New Order: World in motion

By Gavin Betram

New Order looked to be consigned to the dustbin of history after the departure of bassist Peter Hook. But the Manchester legends have regrouped and will visit New Zealand this month.

'I made the mistake of saying 'we'll never get back together again' and then we immediately did.' - Stephen Morris. Photo / Supplied
'I made the mistake of saying 'we'll never get back together again' and then we immediately did.' - Stephen Morris. Photo / Supplied

New Order's Auckland show this month will be followed in April by errant bassist Peter Hook, exploiting Joy Division's back catalogue.

Hook's departure from the long-running Manchester band in 2007 was acrimonious to say the least, and appeared to be their death knell.

But a few years later the remaining New Order members Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert have regrouped, while Hook has controversially forged a new career performing the music of their former band.

Although sick of the subject, drummer Morris is at least diplomatic about Hook's reincarnation of Joy Division's two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer.

"He can do what he wants really," Morris suggests half-heartedly. "It's fine - if it's what he wants to do, it's what he wants to do. I'm sure it will be great - I hope it is."

That qualifier is understandable, given the place Joy Division holds in the hearts of many music lovers. That band (Hook, Morris, Sumner and late vocalist Ian Curtis) formed after the Sex Pistols' legendary Manchester shows in 1977, and define the bleak post-punk aesthetic.

New Order, which formed in the wake of Curtis' suicide in 1980, has been a more joyous affair, welding dance music's electronic rhythms to a melancholic pop sensibility.

Through singles like Blue Monday, Bizarre Love Triangle, True Faith, Regret, State of the Nation, and World in Motion they've been one of Britain's most reliable acts for 30 years.

Morris thought it was all over in 2007 though - and not for the first time.

"If I'm honest I did," he says. "But after the last hiatus at the end of the 1990s I made the mistake of saying 'we'll never get back together again' and then we immediately did. So I've never said that again. Although I have to admit I didn't think it would happen."

After the confused circumstances under which Hook departed, the remaining trio reconvened with new bassist Tom Chapman and guitarist/keyboardist Phil Cunningham for several shows in 2011.

This month New Order visits New Zealand for the first time since the 2000 Big Day Out. Morris says he's enjoying this new phase in the band's existence.

"We got into playing the songs together and you could just tell it was really good," he reflects. "And if you enjoy it, it becomes infectious and other people pick up on that. [The new lineup has] made it bit things a lot easier and more versatile - you don't have to rely on sequencers as much. It's been a bit of a revelation really."

Hook's bass work was always a distinctive aspect of New Order's sound. His melodic playing on the high frets was a trademark of their best work, generally augmented by synth bass.

Morris says they told new bassist Chapman no t to bother trying to copy Hook's style, rather to impose his own style onto the songs.

It's just part of the rejuvenation of the material that this new iteration of New Order has demanded. They've even re-examined their entire back catalogue to see which songs they can introduce to the live set.

Morris hopes it is a return to the adventurousness the band once represented.

"In the early days of New Order we wanted to do things differently," he says. "We kind of drifted away from that. We used to play quite weird places, and change the set around a lot. It's a bit difficult at the minute because we can't remember some of the songs, but it would be good to get back to that sort of thing because it's what makes it interesting."
Whether that renewal extends to new music being recorded is undecided, Morris says. Members of New Order have been working on side projects Bad Lieutenant and The Other Two, and he thinks it's more important to complete those before the band starts writing again.

"We'll probably do it," Morris considers. "But I think the worst thing you can do is to start something when you've got loads of other things. It's good to clear the decks and then move on."

STUCK IN THE FACTORY

As hilariously depicted in Michael Winterbottom's film 24 Hour Party People, New Order's story is inseparable from the Factory Records story.

The Manchester label also released Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, the Happy Mondays, and OMD but was famously inept when it came to business. Factory, and The Haçienda club it owned, became a money pit that leeched off New Order's success.

Stephen Morris says that period in the 1980s was the worst time in the band's existence.
"Being on a label like Factory you could do anything you wanted," he says. "But Factory became a bit too big, a self fulfilling prophecy, and in the end it was absolutely horrible. We were going on tour and all the money we made was going into the Hacienda. It all became a bit of a treadmill, which wasn't great."

Although dancefloor classic Blue Monday remains the biggest selling 12-inch single of all time, New Order saw little return from it. Perhaps it was all part of their late manager Rob Gretton's plan for the band to 'never peak'.

"We wanted to keep it as more of an underground indie thing, which was great," Morris says. "But in a way it was the record label that peaked and ultimately fell into a black hole and dragged us with it."

New Order play Vector Arena in Auckland on Monday 27 February.

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