a bass'."

The roots of Joy Division were cemented when the pair met Ian Curtis at another Sex Pistols gig later that year.

"Ian gave me [the Stooges' bootleg] Metallic KO and it blew my mind. I'd never heard of Iggy or the Velvets; he introduced me to it all," says Hook.

"Barney would sit there saying, 'Who are these Doors? Everyone says we sound like them'. Ian then lent me the first Doors album and I thought, 'We do sound like them'. We used to do Riders On The Storm."

As Hooky suggests, there are a lot of myths about the life of Ian Curtis. He is currently planning to sift through the late singer's original vinyl collection: Iggy Pop's The Idiot was said to be the last record Curtis played before taking his life by suicide.

"That is true", confirms Hook.

"His wife [Debbie] took it off the turntable and put it with the rest of the records. Ian's best friend Kelvin Biggs, who is a good friend of mine, has got the collection now and we're planning to do a podcast about it."

Hook adds that he recently visited Ian's grave at Macclesfield Cemetery. It's now a place of pilgrimage for a new generation of fans around the globe.

"There were a lot of flowers there when I visited a couple of days ago" he says.

"The reason Joy Division caught that generation between 1978 and 1980 is the same reason it was captured 10 years later, then 20 years later and so on. He spoke very well to confused teenagers not knowing where they were going.

"His bleakness, storytelling and his life of unrequited love, having a child and ending up divorced, as he was going to be – this was all going on before he died at the age of 23. Young people go through the same things now and they need music for solace and inspiration. Joy Division fills that role."

It was back in 2010 that Hook formed Peter Hook and The Light, after leaving New Order in 2007. In 2011, Sumner and co then reformed New Order without the bassist and continued to tour, recording a new album, Music Complete, in 2015.

The Light's stature has grown over the past 12 years as they have continued to perform every album recorded by Joy Division and New Order, with Hook taking on lead vocals and sharing bass duties with his son, Jack Bates.

"I never expected it when we started playing in 2010, which was to celebrate Ian's life. New Order never did anything like that: we may have played Love Will Tear Us Apart on occasion and that was OK.

"It was when I was outside of it I thought, 'This is nuts', because Joy Division was earning as much as New Order and we were still a going concern".

Love Will Tear Us Apart was like a parting gift from Curtis: the song released posthumously in June 1980 is widely regarded as one of the greatest singles of all time.

"It was weird the first time I heard it on the radio," adds Hook.

"I was going to get my car taxed in Stretford and just before parking, I turned it off. I'm fine with it now. The requests you get for Joy Division and the amount of money you can make from films is insane.

"It took three hours to write it from start to finish. Blue Monday [New Order's most famous tune] was six months. Those two songs pay for everything."

The audiences today, however, aren't turning up to hear just the hits. The Unknown Pleasures album has lost none of its power and effect.

"If anything, the audience has got younger, especially after Covid," explains Hook.

"It goes wild – it's not something to play down. To come back to it was easy for me and I felt really at home. I'm such a fan and I wanted to connect with other fans."

More recently, Hook admits to being scared stiff when asked to work with Damon Albarn on the track Aries for the Song Machine series by Gorillaz in 2020.

"I was terrified - the man is an absolute genius," he says.

"He asked me and I knew I couldn't possibly turn it down. It worked fantastically and I couldn't thank him enough, because he gave me a number one in lockdown when I needed it the most. The song is amazing and to be asked [to do it] was one of the best compliments I ever had.

"He never stops, he's incredible. I had a lot of comments after saying 'this is how New Order should sound. I was just made up with it."

:: Peter Hook and The Light, November 12, The Limelight 1, Belfast.