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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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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Greatest Factory Records 7"

Occasionally (alright, very occasionally), Time Goes By So Slow is heralded as the best Factory Records seven-inch. Ian at Snappish Productions reckoned "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)... and even if I don't know all of their history, it doesn't make 'it falls like tears / of wasted years' any less heartbreaking". In France, Louis Phillippe thought similarly: "the sublime 'Time Goes By So Slow' is honestly the best pop tune of that period. If you trust my judgement at all, do anything you can to lay your hands on 'Time Goes By So Slow' - it would make a stone cry, as we say in French". This Pygmalion analogy from Adrian Wright tells of his girlfriend turning into stone herself; into a statue devoid of the senses. In the Greek/Cypriot myth the sculptor falls in love with his own creation; no doubt his tears of unrequited love fell like wasted years.
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Fred at his vanitatum blog talks about "the best single released on Factory not recorded by members of Joy Division. Indeed, maybe you'll think it even stands up to the best of Curtis, Sumner and co. 'Time Goes By So Slow' ululates. It's in the skewed sound of the lead guitar as it hits the final chord in the progression; it's a sound that's almost extramusical, like an electrical signal urging you to grieve, rather than fingers positioned just so on a fretboard. The sound is mirrored in singer Mike Finney's wail, which demonstrates less of a concern for pure musicality than for having his emotional state register accurately to his intended. To be sure, these are words backed by actions, not only by the band, but in his own efforts; in the second verse he puts up a statue of his girl in Albert Square. It's an improbable claim, but like George Bailey's promise to lasso the moon, it resonates."
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My Top 10 Factory seven-inch singles (showing a terrible JD/NO bias, but these would change if you asked again tomorrow), in catalogue order, as it's too tough to put them in an order of preference:
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FAC 5 - A Certain Ratio / All Night Party
FAC 6 - OMD / Electricity (in Mike Finney's favourite five)
FAC 12 - The Distractions / Time Goes By So Slow
FAC 23 - Joy Division / Love Will Tear Us Apart (ditto)
FAC 33 - New Order / Ceremony
FAC 146 - Stockholm Monsters / Party Line
FAC 163 - New Order / Bizarre Love Triangle
FAC 167 - Railway Children / Brighter
FAC 213 - Joy Division / Atmosphere (and again, unsurprisingly)
FAC 329 - The Other Two / Tasty Fish
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

FAC

The Distractions played a small but significant part in the remarkable Factory Records story. The cataloguing system the label used highlights the role the band played in the nascent Factory Records. Like FAC 1 and FAC 3 before it, FAC 4 was a poster designed by Peter Saville, advertising gigs at the Russell Club in Hulme, south of Manchester city centre. FAC 4, which later appeared in Face magazine, advertises some notable groups - Human League, Magazine, Undertones - in addition to The Distractions. Note the repeated misspelling of the club name and the incorrect address on all the posters! (Moss Side is another mile south of Hulme).
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..................FAC 1, FAC 4 and FAC 3. (c) Cerysmatic, Cerysmatic & Cerysmatic.
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The Russell Club was previously known as the PSV Club, and was situated in a rather run-down part of town, including the infamous Hulme Crescents. Thankfully these days Hulme has been regenerated into a pleasant enough area, although Moss Side still awaits its turn.
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..................PSV / Russell Club, Royce Road, Hulme, (c) exhulme & atomicsoup.

Following the release of FAC 5 (A Certain Ratio's All Night Party), FAC 6 (OMD's Electricity) and FAC 11 (X-O-Dus's English Black Boys), The Distractions' Time Goes By So Slow was Factory's fourth (and, in the humble opinion of many, Factory's greatest) 7-inch single, FAC 12. A bizarre but instantly memorable image of an ear-ringed female adorns both sides (the back a negative of the front) on Peter Saville's sleeve. History has it that the original A-side was going to be Pillow Fight, but at the last minute Time Goes By So Slow was rightly made the A-side. This change may have lead to the unfortunate labelling mix-up which has, until now, always credited The Distractions' most famous song to Perrin/Finney when, of course, it was penned by Adrian Wright. Posters and magazine adverts promoting FAC 12 were also produced, such as the one from City Fun shown below.
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.................FAC 12 and advert from City Fun. (c) Manchester District Music Archive.
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Another Factory poster featuring The Distractions is FAC 15, Zoo Meets Factory Half-way, that poorly attended festival with such a fantastic line-up.
.......................................................FAC 15.

One of the strangest FAC catalogue numbers (and that's saying something - perhaps the weirdest of all FAC numbers is FAC 8, Linder's "Menstrual Egg Timer") is FAC 20. This is described as an unmade film which was to feature most of the 1980 Factory roster, but mainly A Certain Ratio and The Distractions attempting various forms of terrorism around Manchester, kidnapping Ian Curtis and blowing up Joy Division [1]. Why oh why wasn't this made!?

Not strictly a FAC number, but referred to as FAC 10 + 4, posters advertising FAC 12 were based around the iconic artwork of FAC 10, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, and arguably Factory's finest LP.

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.........................................FAC 10 + 4. (c) Cerysmatic.
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A tantalising "what if" FAC catalogue number that never materialised is FAC 301, Factory Conference 'Think About The Future' / First 50 Book. The First 50 Book by Tim Chambers was to do what it says on the tin - tell the story of the first 50 numbers in the FAC-catalogue [2], in which The Distractions would have featured significantly.

1. http://home.dialix.com/~u3336/factory/facuk1.html.
2. http://home.dialix.com/~u3336/factory/facuk7.html.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Stuff The Superstars

Stuff The Superstars at the Mayflower, 28th July 1979. (c) Joy Division Central.

The City Fun music collective that covered the Manchester music scene in their fanzine in the late '70s, early '80s held several fundraisers. Probably the highest profile event was Stuff The Superstars at the Mayflower Club in West Gorton, opposite the Belle Vue zoological gardens, fun park and speedway ground (where Kevin Cummins shot a brilliant portrait of The Distractions in August 1979 [1]). The venue had been built as the Corona Cinema in the 1920s before being converted into a dance hall in the '50s, like so many of the nation's picture houses were in the day. As the Southern Sporting Club it held gentile events, like cabaret and dancing, before becoming the Mayflower Club in the '70s. Then it started holding more less puritanical reggae and punk gigs, culminating in what was surely its most celebrated line-up (if not then, certainly now) at Stuff The Superstars at the Funhouse on 28th July 1979.
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Corona Cinema, Gorton, Manchester, 1985. (c) Paul Keelagher/Aidan O'Rourke.

By 1979, and as with most Manc venues during this dingy period, as the Mayflower Club the once-grand Corona Cinema had deteriorated into a right shithole. Whilst the exterior was covered in weeds and the upper floor was condemned, the toilets were basic at best and there was only a temporary bar knocking out tins of ale and cider. The walk/run back into town down Hyde Road was even worse for some, with local Teddy Boys from the tough West Gorton and Ardwick estates always on the look out for punks to pick off.

Back to Stuff The Superstars, the then-Distractions manager, Martin X, an editor of City Fun, had drafted in his band to head up the day. That line-up in full, and in order of appearance (as confirmed by Dave Tickle at JD Central):

1. Elti Fits - Got themselves a Peel session later in '79, released as a mad little EP.

2. The Hamsters - From Denton just down the road from the gig, and marvellously are still going as Sick Nurse.

3. Armed Force - local band who released Popstar / Attack in '79. Lead singer was the ubiquitous 'Muppet' who was a regular at Manchester gigs and wore a jacket with Adam & The Ants scrawled on the back [2].

4. Foreign Press - Signed with EMI later in the '80s, but despite releasing some great singles on the way, such as Downpour (produced by Rob Gretton), Set Your Love In Motion and The Great Divide (Bernard Sumner-produced), never released an album. Note: Foreign Press weren't advertised but nonetheless played.

5. Frantic Elevators - Of course, Mick Hucknall's band before Simply Red; their best track being 1982's Holding Back The Years which didn't chart until Hucknall re-released it in 1985. One of their tracks at the time was the imaginatively titled Feel Like the Hunchback of Notre Dame [2].

6. Joy Division - No introduction needed (some of Kevin Cummin's most iconic photos of Ian Curtis dancing were taken at the Mayflower Club).

7. Ludus - Founded by Arthur Kadmon, who later replaced Steve Perrin in The Distractions, and Linder Sterling, who is best known for the friendship she was later to have with a certain Steven Patrick Morrissey.

8. The Liggers - Gina Sobers is featured here in a Manchester Musician's Collective & The Liggers BBC feature.

9. The Fall - Again, no introduction need, except to note that ex-Ludus guitarist and ex-Distraction, Arthur Kadmon, went on to briefly play on The Fall's Room To Live album.

10. The Distractions - In essence the headliners, having just signed to Island, because...

...the night finished with, of course, Jon the Postman's Psychedelic Rock 'n' Roll Five Skinners. Jon the Postman was famed for finishing off gigs by the likes of the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, by legging it on stage, grabbing the microphone and belting out classics such as Louie Louie, much to the crowd's pleasure. The stellar line up was completed with Gordon The Moron aka Jilted John compering.

Despite not appearing on the bill, the organisers themselves, City Fun, featured as the Glass Animals (featuring Andy Zero, Cath Carroll, Liz Naylor and, apparently, The Distractions' very own Pip Nicholls [3]). Their slot is unknown but it was reportedly high up the bill! [2].

Stuff The Superstars ticket stub. (c) Phil Worrall at Joy Division Central.

Sadly the Mayflower Club suffered a fire in 1984 and was never restored. Shown below after the fire, the stage was at the far end, the shocking toilets on the right.

Mayflower Club, Gorton, Manchester, 1984. (c) Manchester District Music Archive.

During a bit of research for this piece I've found several claims that at least some of the artists were recorded during Stuff The Superstars. Wonder where them tapes have got to...

1. Manchester: Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain, Kevin Cummins (2009).

2. https://sites.google.com/site/reformationthewebzine/home/issue-007---autumn-2009/stuff-the-superstars

3. www.mdmarchive.co.uk/archive/showartefect.php?aid=2325&vid=244&fvid=11

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ain't Ringing

Image from the Secret Seven single, Hold On To Love.

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Following the 1995 demos, which we've published here recently, another 1995 track that has come to light is a re-recording of Still It Doesn't Ring. This is one of the less in-yer-face tracks on Nobody's Perfect; Mike Finney forlornly waiting all night by the phone for a call that never comes. On the album this is accompanied by pleasant jangling guitars, a gentle drum arrangement and some understated backing vocals. The 1995 version improves on this with more forceful guitars driving the song from Steve Perrin and the rhythm section of Nick Garside on bass and Bernard Van Den Berg's drums brought forward. As the 1995 demos demonstrate, Finney's voice has got even better as time goes by and his delivery in the 1995 version of Still It Doesn't Ring sounds genuinely hurt and heartfelt. We look forward to publishing the 1995 version properly, so watch this space...
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Pop Family Tree


Valerie

As the wonderful Looking For A Ghost fades out, in comes a delicate piano, playing Satie-like notes for a few moments, suggestive of a gentle end to the album. However, suddenly in come the band at full-pelt, playing Valerie at Ramones-like speed. It's a sub-two minute thrash that ends the musical hot pot that is Nobody's Perfect. One of The Distractions' many notable fans, David Quantick (who gave such a glowing retrospective of the album in 1987), cites Valerie as the perfect song to put on a mix tape if you've not got much time left on it, on his BBC Radio 4 show The Disappearing Art of the Mix Tape. This show also featured Simon Armitage, a celebrity fan of another classic lost band, the Comsat Angels, and Elbow's Guy Garvey (who, coincidentally, I bumped into last weekend in the Britons Protection). Check out the only Distractions track currently on You Tube, a suitably raucous cover of Valerie by the Yum Yums.
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The Distractions (c) Drowned In Sound; Maximo Park (c) Better Propaganda.
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One of the more leftfield comparisons is that of The Distractions with Maximo Park made by Ditching Boy's blog. To surmise, both bands are endearingly dorky, aren't afraid to wear their heartbroken emotions on their sleeves, and write jerky songs with killer hooks and memorable choruses, straddling the fine line between punk and new wave. He's got a point.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Still Looking For A Ghost

Looking For A Ghost is my favourite song on Nobody's Perfect. As with so many of my favourite songs, it incorporates elements of both the sublime and the ridiculous. You can pretty much work out the lyric from the title: "People wonder why I smile the way I do/They think I should be sad now you're not around/People wonder why it is I don't miss you/Perhaps they don't know what I've found" it begins. Mike Finney delivers his finest, subtlest vocal performance and, to his enormous credit he does so to the most over-the-top, preposterous backing vocals ever laid to tape (more on our sister blog here!). But underneath the wondrous bombast there's also pathos... Well, OK, there's also bathos. It is truly wonderful.
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Fast-forward 15 years and The Distractions brief reformation led to the recording of another stone-cold, 24-carat classic ballad, Black Velvet. An astonishing vocal performance again from Finney, in what he himself describes as the logical extension to Looking For A Ghost. You can hear Black Velvet here. The lyric to the newer song is no-less heartbreaking than Ghost's, and delivered over delicately picked strings, in my opinion, is more so. Fast-forward another 15 years...


Looking For A Ghost

People wonder why I smile the way I do,
They think I should be sad now you're not around,
People wonder why it is I don't miss you,
Perhaps they don't know what I've found.

I can live without reality's rewards,
My dreams were always much more real.
I tell myself you never left; I'm an easy man to fool,
And I'm too numb to know just how to feel.

So if you see me hanging 'round in places,
That we always used to go,
Maybe it's just because I'm looking,
For a ghost I used to know.

I never understood what's inside the real you,
All I ever did was make you sad,
So your replacement is now floating by my side,
Unable to feel good or bad.

(chorus)

My only lover lives encased inside my head,
No one can ever take her away,
Her ghost now belongs to me, and if she ever knew,
I wonder what the real thing would say.

(chorus)
- Steve Perrin, 1980

Black Velvet

Once on this street I took her arm,
To stop her stumbling in the rain,
Now someone else will take her arm,
I'll never see her here again.

But the houses round here bring back memories,
As the lonely child sang up above,
The wind whispers that it will take me,
Take me back to her black velvet love,
Take me back to her black velvet love.

Here by the fence I held her close,
So close I felt we were the same,
Now someone else will hold her close,
But I can feel her here again.

When I walk down the streets that we haunted,
Her lonely ghost cuts from above,
Take my hand like before as it takes me,
Takes me back to her black velvet love,
Take me back to her black velvet love.

There in the dirt I wrote her name,
An arrow through her heart and mine,
Now someone else whispers her name,
But I think of her all the time.

With this body I loved and adored her,
With this breath I swear by the stars above,
That I'll take any road that will take me,
Take me back to her black velvet love,
Take me back to her black velvet love,
Take me back to her black velvet love,
Take me back to her black velvet love.
- Steve Perrin, 1995
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"Everybody else but me hated Looking For A Ghost" - Steve Perrin [1].
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