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the official distractions website

Welcome to the official Distractions website. We will be aiming to record the history of one of the greatest, but least heralded, of all Manchester beat groups.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Distracting Sounds


The first thing that grabbed my attention when I heard the TJM EP, You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, was that it was the first new record I'd heard that didn't have that wall of distorted, buzz-saw guitars from the Ramones' first LP, via the Pistols, Clash, Buzzocks, etc. It made it sound pretty radical to my youthful ears. Everything else coming out around that time (and for a while afterwards) was either the kind of stuff that was later dubbed "post-punk" or else rama-lama cartoon punk thrash. The sounds of The Distractions' instruments weren't punk at all, and in many ways I felt this made them more punk than many of the other records appearing at the time.

Time Goes By So Slow was a piece of 24-carat genius, with an intricate arrangement and a performance that sounded as though it was so breathless it might collapse at any moment until they reached the amazing middle section, with that wonderful jazzy chord at the end of each little sequence. Nobody's Perfect's opener, Waiting For Lorraine, features picked guitars of a kind that echoed later on in the playing of Johnny Marr, and a little four-chord riff that is just so Smiths-esque (the album was written three years before The Smiths even formed).

"Steve Perrin wrote melancholy tunes with flaky, angular guitar parts [like] the bitter whirlpool guitar of Waiting For Lorraine." - David Quantick.

"Steve Perrin and Adrian Wright's sensational guitar partnership is constant drama, wound so tight you can't see a join. Either one is prepared at any time to spin off into breathless cosmic space." - Paul Morley.

"Time Goes By So Slow sounds like 60s psych." - Stephen Morris.

"On Time Goes By So Slow, oh how the guitars drop out, leaving the song wallowing in lonely synths and the saddest drum beat you're ever heard." - Ian Pointer, Snappish Productions.

"On Time Goes By So Slow the spiky guitars and hollow synth tones presage hundreds of UK indie bands to follow" - John Hagelston, Damn Fine Day.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Our Generation's George Jones

Mike Finney's remains one of pop's greatest lost voices. It's a sad indictment of the music industry that the only readily available CD or downloadable material from The Distractions is the glorious Time Goes By So Slow, thanks to the plethora of Factory compilations released over the years. That the majority of The Distractions' output was on Island, who are now owned by Universal, means that so far all efforts to release Nobody's Perfect have led to nothing due to the corporation asking for unrealistic sums to release the rights. Within this album alone, Finney effortlessly evokes the 60s (Boys Cry, Wonder Girl, Still It Doesn't Ring) and 70s (the punk of Paracetamol Paralysis, Valerie) while being unmistakeably The Distractions (Waiting for Lorraine, Something For The Weekend, Nothing). Two of the most heart-breaking ballads you'll ever hear (Leave You To Dream, Looking For A Ghost) round off an extraordinary vocal performance and a classic album that barely sold.
..
...,,..
(c) NME.
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"Mike sang all day. I suggested we form a band largely to shut him up. At the time he was obsessed with all varieties of soul music." - Steve Perrin, The Distractions.
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"Mike Finney looked like a bookie's clerk and sang like R. Dean Taylor or some other blue-eyed soul god." - David Quantick, NME.

(c) http://www.this.is/drgunni/gerast0506.html.

"Great pop band, [Time Goes By So Slow] sounds like something straight off Nuggets or some other 60s psych collection." - Stephen Morris, Joy Division / New Order.

(c) www.beloblog.com/KGW_Blogs/pdxscene//nuggets.jpg.

"[on You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That] Mike Finney sounds uncannily like Gene Clark." - RareBird.

(c) Last FM.

"Singer Mike Finney, sounding like a less twinkly, more rough-hewn Roddy Frame [on Time Goes By So Slow]." - The Blue In The Air.

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Dressed Like That?

One of the most frequent observations about The Distractions was their image (or rather, lack of). Whilst the bands of the day could hardly be considered standard bearers of fashion...


...The Distractions were particularly untrendy and were (and are) frequently reminded of this.
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"We all look totally different. I can't think of another band that looks less like a rock band than we do." - Steve Perrin, The Distractions.
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"The Distractions had a bassist called Pip Nicholls, who wasn't wild about being called a girl, and a singer called Mike Finney who looked like a bookie's clerk and sang like R. Dean Taylor or some other blue-eyed soul god." - David Quantick, NME.
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"Mike Finney, lead crooner, variously described as being a bank clerk / accountant / friendly uncle, and Steve Perrin-Brown, half of guitar duo and often dubbed boy-next-doorish. The Distractions view themselves as a non-rock band with no tangible image and so damned Joe Bloggs normal that they often wonder what a real group should look like." Betty Page, Sounds.
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"I liked Mike Finney's gold lamé jacket and sexual ambiguity of the band's bassist, Pip Nicholls. They wore T-shirts that read 'Distractions Fail Sex Test'." - Bob Dickenson, Magazine [1].
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"Even for a native of Manchester, a city that prides itself on turning out pop stars who neither look nor act the part, Mike Finney, lead singer with The Distractions, could well be the ultimate case of miscasting. Were you in the market for a dodgy photocopier, you'd expect to run across scores of similar types - the fuller figure, the sensible spectacles, the incorrigibly jolly manner - but rock'n'roll?" - The Face.
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"A Manchester group like The Distractions were media darlings, with their Factory connections, but their sound and in particular their great single, Time Goes By So Slow, was very mod. The Distractions though weren't a threat. They looked terrible." - Kevin Pearce, Your Heart Out.
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"The band's problem was - there's no getting away from it, I'm afraid - they looked like the junior staff of a bank who'd jumped up on stage at a party. [Mike Finney] looked like a chubby, bespectacled bank clerk, although this for me enhanced rather than diminished his stature. As a fellow wearer of glasses he was one of my heroes." - Nick Halliwell, The Granite Shore.
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"It's a shame The Distractions' lovingly-crafted pop vignettes never reached a bigger audience. The big problem was they never looked like the part, the singer and drummer especially (respectively the wrong side of 34" waist and 34 years old. It's a tough gig this pop malarkey). They had a male guitarist and a female bass player who wore matching outfits, I remember. They should have formed a duo, they looked great." - Paul Hanley, Reformation The Webzine.
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"The Distractions look like real live 70s people and not the art-schoolers who invented punk rock. Check the cover of the You're Not Going Out Like That EP: the drummer is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and one of the guitarists sports a 'Distractions Fail Sex Test' t-shirt, the kind with the iron-on fuzzy letters you could use to spell out whatever message you wanted." - Reckless Country Soul.
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"Mike Finney was a kind of Martin Fry [style] spangly frontman and they had a girl bass player." - Stephen Morris, Joy Division / New Order.
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"The Distractions were fascinating, a whole messy tumble of sexual dynamic." - Mick Middles.
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1979, on the cusp of the most image-conscious decade since the eighteenth century, against all prevailing trends, The Distractions weren't for changing. Not even the chaos of Factory or the prestige of Island would do that.
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The Distractions - the original band that let the music do the talking...

(c) Drowned in Sound.

1. Robb, J (2009). The North Will Rise Again - Manchester Music City 1976-1996. London: Aurum Press.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Debut


When Tony Davidson of Manchester label, TJM Records, turned up at a Distractions gig and offered to release a record, it set the group off on an all-too brief recording career which took in two of the must celebrated labels of all time, Factory and Island. Their 1978 debut, TJM2, was a terrific 12" four-track extended player, recorded at the Arrow Sounds studio on Jacksons Row. When I first heard them, on You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, I was shocked at the sound of the thing. The guitars weren't buzz-saw Ramones/Buzzcocks at all! Pretty much every new group releasing their first record then had the distortion switched on. Indeed, as Mancunians I was expecting something along the lines of the Buzzcocks, a group I adored at the time as they wrote fantastic pop songs but delivered them with attitude - and a buzz-saw guitar sound. The sounds of the Distractions' instruments weren't punk at all, and in many ways I felt this made them more punk than many of the other records appearing at the time. Like Pete Shelley, they dealt in matters of the heart, but they did so on a much more down-to-earth level; there was nothing coy about them at all.
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Another interpretation of this first record was that "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That already showed that they did not intend to limit themselves to the usual new wave sounds. These four songs show influences including Elvis Costello, early Kinks, early Byrds (singer Mike Finney sounds uncannily like Gene Clark on this EP), and dashes of surf-rock and psychedelia (Rarebird)".
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Side 1........................................................Side 2
Doesn't Bother Me (Perrin/Finney)........Maybe It's Love (Perrin/Finney)
Nothing (Perrin/Finney)...........................Too Young (Perrin/Finney)
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Both tracks on side 1 ended up being re-released by Island following the Distractions move from TJM via Factory and that one glorious record, FAC12. Doesn't Bother Me was re-recorded and released as a lovely single, It Doesn't Bother Me, on white vinyl in 1979 prior to Nobody's Perfect, which itself contained a polished reprise of Nothing.

So, only six tracks committed to vinyl on TJM and Factory before the move to Island, but what a start...
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zoo Meets Factory Half-Way

FAC 15. (c) Manchester District Music Archive.

The Leigh Festival took place over the August bank holiday weekend of 1979. The last day, Monday 27th August, was "headlined" (or is that "first on"?) by The Distractions and the day was billed as Zoo Meets Factory Half-Way. The Peter Saville poster for the event was denoted FAC15, with the tag line "Zoo Records and Factory Records bring you the flesh that brought you the vinyl". Interestingly, these may have been created AFTER the event, according to some sources on the Factory Records archive. Leigh is literally half way between Liverpool and Manchester, and so halfway between two of the most famous independent record labels in musical history, Zoo and Factory.

Bill Drummond, founder of Zoo and of course later of KLF, recalls the day, and more, in his book 45:
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Tony Wilson phoned me from Factory Records. They had started at about the same time as Zoo. There was some sort of friendly rivalry between the two labels, which mirrored the less friendly rivalry that existed between the two cities of Liverpool and Manchester. There had even been a rather sad and pathetic attempt at a festival in the summer of '79 - 'Factory meets Zoo Half-way" - on some derelict ground outside Warrington. Tony Wilson tried to dissuade me from signing the Bunnymen to a major label. He told me that it doesn't have to be this way, that joy Division, as we spoke, were recording an album to be released on Factory. We should do the same with the Bunnymen. Up until then none of the rah of indie record labels that had sprung up around the UK in the wake of the Punk DIY ethic had produced anything but seven-inch singles. As far as I was concerned, this was part and parcel of some vague ideology. I assumed that most people out there running small independent labels must think the same way. That they too were going for the eternal glory of pop and the seven-inch single. The Alan Hornes, the Bob Lasts. So when Tony Wilson implied I was selling out and buckling in to the power and money of London, I didn't get what he meant. As far as I was concerned he was the one compromising, by giving in to the indulgent muso tendencies of Joy Division and letting them record an album for Factory. (There is another side to this. We were skint. Tony Wilson was on telly every night earning loads of money. We needed the cash the southern bastards could tempt us with.)"
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Drummond also wrote about the Leigh Festival in the Guardian:
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Ring, ring. I pick up he phone: 'Bill, is that you?' And before I had time to say yes, or no, or you've got the wrong number, he's off. It's always the same with Tony Wilson. 'I've got this idea, we'll do a festival, we call it Factory Meets Zoo Halfway. We have it halfway between Manchester and Liverpool. You bring your bands and I bring mine.' 'Whereabouts?' 'Leigh, I've got the field booked, staging, the PA and lights. It's going to be on...' 'Who is going to promote it, Tony?' 'Don't worry Bill, people will come.' But that was it - as far as Tony was concerned it was all sorted and agreed. That's what's great about Tony Wilson; it's also what drives people up the wall about him. I turned up on the given date with my bands, as Tony called them, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. Tony bought his. There was a field, a stage, a PA system, even lights, but there were next to no people. Just a few friends of the bands and some kids from the local council estate. This was the summer of '79. Both mine and Tony's bands meant little in the national pop consciousness. Whatever impact and legacy they were gonna leave was in the future.
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Tony Wilson's account in the Manchester Evening News:

'It was April 1979 and this guy from Leigh rang me', recalls Tony Wilson. 'He said 'we're putting this festival on and you've got some bands, haven't you?''. The stage for the Leigh Festival might have been impressive, but the booking wasn't. A few weeks before the festival Wilson decided to take matters into his own hands. 'I said 'give me a day and I'll give you the bands.' So I phoned the guys at [seminal Liverpool label] Zoo and we called it Zoo Meets Factory Half-way. It was FAC15.' The line-up was impressive but the turn out less so. 82 people turned up. Mick Middles had already persuaded Sounds to run a full page review and the headline was 'They threw a party and no-one came'. 'The thing was,' recalls Wilson, 'that all those bands broke big two months later. If you'd run the festival six months later 10,000 people would have turned up. But we didn't, and 82 did.'

One of the 82 was Kevin Cummins, who recollects in the Guardian:
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"One day of this three-day festival was entitled Factory meets Zoo Halfway [a bit of Manc bias there?]. It was a bank holiday and there as a transport strike. Very few people managed to make it to Leigh, but the gig has attained legendary status due to the bill: In one afternoon we saw: The Distractions, the Bunnymen, OMD, Lori and the Chameleons, ACR, the Teardrop Explodes and Joy Division. All for two quid."
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Stickers from the Leigh Festival. (c) Killermiller at Cerysmatic Factory.
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Brilliantly, you can now get Leigh Festival t-shirts from the Cerysmatic Factory site which must be one of the few ranges of clothing to bear the Distractions label.
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Leigh Festival T-shirt. (c) Cerysmatic Factory.
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A Jon Savage article about the Leigh Festival appeared a few years later in a 1983 issue of NME:
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JOY DIVISION / ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN / ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK / TEARDROP EXPLODES / THE DISTRACTIONS / A CERTAIN RATIO / CHAOS
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Leigh Valley Festival
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ZOO met Factory half-way (between Liverpool and Manchester) and very few came.
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Blame it on the site - hastily prepared fields a mile outside Leigh, surrounded by an East Lancs landscape of collieries, slag-heaps, bare hills sloping into dull 1930's estates and the inevitable Victorian mill. Inaccessibility and uncertain weather, plus inadequate promotion / media coverage, resulted in a turn-out (200) a tenth of the original estimate.

Joy Division come into the dark like a late-night horror movie - scary but right. Sabotaged to an extent by poor sound - the interplay between instruments needs more careful preparation than the time allowed - the exorcised the increasing cold with cinematic, metallic blocks of noise.

Songs from the album - "Insight", "She's Lost Control" among others, the new single "Transmission", and the unrecorded "Colony", "Dead Souls" (with a stunning chorus) and the final "Sound of Music". Two encores, and general dancing.
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Apply the truism: you should have been there. - JON SAVAGE.
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Agreed, you should have been there, because as the cover to the Zoo Meets Factory bootleg CD confirms, not many were there.

Zoo Meets Factory bootleg. (c) 2522zoo meets factort2522 at photobucket.

We'll finish with this comment from Dave Wright at the Manchester District Music Archive: "I went to this gig with Steve Perrin and Mike Finney of The Distractions as I was going out with Steve's sister Gill (where are you now?). It was so cool, I was really starstruck, because I got to meet Ian Curtis and Pete Hook. Pete Hook reckoned The Distractions would chart before Joy Division and had a £5 bet with Mike Finney on it. I wonder if he ever paid him?"...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Albert Just Won't Do

Today, Peter Hook was on the radio talking to Steve Lamacq about the re-opening of Factory HQ this month as a new indie rock & roll club, FAC251. Let's hope FAC12 gets a spin in there soon. If New Order's drummer had his way I bet it it would - last year Stephen Morris selected Time Goes By So Slow for his Factory Records mixtape, describing a "great pop band, this track sounds like something straight off Nuggets or some other 60s psych collection. Mike Finney was a kind of Martin Fry [style] spangly frontman and they had a girl bass player [1]."
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Time Goes By So Slow features on Palatine: The Factory Story Vol 3, 1979-1989, The Beat Groups, and in this review, it is claimed that "Tony Wilson held out high hopes of this... simply marvellous pop song... being Factory's commercial breakthrough prior to Joy Division." The Music Fix says in its review of North by North West: Liverpool and Manchester from Punk to Post-Punk & Beyond 1976-1984, "(although) the Manc material is more austere, Time Goes By Slow is a slice of pure Merseybeat if there ever was one." The most recent compilation that the track features on is Factory Records: Communications 1978-1992, a review of which highlights "The Distractions' pitch-perfect pop-punk 'Time Goes By So Slow'". It also features on a few more obscure but excellent compilations such as Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-1979), The Factory Years 1979/1990, Seeds I: Pop and Different Colours, Different Shades. However, the excellent B-side, Pillow Fight, which was reportedly lined up to be the original A-side, has never seen the light of day away from FAC12 pressings...
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This piece does more justice to Time Goes By So Slow than any of the above:
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"One day, some mad soul is going to write a complete history of Factory Records and they will discover all sorts of wonderful bands that weren't New Order or Joy Division. Forgotten names such as Section 25, Minny Pops, Stockholm Monsters, and Crispy Ambulance (yes, really). And hopefully, the author will have a soft spot for FAC 12.
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"As ever, a Peter Saville cover is a hallmark of quality. FAC 12: The Distractions / Time Goes By So Slow may be the greatest 7" single ever released by Factory (Blue Monday was 12" remember, and the 7" of Temptation is a pale shadow of the glory of the full length version). The Distractions were rather out of place in late-70s Manchester; bands borrowing from decades of pop weren't all that welcome in a post-punk world. Joy Division, however, loved them, and The Distractions often found themselves playing support for Factory's biggest band. They provided a contrast to JD's intensity; although their lyrics were no less melancholy, the OMD-like synths and perky guitars gave their songs an upbeat new-wave feel.
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Time Goes By So Slow is a tale of lost love touring around the centre of Manchester. And it contains one of the greatest lines in Factory pop: "But Albert just won't do / I don't need him but you". Oh, and how the guitars drop out at 2:00, leaving the song wallowing in lonely synths and the saddest drumbeat you've ever heard, right before the final repeat of the chorus. It's just fantastic."
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Albert Square, Manchester, 1956. In the foreground is a statue of John Bright, radical and liberal, one of the greatest orators of his generation. In the background stands Prince Albert himself in the Albert Memorial. Oil painting by Steven Scholes.

Arguably the best, certainly the best-known Distractions song, Time Goes By So Slow, written by Adrian Wright, contains the verse:

I put your statue up in Albert Square
And all the people passing by just stare
But Albert just won't do
I don't need him but you
And I'll drive past on a Saturday
And look into your face
Though nothing lies behind the mask
At least there'll be a trace
Just like my own
Your face has turned to stone
- Adrian Wright
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Simple passions

Dave McCullough's review of Nobody's Perfect from 12th July 1980 issue of Sounds. Don't you dare pass it over...

Simple passions

THE DISTRACTIONS
Nobody's Perfect (Island ILPS 9604A) *****

OH GOD, I must be getting old. I approached this with such scepticism! The trouble with The Distractions is that myself, and I know many others, expected this to be a classic debut album since so long ago that, now, when it's finally ready, almost a year since they signed to Island, the only approach seemed like a doomy foreboding.
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After all, the inconspicuous ebb and flow of The Distractions since that Island ensnarlment, broken only by the anonymous and unpublicised 45 reworking of Doesn't Bother Me (a waste of time), coupled with the fact that as a fragilely gifted pop entity The Distractions are singularly vulnerable company horse-meat(sic), all served only to dampen and dismay the enthusiasm of the growing number who are recognising this band as a truly great white pure pop hope. Have Island crushed or jaded the supremely talented flower that sprung forth the You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That and Time Goes By So Slow minor classics? Another industry pop swindle? Another Undertones?
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No way. The Distractions' is a superb debut album, almost fully realising those early promises. Its success comes almost entirely from the fact that in the long time they've kicked up dirt with Island and producers/Sweet celebrities Phil Chapman and John Astley, they've shifted the music enough to allow it subtle development and a new assurance. I may have expected the r'n'b, punk base to have still been there, leaving the songs that have been hanging in limbo for so long, indifferent and worn out, but I was wrong. The sound on Still It Doesn't Ring and (Stuckina) Fantasy has changed, is more sophisticated, is more thoroughly and assuredly pop based now, there's no longer any hint of toying with pure pop, The Distractions have taken it by the throat.
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It's most evident in the new songs (which is most of the album), where the band's sense of economy and their ability to evoke passion simply and nimbly, renders a good handful of songs as good and as powerful as anything on the first Undertones or second Buzzcocks albums. The line between writing pop with character and pap with a greedy glint is a fine one, but almost throughout this record The Distractions have it mastered. Still.
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I want to hear this on my radio. I want to play this all summer long. I want you to appreciate that this is THE five star review in any music paper this week. Don't DARE miss it! Don't you dare pass it over.

DAVE McCULLOUGH

Heartbeats and bruises: love or contusion

To complement the 1987 Rewind article, here's the original review of Nobody's Perfect from NME's 3rd July 1980 issue by none other than Paul Morley.
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Heartbeats and bruises: love or contusion
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THE DISTRACTIONS
Nobody's Perfect (Island)
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THE BEST music this year has been about and for love: love as stimulus/symbol/metaphor of these - The Correct Use Of Soap, Seventeen Seconds, Closer - the songs on Nobody's Perfect are the most familiar, but they are still inextricably bound up with the reasoning that love is not a comfort but a major catastrophe.
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Manchester's The Distractions, part of an Island 'team' that looks increasingly exciting, illustrate that the superficially conventional need for love need not be banal. Within unashamedly conformist structures, The Distractions' intimate and illuminating use of language defers anxiously to a stupid, cruel world, whilst their beautiful crafted music succeeds by confirming cliches with intense spirit (Paracetamol Paralysis), twisting them with unexpected depth (Something For The Weekend) and transcending them with nimble invention (Waiting For Lorraine).
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The Distractions are unaffectedly original, eclectic but not secondhand. They do not disguise their accents, and sing of what is, what hurts and what is wrong with acute insight. Nobody's perfect, nobody's typical, nobody's flawless, nobody's right... this LP tells no lies. That's really tough.
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The group use the basic plots and affairs (a lot of hanging around for phone calls, drifting into comatose states in discos, missing out on parties...) pop-lying-loving-infatuation and elevate them into the metaphysical. There are layers within layers in their songs: to approach them lazily is to miss out on contrast, contradiction, deception, mystery.
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Such completeness and compelling virtuosity are rare in the pop song. We have to look towards Motown, Otis Redding, early Beatles, to experience similarly concentrated moods of sadness, retrospection and introspection.
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The Distractions are most often compared to The Undertones and Buzzcocks because of their virtual implausibility and the similarity of musical, lyrical, melodic and dynamic concerns. The Distractions, though, are a much more demanding listening experience. They have a penetrating sureness that those other romantic wonder boys can never quite match.
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Throughout 14 songs a wounding pace and passion are maintained; a disorientating mix of seriousness and playfulness. Steve Perrin and Adrian Wright's sensational guitar partnership is constant drama itself (Untitled), wound so tight that you can't see a join. Either one is prepared at anytime to spiral off into breathless cosmic space (Nothing).
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Beautifully introduced harmonies melt all over (Boys Cry), moving to tears (Leave You To Dream) or savaging the song (Paracetamol Paralysis). The John Astley-Phil Chapman production is better than I dreaded; uplifting, urgent, ever so slightly displacing the songs.
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Mike Finney probably never took his hands out of his pockets in the studio, but his sly, northern soul vocals convey all the irony, anxiety (Wonder Girl), exhaustion, dark bitterness (Waiting For Lorraine), compromise, heroism (Untitled), tension and more that the songs contain.
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Heart beats up sadness. Heart beats up joy. This is heart beat music that bruises the soul.
Paul Morley

Almost Perfect

The following is a transcription of the terrific Rewind article from the esteemed David Quantick in NME's 12 December 1987 issue. I especially love the "...greatest sleepwalking nightmare ballad ever, the mad-eyed and empty Looking For A Ghost..." line, as this song was the catalyst that led to creation of this website.


ALMOST PERFECT

THE DISTRACTIONS
Nobody's Perfect (Island)

The Distractions: Alec Sidebottom, Adrian Wright, Mike Finney, Arthur Kadmon (Steve Perrin had left the group), Pip Nicholls. (c) Daniel Meadows. From Cerysmatic Factory blog.

THEIR FIRST record was a raging EP called You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That. Their second was a lorn and lonely single on Factory called Time Goes By So Slow. And their third was this LP, Nobody's Perfect, a record that pointed the way for pop this decade (it was released in 1980) and was duly ignored by everyone except a few fans and a few critics. That's what I reckon anyway.

The Distractions were an odd group. They had a proper guitarist called Steve Perrin, a man who wrote melancholy tunes with flaky, angular guitar parts, a bassist called Pip Nicholls, who wasn't wild about being called a girl, and a singer called Mike Finney who looked like a bookie's clerk and sang like R. Dean Taylor or some other blue-eyed soul god. The music they made had its closest cousins later in the final Undertones LPs and bits of the Housemartins, but no-one could really compare with Finney's surprised and ironic tunes. There's a line in Time Goes By So Slow which is amazing: "They put your statue up in Albert Square/All the people passing by just stare/But Albert just won't do/I don't need him but you" - this piece of pre-Morrissey hardcore whimsy being sung by Finney like a revelation torn from the heart.

Nobody's Perfect was The Distractions' chance to expand on their nascent genius and by golly, they did. From the bitter guitar whirlpool of Waiting For Lorraine (allegedly written by Perrin because all his girlfriends kept coming out) to the Spectoresque anorak grandad of Boys Cry, from the delicate echoing balladry of Still It Doesn't Ring and Leave You To Dream to the joyful nihilism of Valerie and the greatest sleepwalking nightmare ballad ever, the mad-eyed and empty Looking For A Ghost, The Distractions pulled every pop stop out and made a quietly glorious record. It was modern, yet it harked back through pop history; it was melancholy and yet it was daft; all the good pop stuff. The bad irony was that it was great and it didn't sell. No single hits, no LP hits. Island gave them a couple of singles more and dropped them. Various Distractions left, a lovely EP (24 Hours) was done for Rough Trade, and that was it, except for Mike Finney's short-lived Secret Seven.

The Distractions used the past rather than got eaten by it, and how they offered a mainstream pop that didn't ditch originality. Just for that, and for a generation stuck in a world of would-be naifs, revivalists and fools without imagination, we should all have Nobody's Perfect.

David Quantick

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Diamonds Amongst The Debris

The Distractions, 1979: Alec Sidebottom, Adrian Wright, Mike Finney, Steve Perrin, Pip Nicholls.


Manchester 1978. Howard Devoto's Magazine emerged from the ruling Buzzcocks whilst a clumsy Warsaw were becoming Joy Division. Mark E. Smith was forming a chaotic The Fall and A Certain Ratio were experimenting with post-punk-funk. Disparate bands of brothers dotted around town were waking, like the city itself, blinking from the demolition of familiar landscapes.

Bob Dickinson, original keyboard player in Magazine: "There seemed to be dozens of new bands starting up, but they weren't punk-sounding or looking. The great hope after the Buzzcocks for me was The Distractions. (Legendary photographer Kevin Cummins, who shot the cover of And Then There's... agrees: when asked who were his favourite Manc band that never really made it, "My money was on The Distractions"[1]). I saw them at Band on the Wall first. I liked Mike Finney's gold lamé jacket and the sexual ambiguity of the band's bassist, Pip Nicholls. They wore T-shirts that read 'Distractions Fail Sex Test'. They were friends of the City Fun collective and Pip was featured on the front cover of their first issue [2]."

City Fun was an alternative magazine/fanzine covering the Manchester music scene between 1977 and 1984. Its editors included Cath Carroll, Martin X and Liz Naylor. Liz adds: "The first punk gig I went to, in June 1978 when I was 15, was The Fall at Droylsden Town Hall. I had seen this tiny A4 poster where someone had written 'The Fall live with The Distractions'. I went to the Factory a lot because The Distractions were managed by Martin X, who lived on nearby Bonsall Street in Hulme round the corner from the club. I could steal beers so it was a cheap night out. I spent most of my time off my face and I just wanted to be there [2]."

Mick Middles' review of the recent Factory Records - Communications 1978-1992 boxset: "As Simon Reynolds recently noted, the 'duds' of the Factory roster are many and utterly swamp the fleeting glimpses of perfection. But there are diamonds amongst the debris. The Distractions' Time Goes By So Slow cements a moment in Manchester when this most intriguing of pop bands - far beyond 'power pop' - would add the counterbalance to the darkness of Joy Division. The Distractions were fascinating, a whole messy tumble of sexual dynamic that filtered into their short, sharp songs. Factory couldn't hold them and they departed to make one shockingly produced album for Island before being dropped [3]."

Indeed, at one time The Distractions were considered "media darlings, with their Factory connections" [4]. Theirs is a story worth telling...


1. www.onemickjones.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=119035
2. Robb, J. (2009). The North Will Rise Again - Manchester Music City 1976-1996. London: Aurum Press.
3. http://thequietus.com/articles/01018-factory-records-communnications-1978-92-box-set-review

Friday, January 8, 2010

We bid you welcome...

Welcome indeed to the first-ever official Distractions website. Over the coming days, weeks, months, even years we'll be gradually building up a site dedicated to The Distractions, one of the most critically-acclaimed but perhaps least-understood of all the bands to emerge from Manchester's punk and post-punk music scene.

We'll be posting whatever we can find, so to get us started above is a poster showing the kind of exalted company that the band used to keep. More, much, much more, to follow...

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