Together for just three years and releasing two albums, Joy Division left an indelible mark on pop music. But for bassist Peter Hook they were, and still are, “just four tossers from Macclesfield in Salford”.
Peter will be in Australia celebrating the legacy he created with bandmates Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and the late Ian Curtis with his new production Joy Division: Orchestrated.
“The only thing I can say is that you've got nothing to worry about,” Peter reassures fans of the show, which presents new arrangements of the Joy Division catalogue performed with The Metropolitan Orchestra.
“What we've done is taken the important aspects and enhanced them, and the Orchestra gives it much more of a performance. It's quite moving; it's moving for me with the expectation, but it is a celebration.”
Joy Division: Orchestrated will have its debut in July at London's Royal Albert Hall before travelling to Australia for its first shows anywhere in the world outside of England.
“The funny thing is, when I began playing again in 2010, we were again very lucky to get to Australia really quickly; I think we played our seventh gig in Melbourne and it was a great welcome,” Peter says.
“It also sort of confirmed, in a funny way, that after leaving it for 30 years we were right to do it because people wanted to hear the music and I wanted to play it, so really it was a perfect combination.”
The timeless music of Joy Division has been paired diligently with classical elements under the direction of arranger Tim Crooks.
“What Tim and I did was sit down and discussed possibilities of doing the show in a way that celebrates the group, because the thing I've found amazing is that four people playing it people react well to; forty four, they almost react forty four times better,” Peter laughs.
After Joy Division's demise, Peter went on to form New Order with Bernard and Stephen, adding Gillian Gilbert on keyboards. Integrating the post-punk of Joy Division with electronic and dance music, the group became one of the most influential of their time.
Peter jokes that Joy Division: Orchestrated is his penance for impersonating orchestras for over four decades. “I must admit I've spent 43 years ripping off orchestras,” he laughs.
“If you look at New Order's work in particular, we use a lot of orchestral sounds and basically it's a cheap orchestra – a synthesiser and a sampler gives you an orchestra for nothing, so I suppose this is a way of the orchestras getting their own back for us stealing all of their sounds for all that time.
“Especially when I looked at 'Power, Corruption & Lies' [album, 1983], it was amazing the way that we used a lot of classic orchestral sounds with synthesised sounds to make that LP sound as unique as it did.
"So I suppose in a way, I'm paying my dues by employing all these extra musicians to do it. But the effect that it has on people watching and also the effect it has on the sound, to me is much more evocative than when you use synthesisers.”
Joy Division are perhaps best known for their hit single 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'; while love never tore them apart, the death of frontman and lyricist Ian Curtis in 1980 certainly did. As well as a strained relationship with his wife Deborah at the time, Ian suffered from epilepsy, a condition that would not be diagnosed officially until 1979 and that left him vulnerable to seizures mid-performance.
On 18 May 1980, on the eve of their first American tour, Deborah returned to their Macclesfield home to find Ian dead, having hanged himself in the kitchen.
Nearly 40 years later and Ian's contributions to songwriting, however brief, remain a significant part of the pop music zeitgeist. For Peter, there's no better way to honour Ian's memory and what Joy Division achieved together than to keep playing their music. That, for Peter, will be the defining legacy of the group.
“Man, I'm only a part of Joy Division so I just think that the show is a celebration of the music and a celebration of how special Ian Curtis was, and what a wonderful wordsmith,” he says.
“I do feel part of Joy Division, but I'm certainly not Joy Division. It's really important to carry on celebrating the music – it's great and it still sounds great today. Doing the classical treatments I'm going 'my god, this sounds better'; it's haunting and it has a melancholy.
"It's gone to a higher place now, Joy Division; we only existed for three years and we were only professional for six months, so it's amazing to have had that effect and I'm humbled by it.”
Joy Division: Orchestrated 2019 Tour Dates
Fri 2 Aug - Sydney Opera House Sat 3 Aug - AEC Theatre (Adelaide) Tue 6 Aug - Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre Fri 9 Aug - Perth Concert Hall Sun 11 Aug - Plenary Theatre (Melbourne)