Peter Hook: Why I’m Auctioning Off My Joy Division Legacy

Joy Division formed in the summer of 1976 after bassist Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner felt the spark to start a band after seeing the Sex Pistols. They put out two full-lengths of icy, bass-driven post-punk before the band ended in 1980 after frontman Ian Curtis died by suicide. The rest of the band members moved forward under the name New Order.

Now Hook, who has had an acrimonious relationship with his sometime bandmates since his departure from New Order in 2007, is auctioning off many of the things he’s held onto over the decades from his days in Joy Division. Everything from guitars and clothing to his Sex Pistols ticket stub and a signed Joy Division record are included in the Peter Hook Signature Collection. Auction organizers will publish a catalogue of all the items online on January 21st, but until then hard copies of the catalogue are available for order. The exhibition will be on view at Omega Auctions in the U.K. beginning in late February and the auction will be held on March 2nd.

“I’ve watched Ian Curtis’ house sell, and I’ve watched Ian Curtis’ kitchen table sell,” Hook says of why he’s parting with his collection, his voice sounding measured and confident. “People go nuts for it, and I’m like the king in his castle counting all his gold. It’s just quite odd really when you actually sit there thinking, ‘What the hell are you doing keeping hold of Joy Division?’ I realized that the relationship between us all was never gonna happen, and I was holding on to something for the wrong reason.” (Hook had sued his former bandmates, who continued on as New Order, over the rights to the band’s name and reached an out-of-court settlement last year.)

Over the years, Hook has lent out items from his collection to museums, but often found himself wondering why he was hoarding these items. “It’s all over me house, all over the place,” he says. But what pushed him over the edge was the lawsuit. “The court cases and resulting fracas between the group members certainly didn’t help,” he says. “It made me feel a little bit detached from Joy Division in a way, and it also made me realize that the most important thing for me was to have the music and to have the fans and to be honest, we’re very happy together.”

As he considers each item during a lengthy interview with Rolling Stone about the auction — pointing out which items he’d consider buying back — he says the catalogue means the most to him. “It contains wonderful moments to savor because they actually detail a very, very interesting, very, very tragic story from start to finish,” he says. “It’s one of those things that is a wonderful thing to behold.”

What do these auctioned items mean to you?
They’ve actually come to mean quite a lot to me, because it was our first flash of success, our first satisfaction for all the chances we took. Seeing your name on a poster, I was just like, “Wow. Thank God I gave up me job. Thank God me mother disowned me so I could run off and join the circus, because now I’ve got me name on a poster.” It was like chronicling your success. Obviously with Joy Division, it was so cruelly and tragically ended that everything just sat there, gathering dust. Over the years, an item might occasionally appear in an exhibition, or I might show something to a friend.

I just came to the realization that all I needed was the music. I don’t want to harp on this fact, but we, the band members, still had our differences back in 1976 [Laughs]. You know, I’m not allowed to use the designs or the names or the lyrics of the group now without permission from the others, which I’m never gonna get. So yeah, [the agreement with the band] certainly took the edge off selling these things, shall we say?

Did you have to get permission to do this auction?
No, because these are all personal objects and it’s called the Peter Hook Signature Collection for that reason. The highlight for me is the catalogue, because I think it tells a wonderful story by itself. And I knew as soon as I opened the bloody catalogue, I wanted to buy all the stuff.

“I just came to the realization that all I needed was the music.”

Were there items you decided to hold back at the last minute?
It’s weird. Somehow, if I held back, I’d feel a bit like a cheat. I realized that over the years, I’d been given so many presents from fans, which is wonderful, but I’ve just got no room to store them or show them. All the money from the presents is going straight to charity.

What charity are you working with?
We’re supporting an epilepsy charity and the mental-health charity CALM, which is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which supports young men between the ages of 19 and 29, which is when the highest suicide level occurs among young, depressed men. It’s been nice to be able to give something back. It’s like you’re trying to help others out of Ian’s tragedy, which we’ve done consistently since I started playing Joy Division’s music again in 2010 as Peter Hook and the Light.

We shouldn’t have to do it. We shouldn’t have to run 10Ks and marathons to make sure that people are looked after when they’re ill. It’s a terrible contradiction in our society, but it’s something that we have to do and I’ve been very proud to do it over the years.

Which of the items in your auction remind you most of Ian?
Every day I have something to do with Ian. I was playing Joy Division songs on Sunday, and I’m doing the Joy Division orchestration, which we’re doing next year, so I’m never ever away from him. He is always with me.

What do you think about your time in Joy Division now?
The greatest thing about Joy Division is they were really unsullied by any kind of success. We all know that success brings many, many problems to groups. Our only problem was, we had great music, we were becoming successful and we were on the eve of a huge American tour that looked like it was going to launch us, and Ian was just too sick to cope with it. It’s weird. It’s all tinged with that real sadness of the fact that you were very young but you felt that you let him down; you should have looked after him and you should have been there for him.

I don’t even know how a 22-year-old kid could have done it. Certainly in those days, you were not prepared or educated in any way to look at somebody who was as ill as Ian. I always have that grief, thinking that you should have done more. But I suppose, in a funny way, with suicide, whoever it is always leaves that behind for the rest of us.

You always think about it. Speaking of Ian, you’re auctioning some typed lyrics to “Failures of a Modern Man,” which came out as “Failures.” Did he always type out his lyrics?
If you look in the lyric book Permanent, they’re all typed. We were so worried about being ripped off, so we mailed ourselves tapes and lyrics and left them unopened for years [as a copyright measure]. It’s so naïve and fantastic. It always makes me wonder what happened to the rest of the cassettes. I suppose the cassettes would be in my collection. There are so many cassettes there from the Joy Division era that are unheard, and it could have anything on them [Laughs]. Even I’ve not listened to all of them, but they are Joy Division rehearsal tapes.

I’ve got to stop getting worked up about this, because I’m trying to detach. As my wife would say, “Let go.”

What state is the guitar you’re auctioning in?
The last time anyone touched or cleaned my Joy Division guitar was more or less the last time it was played. It was just put in the case. It’s been taken out, but it’s never been cleaned or anything. It’s quite weird. The smells and touch, the patina of age is just wonderful, because it’s connected to such a fantastic story.

Your gear was stolen when you came to America as New Order. How is it you still have this one?
The only stuff that wasn’t stolen was the stuff that was left behind. My bass was left behind. I’d just gotten a new bass setup that had been designed for me. I was like a dog with two dicks. So I left me old stuff at home and it was stolen in New York. I think it was five months since we’d lost our lead singer and then we’d lost all our equipment. You cannot go much further down than that.

You’re auctioning a signed copy of the band’s An Ideal for Living EP. The autographs are so small, humble and unassuming. How is it you had that to hold onto?
I really feel bad about that one, because somebody mailed it to me to get it signed — ’cause I did all the fan mail — and then I lost the envelope. It’s the only example of Ian’s signature I’ve ever had. I felt guilty about it for quite a while. Hopefully it’s forgotten.

Maybe whoever sent it to you will buy it back.
Maybe. I hope so. Imagine all these people coming up to me and going, “No, it was me. I sent it to you.” I’ll be like, “Aaahhh.” Maybe I shouldn’t put that story in; I’ll have everybody saying it was theirs, won’t I? I get it all the time with all the equipment we had stolen in America. People are always saying, “Is this the guitar you had stolen in America?” And it may be. I can never remember. It was so long ago.

Another fascinating item in the auction is your ticket to the Sex Pistols show at the Free Trade Hall, which inspired you and Bernard Sumner to form the band. It’s funny you held on to that for so long, since it was such a pivotal moment.
I suppose. I’ve got all the gig tickets from before I was in the group. I’ve got all the disco tickets from when I was a teenager. It was a compulsion to collect them and it was embedded in me. The Sex Pistols ticket is really odd because it’s in such good condition. I must have put it away quite carefully. It was a great night, don’t get me wrong, but I never thought that it would be so significant as that Sex Pistols appearance was. I didn’t sit there and think, “God, this is going to be worth a few quid in 40 years.” [Laughs]. It’s like when I got accused of cashing in by playing Joy Division’s music in 2010, and I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m playing it 30 years later. I must be the worst casher-inner in the world.”

What do you remember about the show?
The ticket was actually given to me by Malcolm McLaren. I’ll always remember that he was dressed all in leather, which was an unusual sight, especially as he had curly, ginger hair. So when I handed over my money, it was to him. It’s not something you forget as a 20-year-old, and at that time, it was like these people were like aliens. I remember distinctly going in and me, Barney, Terry — who was our roadie — and Barney’s wife Sue, all four of us went in together and we each got a ticket off Malcolm McLaren for our 50p, and what a bargain that was, my God.

My greatest annoyance is that I didn’t save my ticket from the second night. I actually had a poster from the second night, as well, but there was a huge fight outside between the London contingent and the Manchester contingent of punks, and I dropped it while running away.

You’re auctioning what looks like Ian’s Vox Phantom guitar from the “Love Will Tear Us Apart” video. How did you end up with that?
That’s not the actual guitar. Ian’s guitar had effects on it, and it’s a very, very rare guitar. His daughter has it now. This was a copy that was presented to me and modified by a friend of mine up north to look like Ian Curtis’. It was done for the Joy Division exhibition that we did here in Manchester in 2010. It came on tour with me as well.

There’s a lot of other gear here — a melodica, a chorus pedal, chimes. What here was really crucial to Joy Division’s sound?
Well, if you listen to “Atmosphere,” the chimes were obviously crucial [Laughs]. If you listen to my bass sound, the Electro-Harmonix chorus pedal was important. That was the very pedal I bought in 1977, and it became my signature sound. So to part with the very one that I purchased in Manchester breaks my heart, I must admit. I still use those foot pedals now, so I must admit I might have to make a sly bid for one of those on the day because they’re so rare again. You can get the remade ones, but you can’t get the originals. I use so many for spares to keep them going.

It sounds like you want to bid on everything.
Well, I do. That’s the problem. I will always be a collector at heart because I love the music. I love what Joy Division achieved, and the lads —even Bernard and Stephen [Morris] — I have to give it to them. We may have our huge differences now, but at the time, we were all pointing in the same direction. We all wanted to succeed and we worked so hard against all the odds and these items document that journey and that struggle. And it hasn’t got a happy ending, which makes it more poignant.

Since you mentioned them, what was the resolution of your lawsuit against them?
The resolution was the court cases were put to one side. Sadly, we didn’t manage to find a common ground amongst ourselves, so we are no closer personally than we were. But the court cases have been settled.

You said you weren’t able to use the bands’ names. It’s too bad it ended that way.
It is. It’s not something that I would do personally [laughs] but that’s the way it worked out. So I can ask. I’m not too sure I’d get the answer I want, but hey, you never know. Maybe I should. Maybe it’s the start of a new era.

Do you foresee anytime you’d play with them again, like if either Joy Division or New Order were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I’m sort of out of the loop, shall we say. Which is a great sadness, so I’ve no idea if something like that were to be offered. I mean, blooming hell, they should be [inducted], shouldn’t they? Both New Order and Joy Division should be in every hall of fame. Maybe everyone’s waiting until we become friendly [laughs] and then we’ll be hit with a massive rush. But it would be very difficult, wouldn’t it? If someone tried to induct you, and they go, “Oh, my God. They’ll only end up fighting backstage.” [Laughs]. It puts people in an unfortunate position, doesn’t it?

So there are no circumstances you’d play together again?
Hey, listen, the world is a wonderful place. It’s only hope that keeps us all going through every day. So yeah, it’s something that you hope will happen. It’d be wonderful and in many ways, the fact that you didn’t reconcile is one of the greatest sadnesses because of how much you’ve shared and how much you still share. So do you think Stephen and Bernard will be bidding at the auction?

They might see something they want.
Yeah, or they might see something they want back.

If that were the case, they could end up paying off your legal fees.
Well, it certainly would be justice at last.

You’re going to be playing a couple of New Order albums, Technique and Republic, live next year with the Light. What do those mean to you?
Whilst Technique was huge in England, it was Republic that was most popular in America, so it will be nice to be able to bring it home. To my knowledge, I think it’s our least-played album. I think we’ve done “Regret” and maybe “World” but we haven’t played any of the songs on it. It’s nice to put that right.

Did relearning those songs give you a different view on the album?
I must admit I’ve found a new admiration for the record. I think Stephen Hague, as a producer, had a very difficult job. We were really unhappy during the making of that record, and I think it shows. When I listened to it closely, it had the feel of not being finished off. The music and the vocals were two separate things, so it was wonderful to be able to sit there and bring them together, and I found myself enjoying playing Republic more than Technique, which I never thought would happen because Technique was always my favorite New Order album by a country mile.

What perspective have you gotten on Joy Division from doing these tours?
The music is deceptively simple to play but very powerful. The beauty of Joy Division is that every player contributes something absolutely unique, which, to my mind makes up the strength of the group. When we get to New Order, we’re always one man down. And I think I can hear it … I can hear it. We’re always struggling. We lost our most important man. It’s like somebody took the steering wheel off a car and trying to drive it; that’s how New Order started. Luckily, we managed to make amends and fix it. But for a while there, it was difficult. It just took us a while to find our feet again in New Order, but we did. And what a fantastic album Power, Corruption and Lies is, oh, my God. It’s wonderful.

I really do feel blessed to have been able to play the whole catalogue again, because you look at it differently when you’re older. To be given the opportunity to play the songs on Closer, which we were never given as Joy Division, felt like a real gift. Bernard and Stephen will have not played a lot of the songs on Closer every. So in a funny way, maybe it’s time for me to give back all the other stuff.

You seem to really enjoy doing these tours with the Light.
I’ve really enjoyed it. While the cases were going on, it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever been through in my life. I remember [the Smiths’] Andy Rourke telling me once that the case against Morrissey and Marr was the worst thing that ever happened to him, and I thought he was being dramatic. Bloody hell, when it happens to you, you realize how awful it is and really it’s only been playing the music and remembering how good we were and how good we are, if you like, as a group, that got me through it. I played every LP as the court cases were going on, and it really was a help. Even doing the book was quite cathartic, to realize what great times we had in New Order.

It’s like any relationship, isn’t it? You end up divorcing and everything looks terrible and you sit there one drunken night going over the romance, shall we say, and you realize how great it was. It was just that those things tend to crumble at the end of the day.

It must be a relief that the court stuff is over, even if it’s not the resolution you wanted.
Oh, my God, yes. I’m sure it was for all of us. It was a terrible situation. I think I can say with my hand on my heart that the others were just as glad to see it go as I was. It really isn’t a nice situation. Musicians are not renowned for their intelligence in business matters, obviously. It tends to be more about ego than any kind of common sense. So I was very glad that it’s finished and glad that we could find a part where we could start again. Let’s hope that it builds from that point.

Lastly, what does your family make of you auctioning all this stuff?
I’ve not finished yet. My wife even came to me with the catalogue and said, “You’re not selling that are you? We’re keeping that.” And then every time the kids look at it, they’re going, “Dad, you’re not selling that!” So I’m like, “Oh, my God. I can see this being the worst auction in bloody history.” I’ll just be sitting there going, “Nothing’s going. Sod it. I’ll take it all back with me.”