Festival preview: Peter Hook and The Light at Willowman Festival

Peter Hook. Picture: Craig Barker
Peter Hook. Picture: Craig Barker
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Last month Peter Hook did something he had never done before. The bass player turned frontman performed all 49 songs by his former band Joy Division in one evening.

The concert – at Christ Church in Macclesfield – marked the 35th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s singer, and raised money for the Epilepsy Society and the Churches Conservation Trust.

Reflecting on the event, 59-year-old Hook says: “It was very nerve racking and very strange having to pace yourself because it was so long.

“Normally I can just go on and let rip but I had to be careful because I was singing so much. I know when I do a normal length set at the end of it my voice is going so I had to be very careful. But I must admit it was a fantastic compliment that the tickets were oversubscribed something like 5,000 times. It makes me wonder where they all are when I play the big venues in Manchester.”

It’s five years since Hook began playing Joy Division material with his own band, The Light, having been ousted from New Order. Hook says the past half-decade has been “a wonderful time” despite opposition from his former comrades, who include Bernard Sumner. “It was wonderful to celebrate it again at 35 [years], to say thank you to Ian and to do it all for charity. It gave me a good feeling inside.”

Hook had initially lined up three singers to front The Light – “I didn’t want to sing, I wanted to play bass,” he says – but all three quit because of uproar against the project. “In the end it was Rowetta [the Happy Mondays singer], very loyally, that said, ‘Listen, Hooky, you’re the only one that’s man enough to do this, so you’ll have to do it’. I was like, ‘Oh s***’. Ian’s shoes were very big shoes to fill and I must say it took me six months before I could even start to relax. Doing it, it was such a different thing. I’d not sang for so long since Monaco [his 90s side project], but I really enjoy it now.”

When Hook was in New Order, they only played Joy Division songs once. “It was sort of an unwritten, unspoken rule,” he says. “We only resurrected Joy Division to do [the charity concert] Versus Cancer in 2002 and when we were doing the set – nine, 10 songs – Barney [Bernard Sumner] really didn’t like it. I do understand, he wanted to sing the stuff that he’d written and it is a bit jollier, it’s poppier and obviously now feels closer to his heart, but the thing is when we were in New Order, before we split in 2007, it was OK to ignore Joy Division, it was only when we’d split and I was on the outside that I thought why do we never celebrate anything to do with Joy Division? That was bizarre.

“I was still earning a lot of money from its continued popularity, I can’t say that it was ignorable. Joy Division was getting bigger and bigger and its inspiration to groups was becoming more and more remarked. It felt quite odd. Now I’m free of that, really, and I don’t feel any guilt.”

Hook will play New Order songs alongside Joy Division material in his headline spot at Willowman festival in North Yorkshire. He says such occasions are no longer tinged with sadness that the original band line-up is not together.

“Really it’s just anger over the way I was treated and the way that they continue to act over what I consider to be, in my opinion, an illegal taking of the New Order name,” he says. “I don’t mind doing the songs – in many ways it made me feel a lot better because it was like getting the kids for the weekend after a nasty divorce.”

Peter Hook and The Light play at Willowman Festival at Knayton, near Thirsk on June 20. For full details of the festival bill, which runs from June 18-21, visit www.willowmanfestival.co.uk