‘Joy Division ripped off orchestras to make our sound bigger’ Peter Hook talks to Northern Soul
If Coronation Street is the go-to Manchester reference for TV, then legendary bassist Peter Hook (‘Hooky’) must be the musical equivalent.
The music he created with Joy Division and New Order has inspired countless bands and generated the undying devotion and fervour of fans worldwide.
The band’s output may have been minimal, but it remains revered. So, when Hooky and Manchester Camerata created The Sound Of Joy Division Orchestrated in 2019, die-hard fans could have been forgiven for being less than enthusiastic. Luckily, the reaction was positive.
“The audience loved the spectacle and the amazing, full sound,” Hooky reveals on the phone from America. “The celebration of the different way of interpreting the songs was fantastic. After everything I’ve done and been through, getting a standing ovation at both the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House is something I just don’t expect at this time in my life.”
Curated by Hooky and musical director Tim Crooks, the show, back this year in the UK, features a 50-piece orchestra plus guest vocalists and musicians. The production has been in storage for a couple of years for obvious reasons but will now return for two October gigs in Manchester and London.
At the moment, Hooky is in the middle of a 28-day US tour.
“It’s incredibly gruelling with the airlines being so understaffed”, he confesses. ‘This means every five-hour journey is taking about nine hours and the accumulative effect is almost impossible to recover from. We also carry the gear with us so every time it goes off on the airport luggage belt, you doubt you’ll ever see it again.”
Although Hooky is looking forward to being able to perform the orchestral show again, the project is not without its challenges.
He says: “It’s a lot of very hard work and can be really taxing. For a start, you’re working with 50-plus people so it’s a completely different kettle of fish to performing with just the band. It’s like herding cats with the orchestra and you’ll never get rich with that big a team. It’s extremely satisfying when it all comes together though. The sound is absolutely amazing.
“It’s also interesting to straddle classical and punk attitudes. I never play the same thing twice so it’s incredible to watch these musicians sight-reading and being spot on every time. Many of them are also rock fans and they must look at me and think it must be great to be so free and make all those bum notes.”
If anyone thinks that Hooky and Manchester Camerata are an unlikely alliance, Hooky believes that it isn’t as far removed from his band’s musical ambitions as you might think.
He says: “New Order and Joy Division spent months ripping off orchestras to make our sound bigger. As a lover of melancholy, the orchestra enables me to dwell on the melody side and enhance it. Sometimes the rock hides a lot of Ian Curtis’s gentle melodies and words whereas the orchestra brings all that out.”
For the uninitiated, Joy Division formed in Salford in 1976. They released two albums, Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980). Singer and writer Ian Curtis died by suicide in May 1980, aged just 23.
What does Hooky think Curtis would have made of the new interpretations of the band’s songs?
“I guess I’ll find out when I get up there,” he laughs. “Actually, I believe he would have adored it. Tony Wilson brought Ian a Sinatra album one time. They talked about the way Frank had used the orchestra and the spectacle of it and I could see that Ian had a real interest in that. On Closer we were also becoming more dexterous anyway and leaning toward any aspect that could make the sound bigger and better.”
Stripped back versions of the songs have been recorded by other artists in the past. The more successful efforts were one of the factors to help convince Hooky that the orchestral idea might work.
He says: “We would often get sent more intimate, acoustic covers by one singer with just a guitar. Some were amazing and caught the emotion of the songs and how delicate and emotive they could be without all the brouhaha of the band versions.”
The enduring legacy of the work is not lost on Hooky.
“The way the music has been used in films over the years has been a great inspiration for me. This morning alone, I’ve done five syncs for our songs for different films interpreting the music to great effect. Considering the small catalogue and the amount of years that have passed, it’s pretty amazing really.”
Hooky is instantly recognisable on stage thanks to his low to the ground, legs akimbo stance. Friends and I still recall watching Glastonbury on TV one particularly muddy year and being concerned, as Hooky sunk further into the ground, that he’d disappear without trace.
The big question is, can he still get down and close to the stage these days?
“I can, thanks to a combination of yoga, mindfulness and adrenaline,” he says. “The stance came about when I saw Paul Simonon and The Clash and thinking he looked so cool. I also loved the bass sound of Jean-Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers so I just put the two things together.
“My therapist says I hold my guitar a distance from me because I’m trying to get away from it,” he adds. “Apparently, there’s a deep meaning to me trying to push the guitar away and not wanting to be who I am. It just feels right to play like that now. As my Mum used to say, ‘you’ve gotta have a gimmick, our Peter’. I couldn’t imagine doing it another way, even though the lower the base, the harder it is to play. That’s why I do all those bum notes – I’m trying too hard.”
Surely there must have been times in the past when Hooky got stuck in that low slung position?
“God, yes”, he confirms. “I’ve fallen on my face a number of times. Blame the tight leather trousers that were very popular in the 90s. At a gig in Europe I did a ‘Bono’, jumping down from the stage for a run about but then I couldn’t get back up again. My girlfriend had to hoist me up by the waistband of my pants.”
The Manchester show promises to be quite a night, but it’s the London Palladium date that Hooky is most excited about, thanks to an unlikely source.
“Ever since I saw Bruce Forsyth there I was determined to be on that stage one day. Pretty much everyone has performed there. If my Mum were still here she would be so delighted that I’m playing the venue. It’s the only way she ever envisaged me doing good.”
Main image: Yannis Hostelidis
Peter Hook & Manchester Camerata Present The Sound Of Joy Division Orchestrated – O2 Apollo, Manchester, October 14, 2022 and The London Palladium, October 15, 2022. For more information, click here.
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