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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, November 26, 2010

Manchester's Next Big Thing

Check out this fine article from May 1980's Zig Zag magazine which was posted on the Cactus Mouth Informer blog (@CactusMouth) earlier this year.  The piece's author is the unlikely named Hugh Jarse (actually the renowned Kris Needs, Zig Zag's editor) and a Daniel Meadows also has a handwritten credit.


YOU keep hearing ‘bout this Manchester Scene.  In London they grit their teeth and queue… for Buzzcocks first, then Magazine, The Fall, Joy Division, JCC, A Certain Ratio – and none of those sound like each other, few play jangly power-pop or the stereotyped NM.  Jealousy will get you nowhere but Inter-City would seem to shoot you into a hot-bed of creativity.  No-one admits to being hued greeny down here but there’s no denying they have something up there.

“For every band that’s been heard of in Manchester there must be ten that haven’t, says Mike Finney, singer with The Distractions, who are currently tipped to be Manchester’s Next Big Thing.  In the smoke we’re only just starting to get the know ‘em.  Just a couple of singles on Factory and their big new label, Island (the standout-ish 'It Doesn’t Bother Me') and a handful of gigs to whip us up.  But tomorrow (May 2) the wheels grind into action with the release of the first Distractions album, an impressive affair which will be promoted by a brace of previously hard-to-come-by gigs.

The album crams a commendable 14 tracks of wide variety and much sticking strength.  The Distractions have their own economic, highly tuneful pop sound already, but there’s also a bevy of influences at riot here, from the Velvets and Flamin’ Groovies, through Phil Spector and '60s pop to Bowie and the Buzzcocks.  They have a fine way with epic ballads, like the massed desolation of 'Valerie' and 'Looking For A Ghost', where Ronnie Spector would be well at home.  'Waiting for Lorraine' harks to the Byrds in their psychedelic period.  Mike Finney has a distinctive low voice.  There’s a lot of soaring keyboards.  Some older songs that are on the fast and obvious side ('Paracetemol Paralysis') don’t work so well – bombast ain’t their strong point, melody is.

These are first impressions from one tape hearing and a one-sided white label (!).  Let’s get on firmer ground and impart some facts…

The Distractions are Mike Finney (vocals), Steve Perrin (guitar) – main composers – Pip Nicholls (bass), Adrian Wright (guitar / keyboards) and Alec Sidebottom (drums).

Mike met Steve at college – “We were messing around doing old Velvet numbers”.  The four-piece was completed by one Laurence Tickle (bass) and Tony Trap (drums).  The latter pair didn’t last long.  Pip, who was working as a porter at Manchester University till Island signed them last September, came in on bass after she’d tried for the vacant bass slot in the Buzzcocks in ’77.  The weighty and short-lived Garth had got in the day before she phoned Shelley, but she was told about The Distractions.  “Marriages are made in heaven,” says Steve.

Adrian came in through an NME ad, and he knew Alec.  There followed a couple of years gigging around Manchester (a lot) and any other place they could.  They supported such as Buzzcocks at Rafters, The Fall (“We used to be like The Fall’s pet dog at one time, being dragged around behind them”), Joy Division, and Ultravox (“they wouldn’t let us use their dressing room”).

The first time we came to London was with Joy Division,” explains the likable Steve.  “Then we started to get gigs in our own right, but it was a hard job.”

“Buzzcocks helped a lot of bands early on,” added Mike.  “Perhaps that’s why everyone else does it now.”  (He adds that the Buzzcocks’ current low profile stems from a six-month do-your-own-thing situation – Shelley going to Amsterdam, Diggle doing solo stuff, and the other two into rockabilly and horse-racing!).

Anyway, first Distractions vinyl came in the form of an EP, ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ on TJM, a set-up they don’t like to talk about.  They then got involved with Tony Wilson’s mighty Factory label, releasing ‘Time Goes By So Slow’, before bringing out the excellent ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ on Island.

How come you went to Island?

Steve: “Nobody saw us.  We got signed on the strength of two records.  It was ridiculous!”

Mike: “Island were the only company to come to Manchester and offer us something.”

Steve: “We were impressed because by then we were feeling really pissed off, really isolated in Manchester.”

Once contract were inked Steve could hand in his notice as a social worker, Alec as a carpet fitter, Pip the porter, and Mike and Adrian were relieved to come off the dole.

They charged into Revolution Studios, Stockport, to lay down their debut album through Jan-Feb.  Revolution is a fiftenn-quid-an-hour 24-track built from scratch in a geezer’s house!

Steve: “People have got a real prejudice against that – having a studio in a house.  But it was a good atmosphere to work in and it was to be near home (they live in sunny Stockport).  Also it’s cheap.”

Steve: “We wanted to make a record.  A lot of people’s first album is their live set, and that’s the end of that, tart it up with the odd guitar overdub or something.  We actually wanted to make a record, which I think we’ve done.  It’s still like a history of The Distractions though.”

Producing were two geezers who worked on the single, called John Astley and Phil Chapman, who came up with the idea one day to tackle the long-forgotten ‘Boys Cry’, and early-60s hit for heart-throb crooner Eden Kane.  The sound here is HUGE, layered mountains of sound.  It’s be the single and could strike – but the whole thing kicked off as a gag…

Steve: “It was a joke.  Id’ never heard it before – our drummer was the only one who’d heard it.  We had a spare day in the studio and did it.  Originally, we were just going to do the backing track and Phil was going to sing it through a wah-wah pedal for a laugh.  We went crackers and overdubbed everything – five acoustic guitars!  It was like everyone going crazy, and in the end we liked it so much we kept it.”

Would you call yourselves a pop group (like others have)?

Steve: “Not particularly.  I don’t like the idea of having any sort of label on us.  The vaguer the better.  You can call anybody a pop band – Joy Division are a gothic pop band.”

There’s loads of tracks on the album (14, including early material like ‘Valerie’, ‘Paracetemol Paralysis’, ‘Sick And Tired’ – “that’s been redone though, now it sounds like an American cop show theme” – to more recent stuff like ‘Looking For A Ghost’, ‘Wonder Girl’ and ‘Fantasy’).

Mike: “ We didn’t want to put on the past singles.”

Well I hope I get the other half of this album soon.  I suggest you acquire the whole lot.  Distract yourself.

Hugh Jarse (Kris Needs)






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