Revenge \ Biography
Band biography by Claude Flowers
The key to understanding Revenge may lie in the very first line of the very first song on the group's very first CD: "It's good to feel young and gifted again, to see if it all happens twice."
This optimistic sentiment, the opening lyric of 7 Reasons, reflected the aspirations of band founder Peter Hook. By 1989, Hook had worked as a professional musician in Manchester, England for over a decade. His punk rock quartet Warsaw evolved into Joy Division, a groundbreaking unit centred largely around his taste for playing melodies, rather than using his bass as a simple rhythm instrument. Joy Division's greatest works, like the driving Transmission, the aching Love Will Tear Us Apart, and the majestic Atmosphere (all released through the pioneering independent label Factory Records) pivoted around his contributions.
The death in May 1980 of Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis forced Hook, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, and drummer Stephen Morris to reassign musical duties. Sumner became frontman. Morris added keyboards to his responsibilities; His girlfriend (later wife) Gillian Gilbert was brought in as a supplementary keyboardist, guitarist, and harmony vocalist. Hook largely stuck to his trusty four string, but he also took the microphone to sing lead on the potent Dreams Never End, and add backup on a few designated tunes.
Throughout the '80s, New Order coloured its core disco rock sound with elements from electro, hip hop, and acid house, styles the band supported through its personal nightclub, The Haçienda. Still, a few musical trademarks remained constant, those ingratiating basslines being first among equals. Generous with his talent and time, Hook also moonlighted as a record producer, overseeing projects at his personal recording studio, Suite 16 in Rochdale. There, he typically collaborated with studio co owner Shan Hira (of the band Stockholm Monsters), or the firm's in house engineer, softly spoken Welshman Chris "C.J." Jones (who as "Chris Smooth" played drums in the Prestatyn punk quintet The Vaj). Ironically, C.J. once lived in Dyserth, Wales, next door to the woman who now is Hook's wife!
By 1989, New Order had distinguished itself as one of the most dynamic bands of its generation, but Hook admits the band members, "had amounted a hell of a lot of problems with The Haçienda and Factory and our relationships with each other. In many ways, they were absolutely insurmountable. There was nothing you could do about them. I must say, the saddest moment of my life that I can remember - close family apart - was when we sat in a hotel room in Los Angeles prior to playing Irvine Meadows. We held a meeting about Factory because they were having such financial problems. It was there that Bernard announced that he was going off to do his own thing. That gave me the shock of my life. I never expected that. I never expected to not have New Order."
"It's the same as the break-up of any relationship. You go through peaks and troughs of being angry and sad and feeling helpless and feeling hopeless before you come out of it and start feeling optimistic. I didn't want to stop touring. I wanted to carry on. Once Bernard said that, we drove off (to the concert). We each had separate cars. We didn't go together. We were travelling along and got stuck in this huge traffic jam. I remember saying, 'Oh, fuck, why have we got a traffic jam here, right in the middle of nowhere, on a weekday afternoon? This is just crazy.' The guy who was driving turned around and said, 'These are your fans. They're coming to see you play.' That even made it all the more poignant 'cause it was at that moment we had decided New Order was going to stop for however long it was going to be."
Rather than wait for the quartet to reform, Hook elected to make music on his own. "I was completely bewildered. Then, when I sat down, I thought, 'Fuck it, I'll do my own thing.' I came back to England when we'd finished touring, I got my gear together and went inside Suite 16. C.J. was engineering and helping me. Once he set the equipment up, he left."
Accustomed to collaborating with others, Hook suddenly found himself without a springboard. "I twiddled about, trying things. Oh, it was very, very strange, like being a child, having to learn the whole thing again. After a couple of days, I got something going: a bassline, a drum riff on the DMX, and thought, 'Wow, that's really good! That's all right!' I turned around and there was nobody there. I thought, 'Oh my God, this isn't going to work.' I chatted with C.J. and he said he'd play with me. He was a really good keyboardist. He helped me write vocal melodies. He worked very, very hard. And then there were two of us."
Further expansion of the line-up took a bit of resourcefulness. Ultimately, he turned his attention toward one of the local acts he'd assisted: Lavolta Lakota, featuring Ged Duffy of Stockholm Monsters, Ashley "Ash" Taylor of Curse, and Dave Hicks, a roadie for Southern Death Cult. "I'd been doing sound for Lavolta Lakota," Hook explains. "I watched them at a show and saw, 'Guitar: Stage Left' written on the mixing board. I thought it was Dave Hicks playing those parts: 'Oh, he's a good guitarist, I'll get him in.' But I got it wrong, you see. They mark it the other way around. 'Stage Left' is what the audience sees on the right hand side of a stage. I was actually listening to Ash. Ash was a great guitarist. Dave was the singer and an okay guitarist. It took me years to realize that he only wanted to be a singer!"
With Jones serving as keyboardist, Hicks playing guitar, and Hook contributing vocals, bass, keyboards, and drums, Revenge was born. The trio began composing songs, building a sound of its own. "The problem I found with C.J. and Dave was that if I wasn't around, they stopped working. They couldn't get themselves together. I had to be the leader all the time. It wore me out."
Another problem which eventually manifested itself was Hicks' desire to be lead vocalist. Hook admits: "He was ambitious and he believed in himself, which you need in a group." However his drive also caused friction. "He tried to convince everyone that he should be the singer. He'd take tracks home, put vocals on them, and play them to other people to get them to agree with him before he'd say to me, 'I've got a vocal.' It made him very unpopular, because he was always pulling away."
Regardless, Hook treated his collaborators as equals, chivalrously insisting that they receive equal coverage in press interviews. Today, he wonders if that was a mistake to drag C.J. and Hicks into the public spotlight before they understood the publicity process, or the cruelties of a fickle media. "They didn't know what to talk about. They had only just appeared. I had a long history already. I put them in a situation they couldn't always handle very well. But the band was democratic and we shared everything, the highs and the lows."
Revenge's songs typically developed from instrumental jams. Hook's own methodology caused him frustration when it came time to add lyrics: He had to work within an established structure. By then, the arrangements were unforgiving. "That was my fault. A lack of experience made me get the music great and then when it came time to put the vocal on, I thought, 'My God, I've shot myself in the foot here.' I made it too rigid. The only two songs where I wrote the vocal first were 14K and It's Quiet. All the rest had vocals stuck on a finished song which I've since learned is the most difficult thing to do! We didn't do ourselves any favours, but that's a part of learning and growing. When Bernard said to me he felt stifled by New Order and needed to grow, I thought he was talking absolute rubbish. Then, when I started achieving things with Revenge, I realized that it was one of the wisest things he'd ever said, because I did learn to do things on my own. It gave me much more confidence than I'd had in New Order."
Turmoil ran through Revenge's songs. In fact, the collision of opposing elements - acoustic and electronic instruments, references to surrender and restraint - is what gave the work its potency. "It was a very problematic time for me personally," Hook admits. "It was a very useful tool, singing and writing lyrics to have a go at a few people! It was very useful for that. I suppose I was channelling my energy and my anger and frustration. It was also a very hectic time in Manchester. It was very drug oriented. Everyone was completely off their heads, basically. To be kind, you might say it was exciting, but if you were honest, you'd say it was flaky 'cause it was very difficult to get anything done. Most of the time everyone was either off it or hung over."
Revenge's untitled debut record appeared in late 1989, available on 12" single 7 Reasons (Fac 247) and compact disc. Both formats shared two songs (7 Reasons and the epic Jesus... I Love You). The vinyl added an instrumental remix, I Love You Too. The CD featured the bouncy instrumental Bleach Boy and a concise, powerful edit of Jesus. Hook wishes more of Revenge's work had been similarly streamlined. "There were just miles too many layers, which is unfortunate. Revenge's stuff was intricate and complicated. I didn't want to let anything go because I wasn't 100% confident about anything. I put everything in, just in case somebody liked some bit. I couldn't bear to throw anything away."
These dense arrangements could not easily be reproduced in concert, so two more members were drafted for stage appearances, teenage bassist David "Pottsy" Potts, who worked as a tape operator at Suite 16, and a fun-loving drummer from Rochdale named Ashley 'Ash' Major. Hook recalls: "Pottsy came to work for us for about 10 quid a week while I was doing Revenge. He pitched in and helped. He was a guitarist, so he showed Dave Hicks riffs for Damned songs and Sex Pistols songs. I thought, 'He's good!' When we put the live band together, I asked if he wanted to play bass, which he did."
Things progressed quickly. Another Revenge song, the instrumental blast Wende, arrived in April, 1990 on the Manchester music compilation Home. The infectious single Pineapple Face (Fac 267) followed that May in a variety of mixes and edits, perhaps the best being Pineapple Face's Big Day (Remix), produced by Ron St. Germaine (the engineer on several posthumous albums by the late Jimi Hendrix). In North America, where Revenge's work was issued by Capitol Records, PF became a hit on radio stations across the US and Canada, and was a smash at dance clubs. The accompanying video, however, encountered resistance from broadcasters. The clip was a sexy mini movie featuring Hook, a bevy of mystery women, and a startling, well-written ending.
Its suppression was unfortunate, though Revenge hardly had time to worry about the ban. Their debut album One True Passion (Fact 230) appeared in June, greeted by largely positive reviews. Pineapple Face and a remixed 7 Reasons returned, along with advanced versions of Wende (retitled Slave) and Bleach Boy (called Bleach Man). The proud, graceful It's Quiet closed the disc on a thoughtful note.
"It's Quiet is my favourite song on the album," Hook chuckles. "It was so simple. After that, I think I wrote simpler and better songs. My favourite Revenge song of all is (the b side of Pineapple Face) 14K. The lyrics express what I was trying to say better than anything I've ever done. I love it. I still listen to 14K. It really cleaned my head out." He adds, "One True Passion, played live, sounded much better than it did on record. We should have played live before we recorded it! When you play songs live, you can feel which bits work and which bits don't. You have to be much more concise and much clearer, whereas when mixing, you can get away with a lot of things."
Revenge toured North America that summer. An extensive German tour followed in the autumn, leading up to the release of Slave as a single (Fac 279) in October. Along with numerous versions of the title track, fans got to hear a remake of John Cale's melancholy Amsterdam. A third single, Kiss the Chrome, was considered but never materialized. Regardless, it had been a busy, fruitful year.
The future lay before Revenge, but changes in the line-up occurred. Ash quit drumming due to an injury. Conflicts about Pottsy's involvement with the group also had to be resolved. Although his value as a musician and potential songwriter couldn't be denied, Hicks wanted the original trio to remain in charge. Hook admits, "C.J. and I found it easier to work with Pottsy than with Dave. Dave had some problems at the time." Eventually, Hicks left. Potts switched from bass to guitar, and two more musicians were drafted, bassist Brian Whittaker and drummer Mike Hedges.
1991 would be a quiet year for Revenge. In February, the band's rendition of the Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat (performed as an encore at some gigs) appeared on the VU tribute album Heaven and Hell. During the spring and early summer, the musicians kept to themselves, writing and taping songs in Hook's basement recording studio.
Revenge emerged in August to honour late New Order and Joy Division producer Martin Hannett at the mammoth Cities in the Park festival. Two works in progress, State of Shock and Cloud 9, received high profile unveilings at the show, which concluded with Dreams Never End, respectfully linking Revenge to the musical heritage which gave it birth. DNE would reappear in the group's sets throughout the rest of the year. A mini album dubbed Gun World Porn arrived in late January, 1992 (Fac 327). Although international pressings offered different edits and mixes, the core of G WP consisted of the ferocious Little Pig, the mellow Deadbeat, the bouncy Cloud 9, and one of Hook's favourite Revenge cuts, State of Shock.
He confides, "It tells the story of how confused I was, really. The 'Fly me to the moon' lyric is fantasizing about getting away. You want to escape because you're having problems. It's the same thing as 14K: I was having a lot of personal problems involving my children and relationships. I was telling a story but I had the escape route in the lyrics.
"I would never classify myself as a great lyricist, never in a million years, but starting from scratch, I thought I did quite well. I'd put myself down as a 6 1/2 or 7 out of 10, whereas if you look at someone like Ian Curtis, or Bernard's later things like the perfect Kiss or 1963, you go, '10 out of 10, man.' I've still got places to go, which is nice."
Sadly, GWP was to prove Revenge's swansong. As New Order resumed operations in late 1992, Hook found it difficult to maintain the quintet, and his bandmates - except for Pottsy - dispersed in his absence. When the Hook/Potts duo did re-emerge in early 1997, it was under a new name, Monaco, and with a markedly different sound which saw them score a top ten single with What Do You Want From Me?
The first disc of this collection presents thirteen beautifully remastered Revenge classics, plus newly finished versions of The Wilding and Televive, a highlight of the band's final shows. "The tracks sound great. I'm really pleased with them. I did them with Phil Cunningham [live guitarist and keyboardist for New Order] and Roger Lyons, the programmer for New Order. I enjoyed actually writing and singing again, even though it was hard work. I've not done it for a long time. When you play music, it creates an atmosphere and you touch people in a spiritual way, but when you talk to them, it's much closer, much more immediate. I did find that nice again. I re wrote the lyrics, and I found it easier!"
These tunes also feature Hook's celebrated basslines, which had previously been submerged. "I haven't any inhibitions now about playing bass. When I had Revenge, I was really wound up about sounding like New Order. It was just daft, a silly thing to do. Pottsy helped me to dispel it."
Disc two offers archival tracks like Underworld, Hot Nights Cool City (a primordial Bleachman), a promo only mix of Deadbeat, and Soul (inspired by The Four Tops' 1967 smash Standing In the Shadows of Love). "That was another one I'd have loved to redo," Hook says of Soul, "but I didn't have time." Ultimately, then, is this a tale of retaliation or rebirth? A bit of both, perhaps.
"Revenge took us everywhere around the world. We had a great time, and I took all my mates with me, playing songs. We actually succeeded in the way that we didn't lose money. We had some great gigs and some wild times in the far flung corners of the world. So if you think about it, it fulfilled its purpose. I really, really enjoyed myself."
"Doing the solo stuff made me stronger and more interested in music. It made me take more chances. As much as I was terrified when I walked out of that meeting in Los Angeles, it was the right thing to do. It also showed me that my home life was as important as the group, whereas in New Order, we always put the band in front of our home lives. We're much better people for realizing the correct way to do it."