Clocking in at over 700 pages, former New Order bassist Peter Hook has much to say in his new book Substance, which catalogues, in fan-delighting minutiae, his tumultuous tenure in Britain’s foremost indie four-piece. Intra-group wrangling, love trysts, moodiness, shocking amounts of white powder and hangovers from hell defined the band’s existence. Throw in some jet lag, tax issues and ownership of a loss-making nightclub and you have a story that’s more epic than any film could ever capture (although Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People from 2002 gave it a good try.)
Amid the mayhem, New Order released a series of albums that led the way. As a group, they were never afraid to operate on technology’s edge, presenting us with such groundbreaking moments as “Blue Monday”, “Temptation” and “True Faith”. Delve further than the singles collections and you’ll discover New Order’s real strength, where electronic experimentation, rock posturing and strained vocals – in a really good way – run riot.
Hook and New Order parted company in 2006, a watershed time for the bassist who kicked drink and drugs and began projects including a new band (Peter Hook & The Light), DJing (former Haçienda stalwart Mike Pickering was his tutor) and, most notably of late, Haçienda Classiçal, a somewhat crazy notion that merges nightclub dance music from the Eighties and early Nineties with an orchestra. Shows sold out nationwide.
British Ideas Corporation hooks up with Hooky in London’s five-star Courthouse Hotel. Over a mineral water, and seated in one of the Courthouse bar’s original cells (this was, indeed, a former magistrate’s court), Hooky reveals a few recurring themes from a long and distinguished career. But first:
BIC: Have you ever been in a real cell?
Peter Hook: “I was once arrested for a £1m marijuana importation conspiracy. I wasn’t guilty. It’s in the book.”
The best practical joke would have to be Joy Division’s overreaction to the time Buzzcocks put some talc on [Joy Division drummer] Steve’s snare drum. Their joke was that when Steve hit the drum, a small white cloud would appear. Our revenge involved 24 mice, four-dozen eggs, itching powder, maggots and shaving foam. We released the maggots onstage while Buzzcocks were playing; the mice were pushed through the windows of their tour bus. A complete Manchester overreaction.
Big nights out
As corny as it sounds, that first ecstasy experience was the best night out I ever had. New Order were in Ibiza recording Technique in 1988. It culminated in me watching a submarine rise in Ibiza Town harbour, from the periscope popping up out of the water to the full fricking submarine appearing. It then docked and the sailors lined up and marched past me. And I was off my f***ing noodle, sitting on a bench at 8am. It was unbelievable. And then this guy we had with us, a friend of ours who used to run a London nightclub, he ended up shagging one of them, ha-ha-ha! I think the submarine was German. It was wild.
For entertainment value, it has to be the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin. This is where Michael Jackson dangled his son over the balcony. I went there recently. The bar is full of the strangest people; classic Berliners. It’s a beautiful place.
It has to be said, you’re forever chasing that first high and you never repeat it. It really is downhill. The thing that frightened me, actually, about doing the book, was how stupid we were to champion drug use. That was really naive. It was really dumb. Since then, I’ve watched so many people lose so much, even their lives. In many ways, we were lucky cos we managed to get away with something that was so daft. Our manager, Rob Gretton, was on ten grams of coke a day at one point. Like any addiction, his was gradual. The behaviour went from being quite normal, shall we say, to extreme and because it was so gradual you didn’t notice. If somebody new had come along, they’d have said, “This is insane, stop it immediately.”
For a time, I had an Audi 200 Turbo Quattro, which is a four-door. It was a precursor to the Audi Quattro, the first incarnation of that body shape; a 1.8, just to bore the arse off you. The next year, they brought out the 1.9, the year after that it went to 2.3 and then you had the Quattro. The reason we bought the Audi was because Rob liked getting from A to B quickly and he said, “Go and get me the fastest f***ing car they make.” I went out and got it but it was quickly superseded by the Citroen CX 25, which burnt me off once in Europe. That had a top speed of 145mph, the Audi Turbo Quattro was 140mph. Now, 140mph is not a lot today. You get a lot of cars that will do 180mph. The best car I’ve ever owned was a Jaguar 420G, which is the one the Kray Twins had. It had the largest internal area of any car in the world. The trouble was, we weren’t on much money then and I couldn’t afford to run it.
I once smashed the dressing room up when everything was getting on top of me. The thing about being in a group is that nobody cared what you did and you could do anything. The more outlandish and horrible, the more it was, “It’s OK, he’s in the group!” We got away with f***ing murder. When Billy Corgan was touring with New Order , he had a massive strop one time in Japan. My mate was working for him and had gotten him the wrong socks. They weren’t cotton-rich enough. But you see, the thing is, he was sober. What happens is, you focus too much on things like that. I remember John Lydon having a massive strop on tour with us in 1989 cos he wanted a small bottle of Evian instead of a large bottle. He said they tasted different. He wouldn’t go onstage until he’d got the small one. I just thought that was f***ing hilarious.
Achievement post-New Order
I’m very proud of Haçienda Classiçal. It’s been one of the most challenging journeys I’ve ever made, what with the live shows and recording the album. To me, it’s about keeping the madness going, keeping it nutty, scaring the orchestra and having a great time. When I see the audience going absolutely bonkers, gurning their tits off, I’m thinking, “Yes!” The interesting thing I’ve found is the clash of cultures. Orchestras are used to having everything written down but as rock musicians we’re used to doing whatever we bleeding want. What’s been nice about Haçienda Classiçal is putting an orchestra and dance music together and seeing it work – it’s the clash. Tony Wilson [the late Factory Records and Haçienda co-owner] and Rob Gretton would be very happy about this because we’ve challenged ourselves, we’ve done something unique, we’ve learnt a lot and we’ve not made a f***ing penny.
A Channel 4 documentary, Haçienda House Orchestra, will be broadcast on Thursday/Friday 20/21 October at 12.05am.
Peter Hook’s Substance (Simon & Schuster) is out now.