It’s been a triumphant year for New Order.
New album Music: Complete has been widely and rightly acclaimed as being among the best albums of theirs and anyone else’s career.
The recently-finished UK tour accompanying Music: Complete was joyful, a return to their hedonistic electronic roots. Forget the fact most of New Order are in their fifties, this was pulsating euphoria by any standards, as homecoming shows at Manchester’s Warehouse Project club proved.
The shows were a suitable accompaniment to a twisting, delicious pop album featuring a host of songs the equal of electronic classics like Bizarre Love Triangle, Age Of Consent and Finetime.
The new music’s reception must be doubly pleasing, considering the troubles that have so often surrounded New Order since the turn of the century.
And by “troubles”, we mean Peter Hook.
The bassist left in 2007 after the band completed touring their final album with him, Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. Hook is now suing his old bandmates. He claims he’s owed £2m in royalties and that singer Bernard Sumner, guitarist Phil Cunningham, drummer Stephen Morris, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and Hook’s replacement Tom Chapman shouldn’t use the New Order name any more.
“Peter phoned me a couple of years ago and said ‘Everyone’s happy.’ But that’s obviously not the case. He’s not happy.”
The rest of New Order have remained silent about being sued by Hook. Until now.
Finally able to stock of their mostly joyous year, Cunningham and Chapman tell Loaded of finding new paths, gong stir crazy – and what they’d tell Hook if they met him.
Loaded: What’s been the highlight of 2015?
Phil: Finishing the album. It was such a slog making it. Well, ‘slog’ is maybe the wrong word, but it was really hard work. We knew it had to be good.
Tom: There’s no getting away from the fact that, because Peter wasn’t on the record, the album would be under extra scrutiny. We knew that. But after touring for a couple of years beforehand, we’d seen that the audiences loved us going back to being more electronic. That gave us the confidence that making an electronic record was the right thing to do.
You’d toured for three years before making Music: Complete. When did you realise it was time to make new songs?
Tom: We didn’t want to become a dinosaur band. If we’d carried on any longer, we’d have been in danger of doing that.
Phil: We could have carried on touring with no new songs for as long as people wanted us. But what would be the point of that? You become your own tribute band, really. We’re creative people and we wanted to create.
You start going round the twist, thinking ‘Is this actually any good?’
What was the atmosphere like making the album?
Tom: It was great. We’re all good friends. We get on really well, and no-one is trying to take over any other member of the band. You can draw your own conclusions from that.
Phil: We felt confident about the songs, but we felt like we were going mad at points, because it’s such an insular process. We made it at Steve and Gillian’s remote farmhouse, stuck there for months on end and not playing the songs to anyone else. You start going round the twist, thinking ‘Is this actually any good?’ It was nice when Daniel Miller, the head of our record label Mute, came to visit so that we could have an outside voice offering opinions.
Did you always know the album would be as praised as it has been?
Tom: We had no idea! We knew it was something different for us, though. I’d made sure I studied up on my basslines before we began recording. With songs like Party On The High Line, I think I brought something new to the band. It’s good that, this far into our career, we’re coming up with styles we’d never tried before.
It must be pleasing to see the new songs be so ecstatically received on tour…?
Phil: It is. But it does make it harder to work out which old songs to leave out! People we work with say ‘Why don’t you play Regret anymore?’ but, come on, we’re already playing two-hour shows. That’s longer than we’ve ever played in the rest of our career. You’ll never please everyone, and it’s great that the new album has given us four or five songs we can play for the rest of our career and still keep crowds happy.
Speaking of songs you don’t play anymore, then… Why nothing from Technique at the shows, the electronic album that feels the most similar to Music: Complete?
Phil: Ha! I must admit, that surprises me too. You’d have to ask Bernard why her refuses to play anything from Technique. I’d sign a petition to reintroduce songs from that album in the shows.
The obvious low point of the year would be Peter Hook suing the band. What would you say to him if you met him?
Tom: He’s had plenty to say about me, but I’ve never actually met him. I’d tell him ‘I think it’d be good to support young musicians. Maybe you could wish good luck to musicians who’ve had a break.’ I’d also tell him that it’s an absolute joy and lots of fun to play in New Order, but I don’t think he’d want to hear that.
Phil: Peter phoned me a couple of years ago, because I said something in an interview that offended him. He said: ‘Look, it’s all getting a bit personal, this. It’s ridiculous. I’ve got my thing, you’ve got yours, and it’s cool. Everyone’s happy.’ But that’s obviously not the case. He’s not happy. He decided to leave the house, and now he’s outside it, chucking bricks through the window.
Does it sadden you that it’s come to a court case?
Phil: It saddened me a few years ago, but he’s said such horrible things about Bernard and the rest of the band that it just makes me angry now. They’re my friends, so it makes me more angry than sad. Things will have to play out how they play out now. It’s so unfortunate.
Tom, how nervous were you were when you first joined about replacing Peter?
Tom: Oh, I was apprehensive, of course I was. The shows were great but, for the first year, I felt like I was under the microscope, especially from fans watching me like ‘Is this guy going to be as good?’ That’s one of the great things about the new album, that it shows I’ve brought something new to the band and I’m not just playing Peter’s old bass.
Phil, how does it feel not to be New Order’s new boy any more since Tom joined in 2011?
Phil: It’s great, but to some fans I’ll always be a new boy even though I joined in 2001. It’s like being Ronnie Wood. He joined The Rolling Stones in the 70s, but most of their fans still call him the new guy. At least Tom means I’m not the new new boy, I guess.
Tom: Which means I’ll always be the new boy. I think Phil is very glad about that.
What’s been the weirdest moment of the year?
Phil: We played a variety show organised by Brian Cox at Hammersmith Apollo recently. It was unlike anything the band had ever done before, coming on after Charlotte Church and a comedian, Robin Ince. We were the surprise guests, so when Brian announced ‘And now, New Order!’ the curtain came up and there were a lot of puzzled faces in that audience! It made Brian’s year, though, as he’s a big fan and he got to play KW1 with us. He was digging it, but some of the audience were a bit baffled.
What are the plans for next year?
Tom: We’re having such a laugh that we just want to carry on playing shows, really. That’s what you’ve got to remember – Bernard, Gillian and Steve could retire tomorrow if they want, but New Order are going on because it’s fun. So we’re sorting out festivals at the moment, and we’ll fit in a UK tour in between.
Phil: We won’t do anything unless we enjoy it.
Speaking of festivals, is it true you might be headlining the Other Stage at Glastonbury?
Phil: Glastonbury is a possibility, but we’re not allowed to tell anyone anything anymore.
Tom: So far as I’m aware, nothing is confirmed.
What about a new album?
Tom: Ooh, unfair question. That’s like asking a woman who’s just given birth when she’s having her next baby. But I’m fairly sure there will be a new album. A lot of fans panicked when they saw the new album is called Music: Complete and thought that must mean it’s our final album. I can definitely say we didn’t mean that!
Phil: We’ve not had any new song ideas yet. You can never plan too far ahead in New Order. We always have to have a meeting about the future before we decide anything.
New single Tutti Frutti is out now
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn