I find Gillian Gilbert relaxing at the Macclesfield country home she shares with husband/New Order drummer, Steven Morris, in a chatty mood today. The 32nd inconsistent year of New Order’s existence is upon us, and Gillian, as with each member at some point or other, is a little surprised to be back. “You just never know with this band what to expect, really,” she understates.
However, New Order’s latest reunion is a very different story to previous times. The silence that followed the band’s last album – 2005’s Waiting For The Siren’s Call – was broken by a statement in 2007, apparently from within the group’s ranks, that New Order were “no more, and never likely to be again”.
That announcement made by (now ex) bassist Peter Hook was, it turned out, a false indicator as he was the only one at that particular meeting. Hook’s subsequent plundering of Joy Division’s back catalogue and threats of legal action against the remainder of New Order (for using the name without his involvement) are now matters for the public to cast opinion on, but New Order’s surprise return in late 2011 implies a solidarity within the group still exists and is willed to power in the roughest of times.
Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert and Steven Morris re-united as New Order last year with new bassist Tom Chapman and second guitarist Phil Cunningham. On the eve of their first Australian visit with the new lineup – and with no new album to promote – Gillian surely speaks for the whole band when she says that this reunion was a more “tentative one” than previous times. “We didn’t really know how it (touring a new lineup) was going be received by the New Order fans, or if the interest would even still be there. But we have come to think of this time as like a new beginning, really.” The first New Order show without Hook was intended as a one-off benefit gig for long-time friend of New Order’s, Michael Shamberg – a film producer responsible for the bulk of New Order’s stylish and surreal music videos – who became terminally ill. It was also the first show to feature Gillian back behind the keyboard following her indefinite departure in 2000 to look after her sick daughter.
“I missed just being with everybody,” she recalls. “It took me a long time to get used to not being in New Order.” The lineup was completed by members of Sumner’s other band, Bad Lieutenant, but the obvious Hook-shaped hole in the band raised potential problems for the long term.
“We were quite scared about doing a fully fledged tour with new band members, because we had to of course work out if Tom could cope with such a big part to play,” Gillian offers, “so instead of barging back into the spotlight as it were, and announcing some big ‘come-back’ tour, we took small steps.” Tom Chapman will inevitably be compared to Hook at every show on the tour but, Gillian notes, it’s wrong to assume he’s merely imitating. “Tom isn’t copying Hooky, he has his own style of playing. Tom wasn’t there when we recorded those songs, and so it stands to reason that he hears them differently to Hooky and has his own take on them.”
Financially, the band have in the past found themselves in deep amounts of trouble, especially as a result of involvements such as those with Tony Wilson’s Factory label. The band tried to recoup lost earnings when they reconvened in 1990, “for what we thought would be one last time”, to record the official World Cup anthem – World In Motion. In a bittersweet twist, the song hit number one at the same time New Order were broke, disbanded and had little hope of a future. “It was encouraging having a number one single, yeah, but really we did that record as a commercial venture because we were in trouble financially,” Gillian confirms.
“Steven [Morris] had the idea to do it, and just because we knew it would be used by all the TV stations broadcasting the World Cup, we all agreed. It was one of the few financially smart things we did as a band.” It’s romantic to think the band keep New Order going for ‘love not money’, and although Hooky is the current bug in the band’s ointment, their instability had begun long ago as a result of bad business. It’s often downplayed for the sake of a good mud-slinging story, but Factory crashed during the making of New Order’s then come-back album, 1993’s Republic which finally ended the band’s tolerance for the industry.
“In spite of things like that, we have always sort of battled through,” Gillian laughs. “Some things way out of our control have slowed us down, but… I think in a way the band is bigger than us as individuals, which makes it easier to carry on in the face of… whatever the universe can throw at us.” Gillian stops short of mentioning Hook, even though she’s – perhaps personally – made her peace with him. “I think with this group getting back together, we knew [Hook’s objection] would be just another battle in a long line to get through,” she smiles, adding, “but in New Order, that’s just how we play.”
BY LEIGH SALTER
NEW ORDER play Future Music Festival alongside The Rapture, Fatboy Slim, Skrillex and more at Flemington Racecourse on Sunday March 11. They play a sideshow at Festival Hall on Thursday March 1.