Former New Order bassist Peter Hook talks exclusively to the Yorkshire Evening Post about why his Manchester 'supergroup' is splitting just a week before the release of its first album
FOR a man whose band has suddenly imploded in the most acrimonious circumstances, Peter Hook sounds remarkably calm and good-humoured.
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He is at the airport, en route to the Isle of Man to DJ with the Happy Mondays. Our interview was supposed to centre on the new album by Freebass, the former New Order bass player's supergroup, which is due to be released in a week's time. But it seems events had overtaken us.
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That day, the band, which features Hook, ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke and former Stone Roses man Gary 'Mani' Mounfield, announced it was splitting up, having become "entirely unviable" after a series of vitriolic attacks by Mounfield on 54-year-old Hook on the website Twitter.
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Mounfield accused Hook of being "a self centred sellout" exploiting the memory of the late Ian Curtis, his former bandmate in Joy Division.
Mounfield tweeted: "3 things visible from space, Great Wall of China, Peter Hook's wallet stuffed with Ian Curtis' blood money, Man City's empty trophy cabinet!"
He dismissed It's a Beautiful Life, the Freebass record, that he, Hook and ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke had spent the past five years working on, saying: "It's where it belongs, mate... In the f****** bargain bin before it's even released". The 47-year-old added that he was rejoining "real players" in Primal Scream.
Hook, normally renowned for his plain-speaking, seems genuinely baffled by the outbursts. "I don't know what's brought it on unless someone's kidnapped his phone and is playing a cruel gag," he says.
In the absence of any contact with Mounfield, his hunch is that "the problem" stems from the flurry of offers he'd received to repeat his recent live performance of the Joy Division album Unknown Pleasures. He admits he had taken the revived interest in the Salford post-punk group as "a great compliment". "It's like that wonderful moment when you go in your wardrobe and find the suit that you got married in 20 years ago and it still fits – that's what rediscovering Joy Division's music was like."
He contests that Mounfield is essentially doing the same thing by re-joining Primal Scream, who are reviving a record of their own from 1991. "It's interesting to get this criticism from Mani when he's doing Screamadelica himself."
And Hook expresses frustration that, after all this time and energy, Freebass is, it would seem, no more. Perhaps the warning signs had been there when Rourke, who now lives New York, declined to join the band's tour in June.
"I was happy we got to play live. I was very unhappy we never had Rourkie there to finish it off," Hook reveals.
"It's tough in music these days," he reflects. "The toughest thing was beginning a group. Even though I've been in Joy Division and New Order it's still a big deal and a big project. In many ways I just was not up to doing it again. Maybe Mani has reacted to that."
It's a Beautiful Life certainly had a difficult and prolonged gestation. The project began in 2005. "Me and Alex James (the Blur bassist] came up with the idea of doing a band of bass players because they were the only ones in a band that wanted to play," Hook explains.
"Maybe it's like that old clich of all lead singers being t***s, I'm not sure.
"Mani brought Rourkie along – they were very close at the time – and we did some initial jamming which I chopped up and moved around on the computer.
"The most difficult thing was finding a vocalist," he says. "Finding someone to sing took two years. When we found Gary (Briggs, of Manchester group Haven] the whole thing came together quite quickly."
In the interim there had been speculation that Robbie Williams might stand in on vocals. "That c**p...was more of a hindrance than a help," says Hook.
Despite Mounfield's criticisms, he remains "very proud" of the finished album. "The music we created as Freebass did echo all the bands we'd been in before – Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses. It also had a dub tinge and bit of Northern Soul. It's an interesting span."
Perhaps, after all, he's better off being an in-demand DJ. "Ironically", he says, it was Mounfield who introduced him to the 'celebrity DJ' circuit. "I'll tell you one thing," he quips, "sometimes it's more fun than being in a band."
Having once "held DJs in a similar kind of respect to cockroaches", he has now overcome that. Playing other people's records is the "second best" thing to "people appreciating something you have created".
"I'm my own worst enemy," he says. "Once I start something I always finish it off." Once he's made DJ-ing look as effortless as the best professionals, he will "probably move on to something else."
Hook is also working on a new book, the follow-up to his 2009 memoir The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club. Writing that tome had, he says, had made him realise that he was equally at fault for the Manchester superclub's 6m losses. "I flitted through my life thinking it was Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton to blame for all the lost money. As soon as I started writing the book I realised it was as much my fault as theirs. It was important for me to learn."
His new book, due out at the end of next year, will be about Joy Division. "I've read so many books about Joy Division from nobody who was close to Joy Division," he says. "After reading Mick Middles' latest effort I thought it's time one of us told the story."
In his heart of hearts, he confesses, he would also like to see New Order re-form. "I'm just such a fan. In the back of my mind I wish it would happen." He's conscious, however, that relations with singer Bernard Sumner have soured. "It's like a relationship," he says. "Once the sex is gone then you are out of there.
"Maybe that's what went wrong with Mani," he adds. He's "not really had time to think" about the future of Freebass. "It's an unfortunate bit of timing," he says of Mounfield's comments, though you sense he's not unused to trouble in the ranks. "When you have people like Mani and Rourkie (in a band] you are going to have a volatile mix. It's like siphoning petrol – sometimes it can blow up in your face."
The bottom line, he adds, is "we made a great record – it's something to be proud of, whatever happens".
It's a Beautiful Life is out on September 20.