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PETER HOOK: JOY DIVISION ORCHESTRATED The X Press Interview


Legendary former Joy Division and New Order bass maestro Peter Hook returns to Perth this August with The Metropolitan Orchestra –
one of Australia’s most versatile and independent orchestras – for a special concert at Perth Concert Hall on Friday, August 9. Celebrating the music of Joy Division, one of the most influential and timeless bands to emerge from the original UK post punk scene of the late seventies/early 80s, ZACK YUSOF caught up with the chatty and friendly Hooky to find out more about the show which recently sold out its debut performance at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall in July.

Peter Hook and The Metropolitan Orchestra Presents Joy Division Orchestrated will see the man better known to his legion of fans simply as “Hooky” performing choice selections from Joy Division’s seminal repertoire with classical elements, backed up by special guests on vocals and a full orchestra. Curated by Hooky acting as executive producer, with musical director Tim Crooks taking care of the orchestration, the show’s three Australian dates – performances are also booked for Sydney and Melbourne – are the first outside England to be announced.

Peter, it’s great that you are coming back to Perth so soon after your last visit with The Light on the Substance tour back in 2017. So what is it about our fair city and Australia in general that makes you keep wanting to come back for more?

As New Order, we came over in 1981 with very little expectations and yet we were welcome and treated so wonderfully, and over the years we grew to be a major band in Australia. So the thing is, every time I’ve been to Australia – in the incarnation of The Light in 2010, we played only our seventh gig in Melbourne so we got there very, very early – it’s always been really, really great and the promoter who asked us over back then is actually the same guy that has asked us over now.

Following your work on the Hacienda Classical tour last year, why did it feel like a natural next step to try and reframe Joy Division’s music in a classical setting? What made you decide to do it?

To be honest with you, it wasn’t me. Tim Crooks, the orchestral conductor who did the orchestration on the Hacienda Classical tour, he kept saying to me, let’s do Joy Division, I want to get my hands on Joy Division. I kept going, in your dreams mate, we’re a rock band. Bugger off (laughs). Basically, I’ve just seen him add a dimension to some of my favourite songs. We’ve done four different sets of songs on the Hacienda Classical so he’s actually orchestrated over a 100 dance tunes and I must admit, he’s not done one that hasn’t celebrated the essence of the song. He’s not done one orchestration that I’ve listened to and thought, that’s crap. They are all fantastic. And over the years, I’ve actually come round to the idea that he can actually add something to the songs. Joy Division was such a tragic end, for Ian (Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division who committed suicide on the eve on the band’s first US tour back in 1980) and the other members of the group, because we worked really, really hard to get to the point where we could just be a proper group and it was so cruelly seized from us. There’s always a melodrama and a tragic aspect to Joy Division – and Ian – of what could have been. So the thing is, there’s that melancholy that you can pull out and use to celebrate the music. We’re not a million miles away from the (original) versions. More like a thousand miles away shall we say (laughs). He’s added something quite interesting (to the songs) I think.

Over the years, I’ve listened to thousands of cover versions of Joy Division, thousands of them. And some of them have really struck me and have really brought out something that was great in the music and made it better. So the thing is, I’m actually drawing on those cover versions that people have done, by people like Malcolm McLaren to a band like Frente to Paul Young for god’sakes! You know, all these aspects have been brought out and I’ve put them all in the melting pot, wincing (laughs), and it sends tingles down my spine. Look, no one is closer to or more passionate about Joy Division than me I feel, so I’m like, wow, this is fantastic. Tim has done a fantastic job without losing the essence. There’s nothing experimental, there’s nothing jazzy or anything like that about it. You are using the true essence of Joy Division but it is enhanced in a way with the orchestra that I never thought would work. The thing is, I never thought an orchestra playing dance music would work in the way that it has. You go look at the YouTube of Hacienda Classical and you can see that Tim has done a great job. People really respond to 70 people playing the music so well thank god, because it keeps me in a job! It’s just the grandeur and the experience of your great, favourite music being taken to a completely different level by a mass of people. It really does seem to appeal to fans and the thing is that while I was doing it, if I had not heard something that took it to another level, then I wouldn’t have carried on. The last thing you want to do is piss off your fans.

Once you had decided to go ahead with Joy Division Orchestrated, did you feel like it was it a case of donning your tin hat in readiness for the flak that would invariably come your way from the purists and the haters?

Well, I’m used to donning the tin hat mate (laughs)! I’ve dodged missiles from the other band members I have to say so the thing is, it’s about belief in what you are doing. You know when I started with The Light in 2010, I was supposed to be playing bass and I had three singers lined up and all of those three singers quit because of the keyboard vitriol that spewed out at the very idea of me doing something like going out there (to perform New Order and Joy Division songs). So I’m used to suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune shall we say. These guys weren’t so they all quit. It was only Rowetta of The Happy Mondays who said to me, “Hooky, you’re going to have to do it,” and I was like, oh shit, because I just wanted to play bass. But the thing is, she was absolutely right because we did it and we proved to people that we are showing enough respect and we have the passion and enjoyment in what we do to make it valid. The Light are now very successful and to be planning the 40th anniversary celebrations to play Unknown Pleasures and Closer next year is fantastically exciting for me.

So there’s an element of trust involved now. Joy Division Orchestrated is different. This is Tim and I can always blame Tim you see (laughs). Pass the tin hat on to him! But the thing is, while I’ve been listening to it, I’ve really been enjoying it because it’s completely different to the group but (also) the same. So you are still celebrating the greater aspects in the same way that when Martin Hannett (the studio wizard who produced both Unknown Pleasures and Closer, now deceased) sat us down when we were doing Closer and said, “we should have piano and strings on this”. And I tell you, four punks from Manchester and Salford were pretty disgruntled and upset that anybody should even consider putting strings and piano on our punk music yeah? But it worked. You do have to be openminded and I am asking a lot of people in Australia, a bit of trust. But I tell you this, when I’m listening to what Tim has done to the songs, it’s making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Tim has done a wonderful job and everything that he has promised me that it would bring to the music, it has done.

What kind of thinking went into getting a setlist together for the show? Was it a case of choosing the tracks you felt were most suited to the orchestral treatment or picking the most popular songs and making them work?

(Laughs…) Luckily, Joy Division didn’t do that many songs. We only did 54 from start to finish. And they are quite short too. Joy Division songs are quite economical. They are not like New Order’s which are much longer. I think we are playing 30 songs and what I wanted to do was to put in some lesser known ones. Joy Division only had two hits – Love Will Tear Us Apart and Transmission. All the rest were album tracks. So what I did was pick the ones that were my favourites at the time. There were a few where Tim felt that he couldn’t add anything so they were dropped. Then Tim listened to the whole repertoire and picked some out that he thought that he could augment. So it was a combination of the two of us doing it. We then tuned them like Martin Hannett taught us to do so that each key was sympathetic to the next. We are having an intermission on this show too. Pottsy (David Potts, Hooky’s songwriting partner and bandmate in Monaco) and I have written a new track to celebrate and pay homage to Joy Division and it’s the first Monaco track that’s been written for 20 years. I was desperate to say thank you in the only way I know how really so Pottsy and I have done a wonderful track called Higher, Higher, Higher Love which is our thank you to Joy Division. So that was nice, to have some new music and that finishes the end of the first half. We’ve got some people singing as well so it’s not just me. So that’s a different aspect to it.

Do you think Ian Curtis would have approved of what you and Tim have done to the songs?

Ian’s greatest wish was that we took Joy Division’s music and played it to everybody we could. His idea and ambition for Joy Division was quite simple: let’s get our music out there because we are fantastic. Whenever you started to doubt, he was always the one who picked you up. And every time I play, whether it be in Grimsby or Rio De Janeiro, I always wink at Ian up there and think to myself, he would have loved it. I think he would be very proud of Tim Crooks actually. Tim has done a wonderful job for him and I expect to see the stars shine brighter when we play.

What about the other group members? Have you had any feedback as to what Bernard and Steve thinks of Joy Division Orchestrated? Does it matter to you how they may feel about the project?

Well, they are usually very vocal in their criticism of me in many ways so it wouldn’t surprise me (if they disapproved of the show). Sad to say that we have a tragic relationship today as we have had for the past 10, 12 years which breaks my heart every moment. But the thing is, they are doing what they are doing and I don’t criticise them. I think they have an absolute right to do whatever they want with Joy Division’s music so I think they should respect that. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not valid is it? I would love to have a better relationship but we don’t so it’s yet another Joy Division tragedy.

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