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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012

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The perfect kiss off: Phil Cunningham (far left) of New Order (l-r: Gillian Gilbert, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Tom Chapman) says he believes there is going to be a new chapter in the band's history, without founding member Peter Hook.

New Order hooks up with a new bassist and is ready to start again

Special To The Japan Times

"We feel liberated," says New Order guitarist Phil Cunningham as he considers how the latest incarnation of the influential Manchester band compares with the one that initially reformed in 2001. "We are doing it for love and everyone is more chilled out. But to be honest, a lot of that is due to a certain person not being around."

Cunningham laughs as he speaks, but it wouldn't be New Order if bad blood wasn't bubbling to the surface. Few bands possess a history weighted with so much triumph, so much tragedy, so much mythology as New Order and even now, as the reformed group prepare to headline the Mountain Stage at this weekend's Summer Sonic events in Tokyo and Osaka, that past remains as inescapable as ever.

Even ignoring the fitting poignancy (not to mention strange coincidence) that the day I chat to Cunningham and Tom Chapman, the band's newest member, is the fifth anniversary of the death of Tony Wilson, the legendary owner of Factory Records and Hacienda night club who was so integral to New Order's success, it is the more recent past that continues to cause discontent.

New Order has regrouped without original bass player Peter Hook, as an increasingly bitter and unseemly dispute, played out publicly and often with great vengeance, shows no sign of abating. Founding members Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert have fallen out with Hook over everything from ownership of the Hacienda to Hook's decision to form a band and play the songs of previous band Joy Division. In the middle of this is Hook's replacement, Chapman, who felt the pressure of stepping into such big shoes.

"It was daunting," he admits. "Bernard had a quiet word before we started and said, 'Look, there will be criticism so don't read and listen to anything people say good or bad, just believe in yourself, that's what I've done. I've ignored all the rubbish that's been said. You'd make yourself a bit ill, it affects your judgment. He (Hook) hasn't been taking it well, but he's doing his thing and we just want to get on with our thing. I'd like to remind you at this point that Peter Hook left the band."

Was it a difficult choice to reform without him?

"Well, we thought if someone is being an awkward sod about everything and doesn't want to do it, why shouldn't we do it?" Cunning says. "Hooky's happy doing his stuff, we're happy doing our stuff, let's all be happy and go our separate ways." He doesn't appear very happy ... "Ha! Well, some people are never happy. God knows what is going on there. You get a bit older and you think does anybody need that kind of stress in their life? We just want to get on with playing music."

The spat between the parties is, to say the least, unfortunate, considering that as both New Order and before them Joy Division, the seminal post-punk band that created two near-flawless albums before singer Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980, those at the center of the quarrel have twice redefined the musical landscape. It is a hugely important legacy: do Cunningham and Chapman feel a responsibility to it?

"I do feel that, yeah," Cunningham says. "I remember very well walking into the rehearsal room for the first time all those years ago and I felt the weight. It was a big thing being in that room with the people who made that music. I think we're doing a good job of preserving that legacy and playing the music that Steve, Gillian, Bernard and Hooky have made."

"Joy Division and New Order have influenced so many bands," Chapman continues, "and changed so many people's lives and it's quite special to achieve that with music. They did a lot for people's lives. Not many bands can do that. And not many bands have done that. It is important for us to be true to that, and I think we do that. What we have done this year is very true to New Order's music. And it is New Order."

Cunningham admits the band "didn't know what the reaction was going to be, especially without Hooky," but what started out as a two-gig reunion to raise money for the health costs of band cohort Michael Shamberg, has now "snowballed" into a world tour that will reach Japan.

Chapman "can't wait" to visit Japan for the first time, and Cunningham is just as keen to "see what Tom makes of the culture, watch him experience it for the first time."

And it may not be the last time crowds in Japan get the New Order experience, with the promise of new material growing ever more likely.

"I think there will be," says Chapman "and the exciting thing is that there is going be a new chapter in New Order. There has to be new music, otherwise you just become a heritage act. Just like Peter Hook."

New Order headlines the Mountain Stage at Summer Sonic 2012 at Maishima in Osaka on Aug. 18 (one-day passes cost ¥12,500, two-day passes cost ¥22,500) and Chiba's Makuhari Messe on Aug. 19 (one-day passes cost ¥15,000, two-day passes cost ¥27,000). For more information, visit www.neworderonline.com or www.summersonic.com.

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