New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert quietly took a long break from the group in 2001, choosing family over fame, taking care of her young daughter while her drummer husband Stephen Morris continued touring with the band. “Don’t get me wrong, I was dying to say a few things,” says Gilbert, happily returning after a mysterious hiatus for New Order’s 2015 album “Music Complete” and its current tour, which comes to Berkeley on Friday.
At first, she was stunned by how quickly she was replaced by Phil Cunningham, and she admits that it was a turbulent 10 years, including a 2007 bout with breast cancer.
But now she’s happy to report that her 17-year-old daughter Grace, who suffered from a rare spinal condition, and her sister, Matilda, 21, are fine; both are pursuing careers in music.
“I thought I’d done a good job of steering them away, but no,” she says, sighing. “And since I’ve gone back to New Order, they’ve got an even keener interest, and they’re very resentful that they don’t get to go on tour with us.”
During the break, she was a stay-at-home mom: “It sounds really boring, but I also got into cooking and cleaning the house a lot. And I got really into dogs — dog agility and obedience training with my Yorkshire terrier.”
Gilbert — who joined former Joy Division members Morris, bassist Peter Hook and guitarist-vocalist Bernard Sumner in New Order in 1980, after Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis hung himself — also stayed busy with occasional keyboard projects, including working with her old friends The Charlatans.
Her velvet-textured synthesizers were what helped transform New Order from dark to light, especially on the band’s second album, 1983’s bubbly “Power, Corruption & Lies.”
“I don’t think the guys would like to think of it as a feminine touch, but I think I added something. And when I left, I think you definitely missed that,” she says.
“Music Complete” represents Gilbert at her best. Opening with the panoramic “Restless,” it segues into “Power”-era techno-funk on “Tutti Frutti” (with Elly Jackson); sinister undulations on “Stray Dog” (with Iggy Pop); and classic anthems, such as “Superheated” (with Brandon Flowers).
“It’s all a bit mad again, but I’m glad I had that time off,” she says. “I got my head together, and I’m really enjoying it this time.”