Written by: Paul Gleason
(In order, photographs by Mark L. Hill, Craige Barker, and Al de Perez)
Peter Hook & The Light are in the midst of their November 2014 tour of North America, and one of the true treats of seeing the band live is watching Hooky perform classic Joy Division and New Order tracks alongside his son, Jack Bates.
Not only is Jack a tremendous bass player in his own right, he and Hooky work together tremendously as a bass playing duo. For example, unlike on New Order tours on which Hooky featured as the only bass player, Jack and Hooky can execute together songs such as “Weirdo,” “Subculture,” and “This Time of Night,” which featured two basslines on the New Order records on which they originally appeared.
But Jack gets to shine as the lone bassist on tracks such as “Shellshock” and “State of the Nation” – and his playing shows that he’s inherited his father’s talent on the instrument and developed his own equally compelling approach.
Jack sat down with SEM for a long, insightful, and fun chat that delves into his bass playing, the inner workings of The Light, and what it’s like to perform two seminal New Order albums – Low-Life and Brotherhood – in their entirety.
SEM: Thanks for chatting with me again, Jack. I want to thank you again for the terrific interview that we had last year. You, Hooky, and the rest of The Light are touring the Low-Life (1985) and Brotherhood (1986) albums. My first question has to do with how you and the band work up the songs to play live. Let’s take a specific song – “Love Vigilantes.” How did you ready this song for live performance?
JB: The first step for us when it comes to learning new songs is always just to listen, listen again, and then listen some more. I listened to Low-Life and Brotherhood and not much else for about three months in the run up to this tour. Playing along at home is the best way for me to learn the tracks; then by the time we all get together for the first rehearsal, everyone knows their stuff and it’s just a case of slotting it all together then and maybe tweaking a few bits in the arrangement that are a bit odd or that don’t work for when you come to play it live. “Love Vigilantes” was actually quite an easy one when compared to the rest of Low-Life.
SEM: Hooky’s told me that “Sunrise” is “the bassline that every bass player would love to have” and put it at the top of his list of his favorite basslines. Do you agree that this is your father’s greatest work on bass?
JB: It’s definitely up there, yeah. I think if you were looking to show someone a quintessential Peter Hook bassline you could definitely use “Sunrise.” I like it because it drives the song. The guitar on that track is also great, but the bass really stands out and pushes the song along.
SEM: What are some of your favorite songs to play from the Low-Life–Brotherhood period?
JB: I’m enjoying this new set the most out of any of our previous sets that we have played. I mean I enjoy it all, but there’s something about this set of tracks that is just really good fun. I love playing “The Perfect Kiss” because I’ve always loved that song, and so to be in a position to play it feels great. The bass on the chorus is a bit of a workout too. I also play the cowbell on that track when we play it live, which is pretty funny. “Face Up” is another one that I really enjoy playing. We were unsure how that one was going to sound, and at first I have to be honest – I was unsure as to whether I liked that track; it didn’t hit me like some of the others do. But when we played it live for the first time, my opinion changed completely – and the fans seem to absolutely love that song, so that has helped us develop it into a set highlight now. “Broken Promise” is another really enjoyable one to play; maybe not so much for the drummer though because it is an absolutely relentless beat. Sorry Paul!
SEM: How much of “The Perfect Kiss” is preprogrammed on the record – and what are some of the challenges of playing along with machines?
JB: We try to play most things live as much as we possibly can; we don’t like to leave too much down to the machines. After all, people have come to see us play! So we are playing bits live now that New Order used to leave to the computers. But there are still certain bits that are unavoidable and that you have to leave to the computers. “The Perfect Kiss” is one of those tracks; it has so many different elements and sequences that it was quite confusing at first. Playing along with the computer is always hard because if one person starts playing out of time with it or playing a wrong part, it can really put you out of sync with the whole thing and each other. A lot of time is spent learning the arrangements of every song for that reason.
SEM: Are there some songs on which you handle all the bass playing while Hooky just sings?
JB: Unfortunately, yeah. I only say that because I want him to be playing on every track – just like I am sure everybody else does. But there are a couple where it’s all down to me; “Shellshock,” for example. But it’s literally only one or two tracks in this set where that happens; he plays on everything else. It’s mainly because some of the songs are so wordy that he can never get a break from the singing to play his bass because he’s coming straight back in with more vocals. There are also three instrumental tracks in the set, two of which I play on my own to kick off the show with just the four of us without my dad, and one of which my dad plays in full himself (“Elegia”), while I get a quick drinks break! So it all evens itself out, really.
SEM: What songs feature the two of you playing bass simultaneously?
JB: All of them, pretty much. Sometimes we’ll play the same thing, which because we have two full bass rigs going, makes an absolutely massive sound. Whereas at other times a track will actually have two basslines – “Weirdo,” “Subculture,” “This Time of Night” – and because we have the two basses we can do it all live, which has never been done before when New Order played these tracks.
SEM: Would you please choose a specific song and talk about how two basslines work together in it?
JB: “Subculture” would be a good example, I suppose. The low bass, which I play, stays out for the first bit of the song then comes in for the first chorus. It is a walking bassline, which is very awkward to play, so I have to concentrate on that one. I’m playing my four string bass here, and then halfway through the song, my dad will come in on his six string bass with the lead line – and then that just elevates the whole track and takes it up to another level completely. When the low bass and the lead line are both blasting towards the end of the track, while Pottsy handles the vocals (which has been a great addition to this set), it really does create a unique sound.
SEM: What are some of Hooky’s greatest strengths as a frontman and lead singer?
JB: The thing that stands out for me would just be how much he has grown into the role, because it was all completely new to him and now he is really confident with it and is doing a really good job. I know he had been the frontman for Revenge and then shared that role with Pottsy in Monaco, but it must feel completely different when he is doing the Joy Division and New Order material because that automatically creates a great deal of pressure. But he is handling it really well, and I am very proud because he continues to amaze me firstly with his stamina as we are playing three hour shows a night now and secondly with his confidence, which at the moment knows no bounds and it is great to see.
SEM: Many of the songs from the Low-Life–Brotherhood period end with beautiful and melodic bass solos. Are you playing any of these live on the tour?
JB: Yeah, I get to play the bass solo at the end of “State of the Nation,” which is nice. We didn’t really decide that; I just did it one time at the rehearsal stage, and we stuck with it. Stuff like the outro to “The Perfect Kiss,” though, everybody knows that my dad needed to be playing that, so I am happy to take a back seat there and let him play the whole thing, which I know is what all the fans want, including me!
SEM: Side A of Brotherhood has a more guitar-driven and aggressive sound than Low-Life. Do you have to change your mindset and, maybe, your approach to the bass when you transition from the Low-Life to the Brotherhood set?
JB: You do have to change your outlook, yeah, because they are very different records, really. You also find yourself using lots of different pedals for each album. Brotherhood uses a lot more short delays and distortions than Low-Life, which itself carries quite a clean bass tone on the whole, except for maybe the very start of “Face Up.”
SEM: What’s the most challenging song for the band to play from Brotherhood?
JB: I’d probably say “Weirdo,” to be honest. It might seem like a pretty short and straight forward track when you listen to the record, but that has been a very difficult one for us to get used to. We’d be playing through at rehearsals, and then when we’d get to “Weirdo,” everything would kind of grind to a halt, which was frustrating. But eventually we tweaked it until it was good to go. The more we play these songs, the better they are going to get, so over the course of this tour we should be really into the swing of things.
SEM: What’s the most fun?
JB: “The Perfect Kiss” is good fun, as a result of having to play the cowbell like I mentioned earlier (laughs)! I also really like playing “Way of Life” because that low almost reggae style bass that comes out of nowhere in the middle of the song is one of my favorite bits.
SEM: The Light are playing three classic New Order singles: “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Temptation,” and “True Faith.” I’m wondering if you’d share some of your memories of first hearing these songs.
JB: When I first heard those songs, it would have been as a young kid sat at the side of the stage at New Order shows, not really knowing what was going on! When I got a bit older, though, you could see that songs like those three were definitely fan favorites because the place would just erupt every time they played them. To be playing them myself now alongside my dad is quite surreal but feels absolutely fantastic.
SEM: Why do you think that Hooky begins an evening of New Order tunes with a short Joy Division set?
JB: It was funny really because we first did that on the last American tour and did it as a surprise. We would be going on to half-full halls while people were still in the bar or wherever and then people would begin to sprint in once they realized what was going on. I thought the support slot thing would just be a one off for that tour, but it has developed into the norm now. I really like it; it serves as a nice warm up for playing the New Order stuff, which is a lot more difficult in terms of playing than the Joy Division material. I think he does it just because he is really enjoying being able to play them all again after being denied it for so long and maybe doesn’t want to lose it again. And the fans really appreciate it, too, which is obviously a good thing.
SEM: Finally, I’m wondering if you’d be kind enough to discuss The Light’s current lineup and what special qualities each member brings to the band.
JB: Well, David Potts joined us on guitar just before our last American tour, replacing Nat Wason, who moved on to join Ben Howard’s live band. I must admit Nat is such a top guitarist that I was worried as to how we would replace him, but then Pottsy came in and all my fears immediately went away because he has done such an amazing job learning all the songs in such a short space of time (compared to the rest of us) and playing them so well. Having Pottsy in the band also offers a different dynamic because he is a singer and so can share the vocal duties with my dad, which is different to our last tours but has enhanced the show a great deal. Andy on keyboards does an absolutely amazing job looking after all of the electronics really. He’s always carrying round about three laptops that are all sync-ing to something or other that I don’t really understand – or sorting out a backing track or adjusting some levels. It really is not my area of expertise, but what I do know is that he knows his stuff. Paul, the drummer, is someone I have known for most of my life and who is a great laugh as well as being a top drummer. I feel sorry for him at times because he comes off stage absolutely drenched in sweat from head to toe because it’s such a work out. But he is very passionate about the music because he is a big fan, and this certainly comes across in his performances. Then what can I say about my dad that hasn’t already been said – I just could not be any prouder.
(Photographs by Mark L. Hill, Craige Barker, and Al de Perez)