New Order: Ex-bandmates find 'unique way of arguing'

Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Steven Morris pose for the cameras in 2005.

Story highlights

  • New Order former bandmates trade bitter words while fighting over right to name
  • New Order was formed in 1980 by Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Steven Morris
  • Hook left in 2007, and band reformed without him. He says he feels excluded
  • Hook's new band The Light is playing two dates in the United States this week
The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, the Kinks, the Clash, Oasis -- rock music's history is littered with bands marred by messy breakups. Even spending three decades on the road together seems no barrier to disharmony, as Peter Hook and his former New Order bandmates are finding out.
The musicians are now exchanging bitter words in public while fighting in court over who owns the right to use the New Order name. Hook compares the situation to a bitter divorce; singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner says the bass player's decision to perform the band's early material on tour is "disrespectful."
"This is quite a unique way of arguing ... this fracas now of arguing over the trademark," Hook tells CNN by telephone. "None of this 'namby-pamby sitting around a table and sorting it out,' we want to do it all in public."
New Order was formed in 1980 by Sumner, Hook and drummer Steven Morris, who had previously been in melancholy post-punk band Joy Division until the death of singer Ian Curtis. Along with keyboardist Gillian Gilbert they went on to break new ground by combining northern guitar music with synthesizers, and later dance rhythms. The group's 1983 single "Blue Monday" remains the biggest-selling 12-inch disc in UK chart history.
Hook left in 2007, claiming it would be impossible for New Order to make music without him. However, Sumner, Morris and Gilbert reformed four years later without him and are now touring and planning to release new material under the New Order name.
The bassist says he has raw feelings about his exclusion. "I wasn't even told they were reforming," he says. "I just got a cryptic message to listen to the radio at 1pm on the Monday when it was announced. It's like being divorced and getting shown the door without even being told why."
For his part, Sumner has laid into Hook, saying that the bassist was affected badly after being treated for alcoholism. "When he came out of treatment for this event, he was a worse person, in my opinion," the guitarist told the now-defunct "He tore strips off me and said everything that had ever gone wrong with New Order was my fault; everyone was really puzzled... And then he just started attacking everyone else -- the management -- everyone was 's***' except him."
The singer also said he was saddened by his former bandmate's lack of interest in New Order, and Hook confirmed that a reunion seemed unlikely. "Will we get back together? At the moment we're at the stage when, if you're getting divorced, your wife's cutting the dog in half and tearing all the sleeves off your suits ... so the answer would have to be no."
Hook likens the dispute to four people who run a shop for 30 years together. "Then one day you came along and the others have locked you out. They're inside still selling without your knowledge and consent. How would you feel?"
Warming to his theme, the 57-year-old poses the question: "Why was I locked out of the shop? It obviously has to do with the fact that I resurrected the Joy Division music. But they resurrected it first when they played as Bad Lieutenant (the band name Sumner performed under between 2008 and 2011) without asking me. It's do as I say, not as I do.
"But anyone has the right to play Joy Division. I can't stop a busker playing 'Blue Monday'; I might have an opinion about it, but I can't stop him."
Hook's new band The Light is playing two dates in the United States this week, performing the first two New Order albums, 1981's "Movement" and "Power, Corruption and Lies" from 1983 in their entirety. The divorce metaphor never far away, he says playing the older material is like "getting the kids for the weekend after a particularly nasty split. It's nice to get the songs back."
"'Movement' is a very Joy Division record with New Order vocals, whereas by the time "Power, Corruption & Lies" came along, it was a proper New Order record. On "Movement," (producer) Martin Hannett played the vocals down a lot, so it's nice with the experience I have now, to be able to really belt it out properly."
On previous tours Hook's group played the two Joy Division albums, material New Order rarely performed. "I'm celebrating the Joy Division thing that New Order made a conscious decision to ignore -- and were right to ignore. But once New Order split up and I was on the outside, you start thinking, hang on a minute everyone revered Joy Division. The only people who don't celebrate it were the people who were in Joy Division."
Hook acknowledges the name of his old band is far better known to fans than that of his new one, so the legal battle over who owns the trademark is not just a matter of pride.
"I'm trying to establish my name," he says. "But if you're talking about a group like New Order that has an established brand and trademark, then yes, you make much more off live performances now than you do off recording.
"And it's the Rolling Stones phenomenon. No one wants to hear your new stuff anyway, they want to hear your old stuff."