The Joy Division / New Order story is as much about time as it is about music and of all inanimate existences the former is perhaps the cruellest. With its deceptive embrace, one arm has safeguarded the virtually ubiquitous feeling that the timethey took to createtheir now definitiverecords was well spent. But as years have gone by with little prophecy of what lay ahead, the other arm has cast a gloominess that tries to negate the importance of the group’s musical canon. Even though it has failedat this, their thorny and very public fragmentation is unfortunatelyimpossible to avoid.
Did Peter Hook ever imagine himself in this punishing state, segregated from his former band mates of over 4 decades? Probably not, "I’ve known Bernard [Sumner] since I was 11, you get less for murder!" he says with a wry laugh. Sure, your inner-tribalism will have you fighting an impassioned battle for one side or the other, but this fight encompasses the clock’s hapless stroke into post-punk’s most bitter war of ownership, "they use the justification for doing New Order without me by saying I stole Joy Division from them. But they were playing it before us as Bad Lieutenant – I don’t – you’d have to sit them down and ask them the question. He says ‘Oh no because he played the LPs, I played them separately’, I don’t really see the big difference to me, I’m sorry."
Still, playing Joy Division songs live is one of two things that he doesn’t regret doing ("especially Closer - we never got to play it because Ian [Curtis] died").The other is his new book release, 'Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures'. Following the success of 'The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club', Hook had the confidence to write what probably should have been written first, "I was sick of reading books about Joy Division from people who weren’t there and weren’t involved and it wasn’t fair. I thought, ‘I’m going to put that right".
For Joy Division biographers before, the problem isn’t just their books are post-dated or a posteriori. It’s that they can never quite capture honestly the spirit of Joy Division. They are just voyeurs to the folklore of the band like we are as fans and painting a series of debauched and fatal events doesn’t tell us a lot. This book adds flesh to the band’s story, showing that there was a ‘Joy Division’ before there was the Joy Division. From Hook and Sumner’s school day rebellion to the former assuming him beloved mother’s ‘suffer-no-fools’ personality, it all seems to correlate with what they came to represent as a group – boldness. Joy Division’s essence preceded their collective existence and there is no one that can tell the story better than the members themselves.
Perhaps Hook, with his loquacious personality (which, despite his working class roots makes him seem at home with the white collar ‘1%’of the Groucho Club on the day of this interview) is the best man to tell the story. "I’m not the shy and retiring type", he states, and he never has been. It was his self-confessed bluff side that was sparked when he saw the Sex Pistols play The Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976, "it just seemed like they were stood in front of a wall of feedback telling everyone to fuck off and at 20 I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do: just tell everyone to fuck off". Lucky for him, he found himself at a record company that wanted to do the same thing.
"The model of Factory as a record company is revered today - people know it won’t work but they revere it because that’s what they’d like to". Joy Division is inextricable to the legacy of Factory Records and though Hook may be called all kinds unflattering epithets, he is loyal to the people that made the band happen in this book, "those people were very, very important to us", Hook continues, "what I found when I got to London records with New Order was that they had narrow vision. They just wanted you to be big artists and hit records. Tony [Wilson} didn’t care about that, he loved it when you were awkward, when we did things that people hated and loved – he had a lot of breadth".
But Joy Division wasn’t all a big ‘fuck you’ to ‘the man’ and though Ian Curtis’ passing gives heed to the crude intrigue of the ‘suffering musician’ archetype there is nothing romantic about suicide, "as you get older you realise how ridiculous that is and as I said in the book: ‘a wife lost a husband, a daughter lost a father’, a lot more important things than a poxy group". Realising this, Hook had a revelation of his own, "when I wrote it all out, looking at the timeline as his illness became worse, I actually became more guilty. I thought insanely that I’d write the book and I wouldn’t feel guilty. I finished the book and I was like ‘oh, shit!’ It didn’t work."
With these fleshier moments coupled with the comic ones ("Barney eating in a bath, that’s gonna drive him mad that. He’s going to get asked loads of questions about why he ate in the bath!"), the memories show that Joy Division, at least in part, belongs to Peter Hook. From what started as a boyhood dream and transformed into this incredible reality, he was present through it all. But will his former friends see it this way? He doesn’t expect so. "I think they’ll read the book and they’ll think, ‘I’m going to give my lawyer a call."
The interview comes to a close after 50 minutes though we could probably go the whole day with him waxing lyrical about the peaks and troughs of his band – he’s far from shy about his success, "it always makes me laugh when people accuse me of trading on the past. I always think if you had a fucking past, you'd be trading on it", Hook emphatically spits. But 'Joy Division: Unknown Pleasure' isn’t just Peter Hook collecting some already exhausted stories for a quick pay out. It provides a kind of personal insight that most of us haven’t been privy to until now. "Doing the book was like sweeping a room clean, now I can move on to the next room and start cleaning that one".
"So a New Order Book then?" I ask tentatively.
"I never said it, you said it".
Words by Michelle Kambasha
- - -
'Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division' is out now.