One night in Manchester, England in 1980, 19-year-old keyboardist/guitarist Gillian Gilbert hitched a ride with boys in a fellow band: drummer Stephen Morris and the other two members of New Order, bassist Peter Hook and guitarist/singer, Bernard Sumner. Soon the ride and a few stand-in gigs turned into a pivotal role in one of music’s most iconic bands – and with Morris, one of rock’s enduring marriages. Gillian remained in New Order through their blockbuster 1980s era and sporadic 1990s phase, and recorded as The Other Two with Stephen in 1991 (while Bernard formed Electronic with Johnny Marr and Pet Shop Boys). The Other Two released a couple of albums in 1993 and 1999 but have been on hold since.
Following 2001’s ‘Get Ready’, she left the band to focus on being a mother. After raising her and Stephen’s daughters, surviving breast cancer, watching Hook’s tumultuous 2007 departure, and rejoining New Order to fundraise for an ill friend in 2011, Gillian decided she wanted back in. Since then, New Order (with Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman) have toured extensively and recorded one of the best albums in their storied discography, ‘Music Complete’, featuring Iggy Pop, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, La Roux’s Elly Jackson and Primal Scream’s Denise Johnson. Meant to reference musique concrete and not greatest hits, ‘Music Complete’ radiates a holistic vibe nevertheless. The steely post-punk of ‘Movement’, the eviscerating electro of ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’, the euphoric house of ‘Technique’, the pop gloss of ‘Republic’, the snarling energy of ‘Get Ready’, the eloquent grandeur of ‘Waiting For the Sirens’ Call’, feel imprinted on songs like ‘Restless’, ‘Plastic’, ‘Tutti Fruitti’, ‘People on the High Line’ and ‘Stray Dog’.
We rang up Gillian at their hotel in Houston over the holidays to ask about being away, bringing the disco back, the whole ‘Hooky thing’ and Christmas at the Gilbert-Morris home.
There’s a lot of music on this album and a lot of it is very dancey.
We were playing a lot of festivals where people were more into dancey stuff. We tried to write a more dancey, upbeat record. We were going to do EPs originally, but we carried on and it turned into an album. It’s very varied and that’s what we wanted. We wanted an LP you could listen to from beginning to end. We wound up making it upbeat because that’s what we were feeling.
What’s it like adjusting to new gear and translating that into a live performance? Has it been a challenge?
In the early days, technology was really expensive. New Order couldn’t afford expensive stuff, so we used to make simple kits. We sort of connected all the gear and took it out on tour. Now anybody can do anything on the phone.
You’re not up there playing a phone are you?
Haha, no. But tech’s gotten a lot better now. And visuals have gotten better. We’ve started playing our videos behind us as a tribute to our producer friend [Michael Shamberg]. That was the reason we got together in 2011, to raise some money for him. He had a really bad brain disease. So we played these videos for him. You forget your history. You always try to move forward. It really makes you think about the past and how you shouldn’t give up. So on that level, it’s been a bit of a challenge. Technology’s moved on, but we’ve still got a drum kit and we still got guitars and Phil and Tom are really good musicians.
You and Stephen, as ‘the couple in the band’, were less drama than ‘Bernie and Hooky’ who seemed to bicker more like a couple.
They were a couple. And now they’re getting divorced.
What’s it like rejoining while all this was going on with Pete?
I think he just wanted to spoil everything, to tell you the truth. 'If I can’t be in New Order, nobody can.' It’s a bit ridiculous really. If he’s not happy, he should just walk away and get on with his life. He can’t let go at all.
Outside of the legal issues, do you talk, just as friends?
Oh, no. No. No, it’s beyond that now. No, no. It all started when I wasn’t there anyway so I just kept to myself.
What was it like being away?
It is awful when they carry on without you. When Phil joined, I saw him on the keyboards and it was kind of awful, because they recorded at the farm. I sort of kept away from the studio and got on with my life. Me and Stephen met in the band. I was 17 when I met Stephen. We sort of grew up together. I went to see them once and I just couldn’t. I started crying and had to run out. I try not to cry. “It should’ve been me up there!” But I’m back now. Young people are shouting my name, it feels so good.
It is nice to see you up there again.
They went too rock n roll during ‘Sirens’ but I think they got it out of their system. And Bad Lieutenant was very rock. They were sounding like a traditional band and New Order wasn’t like that. But I’ve brought it back around to a balance. “Women should be in bands.” “Every band should have one!”
One of your daughters, Tilly, is a musician. Does she play with you?
She plays keyboards. She’s quite good. It’s kind of weird. She supported at us a couple of European festivals in Paris and Stockholm. That made me feel really old.
Was she always into music?
She wasn’t always into music. She was more into fashion. Then she met this band, Hot Vestry, and started going out with the drummer, so they asked her to join the band.
That sounds familiar…
Haha. It’s quite funny. She also works on our videos and artwork.
New Order’s like a family business now. Could you imagine that all those years ago?
No, not at all. When you’re young, you don’t look ahead, you just live in the now.
Is there any new music from The Other Two in the works?
We’re going to spend another year touring. Probably after that. We still have some ideas left. We’ve got a few tunes. A lot of it is snippets from soundtracks.
How’d that come about?
It started during 'Technique'. We had a producer come up who was doing a series from the BBC and he wanted to use ‘Vanishing Point’ for his credits on the series. He asked us if we wanted to do another one, then we did ‘Cracker’ with Robbie Coltrane. We did an hour and a half-long episode, it was like doing a film. We always thought with The Other Two, we’d turn some of these soundtrack bits into songs because we like the tunes. We offered some to New Order and they turned them into songs. Funny thing about soundtracks, you write snippets, you don’t really extend them. You work on a scene, like this ‘Cracker’ thing, it was really dark. (We like doing a bit of psycho drama music.) Then they don’t use it. So you’re left with this psycho music but you don’t really have a scene for it anymore.
Speaking of scenes, what’s Christmas like at your house?
We’re going to have a mad Christmas week. We get back on Monday, and it’s Christmas Eve on Thursday. We go to my mum’s and she has this big pork fest. We eat pork and drink all night. Christmas day we go to Stephen’s mum’s in the afternoon. And then we come back and have our Christmas dinner.
That’s a lot of eating.
I’ve eaten so much on this tour and drank. I might have a drink-free Christmas.
Will there ever be a New Order Christmas song or album?
We did one of those little things where you can put your face on a dancing elf, sent it out to everybody as a Christmas card. But no, no, we’ve got no plans for a Christmas album. We did have a Christmas tree in one of our videos once. It had nothing to do with Christmas though. That’s as close as we get to that.