Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Peter Hook: An Evening of Unknown Pleasures @ Wakefield Theatre

'Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, they always used to say to me, you've got to give something back.... i didn’t think at the time, they meant give everything back...' Peter Hook, sat in a cream leather chair on the stage of Wakefield Theatre describes the civic pride he feels towards Manchester, and how that sculptured the rise of The Hacienda. But he's only half addressing the audience; by his side in a matching leather chair (in a setup that somewhat recalls an Alan Partridge chat show) is legendary drug smuggling author, Howard Marks, tonight’s compere and, you cant help but feel, moral support. I’ve only ever seen photos of Marks, and I’m surprised to find he has turned into his own uncle; a greyer, sweeter, bushier eyebrowed version of what I had expected. His style is sublime, a full on counter culture Parkinson, delivering his questions in soft Welsh tones and giving the impression that he is slyly drawing little gems from Hooky, despite the fact they clearly do this every night. It feels natural and relatively spontaneous, especially as Hooky approaches the apparent criticism he’s received for living off his past. He describes 'a future out of talking about the past' (possibly a Tony Wilson quote, many stories start with 'Tony Wilson once said to me...') and reasons with us that 'when you go for a job, you don’t pretend you've never done anything, you don’t wipe yr CV clean'. 'Well', says Marks 'I usually do...'

Before the two tread the boards, the stage itself is opened to the public. It is filled with all manner of paraphernalia; an Ebay sellers Aladdin’s cave. There's Hooky first ever bass, Ians guitar from the 'Love will tear us apart' video, Factory posters and Hacienda conceptual prints; even the Umbro England shirt a sweaty Peter Beardsley gave him at the 'World in Motion' video shoot. But perhaps most interesting of all, tucked away at the back of the stage are two glass cabinets containing the real treasures; the boyhood memories. A hand written receipt for 'one transit van to Peter Hook - £137.50', cassettes with 'The Damned' scribbled out and 'Warsaw' written in its place and various Joy Division tour plans and lyric sheets.

Appropriately, the poor sound quality at Wakefield Theatre accurately recreates the hiss you would encounter when listening to said cassette tapes. Its almost unlistenable, and amusingly the projections that open the show, a 5/10 minute film collage of live footage and a Zane Lowe interview, are projected backwards. Peter is welcomed to the stage by Howard, and then proceeds to play 'the cheapest and then the most expensive tracks' New Order ever recorded on his bass to a backing track. I dunno, perhaps to a non musician this would be a wondrous site, but for me it kinda reeked of a man 'jammin' in a guitar shop. There's no doubting the mans genius. Perhaps that’s why it was a little sad to see him performing in this manner, alone on a theatre stage, without his band.

Inevitably it is an evening that dwells on the past, but after a slightly shaky start, things settle down. Hooky reveals himself to be an open and cheerful recounter of short sharp anecdotes, albeit relaying them to Marks and not the audience. He's clearly honed them through the writing of his recent book 'The Hacienda: How not to run a club' and this is essentially a retelling of that. Initially it almost feels as if yr snooping on someone else’s private conversation, so little does Hooky acknowledge the audience, which adds to the intrigue. But Marks' witty and homely asides draw us in, and by the second half Hooky is happily fielding questions from the audience, which means we don’t get the tale told in filmic chronological order. We dart from the tragic to the absurd and usually back again.

But there is something special about hearing the names of Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson et al echo around the theatre. Stories of seeing the Sex Pistols at The Free Trade Hall - legendary gigs we all know about, yes - yet there's something about this much older man recounting these days of his youth that strikes me - its like World War I veterans talking about the trenches; one day there wont be anyone left. Curtis / Wilson / Hannett have all left us far too early. And for that reason, it seems essential that those times are documented, and spoken word is definitely the most effective way of expressing the excitement of the times. Its fascinating to hear of his meetings with the whole cast of characters: Johnny Rotten, embodying punk, spitting and swearing 24/7, even when there's just two of them in the room; Mark E Smith been a general awkward bastard winding up ex wife Caroline Aherne, even Paul Gascoigne excitedly supping from two bottles of champagne then trying to rap during World in Motion. (He also recounts how, at every World Cup they are asked to rerecord WIM. The only time they agreed was in 2006 when Beckham was lined up to do 'the rap', purely for the hilarity of hearing him tackle it. Sadly the FA vetoed it, in favour of a much more artistically credible alternative: Ant & Dec).

He talks with pride of how prolific Joy Division were, and recounts Ian introducing the band to Kraftwerk, pondering the inevitable question of how Blue Monday would have sounded with Ian singing. Hooky has been sober for 5 years, the once legendary rock and roll nuisance now much calmed, and appropriately its a sober retelling of the tale. He's not emotional, approaches subjects with good humour. He gets on his soapbox slightly, rallying against illegal downloads. An error on the site for his new Freebass album resulted in punters paying for the album... then receiving nothing. 'Well, see how that feels!' was his sensitive response. He also describes how been in a band was 'easy' in the 80's and 90's, with labels wrapping you in cotton wool and doing all the work for you. He has sympathy for new bands now, as, the way he sees it, the bands have to do all the work, get all the gigs, do all the promotion themselves. Which may well be tainted by his admission that him and Bernarnd Sumner have had trouble getting signed for their respective Freebass and Bad Leitenant projects. This does go against his earlier praising of Ians strength in pushing the band to get the gigs, do the promotions etc etc in the early days of Joy Division. I would have liked to have heard more about the very beginning of Joy Division, of the cultural landscape at the time. We can read on Wikipedia what Joy Division did and when, but i wanted Hookys impression of the times, the famous Manchester backdrop in which the story is set.

Bravely, the second half of the show was opened up to the floor. Things started pleasantly enough; for the record he didn’t really rate Ralf Little's interpretation of him in 24 Hour Party People, his favourite JD song is 'Atmosphere' and he wears his bass low 'coz it looks cool'. Talk moves to his new club FAC 251 in Manchester. He speaks passionately of providing somewhere for unsigned bands to play for free, as opposed to the rise of 'pay to play' in Manchester, something he describes as 'a disgrace'. However, one audience member poses the provocative question 'So when FAC 251 dies, will you be resurrecting to the Golden Goose - New Order?' He responds jovially that he's made more money from FAC 251 in 2 months than 16 years at The Hacienda but the point seems to have touched a nerve. He speaks of the traditional perception of Bassists being the ones who want to work, something I wasn’t especially aware of, and which probably says more about his own opinion on a bands work ethic. He bemoans the remaining 8 tracks from the last New Order sessions being left to waste and craves to stick them on the internet. This tour, playing bass by himself on a stage, pushing to get his 'bass super group' signed, it all suggests a man desperate to continue living the rock and roll lifestyle, to keep on working. So the dig that New Order is somehow merely his cash cow seemed to sting somewhat.

Events turn slightly more uncomfortable as members of the audience start shouting out; one asking 'Hooky, when you gonna put yr bass on?' insistently, others angrily enquiring why their mates band hadn’t got on at FAC 251 and accusing him of not supporting unsigned bands. 'Have you seen myspace?' Hooky replies 'There's quite a few unsigned bands out there'. But the badgering continues, with 2 members of the audience, rather worse for wear by the sound of it, both ask questions while simultaneously arguing with one another. Peter is patient with them, asking them to repeat and answering where he can, but as they start speaking over him, he feels the need to raise his voice from its calming ponderous tone for the first time: 'Tony Wilson once said to me that the Taxman was my best friend - because he keeps me miserable. But tonight you've taken on that role, so why don’t you SHUT THE FUCK UP!' Cue round of applause. Welcome to Wakey, Hooky.

The night is wrapped up with Hooky strapping on his bass once more to play a Freebass track (that’s his band with other famous bassists Mani and Andy Rourke) with Howard Marks joining for some spoken word. Its pretty good actually, and rounds the peculiar night nicely. It was strangely paced, almost completely unstructured, yet you cant help but feel; completely honest. Hooky came out and told some great stories and allowed us to ask whatever we wanted of him, which I respect hugely. Although I was hearing a lot of stories I had read about before, it was a great experience to hear them from the man himself. I’m still not 100% sure of Hookys motives for this tour, or what he gets out of it, but I’m glad he visits us. Perhaps most tellingly, as he dashes from the stage, Hooky gentle brushes the face of an Ian Curtis portrait lingering on the stage edge. There’s no encore.

Dean Freeman

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