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A Quietus Interview

Twist Of Fate: Bernard Sumner Interviewed
Jude Rogers , March 17th, 2010 09:18

Former Joy Division and New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner talks to Jude Rogers about his new venture Bad Lieutenant, the demise of the Hacienda and Joy Division merchandise

“I can see the London Eye, Westminster, the river, a tart walking across Waterloo Bridge...". Bernard Sumner is sitting in the Park Plaza Hotel on London’s South Bank, gazing out of the window, taking the world in. Like Johnny Marr before him, he first made his name as a musician three decades ago, but refuses to bask in the shadow of the past, or indeed wallow in Manchester’s many murky myths. Today, he talks to The Quietus about his new band, Bad Lieutenant – whose UK tour starts on 15 March, and new single, Twist Of Fate, is released on 22 March – and also tells us precisely what he thinks about Peter Hook’s FAC251 (the new Factory-themed nightclub he has set up in central Manchester), who really watched the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall in 1976, and how much he loves his Unknown Pleasures cardigan.

Tell us how Bad Lieutenant work. Is the band a full-time job for you these days?

Bernard Sumner: It was like that when we were making the record, definitely. We worked really, really, really fucking hard. You’d think as you get older, it’d get easier, but it doesn’t. Imagine you’re making a car –iIt takes that much time and effort. And then when you finish the record you think, great, I can spend some time with my family now, chill out a bit. And then you’ve got to do the promotion, start rehearsing to play live. That’s when everything really kicks in, and you forget that.

But you must have the drive to still make music, otherwise you could just rest on your laurels. Don’t you still get a buzz from starting a new record, or preparing for a tour?

BS: Well, you don’t want to get too excited, or you’d lose control – and you’ve got to be in charge of what you’re doing. It’s important to keep a bit of distance from everything. I really enjoy being in a group when you’ve got that balance of playing and resting. It feels a bit better now, after we had a break after Christmas. But now we’ve got a tour coming up, it’s full steam ahead.

Does having a fresh face in the band [Jake Evans, who plays alongside latterday New Order member Phil Cunningham] inspire you at all?

BS: It inspires me very much because this is the first album he’s ever made. Jake’s only 28, you know, and I’m 38. [pauses for comic effect] What’re you laughing at? I heard you! So yes, I’m slightly older than him...but it’s nice to see him experiencing everything for the first time. He’s got his own band, Rambo Leroy, but they’ve only released one EP, and they’ve been making an album since he was bloody 17 – he started it when he was at school.

Do you find yourself giving him advice? Or fatherly guidance?

BS: Er, no. I don’t want to be his father, no. I’d be very disappointed if he was my son, to be honest. [laughs] He’s a lovely guy, I’m only joking. Obviously I’ve been a musician for a long time, over 30 years, and you do get a bit tired of certain aspects of it. You get tired of travelling and airports and being asked the same questions. But Jake’s there at the airport watching the bags going round in a circle and he loves it. He’s not got the same hang-ups, so that’s inspiring too.

Does the name Bad Lieutenant have anything to do with the Abel Ferrera film? Is it because you’ve got off your box with him or Harvey Keitel?

BS: Well, we’re playing New York in a month’s time or so, and Ferrera’s actually coming to meet us there. I’ve not met him before, so I’m looking forward to that. And there’s the remake from last year, the Herzog version, which is good. So yes, it’s something to do with the original film, but not the meaning of the film, really. The original film is really over-the-top. It pushes things. Some of the scenes are quite distressing in it, but a couple of scenes – I don’t know whether or not this makes me a bad person – I find them quite funny. The scene with Harvey Keitel and two girls in a’s funny in a silly, black humour sort of way. When he shoots the radio up, it’s just so extreme. We thought Bad Lieutenant was a good handle with which to pick something up.

Any idea what Ferrera will make of your music?

BS: I’ve got no idea what he’s like as a person, really. I read in papers he’s bit pissed off with Werner Herzog and they’ve had a bit of a falling out. I’m a big fan of Herzog, though. Me and Ian Curtis used to go and see his films when we were young chaps, years ago, Nosferatu, Stroszek, all those. I think he’s good, and the new film’s good too. Thank God it was, to be honest– if it was terrible we’d have to disband, and I’d have to form yet another bloody band.

What do you think of pop music at the moment?

BS: Oh God, I don’t know really. The strange thing is I don’t listen to that much music, because I’m playing it for 12 hours a day or talking about it for 12 hours a day, so it’s the last thing I want to do. Although, you know, I’ve obviously heard of Lady Gaga.

Are you a fan?

BS: Erm...[laughs] It’s catchy, let’s put it that way.

Lots of music around at the moment seems to be heavily inspired by the electronic pop of the ’80s. Delphic in particular – everyone’s talking about them ripping off New Order’s style and song titles and sounds. Have you heard them?

BS: I’ve actually met them, they’re very nice boys. But I don’t know. When we started out, in Joy Division, we were influenced by a lot of stuff. I don’t think any young musician starts at year zero. We used to listen to Iggy Pop, the Velvet Undergroundd, MC5, Love, Led Zeppelin, even Santana! I don’t think anyone should be shot down for having influences, really. But this ’80s revival is bit weird for me, because if I was to do a track that sounded like it was from that time, I’d get crucified! Maybe music’s gone as far forward as it possibly can, so you have to start looking back, I’m not sure.

Who lies about being at the Free Trade Hall to see the Sex Pistols in 1976?

BS: I only remember me and Terry, who became our roadie. And Peter Hook being there. And the Buzzcocks being there, and the Buzzcocks’ manager. That’s all I remember. I think there were loads of people there who became musicians, but I think they were in the process of becoming musicians – I don’t think they became them because of that gig. Although – the gig did offer a lot of encouragement. Because up to that point, you had to be a virtuoso to be in that group. And now it was like you don’t need that shit. Three chords, write a song, bingo.

Mick Hucknall was apparently there too.

BS: I think that’s probably true! Mick Hucknall was there, probably. He was in a band called Frantic Elevators. People forget that – Mick Hucknall was a punk.

What do you think of Peter Hook’s new nightclub venture, Fac 251, that trades on the history of the Haçienda?

BS: What do I think of his club? Good luck to him you know. Let him do his own thing. [starts to laugh uncontrollably] You know, if that’s what he wants to do, then that’s fine. I don’t mind that at all. Yet it seems an odd thing to do after complaining about all the money he lost from the Haçienda first time round. But good luck to him, yeah.

What do you think of its music policy? It’s more of a student nightclub these days rather than a home for avant-garde, or even slightly challenging music.

BS: I don’t know – I don’t really go to clubs now. I’ve done my fair share in the past. I kept a lot of clubs open very late at night, longer than they should’ve been. I don’t any more because I don’t want to be a middle-aged swinger. Now it’s time to do something else. I can’t comment on the club scene.

Have you read Peter Hook’s book about the first incarnation of the Haçienda [The Haçienda: How Not To Run A Club], that came out last year?

BS: His book? His book about our club? No, I haven’t. He basically purchased the name the Haçienda from the receivers when it went bust, so it’s become Peter Hook’s Haçienda now. Apparently. [voice hardens] Money talks. But believe you me, me, Steve and Gillian did have something to do with the original Factory as well. There were other people involved.

What’s the strangest bit of Joy Division merchandise you’ve ever seen?

BS: There was this idea of Unknown Pleasures Kickers being put about once. I think that’s quite silly. I don’t think Ian would’ve been quite into that. Most of it’s been quite tasteful, though, really. At home, I’ve got a Joy Division cardigan. Yeah! An Unknown Pleasures cardigan. I might wear it on stage the next time we play. I’ve also got a Joy Division rucksack, so I’m just waiting for trousers and socks. I suppose a pair of Kickers would have gone very well with them.

With the 30th anniversary of Joy Division’s Closer coming up later this year, do ever wish that people what draw a line under your past?

BS: Well, as an older musician, you either get forgotten or you get remembered. I would never deny my past. Sometimes it gets a bit annoying, because it feels like you’re living in the shadow of your past, but then again, I suppose, everyone as individuals are living in the shadows of their past. But I’d rather be remembered than forgotten, so I’m glad people still talking about Joy Division. Also, because we burned very brightly for a short time, because we were a cult band, on a small independent label, we never got over-exposed at the time. So for younger people these days, there’s still a sense of self-discovery when they find out about Joy Division. One of my friends brought his daughter round the other day – she’s 14, and she had her iPod on. And I said to her, what are you listen to? And she said, it’s this group called Joy Division. And I had to smile a little bit.