Interview with Peter Hook & Graeme Park of Haçienda Classical

Interview with Peter Hook & Graeme Park of Haçienda Classical

Interview by Ava Brezac

Haçienda Classical is making its Newmarket Nights debut on 28th July, what can the audience expect from this celebration of dance music?

Peter Hook: All of these tracks, while being mostly one hit wonders, have become integral to most people lives. Christenings, Birthdays, Weddings, Divorces… we’ve heard them everywhere.

Graeme Park: Exactly that. A massive celebration of classic club tracks reimagined with an orchestra and choir. We will be performing a variety of songs that are all guaranteed to bring massive smiles to everyone’s faces and to get everyone dancing and singing along, whether you’re an original Haçienda clubber or someone who is too young to have witnessed it but is aware of our history, legacy, heritage and of the music. A lot of the songs will bring back amazing memories for those who remember them and some of the songs will surprise people as they may not have heard them for years.  

With your show taking place after an evening of racing, do you think you will catch some of the races?

PH: The last time I went to the races I was so smashed I got out of the bar as the last horse was being put back in its box! My mate had won a fortune and ran up to me waving a thousand quid in my face shouting…’I won! I won!’ I promptly took it off him and put it in a charity box. He has never forgiven me.

GP: Normally I try and have some time out after the drama and hard work sound checking and rehearsing before the show, but maybe the lure of a race might tempt me. My late Grandpa, who had his own orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s, was a big fan of the horses so I might take in a race and remember all the times he used to leave me outside the bookies with a bottle of Irn Bru and a packet of crisps in Aberdeen as a wee laddie while he placed his bets inside.

What are some of your favourite memories from the Haçienda days that come back when performing with Haçienda Classical?

GP: Certain songs really do bring back specific and amazing memories. Too many to mention here, but all very special to me for many different reasons which I can’t discuss here without getting into trouble!

With an impressive number of shows completed at some of the most renown venues across the UK, are there any songs in particular that continue to move you the most when you hear them in Haçienda Classical’s set? How do you select your favourites?

PH: I love them all, this year’s which I am listening to as I write this is the best ever! Everyone will be worn out after it.

GP: It’s always difficult choosing the tracks every year when we start to work on a new show. Unlike a DJ set, where you can make things up as you go along and change what you’re doing based on the vibe from the crowd, everything must be agreed in advance and set in stone so that Tim Crooks, our wonderful conductor, can score and arrange everything for the orchestra. 

This is our eighth year of shows, and it never gets easier selecting the tracks. Obviously there are certain huge songs that just have to go in and there are also many tracks from previous shows that we’ve brought back for 2023. I also like to introduce some new tracks too, but it’s all about getting the balance right. Once the final decision is made on which songs to perform, I create a DJ mix for Tim to work from and he feedbacks regarding what the orchestra, choir and singers can and can’t do and that’s when things get tweaked and adjusted before the pre-production begins. However, I get incredibly nervous right up until we take to the stage and start the first show because that’s when we find out what it sounds like. It’s been this way since our first show in 2016 but has worked tremendously every year since. In fact, based on what we learn every year throughout the whole process, the show has subsequently got better and better which means that this year’s should be the best one yet.

The music of Haçienda’s legacy has been loved for over 25 years and has connected with fans across generations, especially now a younger generation. What do you think it is that makes this music so important to so many?

PH: I think that many of the tracks have become the cornerstones of dance music culture and become ubiquitous. Then add in all those parents boring their kids to death by playing all these great tunes all the time, then ultimately winning them over. Great music spans all generations.

What have been the most exciting elements of playing with the Manchester Camerata Orchestra as opposed to playing a DJ set by yourself? 

GP: The main difference performing with an orchestra is that I can’t make things up as I go along like I do in a DJ set. Also, I’m not just DJing as I play keyboards and samples too as well as some old school scratching and occasionally some singing. This means I must pay attention to our conductor Tim and make sure I hit my marks. However, to keep the spontaneity of DJing, I do have the option of mixing things up a bit. There are some tracks where I spin accapella vocals over the music and I often change which ones I play from show to show which always surprises everyone on stage, especially if they’re used to a specific vocal that I change after a few shows. I also like to mix it up with new samples from time to time as well. It’s also a massive buzz being a small part of something so big and I definitely feed off the energy of the musicians on stage as well as the crowd. I particularly love vibing off of Chris, our Latin percussionist who is on my right, and Janet our classical percussionist, who is on my left. I think the show benefits immensely from the camaraderie on stage. Just look at the way the orchestra interacts and the smiles on everyone’s faces.

Do you think a club today could ever have as much of an impact as the Haçienda has had on UK music and culture? What does Haçienda Classical do for the legacy of this special club?

PH: I think what we did at the time in Manchester was unique and a product of its time but if you happen to have £17 million to spare you could do it too.

GP: The thing about the Haçienda was that it was run by hedonists for hedonists. As far as I’m aware, there was no great business plan and it ultimately failed as a business as a result. Just read Peter Hook’s sensational account of the whole story in his book “How Not To Run A Nightclub” and marvel at some of the tales he tells so magnificently. However, despite the chaos that often occurred behind the scenes, it was a special and unique place that left an incredible legacy and I’m proud to have been part of that. Others took influence from it, such as Cream in Liverpool, but nobody has ever been able to replicate it and I doubt anyone ever will. 

It was a different time and the input of the late Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton was paramount to its success. Also, Manchester in the 80s and 90s was such a creative hub with so much amazing electronic and indie music being created. All the artists that we know and love from the period that are now household names, all used to come and get involved with the music and the vibe at The Haçienda every single week and you can hear that in the music they created at the time. The Haçienda grew organically, and I don’t think that today’s big clubs have that luxury. There’s no spontaneity today because everything has to be meticulously planned in advance to avoid failure and to keep investors and banks happy. The spirits of Tony and Rob as well as the original venue live on today in the various Haçienda Club nights that take place around the UK and beyond and on stage when we perform the show.

You have been in some of the most important bands and have played an irreplaceable role in the music scene in Manchester and evidently all of the UK, is there one moment within all of this that you are most proud of?

PH: I have millions of moments from throughout my forty years plus now, but I have to say the thing I am most proud of is my wife and children.

Between working with a full orchestra, additional musicians and special guests, how has this project let you experiment with music you love and has it let you grow even further as a creative?

PH: When I play with the Orchestra my world feels very different, but we have the same objective which is to love a job we do well. I am very happy to be here.

GP: Before I became a full time DJ back in 1984, I sang and played saxophone and keyboards in bands. That’s what I wanted to do before accidentally becoming a DJ. Being part of Haçienda Classical means that I’ve ultimately ended up doing what I wanted to do in the first place, albeit on a much grander scale. It’s an absolute joy to be part of this show and to work with so many talented musicians and singers and, as a massive Joy Division and New Order fan, I still can’t believe I get to work with and perform alongside Peter Hook. If you’d told me this back in the day, I just wouldn’t have believed you. My late grandpa would also have been very proud of me. In the early days of my DJ career he said that what I was doing was the modern equivalent of what he did with his George Wood Orchestra in Scotland in the 40s and 50s, playing the big tunes of the day in dancehalls around the country.

Celebrating music that has played an incredible role in the lives of many, while letting fans experience the origins of songs they love is truly special. Have you been overwhelmed with the amount of support the show has received?

PH: Every time, although the pressure to get it right can be overwhelming. I think we do it very well and the full club mix aspect of it, which is unique to us, makes it very special. 

GP: Absolutely! But you have to remember that The Haçienda had such a huge influence on so many people’s lives. It changed people’s lives too, so the love we receive shouldn’t really come as a surprise if you think about it. 

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