Peter Hook on unarchiving Ian Curtis’s vinyl copy of Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’: ‘To hold that record in my hands was the strangest feeling I’ve had in a long time’

Published On June 23, 2024 » By »
photo courtesy of Facebook/G's Gig Shots

photo courtesy of Facebook/G’s Gig Shots

Former Joy Division/New Order member Peter Hook is chatting me with from his home in England about his fall 2024 tour with Peter Hook and the Light, during which he’ll be performing both the New Order and Joy Division Substance albums in full. But the legendary bassist is in a nostalgic state of mind in other ways, as he shuffles through vintage photographs of Joy Division’s late frontman, Ian Curtis, and opens up about another interview he just completed — a podcast that will be a must-listen, and probably at times a tough listen, for Joy Division fans.

Hook reveals that he recently recorded a “two-and-a-half-hour chat,” on video, with Kelvin Briggs, Curtis’s best friend from high school and the best man at Ian and Deborah Curtis’s 1975 wedding. Briggs (who joined Hook onstage this past April at a Manchester fundraiser for mental health support) and Hook became close after Curtis’s suicide, residing in the same suburb 11 miles outside of Manchester and “talking to each other for ages,” and this interview has been a long time coming.

“The thing that fascinated me was that when Ian died, his wife [Deborah] gave Kelvin, who was his best friend, his record collection. And I kept saying, ‘Wow, this is what podcasts were made for! We should do a podcast and an interview about his record collection,’ because Ian was very generous with his records,” explains Hook. “And Kelvin had his record collection — which included the record that he played when he left us, The Idiot by Iggy Pop.”

When the 23-year-old Ian Curtis took his own life on May 18, 1980, on the eve of what was supposed to be Joy Division’s first North American tour, he was famously listening to Iggy Pop’s landmark 1977 album, which features classics like “Nightclubbing,” “Funtime,” and the original “China Girl,” later popularized by David Bowie. “To hold that record in my hands was the strangest feeling I’ve had in a long time,” Hook says softly. “And it had never been out of its sleeve since the day it was put back in when the [Curtis] house was cleared. So, yeah, that was a real, for me, that was a moment.”

While Hook and Briggs’s podcast will obviously take some dark turns, “culminating at the end with the record that was playing when [Ian] sadly decided to leave us,” there will be funnier, lighter moments. “For instance, when everybody said we sounded like the Doors, and Barney [Bernard Sumner] and I had never heard the Doors, [Ian] went, ‘I’ll get you a record.’ And the next rehearsal, he brought a vinyl record of the Doors for me and Barney each, and we went away and listened to it and thought, ‘Oh my God, we do sound like the Doors!’” Hook chucklingly recalls. “So, we actually started playing ‘Riders on the Storm’ in our set as a laugh, and nobody noticed.”

Hook, 68, said he’s “been promising [himself] to do this interview” with Briggs “before either of us shake off this mortal coil,” but “life gets in the way of many, many things, doesn’t it? … It was wonderful to actually sit there with him and get really sort of intimate and detailed with what Ian was like growing up and what he was like as a teenager, because Ian wasn’t far out of being a teenager when we lost him. … We talked about him growing up, what a wacky character he was all through his life. We talked about what the future may have been like. It was wonderful to actually get it done.”

Hook says he and Briggs currently “don’t know what the hell we’re going to do” with their interview, but he’s “sure it’ll appear sooner or later.” However, Hook is a fantastic interview subject in all contexts, so in the meantime, read our Q&A about how he feels about Joy Division/New Order being passed over for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023; if he’d ever consider reuniting with his ex-bandmates in “New Odor”; why he was unable to find someone to sing the Ian Curtis vocals in the Light, so he took on the daunting task himself; why he declined an offer to play bass for Killing Joke; how he almost ended up playing bass for the Rolling Stones; and much more.

So, please tell me more about this podcast about Ian Curtis’s record collection that you did with Kelvin Briggs. I’m getting chills just hearing about it.

I was so pleased when I watched it back, because literally we didn’t have to edit anything. It was just a chat between two old blokes that knew a great geezer. It was as simple as that. That was lovely. My life deals a lot with the past. It deals a lot with the present, and hopefully the future. And I always count the audience as people who are just like me, who love the music and want to appreciate it going forward. I feel I’m in great company.

It’s great that you tour as Peter Hook and the Light, because you revisit all this classic material that so many fans want to hear you play live.

And also, because the other [New Order] band members wouldn’t play it! I mean, obviously they do now, because I think that they thought that I’d stolen it! So, I think this is their way of saying, “Oh, it’s ours as well,” even though they never played [Joy Division’s music] in New Order before.

There are various reasons I could speculate why New Order did not play Joy Division material previously. It could be because the two bands obviously sound very different, or because it was emotionally painful to revisit that music. What was the reasoning?

It was a little bit odder than that. We did play a Joy Division set once — when I threatened to play a Joy Division set with some friends. Suddenly the other members of New Order decided it’d be better if we did it as New Order, which we did for a cancer benefit. … Oh my God, it was wonderful again, to be able to play [those songs]. And then we repeated that when we did a New Order gig at Wembley… and then Barney decided he didn’t like it. He said, “It was miserable; I’d rather do New Order.” And I sort of get it. In the way that he’s singing it, maybe he prefers to sing his own words, words that we’d written as New Order, as opposed to harking back to Joy Division. So, that was the last time we ever played it.

When New Order split up in 2007, and it came to the 30th anniversary of Ian’s life, Joy Division was huge all around the world. And I just thought, “Oh my God, we’d never celebrated any anniversary of Joy Division, ever.” Nothing, never as us three. And I just thought, “I’m not letting this one go.” I had a chat with a few friends and tried to figure out a way. I didn’t want to pretend to be the band Joy Division, which live was so much different to what they were on record. I don’t like people who pretend to be the band, with hardly any members or with the wrong intentions or attitude — hence “New Odor.” I think it’s a crime to your fans. So, I thought, “How can I celebrate it?” And I read an interview with [Primal Scream’s] Bobby Gillespie and he was talking about Screamadelica, saying that he wanted to play all the songs on Screamadelica, because he felt that as a group they ignored what he thinks now are the best [tracks]. He said, “Now I’m going to play them all.” … It made sense to me to celebrate the [first Joy Division] record, which is what I did and what I do, and then what I went on to do with New Order. “New Odor,” in my opinion, don’t sound like New Order. And I’m happy about that, in a way! That makes me happy. It doesn’t make the fans happy, but it makes me happy. The thing is, is that you can’t pretend to be something that, you’re not. It’s wrong. So, the thing is, I’m able to celebrate the LPs in the way that we used to be, if you like, which is where I was happiest.

It’s the best of both worlds, to have you play material from both bands.

The fans [of Joy Division and New Order] are very different, but doing this tour of Substance Joy Division, which is such a different record to Substance New Order… the interesting thing is that when we play them together, as we are doing now, the Joy Division fans are subject to New Order, and the New Order fans are subject to Joy Division. And in some ways, as I say to the lads all the time, I sort of expect an “exodus,” because there are certain places where New Order are more popular than Joy Division. Us playing them together can be a bit challenging for certain fans. But I think we’ve opened up our audience, because we’ve made the New Order fans listen to Joy Division —  by choice, of course; we don’t lock ‘em in! — and the Joy Division fans listen to New Order. Now when we play them both, there’s not much movement in the audience. You don’t get half the audience going to the bar when you play New Order, or vice versa. I suppose in a funny way, we’ve actually helped an appreciation for both groups.

You’re talking about how Joy Division and New Order sound different and have different audiences, even if there’s some overlap. But when you were nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, it was as both bands, together. In my opinion, both bands are worthy of being inducted separately, so it was a unique situation to put “Joy Division/New Order” as one entry on the ballot. How did you feel about that? I actually thought it was going to help your chances, because both fanbases would presumably consolidate to vote.

I think the interesting thing that I noticed was that New Odor didn’t do much promotion for it… because [they] didn’t want to have a row onstage accepting the award, the way that Blondie did. Which I thought was fabulous — if you’re going to wait for a beef to be aired, what a great place to do it! I have a sneaking suspicion that the others weren’t interested because they thought that we might have to meet…

…and play together? Was that ever on the table, even hypothetically, if you’d gotten inducted and attended the Rock Hall ceremony?

No, no. To be honest with you, the way that those bastards have treated me, I would never, ever. I’d be loath to share a room with them, never mind a stage. Never.

I was actually shocked, given the fact that in recent years your peers the Cure, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, and Duran Duran have been inducted, that Joy Division/New Order didn’t get into the Hall. I thought you were a shoo-in.

In my opinion, it’s because the others didn’t get behind the vote. It was hardly pushed at all. I mean, we’ve got 3 million people on the Joy Division Facebook. We’ve got 2 million on the New Order Facebook. And it was hardly pushed. It really wasn’t. And I’m not in control of those [accounts], so I couldn’t push it. But I’ve been to the Hall of Fame [Museum in Cleveland] and there’s a full New Order section there, and that’s fine for me. I’m happy. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m really happy that all I see around me [when playing with the Light] is a load of smiling faces. It’s as simple as that.

Well, you wouldn’t have been the first estranged band to have an awkward moment reuniting at the Hall, had it happened.

Yes, how many times have we seen this behavior? We see it nearly with every group. That wonderful match of chemistry, ego, money, and fame is a very, very toxic cocktail. And the thing is my problems with the other members when, in my opinion, they took the name without my blessing and without me knowing. They took it without asking me and valued it themselves. So, every time New Order earn a dollar, I get 1 cent, which I don’t think personally is enough. But that’s life, isn’t it? And we have to get on with it. One thing I noticed as I got older is that life is short. And to do things like this, there’s actually no need. You can get together. You can sort things out. You can do it. Everybody in law, they say everybody in a settlement has to be unhappy. It’s like a divorce of a marriage: If one side’s happy, then the other side’s guaranteed not to be. The way that lawyers always want a settlement is when both sides are unhappy. And on this occasion, [New Order] were very happy and I was very unhappy.

There’d be some people in your position, given all the stuff that’s gone on, who’d disavow the old material. But Peter Hook and the Light have done more than 800 gigs playing Joy Division and New Order material over the past 14 years.

It’s quite strange, actually. Me and the other three, we’ve actually played more in our fifties and sixties than we ever did in our twenties, thirties, and forties. Which is absolutely weird. As a band, New Order really stepped back from playing in the mid-‘90s. We actually split up in ‘93, got together again in ‘98. So yeah, it’s a weird one. But as my wife and my therapist keep telling me — and my wife is my best therapist — you’ve got to work with the hand you’ve got. That’s funny thing, isn’t it? I get such satisfaction from being free of them and being allowed to play all the back catalog. My aim when I started in 2010 was to play every song that Joy Division ever wrote and recorded, which I have done. My next aim is to play every song that New Order have written and recorded, and I’m very well up on that. Next year I will be playing Get Ready in its entirety, and Waiting for the Siren’s Call. I’m going to play those two together, which is great. I’m still on the way with doing these songs. I couldn’t believe it at the time; I didn’t understand why we wouldn’t play them.

We talked about how there are different audiences for Joy Division and New Order. Have you noticed there are different camps for what you call “New Odor” and Peter Hook and the Light, where fans take sides and will only go see one or the other in concert?

Yeah, that always makes me laugh, though. … People are critical, and were very critical. I mean, the reason I had to sing when playing Joy Division [songs with the Light] was because I had three vocalists lined up, and the internet, shall we say, scared them off. Trolling scared them off. And it was Rowetta out of the Happy Mondays that said to me, “OK, you’re not going to get anyone to do this. Ian’s shoes are too big. You are going to have to do it.” And I was like, “Oh, shit.” I must admit that for six months, eight months, I was absolutely terrified. But it’s been such a pleasure to sing [Ian’s] words and to get to know his words from a different place, is what I found. Wonderful.

Tell me more about that.

I heard his words when he was doing them, and I looked at him, but I didn’t really need to hear the words to know that he meant it. What he was saying was passionate. It was educated and it was intense. He meant every single syllable, every time he opened his mouth. So, the thing for me was to get that confidence and be able to learn to project, shall we say. I mean, I thought I was a bass player, and all of a sudden you’re putting somebody else’s shoes and you’re realizing, “Shit, this is a little bit on the difficult side.” It actually made me sympathetic towards lead singers, which I never thought I would believe! I never thought that that could possibly happen! And I must admit, when I moved on to New Order [material], I found Bernard’s shoes were a lot easier to fill than Ian’s, because Steve [Morris], Bernard, and I wrote the vocal lines and the words together, all the way up to and including Technique. So, I was a third of the way there before I’d even started. That was just as enjoyable. There were certain aspects of New Order’s music and certain songs that I hated, but then when I came to sing them, because I was playing the LPs in full, I found that in many ways I actually preferred them to others. And I was like, “Wow.”

Which was the material that you initially hated and then you changed your mind about?

Mainly Republic, because Republic was so fractured and such a toxic atmosphere while we were recording it that I really could not look at the music favorably. Stephen Hague, the producer, had a hell of a job to get us to finish it. He brought me in at the end to put the bass on when everything else had been recorded. Steve and Gillian [Gilbert’s] parts had all but disappeared along with my own, but Stephen Hague managed to bring me in at the end and redo it. They’d never been finished off by the group, so it was wonderful to be able to play the record, finish it off, and play it properly. And then I found a love for that record. … I’m excited about all these things that I’m doing. I’m also working on a lot of new music with people. I’ve got a lot of things coming up. It’s just a matter of fitting them in.

What can you tell me about the new music you’re working on?

I did two tracks with Wolfgang Flür from Kraftwerk. I did another thing with Rusty Egan, who used to be in Rich Kids with Glen Matlock; I’ve done a couple of tracks with him, which has been great. It’s different. I miss that aspect of being in a group. I miss that aspect of working towards your next thing, your next tour, LP. I also have an outfit called Man Ray with a very good friend of mine, Phil Murphy. We make a lot of music for that; we do a lot of charity stuff with that one and really wacky stuff. And I keep meaning to put it on Spotify. Some of it is on Spotify, but most of it isn’t. I’ve just employed my godson, who’s Oscar Boon and is now a bass player with the Inspiral Carpets with his dad, Clint, to get me a new Spotify page so I can put all this solo stuff up, so at least I can look at it! It’s very important as a musician. Rob Gretton, our manager, always used to say to us, “Your best song is your next one, so get on with it.” That was his mantra. And I still feel that, when I don’t write or play on anything new.

Last question: When you talk about how you miss being in a band, what is this story about how you almost joined the Rolling Stones once?

I was fifth in line for the Rolling Stones. Fifth! Is it Doug Wimbush who plays with them? [Editor’s note: No, but Wimbush was also in line to replace Bill Wyman in 1993, and he played on 1997’s album Bridges to Babylon. Darryl Jones ultimately got the job.] He told me he was fourth, and I was delighted. I’m tone-deaf, right? If Mick Jagger put a gun to my head and said, “Play ‘Satisfaction,’” I couldn’t play it. I’m tone-deaf. I can’t pick up other people’s music. I have enough trouble picking up my own when I’ve written it, so I couldn’t do that job. What my son [Jack] does [as a bassist] in the Smashing Pumpkins is completely alien to me, because I couldn’t play somebody else’s bass parts. I never have. I got invited to join Killing Joke, and I couldn’t do it. I said, “I can’t play those bass parts. It’s not in me. I can’t even pick them out.” It’s just as my mother said, “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, Peter,” and really, she was half-right. … I remember Jaz and Geordie [from Killing Joke] sitting me down and asking me to join when they fell out with Youth, and I said, “Lads, I love you to death, but I cannot do it.” And they thought I was being horrible and I didn’t like the music. I love the music! I love Killing Joke! Geordie’s my favorite guitarist ever. But yeah, it’s a weird thing that I’m just me.

And that’s all you need to be.

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. Watch Hook’s full conversation in the spit-screen video above.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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