A Belated Howl of Grief

By Wallis, Ed | Soundings, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

A Belated Howl of Grief


Wallis, Ed, Soundings


Peter Hook, Unknown Pleasures. Inside Joy Division, Simon & Schuster 2012

Joy Division were shocked into life by an electrical charge that coursed through mid-1970s culture: punk. When the Sex Pistols played at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, the show was famously attended by only fifty people, yet spawned as many bands. Peter Hook, bass player and founder member of Joy Division and New Order, was there with his future band mate and sparring partner Bernard Sumner, as were Morrissey, Mark E Smith and - less often noted, to be fair - Mick Hucknall.

Music in the 1970s was detached from the energetic youth culture that spawned rock and roll in the 1950s; it had become the more rarefied preserve of the technically accomplished and expensively educated, mostly in the form of progressive rock. The arrival of punk said goodbye to all that: how thrilling for a 'working class tosser from Salford' - as Hook describes himself in Unknown Pleasures - to realise you didn't really need to be able to play to be in a band. The Sex Pistols seemed 'human' to Hook compared to other bands, which seemed 'so out of my league they might as well have lived on another planet'- 'the Sex Pistols, though: they looked like working-class tossers too'. This sensibility led not only to the formation of Warsaw, later Joy Division, but also to one of their defining features as a band: Hook's instantly recognisable melodic bass style came about by accident, a lack of technical proficiency meaning he only learned to play with three fingers, while a cheap amp forced him to play high up the fret board to make himself heard.

Hook's is a story wrapped in the northern, working-class culture he grew up with. He dwells on the minutiae of the class differences between him and his band mates: Sumner's family 'didn't exactly have pots of money but anything he wanted, he got'; Steve Morris's parents' house 'had two inside toilets, as well as central heating'. And settling scores with former colleagues holds the whip hand in the book's early pages - thus, whilst Hook makes more than clear his musical respect for Sumner, his presence in the book is prim, prissy and uptight. Hook's gripes recur: Sumner's unravelling of a sleeping bag after an early gig in Newcastle while his colleagues froze in the van - an act of foresight so alien to Hook it can only be processed as treachery; or his habit of disappearing when a fight broke out at a show (regular occurrences that Hook was in the thick of). 'Whoever it was who said that "no man is an island" never met Bernard', he writes. In fact the defensive tone that pervades much of Unknown Pleasures should probably be seen in the context of the broader and longstanding conflict between the two men.

Hook's style is more garrulous raconteur than author, and draws heavily on his 'gobby Manc' persona, but he is not unpleasant company as he rattles through his early years, and he poignantly captures 'wonderful, dirty old Salford': 'When I saw [the film] Control all those years later, I didn't even notice it was in black and white because it was exactly what my childhood had looked and felt like: dark and smoggy and brown, the colour of a wet cardboard box'. …

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