Peter Hook ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (Simon & Schuster)
Joy Division hold a very special place at the heart of post punk British culture.
They emerged out of punk with their melancholic bass driven songs of spectral darkness and beauty that have never been bettered.
They have been eulogised and written about and turned into something unrecognisable from their own selves. Their history is that of a band deeply etched in British culture as the artful bohemians whose singer committed suicide and left a small body of work that has been used as the template by generations of bands who wanted to go that bit further. Perceived as arty hipsters the band were certainly not that one dimensional with the Salford born and bred Peter Hook anything but and having spent decades trying to debunk the myth he has written this entertaining, anecdotal and glaringly honest account of his life in Joy Division.
It must be a strange position to be in. The music may have been sensitive and emotive but the band were anything but with the usual pranks and jolly japes that dot the careers of a bunch of lads on the road. In the middle of all this is the ghost of the enigmatic Ian Curtis who, whilst far from being the morose poet, still managed to mix goofy behaviour with an artful eye for rock n roll that influenced his new band mates after they formed in the wake of that legendary 1976 Free Trade Hall Sex Pistols gig.
As they fumbled through those early rehearsals, Curtis conducted his band mates and pushed them forwards- urging them to new heights to match his lyrics, turning them onto music they had never heard before with a driving artistic and career ambition that they didn’t have at the time.
It turns out that the driven and ambitious Ian Curtis was a bit of laugh as well and the band were as goofy as any bunch of youthful tearaways on the road. Somehow, though, this only serves to make their legend even stronger and even more magical as this bunch of part time yobs happen to come up with a ground breaking album of astonishing sensitivity once it has been produced into an other worldly glow by the late Martin Hannett- the producer being just one of the larger than life characters that ere very much part of the band’s story like Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, band manager Rob Gretton and the assorted gobshites and lunatics that ere running round manchester in the late seventies punk fallout.
Bit it’s the process and the wonderment of how the fuck they made this that is the heart of Peter Hook’s book, which acts as a sort of prequel to his frank and hilarious Hacienda tome from a couple of years ago. This time he delves back into his childhood, his unlikely four years in Jamaica when his parents moved there before returning to the Salford streets and meeting up with Barney and going to mid seventies rock gigs before seeing that Sex Pistols gig and forming the band and the how the band turned into the cult that accelerated after Ian’s suicide.
Hooky likes to make out that it’s all by chance and that he was just an oik with a bass guitar but there is far more to it than that. The book is very self effacing and likes to take the piss in the abrasive and honest style of the raconteur. There are some great stories and a real sense of the very different times of the post industrial north and the great sound track it created for itself in the post punk period.
A long and powerful book it doesn’t flinch from the grim stuff and is generous to his former band mates despite them all going to court soon to sort out the wrangles over the on going New Order situation.
Hooky is a perfect narrator, a born raconteur who can do the sad stuff, the angry stuff and the funny stuff that never detracts from his wonderment over what the band achieved in that two and half year career all those years ago. As a band book it’s great but it’s also a valuable document of a very different time.
If you are going to be historic you may as well tell your own history and this book is a great document of a very creative times and is by turns funny, heart breaking and grippingly well written.