Peter Hook’s Memoir Traces the Genius and Debauchery of New Order
The Herculean cred that bassist Peter Hook owns in the post-punk and alternative rock realms is the stuff of legend. Joy Division — featuring Hook alongside vocalist Ian Curtis, guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris — were the definitive dark force behind the post-punk movement, and their hugely influential (yet too brief) catalog still reverberates nearly four decades later.
Then there’s New Order, which formed after Curtis committed suicide before what would have been Joy Division’s first American tour. Hook, Sumner and Morris — along with keyboardist Gillian Gilbert — soldiered on, ultimately cementing themselves in alternative rock lore as pioneers of a post-punk, electronics, pop and dance music fusion that was the soundtrack to ’80s and ’90s pop culture, clubs, radio and the MTV beast.
At the center of the Manchester-based group’s visionary synth-pop fray was Hook, New Order’s resident punk and its bass-throbbing heartbeat, whose elastic and melodic riffing has produced some of the most memorable and recognizable lines and hooks ever.
But all was not copacetic in the world of New Order, despite the band's wildly successful and lucrative — or so it seemed — decade-long heyday from 1983 through 1993. The obligatory “creative differences,” in-studio production clashes, outrageous recording costs, pricey tour jaunts, warring intra-band factions, and substance and alcohol abuse would ultimately doom New Order. An acrimonious breakup in 2007 was the final nail in the coffin, splitting the two camps, pitting Hook in one corner, and Sumner, Morris and Gilbert in the other. Legal squabbles abound to this very day.
Now, the definitive New Order tell-all has been plastered on the printed page in all its drugging, boozing, womanizing, nonstop partying and money-hemorrhaging glory, from the no-holds-barred purview of Hook.
Substance: Inside New Order completes the legendary bassist’s trilogy, which began with 2010's The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club and 2012's Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. At a monolithic and never boring 768 pages, Hook's opus shows that he's just as masterful with the written word — however hilarious and brazen he is as he shits on former bandmate Sumner (or "Barney," as he affectionately calls him) and recounts yesteryear’s tour debauchery — as he is with his innovative bass playing. Hook's Substance is a mind-blow of a journey that spares no feelings — specifically his former New Order mates, whom he has no qualms taking aim at every chance he gets.
But while Hook’s tale is a rollicking, entertaining read long on piss and vinegar, coke-snorting and high jinks, it’s also a treasure trove of info for record completists and gear geeks who have sought the secrets into how New Order trailblazed their electronic vision.
Hook expertly traces the lineage of New Order's path from existing in the shadows of Joy Division to morphing into a massively successful, electronic dance-pop juggernaut.
As he dips into revealing blow-by-blows of New Order recording their seminal records and discographies, Hook peppers Substance with song-by-song commentary, set lists, listicles of his favorite bass lines and songs, tour itineraries and "Geek Alerts," where he goes deep into detail about how New Order honed their sound, vision and image. But it’s Hook's love / hate relationship with Sumner that colors his take-no-prisoners book, one that busts with belly laughs while serving as a history lesson for New Order and Joy Division buffs and neophytes alike.
CLRVYNT phoned up Hook — long clean and sober — at his hotel in New York after his reading event at Saint Vitus to talk Substance and just about everything else going on in his busy, lawyered-up world.
Substance just had its American release.
The thing I should appreciate myself — it was hard work. It took three years to finish. The detail was something that was very important to me because I read a lot of rock biographies, and I always wish that they’d go into more detail. Most of them have wonderful back catalogs, wonderful things you could read about, but they never do it. What I like when I read about the group — or even on Spotify, when I play the music — is detail. And yet, these people don’t put a lot of details in things. I think it’s such a shame, because they’re missing an opportunity to entertain and engage with the fans. I must admit that I, obviously — and everybody knows I’ve got a massive problem with the others, because we’ve got three high court cases going at the same time …
Absolutely insane. Our relationship is absolutely awful; it's really truly dysfunctional. We can’t agree on anything. What I wanted to do [with Substance] was put it all together as much as I could, because I thought Warner Brothers, when they did the Joy Division website a few months ago, put no detail in it. They hardly put any effort in it! You know, it’s quite odd in this day and age, because it’s easy to collate the material and put it together. It just means that somebody has got to have the wherewithal to do it. It really shocks me, because I read a lot of rock biographies and I’m really interested in music. I’m always thinking that I’m hoping to read one that will show me how to do it properly. Most people never put [in] a bloody discography. Never mind how they made the record, or where they made the record, what equipment they used. I just thought it was sadly lacking, really. It always makes me wonder whether people view these books as not a vocation, but as just something to get out of the way.
And Substance goes super-deep into all those things you mentioned. It’s so informative in so many aspects.
The saddest book I’ve ever read on New Order was Barney’s. I just thought, “What a wasted opportunity for a truly talented musician to engage people with how he did it.” And to dispatch New Order in 100 pages for 35 years and spend 69 of them calling me a bastard.
Did you feel a need to write Substance in order to set the record straight after you read Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division and Me, Bernard’s book?
I think he thought he was setting the record straight, but god knows where he got his information from. I fear for that man’s memory, I really do. But the point is, it’s such a shame because all that information that’s on the Internet is done by truly dedicated fans, and the chance to put them together, it was too good to resist.
Substance has been thrown into the Mötley Crüe-like realm because of all the sex and drugs New Order engaged in back in the ’80s and ’90s.
I don’t think it was just us having sex, mate. I think it was a lot of people.
What I wanted to show was, while we played hard, we certainly worked hard as well. And the pioneering and technological effort that we put in to create that new genre of music in the ’80s, which was dance and rock combined, was work. You know, it was hard! It was very experimental, very unique, and it was worth documenting and letting people know what equipment we used and how we did it. The wacky thing was, when I first delivered the book, it actually had 300,000 words, which was 1,200 pages. The publisher refused to publish it because it was too big. [Laughs]
Your Joy Division book was only about 300 or 400 pages long, and the Hacienda book was about the same.
Yes. I’ve been very lucky in my career. New Order, Joy Division and with the club, the Hacienda — we were certainly in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion. As an author, because I think I can say that now after three books, you were gifted three fantastic stories that are in many ways stranger than fiction.
You spoke of the attention to detail in Substance, which is incredible considering the drinking and drugging that was going on. How did you manage to remember those days in such vivid detail?
Well, my friends used to always say to me — or they did say to me when I wrote the book — “You used to tell these stories for nothing.”
So, when I was drunk, I used to regale people, at length, with all these monstrous cock-ups, as we call them in England, that we’d done, and also our many adventures. When I did sit down to write it, I was lucky. I was very lucky with my addictions because I was really at rock bottom, but I managed to stop and I managed to pull myself back together, and in many ways I was very lucky not to lose my family or my job or my memory. I managed to stop it just in time. There’s a lot of people who aren’t that lucky. Another thing is, there are so many great fan sites for the band on the web. Literally, there were loads of episodes that could spur my memory and do it, and it literally was a matter of putting the timelines together first, and then filling in the details. We were an independent group that came from punk and acted very, very awkwardly. We did everything in our power to stop our success; we really did. Despite our efforts, we became amazingly successful, particularly in America, which is a great continent. It’s wonderful.
You mentioned the lawsuits before. Were you under any kind of constraints with what you could put into Substance?
Every book that’s done in this way has a legal read to protect people’s privacy, and also for libel and slander. My book, amazingly Simon & Schuster or Harper Collins told me they came in at the longest legal read they’ve ever had, which was 350 pages. [Laughs] There was a lot of stuff, shall we say, that I wasn’t allowed to put in. It’s a great shame because you tend to lose all the punchlines for a lot of the happenings, shall we say. I was very careful, even though Bernard took his opportunity to paint me in a very, very unfavorable way [in his book]. I admire the guy; we were great friends once, and we were great colleagues for even longer. I do admire his talent and I admire his tenacity. So, it was easy not to get involved with being bitches for bitch’s sake. I wanted to put my version of the truth, shall we say, across. And let’s face it: It’s the fans that decide. They’re the jury. You have to be the most believable. It’s about that.
I haven’t read Bernard’s book, but in yours you call him a twat on one page, then the next you're praising him for being as good a guitar player as Johnny Marr.
Oh, he is without a doubt, yeah.
Did he have any kind words for you in his book?
No, I think probably begrudgingly. The book, you really would have to read it to make your own mind up as to whether it’s valid or not. I think the worst crime he committed in it was the fact that he dispatched 35 years of New Order’s career in 100 pages, and 69 of them were slagging me off. So, I thought, well, you know what, I’m not going to do it like that. My immediate thought was I think the fans deserve slightly more than that. It’s been great; it’s been wonderful for me. Because of the legal case, you tend to think that everything’s crap. Everything. You think you’ve achieved nothing, you think you’ve done nothing. So, it was actually nice to go back into the book, delve into our career and realize how good we were, and how much we’ve achieved. And it did make me very happy to witness it. I thought, you know what, maybe we are a few fat, old rock stars fighting about money now, but the point is that, together, we went on a fantastic journey and achieved many, many victories and left a fantastic body of work.
Absolutely. In your book, you wrote that in the mid-'80s or so, you still were flat broke. At what point did the money start rolling in?
It was probably about ’87, yeah. We always had nice cars, because those were paid for by the management — our money.
You guys splurged like crazy.
It wasn’t us; it was the manager. But the thing is, he created something from it and he believed in New Order, and he did actually give us a fantastic party time. We would go away for one gig and we would be away for a week. That means that us and the crew were set there for days and days and days, and nobody questioned it. Those days off cost far more than the days on, when you’re working. But we never bothered! We were just happy to sit there in the sun with a cocktail full of drugs, going, “Wow! This is great!” It properly was party time, and like most musicians, somewhere down the line, most musicians pick the phone up, phone the manager and go, “Um, where did all the money go?” He always says the same thing: “Half of it went up your nose and the other half went shipping all that gear all over the world.”
You were so young that the reality of it all didn’t occur to you, I assume.
We didn’t have any interest in business. The only actual time we got interested in business was after the tax investigation, which we were the proud owner of the highest tax fine in English music history.
Yes, that’s a great story in the book.
I don’t think it’s ever been surpassed. So, our stupidity has never been overtaken, which I suppose is nice. Maybe it’s a salutary lesson to other English musicians. “We don’t want to be like New Order,” they’re all saying. Can you imagine the 1975 sitting there going, “Right. We gotta look after business, 'cause we don’t want to end up beating New Order with that tax fine!”
Have you heard any feedback about your book from the other members of New Order?
I’ve heard that they were appalled. But they didn’t bring any action, so they weren’t that appalled. I tried to get Bernard’s book changed. I worked very hard and got a lot of corrections.
Did his book need to go through your legal team?
Yeah, I brought an action to change the stuff in his book because it was so incorrect, and we did get some changes.
What goes through your mind when you see Bernard, Gillian and Stephen touring as “New Order” without you?
That’s what the legal case is about. In my opinion, they took the trademark. They are not New Order; they’ve had to license the name. They’re definitely not New Order because they have to pay for the name. The thing is, like any divorce, the only way a divorce works is when both sides are unhappy. This divorce, unfortunately, left me very unhappy and them very happy. I think that sums up the problem. Until both sides are unhappy, you’re never going to get a proper resolution.
Do you think there’s ever going to be peace between the two warring New Order camps?
If we could reach a settlement, then yes. We were actually in court in England. We succeeded in our action, so that means you’ve crossed another hurdle as you’re going through. I can’t believe that we split up 10 years ago, literally, to the day, February 2007. Here we are, 10 years later, still at each other’s throats.
And your book basically came out the same day as this court date. Weird coincidence.
It literally came out the same day as the court action. It’s the most stupid, sapping situation that, really, after 31 years of being together, we should not be going through, but god knows why. I think we’re being encouraged. I sometimes wonder whether it’s the lawyers that are enjoying the fight much more than we are. “Fat, old rock stars arguing, keeping us in a lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.”
Back to the book. The “Geek Alerts” and the listicles in the book are fantastic.
I was aware, even though I wasn’t a great supporter of the technological side of New Order, that we were doing some groundbreaking work, and you could hear it in the songs, that they sounded different. Martin Hannett, in particular, was not a fan. Even after leading us down that path with sequencers and keyboards on Closer by Joy Division, when we actually went further and were producing songs like “Truth” and “Everything’s Gone Green,” and then into “Hurt,” and then into “Temptation,” he was not a fan. He didn’t like it being too machine-like. He seemed to like the fact that the technology added to the group, but not that it took over the group.
You delve into the New Order tour in 1987 with Echo and the Bunnymen and Gene Loves Jezebel.
That was a wild tour. I’m amazed any of us survived that one, I have to say. It was the first time anybody put those acts together. It was our idea to do a co-headline with Echo and the Bunnymen. After that, it became more or less a template for American touring, and New Order pioneered it. It was amazing and we were so successful.
What do you remember about coming to New York and hitting the clubs?
Ruth Polsky, as the promoter of Hurrah and Danceteria … I was very, very happy, actually, because somebody, a journalist here in New York, read my book and recognized that Ruth Polsky’s contribution to music in America had been so huge that he’s now doing a book about Ruth Polsky, which I’m delighted about. It’s nice when you can inspire people from your book to do things like that — it’s good.
Yes, Ruth plays a big part in your book.
It was amazing how many English acts she pioneered.
You also go into the health issues you have from slinging your bass so low all those years.
Yeah, it gave me very, very big back problems, and I’ve lived very closely with my chiropractor. [Laughs] It was him that did the report for me in the “Ten Biggest Illnesses” that I’ve suffered from all these illnesses. I did suffer for my art. I suppose I have to blame Paul Simonon from the Clash, because it was him who inspired me to play so low.
This is well-documented in Substance, but it’s crazy that you had to fight tooth and nail to get your bass onto New Order songs in some cases.
I think Bernard resented me being as important as him in the group, and he wanted to change the dynamic. The most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard him say was, “Your bass is getting in the way of my vocals.” To me, the interesting thing about New Order was the counterpoint between the bass and the vocals — the mix of melodies, which really gave it the magical touch. If anything, that’s what’s missing in their music now, is that. To me, they sound very ordinary.
Which bass players inspired you at the beginning?
Jean-Jacques Avenel, John Entwistle, Carol Kaye from Motown — wonderful, wonderful bass player. I did recognize early on that I certainly did not fulfill the criteria of a normal bass player. In many ways, my ego was sort of happy to go along with that. If anything, I wanted to be Mick Ronson, as opposed to the bass player.
You were playing a six-string bass, too.
It was perfect. Bernard recommended me to get it because he said, “You play so many chords on the four-string — it’s got to be useful for your style.” I do have a lot to thank Barney for, I really do. Considering that we live in the same village in England. We live half a mile away from each other.
Do you and Bernard ever run into each other, like at the local coffee shop or something?
We do. Usually after a court date, actually, funnily enough. I’d not seen him for years, and I won a court date and I bumped into him, which was great fun. And then he won a court date and I bumped into him, which wasn’t so much fun. I’m looking forward to bumping into him when I get home.
What happens when you two run into one another? Do you shoot the shit?
We just make some snarky comment. The thing is, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get involved in an argument.
What would Ian think of these legal squabbles if he were alive today?
I think he’d be absolutely distraught. I think Rob Gretton would, and I think Tony Wilson would. This is so pathetic; it really, really is a waste of time. What amazes me is that all of us moaned constantly about how much money we’d lost in Hacienda for years — still do. And here we are, throwing the rest away on a silly argument that probably could be stopped if you just sat down together for half an hour. But I suppose the problem is that you’re sitting there with barristers and lawyers and financial advisers, managers, and none of them want to back down. It’s very sad, actually. It’s very sad.
It also must be emotionally draining on everyone involved.
It takes up a lot of your time. But you know, it becomes like a fight, doesn’t it? Can you imagine if someone did this to you? How would you feel? That’s always my answer to everyone: What would you do? Would you just take the kick in the bollocks and walk away? No, most people I think are going to fight for their rights, fight for what they think is just.
These days, you seem to really be enjoying yourself onstage touring with the Light, doing the Joy Division and New Order records.
I love it, I really do love it. I suppose in one way the split with New Order and leaving the rest of them has enabled me to actually relax and enjoy the music. As a group of equals, as we were, you were always having to compromise.
You seem to have really embraced the role of frontman role very well.
Don’t forget I did it in Revenge and I did it in Monaco, so it didn’t come as completely alien to me. But it’s great having my son there — the world’s second-best bass player.
Do you have any more books in you? Are you all booked out?
I’d love to do a book with a happy ending. I really would. That’s my ambition. Maybe I should do Outside New Order and make sure that it has a happy ending. I’m afraid to say there’s not one inside yet.
What are your next plans music-wise?
We’re touring with Substance [the LP]. I’m doing quite a bit of solo work, actually, at the moment. I’m working with Wolfgang Flür from Kraftwerk. I’m also working with a group called Reverend and the Makers in England. I’m working with Cleopatra Records doing a cover version LP, which is quite interesting, from a group called Captain Beyond. It’s nice. It’s not exactly my type of music, but I was asked to do it as a project and it’s actually turned out to really good and I’ve really enjoyed it. Translating other people’s songs into a style of your own is actually quite entertaining. So, it’s good. Everything’s good, actually. If I could get rid of this bloody court case, I’d be over the freaking moon!
Hopefully, you’ll get to write that happy ending one day soon.
Well, I hope so. It’s interesting, though — it’s like you read the books and you think, “Oh, my god. This isn’t gonna help!” [Laughs]