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Melody Maker 11/1/86 cover picture (106 kb)
Interview by Adam Sweeting
SHAMING THE NATION
With last year's album 'Low-life',
NEW ORDER finally laid the ghost
of Joy Division and emerged as
one of this nation's saving graces
with a unique sound and
demonstrable staying power. One
night at The Hacienda in
Manchester, they spoke to Adam
Sweeting about past, present and
future. Moody and magnificent
poses by Tom Sheehan
By Stephen Morris's account, New Order are very shy. Very very shy, in fact.
I'd suggested to Morris, who's the drummer, that New Order often seem aloof,
even entirely dismissive of their audiences. They play their songs, stop and
walk off. End of story.
"Er..." said Morris, wincing in the general direction of the floor. "Very
Is that right?
"Certainly is. Cos your just being yourself onstage. It would be quite
easy to go 'are ya feelin' alright!' and all that, but... Good grief, no!
I don't think we've been aloof. You can't really ignore an audience, it's a
little bit intimidating, so you tend to find yourself getting annoyed back
because you're feeling intimidated."
Listening to New Order's third and finest album "Low-life", it's difficult
to believe they could be so easily cowed. Its predecessor, 1983's "Power
Corruption And Lies", was pretty potent stuff too, including as it did "Age
Of Consent" and the enduring "Your Silent Face". But "Low-life" seemed
bigger, assured and at ease with itself. Perhaps it had taken New Order this
long to find themselves, develop a new forward-looking vision and exorcise
the Ghost of Curtis Past.
Peter Hook: "It was like the old getting back into writing thing after
Joy Division, and finally now we're back to how we were before he died.
We're confident about everything that we do now, so that's nice. We feel we
can rely on each other, if you like."
So it took a long time to shake off the past?
"Erm... I don't think it took as long as people thought. You still get
people who say, 'ah, New Order are shit, Joy Division are the best'. But
we're still Joy Division, there's no difference apart from the obvious one."
One chilly December night, New Order were on home turf at The Hacienda in
Manchester, playing two sets for the paying punters and having a couple of
numbers dropped into the "Whistle Test" live. We arrived for the soundcheck.
Bernard Albrecht picked up a guitar, plugged it in and began to chug out
some of his trademark throaty chords. Morris pottered about at his drumkit,
firing off the occasional burst of drum machine, adjusting cymbals,
tightening knobs and checking his banks of gadgets. The ghostly Gillian
fingered a synthesizer impassively. Manager Rob Gretton, a kind of hippy
Jack Hargreaves, looked on with his hands in his pockets.
It was the arrival of Peter Hook which abruptly set the chemistry in
motion. Hook, unshaven, gingery-blond hair tied back and flopping over the
collar of his heavy black leather biker's jacket, is part Monster of Rock,
part Ian Botham when he has an Australian in his sights. He wears his bass
low-slung, treating it more like a trail-bike than a musical instrument.
The sound is something else. According to Bunnymen bassist Les Pattison,
Hook plugs his bass through every device available, and it hits you like a
falling log, a soaring, supercharged cudgel of sound. It seems to push back
the walls and raise the ceiling, giving everybody else room to do whatever
they like, secure in the knowledge that a sound like that couldn't possibly
let you down.
Hook unloosed a few volleys of notes, then the group dropped in behind his
zooming riff for a new song called "As It Is And When It Was". A powerful
and spacious piece, it bears more than a passing resemblence to "Love Will
Tear Us Apart". Hook grinned evilly to himself. Some "Whistle Test"
personnel paused to listen, dressed, of course, in the obligatory media-punk
style. New Order don't even seem to look at each other while they play, but
they must be listening. Suddenly they've become shockingly good, full of
confidence and guts.
"I never noticed that until somebody pointed it out to me, funnily
enough," said Hook after the second set. "Our American agent, it was - she
said 'play that "Love Will Tar Us Apart" one'. I though fuckin' 'ell, yeah,
it is! Wild! That was one we played on the "Whistle Test", it's a really
good song. Just shows you, you can rip yourself off, even if you do it
Better than having Trevor Horn doing it for you, Hook laughed expansively.
He's not easy to feel at ease with, though talkative enough. Even his
gestures of relaxation seem exaggerated - he answers some questions too
quietly, he leans back a little too far in his chair, eyes you with a
mocking grin. He makes you aware you're under scrutiny.
"People think we're very awkward because we won't do things. I'm not gonna
do your photographs because I don't feel like it. I don't mind talking. I
feel like talking because I've been in the studio every night for two weeks,
but I just don't feel like having me picture took.
"I don't do anything unless I want to do it. I do it sometimes for an easy
life, when you're too fucked to argue about it or something. But you always
regret it in the morning."
That seems like a fairly macho attitude to life.
"Could be, mmmm," Hook agreed readily. "You're probably right. But that
might be down to the fact that I can get away with it, because of the way
Factory works. If any of us didn't want to do something, the others wouldn't
expect him to do it. Because, y'know, what's the point? There's no point in
playing a cetain song if someone really doesn't want to do it."
Bernard: "We had a report from WOMAD in your newspaper which gave us a
really shitey review. I bet you don't print this but she was actually
completely out of her box drunk, blacked out when we were playing. And she
gave us a really bad review. She wasn't even there, which I found
particularly annoying. She said we never did an encore. I don't like people
who lie." Peter: "It's interesting to talk to people who are interested in
what you're doing, whether they think you're shit or whether they think
you're great. You can learn something. That Sounds guy recently - he was a
total turd. He hadn't listened to the LP and he was interviewing us about
it, which I thought was absolutely disgusting for a rock weekly which is
supposed to be informing people about what's happening in modern music.
"He was saying to me 'the songs on "Low-life" are a lot more optimistic
than the ones on "Power Corruption And Lies", why's that?' I said 'well I
don't think they are. There's a lot of really up songs on "Power". That's
not true. And he said 'well the lyrics are more optimistic.' I said 'I don't
think so, I don't think that's true.' Then he said 'well I haven't actually
heard it, the sub-editor told me to ask you that'.
"That was where the thing about the fight came in, which was fuckin'
bullshit anyway. If we'd had a fight I'd have ripped his fuckin' head off,
he was a wimp. But he sort of steered it round as if to say he offered me
out! The whole thing was pathetic. It came across in the interview, it was a
pathetic interview. They've asked us to do another one and I'm not
surprised, cos he just got nothing out of it.
"He was a complete dickhead, he wasn't doing his job. It comes down to
respect, doesn't it? You seem alright to talk to, you don't seem too bad.
Quite interesting, y'know what I mean?" You're too kind. "But he wasn't
interesting - he just did it very badly, so he got treated badly. What do
you expect? Ask someone jokey questions and you're gonna get jokey answers."
New Order have perhaps been dogged by their reluctance to explain
themselves, or to give anybody much idea of what they're really like. With
the exception of Hook, though, they seem genuinely introverted, even
painfully so. They and the Bunnymen are mutual fans, not necessarily to the
point of loving every song the other has recorded, but because of a sense
that they share the same attitude. Les Pattinson came over to Manchester for
the Hacienda appearance, on the eve of the Bunnymen's British tour. Hook's
rock'n'roll star stage gyrations amuse him greatly, presumably in contrast
to his own onstage passivity.
Bernard: "We've got money invested in it. The original idea was that it was
a loose club where you could go and hear loose music, not stiff music, and
also you didn't have to get dressed up to go. Anyone could come here, anyone
at all." Q: So it's anti The Face type of attitude?
Bernard: "Yeah, but people like that can come as well. Originally we
intended it to be a bit more of a venue but it's turned out to be more of a
disco than a venue. It was also just to establish a scene in Manchester,
maybe like in the early days of Factory when we 'ad a club which is now
called the Russell Club which was then called The Factory, in Moss Side. But
that got a bit rough, people gettin' beat-up outside and mugged."
Peter: "The idea of The Hacienda was a club that wasn't accompanied by
any bullshit, where you could get in dressed as you like, which Manchester
at the time didn't have. It didn't have a club where you could go out. I
never used to fuckin' get in anywhere, except if there was a gig, then
they'd let you in. The Hacienda was the first club where you could get in
dressed as you liked. And I had to fuckin' open it!
"Now in Manchester all the clubs are like that, The Hacienda has had a
really good effect on Manchester as a whole. Again, I think it's important
to show that you're willing to put something back in. We work really hard on
this place. I do the sound system meself, the PA for the disco and things
like that. It's good cos you can learn to do something that's different, as
opposed to just knowing about being in a group. You're learning how a club
runs. You gather a wealth of experience."
In the bowels of The Hacienda, New Order sat quietly with various friends
and associates. The tables werte covered with beer bottles and rizla
packets. Stephen Morris and Gillian were perched next to each other on a
faded sofa, talking so quietly that they might have been conversing
telepathically. Albrecht wandered over and said hello, looking quizzical and
wide-eyed. "Anyone seen Hooky?" he asked.
"He went home," said Gillian.
"Hope he's here soon," said Bernard.
Two minutes later the door thumped open and Hook strode in, scarved and
leathered. "Evening all," he said cheerfully. There was a sense of tension
lifting. They were onstage in 15 minutes, and TV doesn't like to be kept
Factory supremo Tony Wilson flitted
about busily, a brusque, fast-talking
figure who likes to do everything at
once. No doubt Paul Morley learned a
thing or two from Wilson back in his
Manchester days, like how to be too
bloody clever for your own good. Without
New Order Factory would probably bite
the dust. As it is, the company remains
a great Mancunian curiosity, a quirky
throwback to the arty days of post-punk
somehow threading its way through the
LIFE DURING WARTIME
Would you ever move away from Manchester,
"Not at the moment. I did think of
joining up when the Falklands conflict
was on. That was the nearest thing."
"Patriot mate, I'm a patriot."
You'd really have gone?
"If it wasn't for the group or me
That's a very unfashionable thing to say.
"Yeah, I know it is, but I don't believe in bullying, I don't believe in
aggression. I think Argentina was aggressive. It's real unfashionable but
they shouldn't have done what they did."
Have you got friends in the army?
"Yeah. Me cousin David's in the army. He's in Germany."
So does all this somehow relate to "Love Vigilantes", then (a tale of a
soldier returning from war)?
"Yeah, I suppose it does in a way. I believe basically that war's wrong,
fighting's wrong, but defending yourself isn't wrong. If someone hit me I'd
hit 'em back, I think most people would. Personal opinion. I mean, no-one
condemned the British for fighting the Germans in World War Two, and it was
right what they did. It was fuckin' right.
"But suddenly it's not right if the British stand up for their own
territory in the Falklands. It's easy to sit on your arse in a warm,
comfortable living room and take one side or another, but the basic fact is
that Argentina was aggressive and we weren't. They took the first
What about the argument that Mrs Thatcher went to war in the Falklands
purely for political gain?
"Oh, I think what Mrs Thatcher did was really bad. It's really bad that
she's come out of it with credit. She should have been kicked out of
government because of it. It should never have happened, part of it was her
fault, but nevertheless Argentina shouldn't have invaded a neutral or
foreign country. It's like someone walking into your house and saying 'this
is my house now'.
"I mean, I don't condone things like Vietnam. I ain't a fookin' military
maniac. But if someone invades your country it's not fair, is it? People
said the Falklands was over land but it wasn't, it was about all the British
people who lived there. They didn't want the Argentinians there."
It might have been over oil, too. There's oil down there.
"Yeah, that's the perfect cynical viewpoint to jump to."
War's a pretty cynical thing. Seeing the Falklands veterans with melted
faces is nauseating. Shouldn't we be past all that now?
"I think we should be past it. War is disgusting, it's really disgusting.
But you've got to defend yourself. You're always right if you don't take the
first action. It's the people who take the first action who disgust me. I've
never attacked anyone in my life."
And as for "Love Vigilantes"...
"It's very tongue-in-cheek, it's like a rebel song but it's very tongue-in
-cheek. It's kinda laughing at rednecks. From what I said you may construe
it to mean that I'm a redneck - I am not a redneck, I assure you, and "Love
Vigilantes" is like laughing at rednecks. The more ridiculous my lyrics are,
the less serious the song is."
Bernard: "Originally we come from punk roots which I liked because it didn't
exclude anyone. It didn't matter what you looked like, whether you were fat
or thin or ugly or beautiful. It was really down to earth, really down to
earth. It was very anti grown-ups at the time but I think it was really
good. We still believe in it and this is our way of showing that we still
believe in it. We don't believe in snobbery, to put it simply. Or elitism.
We've been accused of being elitist, which we're not."
New Order performed with transcendent power that night. They'd completed a
string of British dates only a couple of weeks before, but already they'd
completely rearranged the set and shoved in several impressive new songs.
The Hacienda couldn't have been designed to make watching a group more
uncomfortable. Balconies, stairs and the slightly raised dancing area were
crammed and impassable. Ribs and girders block your view from several
But you could still feel the sheer torque they were generating onstage.
The veteran "Temptation" has never sounded better, a euphoric gallop of
chattering electronics whipped by thrashing chords. "Shame Of The Nation",
or possibly "Shame Of A Nation", will probably be the next single, and is
as terse a song as the group have written.
The newest songs seem immense, giant
structures of sound encompassing long
climactic instrumental passages.
Albrecht doesn't have to worry too
much about singing, and hunches
twistedly over his guitar as his hands
scrabble spastically across the
strings. Hook does the splits, Iron
Maiden style, over his bass. Gillian
is improbably still, busy channeling
New Order's new technology into
strong, glittering patterns, while
Morris batters away at the back among
his kit and his machinery. The sense
of aimlessness they sometimes used to
display has gone, and if the songs
are getting longer now it's because
the group have learned how to
Peter: "I don't feel any compulsion to pander to them, I don't see the
point. Cos most of them are real c---s, they shout at yer, they scream at
yer, they spit at yer, they throw bottles at yer. I mean a lot of them
aren't, it's like typecasting your audience, but the point is the ones who
just stand there and listen you never get to meet, do yer? The fucking
loudmouths who are throwing and spitting and screaming 'Warsaw' and fucking
'Transmission' - it's really boring.
"Some c--- tonight shouted 'Warsaw'. Must think they're being really
clever. Dickheads. The world's full of people, unfortunately."
"There might be another Sex Pistols," said Peter Hook whimsically later that
night. "We might be the next Pistols. What a nice thought."
You might be the next Genesis.
Hook chortled. "That's what a lot of people say we are. The next Mike
Oldfield. The next Mike Oldfields. But it's a rotten business. I'm glad
I'm out of it, to be honest. I watch 'Top Of The Pops' and I feel very far
removed. The funny thing was I had real good fun doing 'Top Of The Pops'. It
was a great day, really enjoyable, and even though it didn't sound that
great because we played live, to me that was one of the biggest
"I watch bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres that started the same time we
did and were on Factory. They could have done exactly the same as we did,
but they took the easy way out and signed to Dindisc and got a huge advance,
and they were coming over and apologising to us for miming. Which I thought
was really funny. Everyone did - Kajagoogoo and Human League, apologising to
you for miming. Saying 'we wanted to play live but we thought it was a bit
tricky'. We must be striking something really deep within 'em to annoy 'em."
Stephen Morris remembers that day like this.
"We played live not really for any strong sense of commitment, like Keep
Music Live or anything like that - it was just that we'd feel complete and
utter prats miming. We're probably worse miming than we are playing, so...
we just don't want to mime."
In Morris's determinedly low-key version of events, New Order proceed
almost inadvertantly forwards, avoiding humiliation and self-abasement at
all costs. They've avoided putting their name to the assorted good causes
available to today's rock star, though they've done an AIDS benefit
"That's right," muttered Morris. "We haven't really. There's things that
are obviously good causes and deserve attention but we're not sort of
fucking crusading about anything, really. 'Convictions cause convicts'. We
try to be open minded, really."
The "Nazi" slurs flung at both New Order and Factory wouldn't have
anything to do with this heads down policy, I suppose?
"That just got to be a joke after a while because everybody knew it wasn't
true," Morris responded. "We just used to get really really fed up with it.
It's alright when it's being directed at you but when it's being directed at
everybody on Factory, y'know, you feel a bit sick."
Why has the group got so good lately?
"We've just been working hard, I suppose. In fact it seems like longer
than recently. It seems like forever."
New Order re-invest a substantial amount of their income in new equipment,
which sounds great but takes a bit of getting to know. "It drives me piggin'
mad actually," said Stephen. "It takes up considerably more time than
playing something or making something up. The time it takes is unbelievable
really. You find yourself getting a bit more musical because you've got to
communicate with a machine. It's got to speak a language, and the people
who make the machines decided the accepted notation of music was the way
they'd do it. You found yourself being forced to get a bit more musical, so
I suppose we got a bit better.
"Fortunately we've got some reliable stuff now, it doesn't break down so
much. But when it breaks down, God! One could have kittens. Sequencers and
stuff you can do a lot with but they become... y'know, everything that you
listen to has got one which is a shame, but people are funny like that.
Everybody sort of leaps in on things like punk and whatever, and all of a
sudden there's loads of things that are all very nearly the same."
You can get a glimpse of an earlier New Order in their "Taras Shevchenko"
video, shot at the Ukrainian National Home in New York in 1981 (it's
released on Factory's video offshoot, Ikon). The performances are rough but
forceful, primitive stuff in comparison to the post-"Low-life" New Order.
"I quite liked that video," observed Morris, "because by the time it came
out it was a historical document, it was years gone by. I thought it was
quite good really, but I think the Joy Division one was better because it's
got a bit more crudity about it. Some of the Super 8 footage is really good
because it's tacky, because it's there, and it's not planned."
There was one question I had to ask. Why did Ian Curtis always look fuzzy
or totally invisible in photos of Joy Division?
"He actually looked like that, strange to say," said Morris, unperturbed.
"I can't say I've noticed. I can't stand looking at photographs. I don't
really like looking at videos. It's like when you hear your voice recorded
on tape, you go 'that's not me!' and videos are the same thing only worse.
Oh God, no! I find it a bit embarrassing."
The group's changed a lot though, even since that Ukrainian Home video?
"Yeah. We went a bit high-tech. It's quite quaint cos in that video all
that stuff was hand made, it's all held togehter with a piece of string,
"There was nothing so complicated as a polyphonic sequencer or anything
like that, it was cottage industry stuff. Not even a Drumatix (drum
machine), it was before all that. So when the Drumatix came in, my God!
You'd give your right arm for one for a Drumatix.
"We had gadgets when we were Joy Division, they were just slightly lower-
budget gadgets. We used to have a little synthesizer and a little Woolworths
organ which always came in handy for things, and the favourite of all was
the Shin-Ei Fuzz Pedal so beloved of the Jesus And Mary Chain - yes, you're
onto a winner there! A classic. It had 'Shin-Ei Fuzz' written on it, it was
Peter: "I think the only politics I'm interested in are Factory politics.
Cos that's what's nearest and dearest to my heart if you like. I'm more
interested in what's going on around me, that I can affect, than some
fucking... I've seen all this socialism bullshit that Paul Weller goes on
Q: Why is it bullshit?
Peter: "Because it doesn't do it to the people around him. You go on his
tour and it's just run like a normal rock'n'roll tour, rock'n'roll excess,
everything that's fucking bad about it. And how he can fucking spout on
about socialism and things like that and then he doesn't do anything about
the things he can change in the way that he runs his business... I mean,
Paul Weller is a really big business, y'know what I mean, and he's got the
power just with what he does to to affect a lot of people's lives. Like what
you meant about The Hacienda here. But he doesn't. It's like charity should
start at home. You tell other people what to do and don't practise it
yourself - that's really bad."
Bernard Albrecht sipped his tea, then let his shoulders sag and sighed
heavily. "God, I'm so tired," he said weakly. "This will be the strangest
interview you've ever done," he'd promised as he led the way through the
labyrinthine basement of The Hacienda to a neon-lit corridor about four feet
wide. We sat in chairs facing each other. It was like an interrogation scene
from "Midnight Express".
"It's qiuet here," Albrecht explained. He looked about 14 years old, and
spoke in a fragile whisper. "Bernie's funny," said Mac once. "He just sits
and looks at yer, like he's a little kid or something."
I didn't dare speak too loud in case he dropped dead in front of me. The
group had been holed up in the studio for a fortnight, working with American
producer John Robie on some new material including a song for a movie called
"Pretty In Pink". Robie, a regular collaborator with Arthur Baker, wrote the
music for "Planet Rock" and Freeez's "IOU".
He was also responsible for the thundering 12 inch remix of "Sub-Culture",
a masterpiece according to some (me) but evidently a bone of contention
within the group. Robie had cracked the whip over Bernard's vocal, and also
added some belting female singers to beef up the choruses. Bloody good idea,
bercause Albrecht's voice, although apparently frail in the appropriate
dosage, has often been the weak link in the New Order equation.
"John gives you discipline, and then I can put my own expression onto that
discipline, whereas what I've been doing in the past is no discipline, just
expression, complete expression. If it's out of tune a lot of people won't
listen to it. I do admit that a lot of what I sing is out of tune, but every
single word, every syllable that I sing, I believe it whether it's out of
tune or not.
"He's shown me that what you can do with vocals is stress a point. You
don't have to shout, you can use a melody to stress a point. He's just shown
me another way of doing the same thing, really."
New Order maintain a delicate balance between the cool precision of their
machines, Albrecht's erratic vocals and the occasional raggedness of their
playing. Is it a case of deliberately pitting human error against microchip
Albrecht chuckled. "Not deliberately. Errr... it's a difficult one, that.
Don't know, I just do it. But I'm a bit of a lazy bastard so anything that's
difficult I'd rather..."
Do you practise the guitar?
"Never, no. I never sit and practise anything. I hate it. But whether
that's a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate. But I think us as a
group and John as a producer suffer from the same thing, which is that we
don't actually get recognised enough, but the people that rip us off get
recognised more than we do. I don't like to name names, but we have been
ripped off and the people who ripped us off are more successful than us."
But you're pretty successful anyway, surely? Does it worry you that much?
"I don't worry about that at all but if you've got a chance to put it
right you should put it right."
Is tenacity a Mancunian characteristic?
"It's everybody's characteristic. You've got to float on top of the water,
not underneath it."
When the group aren't working, Albrecht claims to do as little as possible
for long periods of time.
"I'm a complete and utter lazy bastard, and if we're not recording I don't
do anything, I just think a lot, lie in bed and think a lot."
Do you read books?
"I'm really bad at reading, cos I read really slowly - I think very
slowly, actually. But two years ago I decided that television was complete
and utter rubbish, garbage, and that I should read more. So for the past two
years I've been trying to read and it takes me about six months to read a
book. That's not a joke, it actually does, I'm very slow, I don't know why.
"The last full book I read was 'The White Hotel' by that guy D. M. Thomas,
which is really good but it's really disturbing. It's about a case study of
Freud's. And I've been trying to read a book about Van Gogh called 'Lust
For Life'. I just feel like if someone's remained through history, if
they're still well known after years and years, then you should know about
them. And I just wanted to know about him, even though it's a novel. It's
based on his life, but it isn't all factual."
You say you're not elitist, but it looks like it sometimes. I remember a
show at Brixton Academy where New Order treated the audience with utter
"No, I was contemptuous of ourselves, actually. It was the first time we'd
played in like... these are things nobody ever knows, but it was the first
time we'd played in three or four months. It was a really bad gig, we
thought we played really badly. I just felt ashamed. I felt mad at myself, I
didn't feel mad at the audience. When I get mad people construe it as being
aloof and snotty, but I'm not. I get mad at myself a lot."
"No, I just believe you should put your heart into something if you're
gonna do it. But partly it was my fault for having the wrong attitude. When
you do a gig you should do it so that you enjoy the music when you're
playing, enough so that you can play the music well. If you enjoy what
you're doing it's easy."
Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:23:00 PM - 9:23:00 PM
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