It’s needless to say that Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook has been doing what he does for a long time now. Ever since watching the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1976, he’s lurched from one tumultuous musical project to the next. The one thing that’s been consistent throughout all of them – whether it be the short-lived post-punk gloom of Joy Division, the hedonistic electronica of New Order, or the Britpop side project Monaco, Hook’s infectious charisma has always shone through in his bass playing.
This year, the 1987 Substance compilation albums, pair of records designed to document and celebrate the overwhelming quality of output that Joy Division and New Order experienced over the years, turn 35 years old. Hook, however, claims they were only made so the late Factory Records head Tony Wilson could listen to New Order’s singles on his drive to work. Whatever the reason for their existence, the two compilations are dazzling introductions to two of Manchester’s most beloved bands. Hook, alongside his trusty backing band The Light, performs the compilations in full: almost three hours of cutting-edge alternative music, played live with Hook’s iconic bass sound turned right up in the mix. It’s worth every penny.
Hook opens his show with a little warm-up: a handful of New Order B-sides to get the crowd on their feet. New Order, along with The Smiths and Suede, are one of few bands whose B-sides are just as rewarding as their singles. Hook makes sure that this doesn’t go unnoticed. The strains of ‘Lonesome Tonight’ stretch out across Liverpool’s Olympia with jubilant melancholy – an emotional contrast that only New Order’s strange mix of personal tragedy and pharmaceutical ventures could culminate in. Hook’s bass rings out like a tolling bell, supported by washes of frosty synthesisers. ‘Mesh’ is also played, a menacing, icy track that toes the line between Joy Division’s industrial angst and New Order’s dance-floor catharsis.
Then, it’s time for New Order’s Substance to be played in full. It’s an era-defining record, New Order’s best-selling release, and there’s palpable excitement for it to be heard live in Liverpool’s Olympia. The Light doesn’t disappoint – from the gut-wrenching refrains of ‘Ceremony’ to the drug-fuelled hypnosis of ‘True Faith’, the record has never sounded as good as it does when played live by Hook and co. The bass lines, every bit as yearning as the vocal lines, sparkle with searing clarity, such as in the 10-minute version of ‘The Perfect Kiss’, or the extended outro of floor-filler ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’.
Synth-bass sputters underneath, with various elements of percussion and guitar moving in and out of the mix. Whilst Hook’s voice isn’t best-suited for Bernard Sumner’s plaintive melodies, he and guitarist David ‘Pottsy’ Potts find a way of making it work, Hook growling the low-end, and Potts taking the high-end (as they do on Monaco’s 90s hit ‘What Do You Want From Me?). Regardless, it’s easy to ignore Hook’s struggle at singing New Order material when he displays such affection for the material in his bass-playing. The loving looks he gives his son Jack Bates on the (second) bass guitar says it all. Jack tears into the longing bass solo on ‘True Faith’, and it’d be a struggle to find a prouder father than Hook when he does it. Substance played live by Peter Hook & The Light is an effervescent experience: the chronicling of New Order’s beguiling evolution taking place right in front of your eyes.
Next up: Joy Division’s Substance. This is undoubtedly Hook’s true calling. Wielding his bass guitar like an axe, he commands the stage during the punk-rock numbers of early Joy Division (at the time Warsaw). ‘No Love Lost’ fizzes with cultural influence, every bit inspired by Ian Curtis’ love of post-war literature as it is Bowie’s experimental Kraut-rock (‘V2-Schneider’). ‘Leaders Of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ prompt angsty moshing, a world away from the disco-diva synthesisers of New Order hits ‘Thieves Like Us’ or ‘Sub-Culture’. This is Hook’s element: angst, aggression, and growling vocals every bit as ominous as the post-punk instrumentation.
The set progresses into mature material, with Joy Division favourites such as ‘She’s Lost Control’ or ‘Digital’ being greeted with drunken cheers and the bobbing of heads. Instrumental ‘Incubation’ holds its own amongst the mix – an often overlooked gem of musical interplay at its most conversational (finding another life in Wolf Alice’s ‘Giant Peach’). The set continues to build, culminating in a rendition of ‘Atmosphere’ dedicated to the late Ian Curtis, the whole venue swaying along to the words of the tortured poet (“Walk, in silence / Don’t walk away, in silence”). It’s a glittery swell of emotion, and one that leads well into the final cheering of the transcendent refrain, “love…love will tear us apart, again.”
It’s clear that Hook relishes playing Joy Division’s music, proudly championing the band that died along with his bandmate. Now split from New Order, he can finally pay homage. The band and the audience are united in remembering Ian Curtis, and the wonderful, forward-thinking music that he left behind.
Olympia’s crowd spills into the streets of Liverpool after the gig, still singing Curtis’ words. This is the effect of The Light’s live show. Joy Division’s legacy lives on more potently than ever.