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New Order

Article from Making Music, March 1987

Peter Hook is the man who puts the low notes behind New Order. John Lewis is the man who spoke to him. Suite 16 is where it happened. There's a picture up top and copy to the right. Okay?

WHEN NOT playing bass for New Order, Peter Hook drives them around. Bit odd for the world's most successful 'cult' band, isn't it? Where are the limos and the chauffeurs? A mutual acquaintance of Duran Duran once asked him as much.

"He couldn't understand," offered Mr Hook, "that I like driving."

Which goes to show that the Godlike adoration bestowed on New Order by certain fans at least hasn't percolated through to his clutch pedal. In fact Mr Hook 'is not like that at all'. On the foggy January morning we met, the only time he didn't have his boots firmly on the ground was when they were propped, sheriff-wise, on the Amek desk of his Suite 16 studio in Rochdale.

Suite 16 has been his consuming passion for the last couple of years. The studio was formerly the fairly legendary Cargo Studio (home of early Joy Division and Gang of Four to mention but two), and Peter Hook became involved in its running partly for sentimental reasons.

"It seemed a shame if it just disappeared, the place that produced so much of the music that fired me, and lots of others." Sentimentality, though, only lasts as far as break even point: "If it started to lose money it would have to go..."

We got to talk about his secret life of sound later, but first to the matters he's known for. Basses.

He started with a Yamaha and, apart from the introduction of a Rickenbacker copy, stuck with a Yamaha BB1200. "Dead reliable; boring but reliable.

"I've always bought guitars because I thought they sounded good. Until I saw a Gibson semi bass and that's the only one I bought because it looked good."

Unfortunately, that was about its only recommendation, so he had a Yamaha pickup put on it, but being short scale, the bottom string tended to go out of tune. "Embarrassment city. That guitar has been to so many guitar fixers... it's got more Red Star stickers on it than anything I've seen in my life, more than the Simmons!"

But having seen a semi-acoustic bass fashioned by Chris Eccleshall for The Alarm, he had one made, based on the Gibson (but with some structural differences, like a block all through the body). Black, with white binding, a 34in Fender scale length, active, with one Yamaha and one EMG pickup. He was so pleased with this, that he had Chris Eccleshall make him a second one with two extra frets — "so I can do The Perfect Kiss" — and a Kahler tremolo. If you wanted one, Chris would charge £650 (or £750 active).

Elsewhere in the collection, there's a Shergold six-string bass, which sort of isn't. The wide, flattish necks and the closely spaced strings mean "that you can't really play bass on it at all. On a lot of the songs where I play four-string, well, if that went down, I couldn't play it on the six string." So it stays there for special tasks.

The distinction between being a successful band and a successful independent band is drawn far more scrupulously in Britain than the rest of the world. So when New Order tour Japan they find themselves followed by fame, publicity, screaming girls and instrument manufacturers.

"You go down and do your photo and they just try to give you so much stuff that you're stood there thinking, 'Well, why did these bastards really nail me when I started and wanted an amp?' Really incongruous, when they just keep trying to give you everything. Or you go to a studio and you say, 'They're nice monitors,' and the guy'll send a pair round to your hotel room.

"I wouldn't say that the way we've done it has been anything apart from luck — luck and the fact that your music is above a certain quality. There's a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time, but the bottom line is the songs."

"When we went to Japan, the guy found out that Bernard uses Tokai. Bernard was getting sick of smashing up his semi-acoustic, it was such a lovely guitar. So now he uses cheap Tokais, and doesn't feel so bad if he breaks them. The guy finds out, and just sends you one."

In Rochdale I was allocated an approximate hour and a half amongst final preparations for (a) another Japanese tour, (b) meetings about the Hacienda club and (c) the quivering stuff of life such as "taking the baby shopping... doing that kitchen door... finishing that woodwork in the corner". And there was also the question of running Suite 16.

Improvements to the building constitute a long term project, as in so many studios on a budget where you are told, 'It'll be great when we've got the...' or 'when we've finished building the...' But that's not to imply there is anything wrong with Suite 16. The projected extra comfort is a luxury and it already has most of the '...'.

In terms of space it's the same as Cargo but with a new desk and a lot of fresh outboard equipment, roughly speaking what New Order like to use when they record, even down to ROR small speakers instead of the standard Auratones. It is better equipped than most 24-tracks, although it is still 16-track. That limits its place in the market and Mr Hook sometimes feels that certain items of its equipment are unappreciated by people less used to quality.

"I bought a Lexicon instead of a Rev 7 because I know it's better, but people come in and say, 'Haven't you got a Rev 7?' It cheers them up to see something they know, that they've read a lot about." There are however no immediate plans to go 24-track, due in the main to financial limitations, although he thinks there would be enough work if he did, particularly from Factory. "They get a good enough rate from me."

Most of the other improvements, which are to do with rooms and decor rather than 'gear', have to wait on the limited time available outside New Order but is stuff he can do himself. This involves a new live room downstairs, kitchen, improved rest room, two more rooms at the back and at some stage improving the appearance of the main recording room which presents a minor dilemma: "It's scruffy as fuck but it sounds so good I don't really want to change it."

CJ, the engineer at Suite 16, moved there from Strawberry Studios. Apart from a limited amount of production work, mainly for friends, most of Peter Hook's work is joinery, soundproofing etc. He's not enamoured of the recording process, generally. To do it well you have to be isolated and then it becomes unreal.

"I don't like being locked away... when you get out, people have died, got married, babies have been born, your bank account's taken a dive and your car's rotten." However the two days prior to my visit had been spent there recording a New Order session for French TV.

A tip here: If/when you do a session for European, particularly French, TV, and if you want the session to be live (as New Order always do) and not mimed, there are things you should know.

Although you'll probably have to do it least half a dozen times to allow them to get all the camera shots, the TV company are likely to assume that the first take is 'the one' and not bother to record the sound for all subsequent takes. If you want to use the fifth take (as was the case here), then unless you've taken the precaution of recording it onto a 2-track yourself (New Order always do), you are stuck with the first version, even if it was embarrassingly bad.

Mr Hook assures us that there is no guarantee that a TV producer will be able to tell a good take from a bad one, and has a theory that French bands must get it right first time.

Always take your own soundman and be prepared to assert yourselves. At a gig filmed in Belgium, New Order's manager (described by Mr Hook as essential, stubborn, human, wide thinking and invariably right), told the TV people they could do anything they liked as long as they didn't cross the front of the stage with their cameras.

"If you do, we'll just kick you off."

The response from the TV producer ("You stuck up bastards, that's typical New Order") pleased our man as an inverted compliment. At least one producer realised New Order's premier responsibility was band-to-audience and not band-to-camera. "He'd worked with us before."


Amek Angela 24 channel desk
SML16 2in tape deck
Rebis noise reduction
Revox A700 and B77 ¼in mastering machines with dolby
Lexicon 224 reverb
Yamaha SPX90 multi effects
Stocktronics plate
Korg DD2000 delay and DD3000 delay/sampler
BEL BD80 delay/sampler
Tresham Audio graphic
MXR pitch transposer
Aphex aural exciter
4 Drawmer gates and 7 Rebis gates
Yamaha 20/20 compressor/limiter
Transdynamic processing system
Two Oberheim DMX drum machines
Roland MSQ 700 multi keyboard recorder and SBX 80 syncbox
Emulator 2

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Which Hofner?

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Synth Sense

Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Mar 1987


New Order



Related Artists:

Stephen Hague


Peter Hook

Interview by John Lewis

Previous article in this issue:

> Which Hofner?

Next article in this issue:

> Synth Sense

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