MusicNorth WestReview

Peter Hook & The Light Joy Division: A Celebration – O2 Apollo, Manchester

Reviewer: Brian Gorman

Peter Hook, legendary ex-bass guitarist with New Order, made a triumphant return to Manchester with a storming, emotional, and thrilling celebration of his previous band Joy Division. Performing, in full, the classic albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer, with an opening selection of New Order tracks. The faded glory of Manchester’s cavernous and ornate Apollo theatre provided a superb atmosphere for this almost religious musical experience. Joy Division made only two albums before their charismatic lead singer & lyricist Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980, and this celebration was initially scheduled for 2020, the 40th anniversary of his death. Hook has spoken often of how traumatic his bandmate’s death was, and how it was a miracle that the surviving members carried on under a new name, and became one of the biggest bands of the 80s, New Order. Peter Hook & The Light had been scheduled for 8pm, with ‘no support’, but Manchester DJ Mike Sweeney’s band, The Salford Jets, had actually been on stage from 7pm. Unfortunately, many of the audience missed them, as the auditorium only began to fill up in time for the main act.

Beginning in sombre, subdued mood (the delicate lighting reflecting this) with New Order’s supremely emotional and beautiful instrumental ‘Elegia’, the scene was set in fine, respectful style. In English literature, an elegy is a lament for the dead, and this haunting, minimal, and sparse piece of pure atmosphere, not unlike Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, was a perfect fit for Hook’s sublime guitar skills. Written in memory of Ian Curtis, this performance of ‘Elegia’ was hugely effective in successfully conjuring up the memory of his lost friend, and reminding us all of why we were here, and what we were celebrating. Hook had the audience in the palm of his hand from this point on. What a beginning!

The band then powered on through a short selection of New Order favourites, performed with gusto and sheer rockstar aggression. One suspects this was a desire to give the audience some (relatively) upbeat numbers, in preparation for the more doom-laden presentation of Joy Division’s 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures, with its enigmatic, sorrowful, and often deeply distressing lyrics. The New Order opening section culminated in the jaunty, The Perfect Kiss. With its classic dancefloor energy, an ode to youthful, carefree romance, surreal chirpy croaking frog chorus, and memorable lyric ‘let’s go out and have some fun’, this was perhaps a cheeky ironic nod to the distinct lack of ‘fun’ on the Unknown Pleasures album.

For a man who has been at the top of his profession for nearly five decades, Hook looked in great shape, and his voice was on top form. Doing full justice to Joy Division’s enduring tracks, particularly the audience favourites ‘Shadowplay’ (a real barnstormer), and ‘New Dawn Fades’ with its searing, sorrowful, suicidal lyrics (‘a loaded gun won’t set you free, so they say’), the song rises and rises with painful, almost unbearable intensity. Curtis’ voice, and inner life, had been so much at the heart of this blistering epic, but Hook channelled his friend’s heart and soul into every line, and every guitar stroke. The pain was palpable, as the memories of forty two years ago could surely never be purged. Peter Hook always comes across as thick-skinned, and more than able to handle the pressures of life, but being forever symbiotically connected to such an abyss of despair must take its toll. Happily, ‘Hooky’ (as he is affectionately known by fans and friends alike) has channelled this primordial energy of chaos into his performance, and the result is sheer elation. Yes, Joy Division’s music (written by Hook, and his ex-bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris) is certainly dark, and perhaps excavates the very depths of the collective human soul, but it is also inspiring, life-affirming, and can transmute tears into joy. Hook’s energy alone fired every song into the spiritual stratosphere, ably backed by his talented son Jack Bates (taking on bass guitar duties, on certain songs, allowing his father to concentrate on the vocals), and guitarist David Potts creating a tight knit unit.

‘She’s Lost Control’, a quirky, popular track about a girl that Curtis saw suffering a violent epileptic fit (which he often endured himself, sometimes on stage during a performance) got an almighty roar from the crowd, as the staccato opening bars blasted out. Unfortunately, a good few people headed for the bar as the final, lesser-known tracks were performed. A great pity, as it was a rare opportunity to hear them live, and were given just as much care and attention as the hits.

Closer, the album released just two months after Curtis’ untimely death, contains ever more doom-laden lyrics, and saw the band reaching new heights of creativity. Curtis, though, was struggling, and confessed that he felt he was in ‘a whirlpool, being pulled down, drowning’. Once again, Hook’s energy and exemplary guitar skills brought the album to majestic life, with every song feeling fresh and contemporary. Despite the searing jet-black emotional honesty of the lyrics, and the memory of where they led Ian Curtis to, Hooky’s rendition transforms them into something more triumphant and inspiring. Closer’s final track, ‘Decades’, is as dark as it gets. Curtis’ lyrics seem to be imagining a future after his death, perhaps attempting to foresee how his band members would carry on. How this must feel for Hook to sing and play, forty years later, is difficult to guess at. Yet he delivers it with power, and reclaims the song’s sepulchral energy.

Following the albums, it was time to cheer everybody up a little. The awe-inspiring, transitional epic ‘Ceremony’ was greeted with screams and cheers, while Joy Division’s only hit song, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ ended the evening on a spectacular high. Again, Curtis’ lyrics (about his failing marriage) aren’t particularly uplifting, but the music is truly joyful, and Hooky belted it out with heartfelt passion. Stripping to the waist for the standing ovation, we had a living example of primal, human, animalistic purity. Peter Hook & The Light shone brighter than an exploding star, and celebrated their lost friend with love. This was an experience.

Reviewed on 29 July 2022

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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