Friday, February 24, 2012

Gillian Gilbert (New Order) interview: 2012


Gillian Gilbert is at the Macclesfield country home she shares with husband/New Order drummer, Stephen Morris when I phone. She immediately slips into a relaxed chatty mode, happy to discuss New Order’s past, present and future – after all, it’s been a long time since any typical band activities – rehearsals, touring, international press, New Order itself, have encroached on the keyboardist’s life. The 32nd inconsistent year of the iconic band’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 us 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’.

New Order, 1980
However that announcement, which was made by (now ex) bassist Peter Hook, was news to his band-mates, as it turned out, he was the only one at that particular meeting. This ultimately proved to be Hook's first action in a mounting slash-n-burn of his own legacy. His 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 - excluding Hook - implies a solidarity within the group still exists and is willed to power in even the roughest of times. But then their name always did suggest 'purposeful leadership' - along with vaguely hierarchical connotations - which all seemed very cocky considering they essentially began in 1980 as 'Joy Division; minus the popular singer'. As New Order, they chose a new lead singer basically on the flip of a coin, and for a time nobody in their right mind would have bet on a future for the band. Perhaps though, it’s that ‘unlikely rise’ from potential post-Ian Curtis obscurity that formed the catalyst for New Order’s ‘survive anything’ mentality. Few bands after all have endured their level of disharmony from outside and within their own ranks, so it’s not such a surprise, that in the wake of a very public battle with Hook, their passion has again beaten their hate.

Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert and Steven Morris re-united as New Order last year with a new bassist Tom Chapman and second guitarist Phil Cunningham. On the eve of their first Australian visit with the new line-up - 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 line-up) 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 line-up 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.

Performing Blue Monday on TOTP, '83.
“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.” New member’s aside, the current New Order live show reflects on the band’s past now more than ever, and the visual identity created around New Order’s music. Gilbert explains, “In the past it was always about touring to promote a new album or whatever, but preparing for Michael Shamberg’s benefit concert, forced us to listen to a lot of our older material – some of which we haven’t played live since the ‘80s – and create a set list to go along with a lot of the videos he produced.” Those videos, including Blue Monday’s oddly posed dogs, Bizarre Love Triangle’s falling suited men and True Faith’s mime artists gone feral are images as iconic as the songs themselves, Gillian agrees.

                                                  the classic 'True Faith' video

“I’ve always loved what Michael did with True Faith especially.” The video, which features costumed dancers performing increasingly violent, synchronised routines, thinly hides the band’s most overt drug-referencing in a song.  True Faith – the song and video - was one of the first to drag underground club culture into the mainstream, where it was immediately deemed ‘unsavory’. “I remember Radio One refused to play it unless we changed some of the words.” The original lyric “Now that we’ve grown up together/they’re all taking drugs with me” was tamed down to “Now that we’ve grown up together/they’re afraid of what they see”. “It was never about promoting, or glamorising anything though,” Gillian adds, “Meanwhile, nearly every song on the radio now it seems, is loaded with drug references, only it doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. Is it shock for the sake of shock value? Yes, I think so.” And if any band should know, it’s New Order. 

Keyboardist Gilbert, also
occasionally played guitar in NO.

Madchester, Baggy, Acid House, and a slew of other music/drug-related sub-cultures have all been credited to New Order’s influence on music, but a scene was already in the making, born from a rapid rise in street-level music creation and a potentially destructive new wave of party drugs. New Order simply provided the best possible soundtrack for whether you were going out, or coming down. The scene bloomed within the well documented home of Tony Wilson’s Factory label and Hacienda nightclub, but many of the bands and many more of the drugs ultimately proved bigger than either business. New Order survived Factory, but only just. To recoup some of their lost earnings, the band 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.” Its 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 ended the band’s tolerance for the industry for many years. Regarding the band's future plans however, Gillian can only offer her personal wishes.

“I would like to finish this tour, take a short break and then see what the future brings. We don’t have plans beyond these shows right now, but that can be an exciting prospect as well." She ads, "I don't think we will be recording a full album again, but I'd like to do an E.P. perhaps. We always had singles that weren't on albums in the past, so I think an E.P. would be a good compromise of those two things." As for the recent history in which ties between New Order's and Hook have seemingly been cut for good, Gillian concludes, "Many things way out of our control have slowed us down over the years, 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. I think with this group getting back together, we knew there would be battles (Hook) to get through, but in New Order, that’s just how we play."



The 'Low Life' album and tour was unusual in that it was the one and only time the band's images were used in the promotional artwork.


  1. Out of adversity rises grace. Perhaps the greatest band of all time. The band that never gave a shit yet always gave their best.

  2. The poster is actually designed by Matt Needle (@needledesign). Not Peter Saville.

  3. I'm very happy seeing Gillian back in the fold. Very happy.

  4. some of her pics are a little scary though. has she been playin the keyboards with her face?