Peter Hook seems happy he is no longer a member of New Order. He also appears quite content to be diving deep into the catalog of the Manchester, England, group’s early manifestation as pioneering postpunk band Joy Division.
Speaking on the phone from his house in Majorca, Spain, the 59-year-old bassist/vocalist expresses frustration that his former New Order mates chose to distance themselves from their past as Joy Division after the suicide of famed frontman and lyricist Ian Curtis. “Why didn’t we celebrate anything, literally anything, to do with Joy Division?” he laments.
In 2007, Hook acrimoniously parted ways with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Gillian Gilbert, who recently signed a Mute Records deal without him. Though he is suing Sumner, Morris, and Gilbert to prevent their continued use of the New Order name, he has found pleasure in his autonomy. “It gives me the freedom to do what I want,” he says. Now Hook is returning to the road with live performances of Joy Division’s debut album, 1979’s Unknown Pleasures, and the band's swan song, 1980’s Closer. “In 2010, it was 30 years of Ian Curtis’ life,” he points out, referring to the anniversary of Curtis’ passing, which inspired him to tour as Peter Hook & the Light, playing the music of his former bands, including complete albums. Similarly, this latest string of concert dates marks 35 years since the death of the Joy Division singer, who suffered from epilepsy and depression before committing suicide on May 18, 1980.
“He was greatly frustrated by his illness,” Hook says. “I watched the pain that he went through, and I suppose the only thing you regret is, if you’d had more experience in life, maybe you’d say, ‘All right, let’s stop. Let’s have a break. Let’s pack it in while you recover.’ But the person most affected and frustrated by his illness was obviously him. I could see why he would consider suicide as an alternative to living with his illness. It was terrible. It was terrible to witness.”
Much has been made of the so-called signs in Curtis’ lyrics, but Hook has long said the Joy Division singer's decision to take his own life was a surprise to all of them. Hook’s familiarity with his deceased friend and bandmate’s words may haunt him, especially when singing them, but he refuses to retrospectively reinterpret the meaning of those songs.
“The thing is, we didn’t analyze each other’s work in great depth, because we enjoyed what each other did,” he explains. “It was only afterward, when you looked at his lyrics, which a lot of people did, that you thought maybe you could discern a cry for help in them. I mean, he is a fantastic lyricist — in a class of his own, really — and it’s an absolute pleasure to sing the words, because it gives you a much greater feeling for him.”
Hook also says it’s “very sad” that New Order continues to carry on without him, noting he now communicates with Sumner, Morris, and Gilbert only through attorneys. “I’m suing them for wrongful use of the name and for, in my opinion, stealing the trademark. That’s ongoing. And hopefully, we’ll be in court this year so we can get rid of it.”
Asked if there might ever be a reconciliation and a proper reunion of New Order, Hook belts out a laugh. “My God! I can’t even contemplate. What they did to me was disgusting.”
Peter Hook & the Light. Performing Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Closer. With special guest Arthur Baker, plus DJ 16 Bit. Presented by Poplife. 8 p.m. Friday, April 17, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $25 to $30 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages.