Hate will tear us apart: why New Order's Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook can't stand each other
In the early hours of May 18, 1980, in a red-brick terrace house on Barton Street in Macclesfield, a 23 year-old former civil servant with a sensible haircut and haunted eyes hanged himself. Forty years later, the anniversary of the tragic passing of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis is being commemorated by his former bandmates. They will perform Joy Division songs, including the heart-piercing anthem Love Will Tear Us Apart, and speak about Curtis and his legacy.
They won’t all be doing so together, however. From midday, Joy Division bassist Peter Hook is streaming a 2015 concert in which he and his band, The Light, delved into highlights from Joy Division’s baroque back-catalogue. Eight hours later, guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris will be interviewed live by journalist Dave Haslam, with bonus contributions from The Killers’s Brandon Flowers, a lifelong fan of Joy Division and the group’s post-Curtis incarnation of New Order.
So it’s very much a commemoration of two halves. Why so? The answer lies in the long-running enmity between Hook and Sumner. As with many great rock ’n roll relationships, their love-hate affair – with the emphasis mostly on the hate – goes back decades, all the way to Joy Division. Possibly further, if Hook’s memoirs are to be believed.
The two kept a lid on their mutual antagonism through Joy Division. But it resurfaced over and over during New Order, the perfect pop machine that rose from the ashes of Curtis’s suicide, which has been attributed to a collapsing marriage, depression and the epilepsy that was making touring increasingly difficult.
Obviously this contradicts the Hollywood version of Joy Division’s afterlife. This has it that, reeling from Curtis’ death, his former bandmates somehow dusted themselves down and got on with business. And then they became perhaps the greatest pop band of the Eighties, with hits such as Blue Monday, True Faith and Regret.
The truth is murkier. Just like Roger Waters and David Gilmour in Pink Floyd, Don Henley and Glenn Frey in Eagles and Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams in Take That, New Order was a story of duelling egos. Of big personalities destined to not get along. Curtis’s demise obviously brought Joy Division to a premature end. But would the chest-bumping between the group’s chalk-and-cheese engine room of Hook and Sumner have doomed them anyway?
As it was, Hooky v Barney (as Hook insisted on referring to Sumner, knowing he didn’t care for the sobriquet) threatened to tear New Order apart on numerous occasions. After feuding bitterly on a 1987 US tour, they flew home convinced New Order was over. This was horribly poetic, as Curtis had hanged himself on the eve of what would have been Joy Division’s first trip to America.
They felt the same in 1993 following lukewarm comeback record Republic (Hook and Sumner blamed each other for its lack of oomph). And then in May 2007 Hook – much like Waters with Pink Floyd – declared publicly that he was breaking up the group. However, his bandmates didn’t see that he had any right to do so and carried on without him.
This led to lawsuits, public mud-slinging and all the other trappings of a grand rock’n roll soap opera. Which is strange given that New Order and Joy Division have been beatified as the ultimate anti-rock stars: sensitive souls weighed down with melancholy.
There was melancholy. But lots of hatred too. “Whoever it was who said that 'no man is an island' never met Bernard,” Hook writes early in his karate-kicking 2012 memoir Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division.
He and Sumner had first crossed paths at Salford Grammar School. They were drawn together by a shared impishness, a love of scooters – and later, a passion for punk rock that was fired when they attended the celebrated 1976 Sex Pistols concert at Manchester Free Trade Hall.
They had gone to that concert with separate groups of friends. But together with chum Terry Mason – later their tour manager – they formed a band shortly afterwards. They would later recruit Stephen Morris as drummer and, as their frontman, a bookish Macclesfield Employment Exchange worker named Ian Curtis.
Yet long before Joy Division became underground darlings, the earliest glimmerings of a rift between Hook and Sumner were already apparent. Their first serious falling-out came, according Hook, when they and some friends went on a motorbiking holiday in the South of France.
Hook recalls one of their travelling companions crashing his bike and requiring financial assistance to make it home. “Let’s just say that when it came to helping out Barney wasn’t very helpful…” he writes in Unknown Pleasures. “After that I couldn’t really look at him the same way.”
Tensions boiled over yet again as the group were making Closer, their 1980 masterpiece released two months after Curtis’s suicide. As they were recording in London, Tony Wilson, maverick founder of their record label Factory Records, arranged for the band to live in two adjoining apartments in York Street on the fringes of the West End.
Joy Division immediately split into two camps. “The Loud Bastards” were Hook, Morris and the band’s manager Rob Gretton. “The Cultural Flat” was home to Sumner, Curtis, producer Martin Hannett – and Annik Honoré, the married Curtis’s Belgian mistress.
“They were the boorish unimaginative lot, we were the creative backbone, there to make the album,” Sumner told Uncut Magazine in 2018. “We were very much a band, but very much not a band. The way I like to think of it was, we were all stood on our own pedestals, and there was no cross-fertilisation. We were all making our own record, and we didn’t really talk about it.”
The pranks the ‘boors’ played on their bandmates grew increasingly mean-spirited, to the point where Curtis lost his temper with Hook and his fellow japesters.
“I’d never met anyone like Annik before,” Hook told Uncut. “We were always messing about and she hated it. She’s Belgian, for f___’s sake. They weren’t blessed with a sense of humour. Every time her and Ian went out, we’d f___ around, tip the beds up, string her knickers off the lights, just stupid things. And then when Ian came back, he obviously had to defend her honour. She was going f______ ape____.”
These fault lines turned into massive fissures after Curtis died and it was decided they would carry on as New Order, with Sumner taking over as frontman. Hook wanted to continue playing Joy Division songs and was miffed when he was outvoted. He was meanwhile building a cult following for his demonstrative bass style; more and more, he embraced his larger-than-life persona of “Hooky”.
Sumner, by contrast, soon emerged as the keeper of the introspective flame of Joy Division. He flinched from celebrity. And he hated touring.
“We are quite different people,” Sumner once told me. “You probably wouldn't see it from the outside. You can't possibly get to know someone from an interview and from seeing them on stage. It just got to the point on the last New Order album where, if I said ‘black’, he'd say ‘white’. It got very frustrating and pointless. It obviously didn't seem to be working.”
“For me, happiness is about finding the right balance between public and private life, work and home, music and family,” Sumner elaborated in his own 2014 autobiography, Chapter and Verse.
“Hooky was different. He loved the success and the trappings that went with it. He enjoyed the adulation, thrived on it. I enjoy it, of course, but only up to a point: it’s not the core of my existence. Also I kept thinking back to how part of the message of punk was essentially f___ stardom; keep your feet on the ground.”
Sumner suspected that his reluctance to tour with New Order was resented by Hook. And that the bassist disliked the more dance-based sounds Sumner was pioneering – most famously on 1983 mega-hit Blue Monday.
“I decided I didn’t want to go out on the road as much any more. This was a problem for Hooky: I think it got in the way of his ambitions and he resented me for it. For my part, I still felt I was getting bad vibes for pushing the band in the direction of electronic music, even though we were all reaping the benefits.”
There were also bad vibrations in the studio. During the making of 1986’s Brotherhood at U2’s Windmill Lane stomping grounds in Dublin, Hook claims Sumner had installed a control to damp down his booming bass parts. Realising what was afoot, Hook and an engineer quietly disabled the device. Hook’s bass was restored to its rightful place (though it would be almost entirely obliterated from 1993’s Republic).
“So began this weird little dance with me on one side fighting not only to finish the bloody record but also to keep my bass on the electronic tracks, and them on the other changing everything late at night and trying to either turn the bass down or take it off some tracks completely…
“The fastest way to clear the control rooms was for me to pick up my bass. I had a suspicion that this was how it was going to be from now on, this constant fight… heartbreaking.”
Twelve months later, tensions again came to head when Sumner was convinced to go on tour promoting Substance: 1987, New Order’s first ‘best of’. On the road in America with John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd as support, Hook portrayed the singer as a diva dragged along against his will.
He claimed Sumner insisted on hot food on their backstage rider – even though the paraffin required to keep the meals warm made everyone feel ill, the invariably hung-over Sumner included. “Twatto” – Hook’s new nickname for Barney – also declined to soundcheck, according to the bassist.
“Any given situation is improved by Barney’s absence, so we weren’t bothered one bit,” writes Hook in his second memoir, Substance: Inside New Order. “Everybody had bad memories of sound-checks where twatto would turn up and ruin it by sulking, stamping about, moaning, putting everyone on edge.”
Sumner began to complain of stomach pains. Hook wrote these off as histrionics so was surprised to receive a call from the tour manager, who had rushed the singer to hospital: “He moaned about everything so it was impossible to know if he was genuinely ill or just whingeing for the sake of it.”
With the singer out of action due to an ulcer, New Order were forced to cancel a concert in Detroit. “Barney turned up the next day feeling better and of course the tour went ahead,” said Hook. “But if you ask me, that was a revelatory moment for him. He must have thought… ‘they need me, they can’t do it without me’.”
Hook felt betrayed when, several years later, Sumner put New Order on hold to form Electronic with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. So far as Hook was concerned Sumner had broken up the band. And he didn’t forget what he regarded as act of disloyalty.
Not that he can have been too devastated. He’d become increasingly disillusioned with New Order’s drift towards pop. One of their biggest hits, 1987’s True Faith, for instance, sounded, to Hook’s rock’n roll ears “like the Pet Shop Boys”.
His resentment of Electronic no doubt intensified when he started his own spin-off project, Revenge. They were truly dreadful – with Hook going all Billy Idol with a hard leathers look. Revenge flopped, Electronic ended up on Top of the Pops.
Hook, who would later marry and divorce comedian Caroline Aherne, was quick to hark back to Electronic when he later announced the end of New Order. This was in 2007 as he and Sumner were about to hit the publicity circuit promoting former rock photographer Anton Corbijn’s Joy Division biopic Control. Sumner, Hook argued, had already broken up New Order when he went off with Johnny Marr. Why couldn’t he do likewise?
“When he did Electronic he split the band,” Hook told me in 2011. “Which is fine. This time I split the band. What is he complaining about? ‘You can’t split the band, you can’t split the band’ He’s just spoiled.”
Sumner, not surprisingly had a different perspective. New Order had, after all, got back together for Republic and, later, for the fantastic Get Ready LP and the ambitious if undercooked Waiting for the Siren’s Call. He argued that Hook had changed after going into rehab.
“I’d like to say that when he emerged from rehab Hooky was his old self, with a new perspective on life and what’s important, but the sad truth is I can’t. To me, he seemed to come out of the Priory very uptight,” he wrote in Chapter and Verse. “One theory we discussed was that the drink had kept a lid on it all, that all his demons had been subdued by alcohol, as if it was a pressure valve and now they’d been unleashed.”
Sumner had already felt betrayed by Hook after his bandmate bought the rights to their iconic but financially ruinous Hacienda nightclub after it went out of business.
“He'd rubbed us all up the wrong way by buying the name of the Hacienda,” Sumner told Spinner. “We'd all put a lot of money each [into the club]; when it went bust, he bought the name, we felt, behind our backs, and he started selling it for various uses, like there's an apartment block there now where it was, and he sold a licence to the developers to build it. That was when we'd just got back together in 2001. So we lost respect for him and trust after that.
“I started noticing him doing some odd things,” Sumner writes in Chapter and Verse. “He wouldn’t sit near me on a plane for example and I’d sometimes catch him giving me strange looks. Then on other occasions he’d be all right. There didn’t seem to be any logic or reason behind it.
“It was around this time that he started his ‘celebrity deejaying’. He’d begun doing New Order after-show parties on a regular basis to earn more money, because, despite the money we were earning from the tour being pretty healthy, it somehow wasn’t enough for him.”
For Sumner, Hook was becoming more and more unbearable. The breaking point came when they toured South America in late 2006. New Order’s road crew took Sumner aside one day to inform him Hook had started daubing messages on his [Hook’s] bass amp. “Two little boys met at school… And then they fell out…And now they hate each other.”
“He’d persistently stand right in front of me on stage while I was singing. It was getting beyond strange now. I’m getting daggers off him all the time…If the show was being filmed, he’d make sure he stood in the way of any cameras trained on me.”
Sumner also claimed Hook was too busying DJ-ing to help finish their last record together, 2013’s Lost Sirens (featuring material from the same sessions as 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens Call). "We were supposed to be completing an album, which is now known as the Lost Sirens – seven tracks; we were going to write another three and we'd have a finished album: ‘Can't do it. I'm DJ-ing’.”
After returning from South America, Hook announced New Order were over in an interview with formal Inspiral Carpets frontman Clint Boon. “If a band splits up, it’s usually a pretty basic perquisite for the members of the band to know it’s happening,” said Sumner, who felt Hook’s bombshell overshadowed the release of the Control movie. “I was so angry I couldn’t even speak to Hooky.”
Sumner’s next step was to take a break from New Order and start a new project, Bad Lieutenant, albeit with several of his former New Order bandmates involved. Hook claimed this was a flop and that New Order were brought out of hiatus in September 2011 for financial reasons.
He also asserted that new bass player Tom Chapman was miming Hook’s parts (which was laughed off by New Order). “I know that after five years of Bad Lieutenant he [Sumner] has earned no money,” Hook had told me. “He must have been stuck for the f______ money.”
As is the way with feuding rock stars, the dispute ended up in court. There were long-running rows over the use of the New Order and Joy Division names. They had a further falling over the Hacienda rights. In November 2015 Hook sued New Order, claiming they had set up a new company behind his back and that he had received only a fraction of the £7.8 million it had generated over the previous four years.
A settlement was finally agreed between the two parties in 2017. Three years on, though, there is no sign of a personal reconciliation. Hook last year asserted that Sumner had written a book “about me” [Hook]. And he didn’t seem very hopeful that this two icons of British independent music ever being in the same room again, let alone on stage together.
“We still have a lousy relationship, which in all honesty has not changed over the years,” he said. “It's just that now we don't play together. My best friend said to me the other day, ‘Jesus Hooky, one of you is going to be taking this to the grave’.”