‘Somehow, New Order became addicted to splitting up…‘ – Dave Donnelly talks Joy Division, New Order and Bono with Peter Hook It’s been four years since onetime Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook took the bold step of performing the former’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures, in full at Factory Manchester to mark the album’s 30th anniverasary– blasphemy in the eyes of many acolytes of the late Ian Curtis. The show and subsequent tour was such a success that he decided to repeat the trick with Closer, before moving onto the first and second New Order records, Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies, with the eventual goal of performing each of his co-creations in full.
The past few months have seen Hook and his supporting cast the Light touring Power, Corruption & Lies, but they will play a one-off set composed entirely of Joy Division material in Leopardstown on Thursday – the first such show in two years. Hook took time out of a trip away to France in between Power, Corruption & Lies dates to chat to Dave Donnelly about his ‘gimmick,’ the trouble with New Order and Bono’s continuing delusions of grandeur.
You’ve spent the past few years touring the two Joy Division albums – what made you decide to take on Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies? It struck me quite quickly, actually, the way the songs sounded so new because you’d comprehensively ignored them for so long. The way you went into Movement, and Power, Corruption & Lies, there was a load more songs that have been ignored for roughly the same length of time. It did strike me that it would be great to play every song you’ve ever written and recorded once before I go and join Ian in the grouping in the sky.
Were you hoping to cast the songs in a new light or was it the thrill of doing them again? It was the thrill of doing it again, but also that my gimmick – if you like – is that I’m very faithful to the recorded versions, which means on Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Movement, you’re using a lot of what Martin Hannett added to the group. Whether I like it or not, that was a very important part. The thing is that most people have heard most of these songs, including all of Movement, and a lot of Power, Corruption & Lies only on record. New Order, over the years, their version wasn’t as sharp – it was sort of ‘refined.’
Sometimes you ended up very far from your original versions, and people used to say they prefer the original versions, so my ‘gimmick’ is that them lot – now that they’ve reformed, without my knowledge or consent I might add – still do pretty much the same thing. They play it very safe and just play the hits, and ignore the old stuff, just like they did before we split up in 2006. My aim is to feature the old stuff because I feel it’s just as good as the new stuff. And it’s how you earned your following. If you look at Ireland in particular, New Order toured Ireland very early in 1982 and it enabled us to build a following again. I think it’s a great shame that people don’t get to hear those old songs.
Do you think, then, that New Order did the songs a bit of a disservice? They did them a disservice in that it was very difficult to persuade Bernard to do… anything, really! They’ve not changed the set much since they’ve come back in 2011 – in five years – and it’s the exact same set it was in 2006. It was always my frustration that I thought we were a bit boring and a bit repetitive – we had so much material to choose from, and it felt like a great shame. The thing is that apart from putting a gun to someone’s head, you can’t make them do something they don’t want to do. Being in a group is all about compromise, whether you like it or not, and if you think about it the fact that I’m free means I don’t have to compromise.
I was listening to Power, Corruption & Lies for the first time in years and it struck me that it’s impossible to date it – it could be from any time since it was made. It’s held up fantastically. The thing about doing Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies is that Movement is very much a bridge from Joy Division to New Order. The weird thing about Movement is that Martin Hannett hated our vocals – he really missed Ian – and he made no bones about telling us how shit we were compared to Ian. You ended up with a great musical album but very reticent vocals and I always thought that it played down the vocals and the lyrics too much. Now, at the ripe old age of 57, I can deliver it with a little more conviction, big it up and finish it off.
Martin did a fantastic job on the music, like he did with Joy Division, but he hated our vocals. It was a terrible way to work your way back from a terrible tragedy when the guy was just sat there going ‘you’re shit.’ Bernard and I made a conscious decision that if we were to carry on after Movement, we would have to move away from Martin – his drug addiction and his attitude were terrible. You’re right, Power, Corruption & Lies, when you put it on, sounds like a rebirth. It sounds like a New Order album with New Order vocals, whereas Movement sounds like a Joy Division musical album with New Order vocals, but very played-down. It’s nice to be able to fill the gap.
You’re on the record saying that when you recorded Unknown Pleasures with Martin, you were very naïve and you let him shape the sound to a large extent. I didn’t know anything about anything. I learned everything I know about music from Martin Hannett, to be honest with you. When I was a kid – as kids are wont to do – you never take notice of anybody, do you? You know best. Martin was a very good leader, and he did show us there are more subtleties in the world than we ever considered.
Is there a parallel there between the progression from Unknown Pleasures to Closer, where you had a better idea of what you wanted, and Movement to Power, Corruption & Lies? No. If anything, I’d say our most easy album was Unknown Pleasures, because we were all very confident and Ian was quite well – we were all happy and it was quite a strong rock album. What happened then was when Ian got iller, we got more melodic, whether that was by intent or was it just to look after him. His lyrics also become more soul-searching, more melodic, if you look at what we were going through personally, I think Closer reflects it quite well.
The thing was that Movement was a difficult album because of the transition, because of Ian’s suicide. By the time we got to Power, Corruption & Lies we were exploring the new technology which Bernard and Steven did with much verve, it starts to sound a lot more positive, a lot stronger and a lot more optimistic. It is an awful lot like the history of the group – you start off young and strong, you go through this weak period, not weak but melancholic, and then you have this tragedy which is Movement.
It chronicles the wonderful music of Joy Division with another aspect you’re trying to learn. It’s very much a journey. To play the four together, which I’m going to do in March at a charity concert in Salford, that will be interesting. You’ll be able to listen to the transition of all four albums, and I’m looking forward to that from a feel point of view. Each album is so different.
Would you consider the four albums as the arc of one story? I do. Considering Bernard, Stephen and I wrote nearly all the music from the start of Joy Division to the end of New Order, there is a narrative through the music. Gillian wasn’t very skilled and she added a little but not affecting the sound, and it is a chronicle of the three of us. By the time we got to Get Ready, Stephen had more or less stopped writing, and by the time we got to Waiting for the Siren’s Call he was coming back in a little, but it was still very much Bernard and I. It’s Bernard and I that have been very close in history. Stephen is a very valuable part of the sound.
One thing that really interests me is your own evolution as a musician and as a bass player. With Joy Division, you weren’t as fully-crafted musician as you would be later on, but with Bernard moving to synth did that really change the dynamic and the way you played? The thing about Joy Division is that we went from being very punky to making very well-crafted music that stands the test of time, quite quickly. The funny thing about working with Martin Hannett is that the music belied our age. People of 22-23, you’d have thought they were early thirties making that music. That’s why Ian and Bernard had that punk attitude that so jarred with Martin Hannett. We just wanted to rip his head off and sound like the Sex Pistols, but Martin realised we were making music that was far superior to be treated like that. We became very good musicians very quickly.
If you listen to a lot of Unknown Pleasures, and particularly Closer, we’re obviously great musicians who’ve become very good very quickly. When technology reared its ugly head, shall we say, Bernard and Stephen embraced it wholeheartedly – they thought it was the best thing since sliced bread – and it was always me who was the stick in the mud trying to drag it back to rock, saying ‘let’s put some guitar, let’s put some bass on it.’ They would have been very happy if it was more like Blue Monday. We did end up with that rock/dance style which, let’s face it, every group in the world uses now. They were prepared to go fully synth, but it was always me dragging it back to rock. It did cause a change. You could say we were a hybrid band.
The one thing that always grabbed me about Joy Division’s music was that your guitar parts were always quite melodic whereas Bernard’s parts were always quite dissonant and there was a real tension. What you’ve picked out there is that when Bernard picked up the synth, the music became a lot more melodic but there was still a real tension there? The thing is that everybody says is that drum machines were invented so that the singer doesn’t have to talk to the drummer, and bass sequencers were invented so the singer didn’t have to talk to the bass player, and there’s more than a word of jest in there. The thing is that being able to programme everyone’s instruments does cause friction, doesn’t it? We did go through a period where Steve had a nervous breakdown when Arthur Baker got there because Arthur Baker was programming the drums and wouldn’t let Stephen programme the drums. The dynamics changed all the time, but the interesting thing about New Order – especially when you look at Low-Life and Brotherhood – is they always have a strong rock element as well as the dance element. They have the hybrid element as well where the rock and the dance came together, on a song like Paradise or All Day Along. You were adding a lot of strings to your bow.
It did cause friction but groups are full of friction – they’re based on friction. Being in a group is all about compromise and it has to be, because if everybody gets their own way, you never achieve anything. Most groups are based on the chemistry between the players and the ability to compromise. When one takes charge, it stops compromise and that’s when groups split up. It’s quite established.
On the point of chemistry, did living and growing up in Manchester have an appreciable effect on the music you were playing? Definitely as Joy Division, yes. The darkness and bleakness that was the end of the Seventies definitely had an impact on Joy Division, without a shadow of a doubt, mainly subconsciously. Joy Division’s music fitted perfectly with the Manchester grime. New Order sort of stepped out of it – the Eighties were a lot more optimistic, and we became a lot more optimistic and a lot more worldly. Your music became international. It’s interesting with the Smiths because the Smiths were very rock standard, weren’t they? If you take out How Soon Is Now?, they never really went in for that dance side of their music. It was always rock. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but in the way New Order have two dimensions – rock and dance – the Smiths just did rock.
Was dance culture something that was in Joy Division or was it something you introduced later? We have an interest in dance music, but it wasn’t called dance music then. We were listening to Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Sparks, Suicide, people like that, but you didn’t call it ‘dance music’ in the way you call it nowadays. New Order made dance music – we started with Everything’s Gone Green and moved through Temptation and by time you got to Blue Monday you were one of the best dance bands in England. You did have a dance element that became very big in our music, whereas Johnny Marr came to it much later. He got into dance with the The and then he went into Electronic, which was more of a hybrid.
I read a story a couple of years back – maybe this is complete fiction – but after Ian died, Bono rang up Tony Wilson and told him U2 were going to pick up where you left off… He did say that. I didn’t believe it when I heard it – I thought it was an urban myth. I was sat with Tony one night and were talking about Control and 24-Hour Party People and Tony told me that story again. Rob Gretton always used to say to us that if we’d concentrated more on New Order and not on our solo projects, his wonderful words were, we’d ‘be bigger than them Irish bastards!’ Somehow, New Order became addicted to splitting up and we were always much more passionate and enthusiastic about our solo projects, but when we came together as New Order we always completely eclipsed our solo projects. That was the odd thing about it – me and Bernard are better musicians together than we are apart.
Does that make you sad now that things have broken down? It does. The fact that it broke down anyway makes me sad, and the fact it became so bitter makes it even sadder, but you do get to the point where – and we split up in 2006 – where our ambitions for the music I felt were too far apart. I felt New Order was finished. And when one of us was going to go, then it was over and the group would split. Bernard and Stephen were happy to split, more than happy. Bernard was happy to go off and do Bad Lieutenant and I do think if Bad Lieutenant had been a success, New Order wouldn’t have come back.
With regard to yourself, are you just kind of winging it with these albums or is there a definite plan to keep going with this stuff? My plan is to go right the way through every record I’ve ever written and recorded, which includes Revenge and Monaco. We’re doing Low-Life and Brotherhood next September and then after that it will be Monaco, a bit of Revenge and Technique. I’d also like to play Substance as well because I think it’s a fantastic collection of songs. I’ve got the freedom to do that because I’ve got the concept, so it’s going to be interesting.
I’ve really enjoyed getting these songs out, and when I see people from the stage singing along, even to a song like Ecstasy or digging the intro to 586 –all those songs we’ve hardly played over the years – to see their faces when we play those songs is magical. It’s a weird thing to do – to play all the songs chronologically is a strange thing to do, but I’m going to see it right through to the end. I think it will be a wonderful thing to write on your headstone.
Peter Hook and The Light play Bulmer’s Live At Leopardstown onThursday July 10th.