A last minute decision that pays off.
I nearly didnt’ go to see Peter Hook And The light playing Substance : Joy Division & New Order, at the Glasgow Barrowlands on Thursday night, but I did and I’ll be telling anyone who will listen that I was there.
I first became a New Order fan in 1984 when I bought a 12″ single from a friend at school who didn’t like the sound. The black vinyl disc was housed in a 12″ version of a floppy disc cover. The A-side is labelled Blue Monday, whilst the B-side is labelled The Beach although the tracks are reversed. History will record that it was a financial disaster for Factory Records, the cover costing more than the selling price of the single, but FAC 73 is now a thing of legend in the world of modern electronic dance music. It opened the door to many bands who might not have followed the path into our pop culture and opened the minds of a whole generation to the possibilities of a new wave of youth culture.
On the 4th June 1976, a poorly attended show at the Manchester free Trade Hall is widely claimed to be the trigger that lead to the formation of Joy Division and subsequently, New Order. In a hall of 30-ish curious music fans who had come along to see what all the hype surrounding the Sex Pistols was about, 3 key individuals were present. Tony Wilson, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. That same year Joy Division were formed and the rest, as they say, is history.
Except it’s not.
An incarnation of New Order, minus Peter Hook and with a couple of new faces, continues to record and tour. Increasingly moving away from the ‘post punk’ sound of Joy Division which in all honesty was left behind long ago, towards electronica and dance. At T In The Park in 2012, I made a point of going along to see New Order playing King Tuts Wah Wah Hut stage, where it was rumored that they would be playing Joy Division covers. They didn’t fail to deliver with a cover of Isolation in the middle of the set and then finishing off with Love Will tear Us Apart. I wasn’t disappointed and I sung along with both renditions, but I distinctly remember turning to my brother and pointing out that these had both sounded like New Order doing covers of Joy Division. Not bad covers but not authentic.
Meanwhile, in parallel, Peter (Hooky) Hook has formed a band of his own called Peter Hook And The Light and over the past few years they have been playing to sell out audiences performing a mix of Joy Division and New Order albums live. Thursday 15th September 2016 saw them playing Substance at The Glasgow Barrowlands and this is my review.
A quiet little affair: Aye right.
It’s a balmy night in Glasgow. Not something you often hear, but the Indian summer has continued into mid September. At 7 o’clock I had contacted a friend who was going to see “Hooky” at the Barras and asked him to get me a ticket. I wasn’t doing anything else so why not go. I had watched, from a distance, the acrimonious break up of the band that was, New Order. I had listened and read with a sadness as 2 of the founding members failed to find any common ground. Felt in my heart that, with the end of the band, I had witnessed the end of an era. So as I stood outside in my t-shirt, the streets empty of any buzz and listened to Stevie say that he didn’t expect it to be too busy inside as it was freshers week, I wasn’t expecting a trigger point event, resulting in a shift in the musical landscape, but I was hoping for a decent show. So, when I entered the famous Barrowland Ballroom to be confronted by the buzz of excitement from a packed dance-floor, as the band played the opening bars to In a Lonely Place, I felt a rush of excitement not felt by this old man for a long time. We made our way to the far side of the hall to take up a position to the left of the stage where we stood and watched a masterclass in how to play to an audience who have a preconceived idea of how the songs you are playing should sound. The answer of course, is to play them the way they should be. The way you wanted them played. The way you wrote them to be played. That of course only works if you are Peter Hook.
At times throughout the opening few songs, the barrel chested sexagenarian looked to be struggling, taking extended breaks from playing, puffing out his cheeks and looking wide eyed out into the throng of heads, whilst letting The Light take up the reigns, only to make his way to the front right or left of the stage to drop in with a bass riff that yelled, “don’t worry about me, just marvel at this”. By the time they had executed a back to back rendition of my own two favourite New Order tunes, Temptation and Blue Monday, I turned to Dougie and uttered the words, “I can just go home now”. All around me there was a mix of middle aged and older faces. All moving to the bass hooks and the electronic beats of Confusion, whilst from my vantage point I spotted Jonathan, a friend from work, center front of the stage and I decided to make my way into the same area. What a decision that was. By the time I got there, Thieves Like Us was being played and I was standing staring into the eyes of our main protagonist, pointing at the audience with an accusing finger, whilst nodding in a knowing way as is if to say, “you know I’m right” and singing the words ;
I’ve watched your face for a long time
It’s always the same
I’ve studied the cracks and the wrinkles
You were always so vain
At the end of Shellshock, Jonathan turned to me and said “It’s been pretty authentic so far.”, I looked at him and said, “You can’t get more authentic than the original.” and that’s what we are getting, the original sound of a founding member of Joy Division and New Order. Vocally, the sound is different as Barney’s fresh clear voice is replaced with a more gruff growl which sometimes fades to an inaudible whisper. On these occasions though, Hooky signals for more volume on the mic and his words are propelled into the cavernous hall. No hiding place available or sought.
State Of The Nation, Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith lead us, singing full-heartedly to the last song of the first set. 1963 may or may not have been about the failed assassination of JFK’s wife, Jackie, or as is more likely it may portray a time in American/World history when everything was changing, but either way, Hooky’s delivery of the lyrics is powerful and all the more authentic for his added edge. And in that one song I think we hear the single difference that this tour and these performances bring to us the listeners. New Order have moved steadily towards an electronic sound under the stewardship of Barney, whilst tackling subject matter that deserves a more forceful sound. In this first hour and a half, it’s as if we have been hearing 16 New Order covers done by Joy Division and it’s been great.
The band leave the stage for a 10 minute break. A laptop is removed and the guitar techs perform their magic whilst a soundtrack is played which is, as I understand it, a tribute to Tony Wilson. Then, as if fresh from a good night’s sleep, they return for the second half of the show. Only the sweat soaked t-shirt on Hooky’s back belies the fresh look.
One set down, one to go.
The band take up their positions alongside their leader and in the case of one, their father. He in turn picks up his bass guitar, swings the guitar strap over his shoulder, approaches the front of the stage and launches into No Love Lost, a dark and frantic journey through the mind of a female individual who is subject to medical experimentation and sexual abuse in the Nazi camps of the second world war. It comes from a different time. Punk is in the process of imploding and Ian Curtis has a story to tell. The delivery has been turned up a notch and all around me, the middle aged audience and the singalong atmosphere have been replaced by a younger contingent who want to throw themselves into the music, Literally. I hang around for Novelty, but by the time From Safety To Where…? comes on I decide that although in my heart I want to stay, my knees are not up to a moshpit these days and so I retreat to the side of the hall again to watch as a maelstrom of hands and hair surges forward and back to the beat of the bass and drums. By this time Hooky has found a whole new energy and he is spitting lyrics out into the crowd with the fervor of a much younger man. In return, the crowd are responding in kind and the atmosphere is electric.
At mid (2nd) set, Autosuggestion leads into Transmission and we are as close to time travel as any of us will experience. Ian Curtis might not be on the stage and other key players are also missing but this must be pretty close to the scenes and sounds of that Joy Division era. She’s Lost Control is immense and following it in a rare moment of unguardedness, Peter Hook dedicates a song to “Alan Wise, a Manchester impresario”, another victim of 2016’s cull of the famous and influential within the music business.
In a frenzy we move on through Incubation, Dead Souls and Atmosphere before we head towards the end of tonight’s show. “we’ve got one more song and after this you can all f**k off home Glasgow”, at which point we are given Love Will Tear Us Apart as a parting gift.
As the music fades out and with the white lights lighting up the band, Hooky steps towards the front of the stage, pulls his t-shirt over his head revealing a few tattoos before launching it over a lighting rig hanging from the ceiling, into the eager hands below.
At two and a half hours of playing time, Peter Hook has shown those gathered here tonight what being in a band means. With a history like Joy Division and New Order to look back on and a significant back catalog of classic material to choose from, it might have been a case of taking to the stage and performing the hits, but Peter (Hooky) Hook And The Light have gone one step further. Tonight they have made these tracks their own. They didn’t cover them, they played them. They performed for their audience and in return, their audience have as one given it their all.
We can only hope that there might just have been a budding cultural icon or two in the faces looking towards the stage. There’s your inspiration. What are you going to do about it?