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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, December 31, 2011

2012...

2012 promises to be the most exciting year in more than three decades for The Distractions.  Not only will the impossible be made possible, with the release of The Distractions retrospective, but we'll see the group's first album in 32 years.  With these in mind, here's our top 5 Distractions moments of 2011:


5. City Fun articles...

Thanks to Mike Noon who painstakingly scanned old copies of the City Fun fanzine, we were treated to a glimpse of the late '70s, early '80s Manchester post-punk scene.  The City Fun "house band" were featured regularly, in some great pieces, as well as some duffers.



4. Mike Kellie joining the group...

Bringing on board a sticksman with such pedigree as The Only Ones' Mike Kellie was a real coup, and his influence on the recording of the new album, No.2 on our list, was undoubted.


3. Unearthing so many forgotten gems...

The number of old hidden master tapes, demo reels, alternate takes, live cassettes and much, much more, means that No.1 in this list promises to be better than any of us could ever imagined when the possibility was first raised.



2. Recording the new album...

We've heard how the studio sessions went and a lucky few have heard acoustic versions of some of the tracks.  The anticipation of hearing The Distractions' first album since 1980 is only beaten to second place in our list due to... 


1. The confirmation of the long-awaited Distractions compilation...

Legal wrangling had prevented prior efforts to release some of The Distractions' back catalogue, and to date, only a couple of tracks have made it to CD compilations, the famous FAC 12 and also Doesn't Bother Me.  But now, thanks to the influence of Neil Storey, former Island Records Head of Press, and behind the scenes work of others, the comprehensive and fully-remastered retrospective is planned for Spring 2012.



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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cerysmatic Factory

The news is spreading, slowly but surely.  Earlier this month from Cerysmatic Factory, the unofficial blog, history and archive about Factory Records, Manchester, England...




06 December 2011

Distractions retrospective out Spring 2012 

The long-awaited Distractions retrospective will be released on Hidden Masters in Spring 2012.  It will include the impossibly-catchy Factory Records single FAC 12 Time Goes By So Slow in all its glory.  All tracks will be fully remastered and will include the Nobody's Perfect album originally released via Island.

Around about the same time that the new studio album will be released on Occultation


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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trainspotter's Guide

Here are a couple of cuttings from George Gimarc's Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982.  In a nice twist of fate, following the first Distractions entry in 1979 is news of The Only One's latest single, featuring drummer, Mike Kellie, who would go on to drum for The Distractions 32 years later!




February 5, 1979 - Monday . . . . . 

THE DISTRACTIONS are the subject of the second TMJ release in as many months.  It's a four track, 12" EP titled "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That!"  Songs include "Doesn't Bother Me," "Nothing," "Maybe It's Love" and "Too Young."  The Manchester-based group is comprised of Adrian Wright and Steve Perrin-Brown on guitar, Mike Finney on vocals, Alec on drums and Pip Nicholls on bass.

The following year, not only were Mike Kellie's The Only Ones again featured with The Distractions, but Occultation label mate, Martin Bramah and his Blue Orchids were mentioned alongside an unknown American group, R.E.M.  




May 8, 1980 - Thursday . . . . .

THE DISTRACTIONS first LP is just out on Island Records.  It's called "Nobody's Perfect," and includes the tracks; "Waiting For Lorraine," "Something For The Weekend," "Sick And Tired," "Leave You To Dream," "Louise," "(Stuckina) Fantasy," "Nothing," "Wonder Girl," "Untitled," "Still It Doesn't Ring," "Looking For A Ghost," and "Valerie."  They also have a single of "Boys Cry (Where No One Can See Them)" and "Paracetamol Paralysis," both tracks from the LP.



Of course, every Distractions track mentioned here - and much more - will turn up on next year's eagerly anticipated Hidden Masters retrospective.


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Manchester's best kept music secret

"There is a lovely, lost Distractions song, 'Time Goes By So Slow', which sees the singer referring to Manchester as it was ("They 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...").  It was a lyric not lost on Garvey, who could understand the use of landmarks to tell a tale of lost love."

Reluctant Heroes: The Story of Elbow, Mick Middles (2009).




"C’era un gruppo chiamato Distractions, un gruppo straordinario – 'Time Goes By So Slow' e un singolo davvero notevole.  Alcuni di questi gruppo sono stati quasi come dei sogni, e quasi come se non fossero mai esistiti."
"There was a group called Distractions, a unique group - 'Time Goes By So Slow' a truly remarkable single.  Some of these groups were almost like dreams, and almost as if they never existed."

Totally wired. "Post-punk". Dietro le quinte, Simon Reynolds (2010).


"That is what remains so ironic; that in dysfunctioning, The Stone Roses almost... almost grasped the heights scaled by Led Zeppelin.  Undisputed greatness.  Then again, as one briefly celebrated Manchester band - The Distractions - once noted, nobody's perfect.  Not even the finest band that this fantastic city of Manchester has ever produced.  But they almost had it..."

Breaking into Heaven: The Rise and Fall of The Stone Roses, Mick Middles (1999).


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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hidden Masters

We're delighted to bring you news of the long-awaited, comprehensive and fully-remastered Distractions retrospective, from Neil Storey at Hidden Masters:




THE DISTRACTIONS

 
During the Autumn of 2010, work began on another Hidden Masters project, centered around one of the truly great 'lost' Manchester bands of the early '80s – The Distractions.
 
If the name doesn't readily spring to mind, a brief aide-memoire: The Distractions' first releases were on the TJM label before they signed to Factory. One single later and Nick Stewart (the man who inked the pact with U2) signed them to Island.
 
The Distractions one and only album, Nobody's Perfect, was released to sales that failed to match the lavish critical praise heaped upon the band or the record. Thus, after the obligatory singles and weeks spent touring the length and breadth of Britain, they were promptly dropped (in favour of the Irish quartet) when label cutbacks dictated that an A&R choice had to be made between one and t'other.
 
The Distractions reappeared on Rough Trade and Bronze before grinding to a halt at no real fixed point in time during the middle of the decade.

And there the tale would probably have ended… were it not for Occultation's Nick Halliwell who reunited co-founders Steve Perrin (writer & guitars / by now a teacher in Auckland, NZ) and Mike Finney (singer of songs / a Customs Officer in Hull) at a studio in Liverpool during the summer of 2009.
  



Occultation released the resulting two EPs to rave critiques. The shell on the egg of Distractions #2 had been pierced and, although geographically challenged, vague plans were made to record a second album… 31 years after their first.
 
With better than anticipated sales of these two EPs coupled to renewed media interest in The Distractions as the backdrop, Hidden Masters began the research process that would lead to assembling a database of all known recordings. Because, other than their Factory single, none of The Distractions' material has ever been made digitally available or reissued in any form.
 
Meantime, those imprecise new-LP plans turned to reality during the Summer of 2011 when messrs Perrin and Finney tipped up at a small studio in Exeter armed with a clutch of new compositions. Accompanied by Halliwell (guitars), Arash Torabi (bass) and veteran drum-major Mike Kellie, the new Distractions album was recorded in four days.
 
Concurrently, the months of deep-archive research were bearing fruit; all of The Distractions key masters had been located. However, using the same methodology as for any Hidden Masters project, the complete audio-database also includes live recordings; demos, outtakes, different mixes and radio sessions – some of which only now exists on DAT, cassette or virgin vinyl.
 
Hidden Masters will shortly start the digitisation process of all found (at FX with Richard Whittaker as chief engineer) before embarking on the song selection process in collaboration with Mike Finney and Steve Perrin.
 
With the new Distractions' album being readied for release via Occultation in late Spring 2012, Hidden Masters plan to release the fully re-mastered retrospective to coincide.
 
Envisaged as a 2xCD set and currently untitled, it will include their one and only Island album – about which, the final line in Paul Morley's July 3rd 1980 lead review for the NME stated | This is heart beat music that bruises the soul.

© Neil Storey, 2010-2012.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Great Indie Discography

From Martin Charles Strong's 2003 Great Indie Discography (with fellow Mancunians, The Smiths adorning) comes this history of The Distractions (complete with errors):



 (c) Google 2011. Google Books.


DISTRACTIONS

Formed:  Manchester, England... late 1977 by students MIKE FINNEY and STEVE PERRIN-BROWN, who had played several live gigs in the previous two years with the rhythm section of LAWRENCE TICKLE and TONY TRAP.  These originals were replaced by ADRIAN WRIGHT, PIP NICHOLLS and ALEC SIDEBOTTOM (former drummer with 60's combo, the PURPLE GANG), after their jubilee year resurrection.  During a hectic touring schedule supporting the likes of MAGAZINE, The BUZZCOCKS and just about every Mancunian New Wave act around at the time, The DISTRACTIONS signed a one-off deal with 'T.J.M.' and unveiled their debut EP, 'YOU'RE NOT GOING OUT DRESSED LIKE THAT', early in '79.  That year also saw the lads sign another one-off contract, this time to Tony Wilson's 'Factory', the results coming in the shape of the strongly melodic double-header, 'TIME GOES BY SO SLOW' / 'PILLOW TALK'.  At the turn of the decade, The DISTRACTIONS' critical stock had risen to the extent that 'Island' offered them an album deal.  Preceded by a re-recorded 'IT DOESN'T BOTHER ME' (originally from the debut EP) and a re-vamped version of (Eden Kane's 1964 Top 10 hit) 'BOYS CRY', 'NOBODY'S PERFECT' (1980) was surprisingly disappointing.  One further single for the independent 'That' outlet, 'AND THEN THERE'S', surfaced the following year, singer JULIE FINNEY replacing PERRIN-BROWN before their attention was diverted to other activities.

Album rating:  NOBODY'S PERFECT (*4)

MIKE FINNEY - vocals / STEVE PERRIN-BROWN - guitar / ADRIAN WRIGHT - guitar / PIP NICHOLLS - bass / ALEC SIDEBOTTOM - drums (ex-PURPLE GANG)

Mar 79.  (7" ep) (TJM 2) YOU'RE NOT GOING OUT DRESSED LIKE THAT EP - T.J.M.
- It doesn't bother me / Waiting for the rain / Do the.

Sep 79.  (7") (FAC 12) TIME GOES BY SO SLOW. / PILLOW FIGHT - Factory

Jan 80.  (7") (WIP6533IT DOESN'T BOTHER ME. / ONE WAY LOVE - Island

Apr 80.  (7") (WIP 6568BOYS CRY. / PARACETAMOL PARALYSIS - Island

May 80.  (lp) (ILPS 9604NOBODY'S PERFECT - Island
- Waiting for Lorraine / Something for the weekend / Boys cry / Sick and tired / Leave you to dream / Louise / Paracetamol Paralysis / Fantasy / Nothing / Wonder girl / Untitled / Still it doesn't ring / Looking for a ghost / Valerie

Sep 80.  (7") (WIP 6650SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND / WHAT'S THE USE - Island

Apr 81.  (7") (THAT 1AND THEN THERE'S / 24 HOURS. / GHOST OF A CHANCE / LOVE IS NOT FOR ME - That

- JULIE FINNEY - vocals; repl. PERRIN-BROWN

- changed their moniker to FIRST CIRCLE, although there were no records


(c) The Great Indie Discography, Martin Charles Strong (2003).


(c) Google 2011. Google Books.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

A teaser

The Distractions' new album will be with us in 2012 (along with the eagerly anticipated compilation - more on that soon).  In the meantime, there may be a taster in the form of some acoustic versions of album tracks.


"Girl of the Year"

A pop song in that great tradition, a song about you-know-what.  Louise, Valerie, Josephine, Nicole, or are The Distractions Waiting for Lorraine?  


"Too Late To Change"

A darker, more folksy number with driving rhythms from The Only One's drummer, Mike Kellie.


"Wise"

Destined to be a Distractions classic, this is a tear-jerker in the vein of Looking For A Ghost and Black Velvet.  Except this time it's written by part-time Distraction, Nick Halliwell, and the lyric includes a cameo from plucker Perrin to complement his friend Finnney's glorious lead.


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Monday, October 31, 2011

Occultating

This discussion on the Go Betweens forum sums up The Distractions' modern day fan base... keen and eager to spread the word; perhaps slightly obsessive.  New converts have usually had their head turned at the extraordinary Factory Records single, Time Goes By So Slow, then go on to discover the album, its beauty and its limitations.  




skulldisco:
"The Distractions – Nobody’s Perfect.  Long-forgotten classic Manchester band from 1981.  I wish I still had the single they released on Factory Records, it's probably worth a small fortune.  Who would have thought Factory would have a power pop, '60s influenced band on their roster!  The album is on Island Records, my copy is pretty scratchy having been in transit so many times over the last 29 years or so."  

Jeff Whiteaker
"Kevin, I think Time Goes By So Slow is an incredible pop song, but I could never really warm up to their album."  

skulldisco:
"Jeff, I know where you are coming from.  It probably sounds a bit dated now to be honest, but I think the songs are of a high quality, it's the production that dates it.  It may be more up Randy's street, I’ll send him a couple of songs on the off chance he doesn’t already have them."  

Michael Bachman:
"Time Goes By So Slow is a great pop song.  I like the guitar break; it was almost heading into Tom Verlaine territory there for a second or two.  I must admit I've never heard of them.  Why wasn’t Nobody's Perfect ever released on CD?  Were the vinyl sales too small?"  

Randy Adams:
"I had never heard of The Distractions.  The end part of Time Goes By So Slow is when it starts to really happen for me.  Thanks for sending it, Kevin.  In your mail you'll find the answer to your question about the other song you sent.  Michael, my observation is that a lot of small-selling things released in the early '80s – shortly before the introduction of CDs – never saw CD release.  Most of them were now just yesterday's news but not old enough to be revived and if they weren't earlier releases by artists enjoying continuing success they disappeared."  


Note the discussion about Occultation label-mates, The Wild Swans' Revolutionary Spirit, later in the thread.  Also mentioned is The Fall's Extrictate, which featured none other than Martin Bramah, returning founder member of The Fall and now leader of Factory Star.  To complete the Occultation links, the Go Betweens themselves are name-checked on Jonathan Beckett's beautiful EP, She's a Vampire.


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toons




The Distractions played at Newcastle University on 17 May 1980 supported by The Members (actually listed as the "Dismembered"). There are some terrifically obscure song intros from Adrian committed to tape here. For example: "This one's about a Mexican who Steve met in a takeaway in Manchester - it's called Wonder Girl...  This is our new single. It's a song about the effect of plastic, glue and ice on the environment - it's an early ecology song.  It's called Boys Cry."  The encore is Sick And Tired, followed by a raucous version of the Velvet's Waiting For My Man and the impressive PA finishes by playing out with the new single, Boys Cry.  The set list reads as follows:

1.  It Doesn't Bother Me
2.  Something For The Weekend
3.  Something New
4.  Wonder Girl
5.  Boys Cry
6.  (Stuck In A) Fantasy
7.  Leave You To Dream
8.  Still It Doesn't Ring
9.  Time Goes By So Slow
10.  What's The Use
11.  Louise
12.  [Untitled]
13.  Waiting For Lorraine
- - - - -
14.  Sick And Tired
15.  Waiting For The Man


Song number three here is Something New, an unreleased track that will be new to those fans who didn't  get the chance to catch The Distractions live. It may appear next year in some form though...



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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mystery video



There have been a couple of mentions of an alleged Time Goes By So Slow video that was filmed by Charles Salem in Albert Square (where else?). Sadly, Charlie doesn't recall filming this - but admits that doesn't mean it didn't happen!

We do know that Salem worked as Factory Records' video man during the time that The Distractions were associated  to Tony Wilson's label.  He worked with friend of The Distractions, Liz Naylor, on 'No City Fun'  with music by Joy Division.  'All Night Party' and 'Red Dress' were music videos by Salem featuring soundtracks from A Certain Ratio and Ludus, respectively.  These three videos were packaged together as FAC 9 [1].

Salem was supposed to work again with Liz Naylor in September 1979, in a video project entitled 'In Search of the Lost Chord', a "sojourn through the mathematics of Western tonal mathematics" with music supplied by Martin Hannett.  Unsurprisingly, this never happened due to "...misgivings on the part of Miss Naylor on the question of this all-pervading concept of 'product.' She wants to know when we're going to market toilet paper next.  Good question [1]."

Unfortunately, it's probably more likely that FAC toilet roll will turn up before footage of The Distractions in Albert Square with FAC 12 as the soundtrack...

Here's the original, beautiful, colour image of Albert Square by Andy Cooke that inspired Mark Cooper to take the shots which resulted in the artwork for The Distractions' two 2010 EPs, Black Velvet and Come Home. The below image is a rough mock-up of what became the Black Velvet EP sleeve.


(c) Andy Cooke (andy.cooke) at flickr.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Peel & Fanning

 John Peel. (c) rocklistmusic.


The incomparable John Peel often stated his favourite ever single was Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, and it is to this band that The Distractions were and still are frequently compared [1-3].  Peel himself gave The Distractions a little airplay in the late '70s, early '80s as FAC 12 and the Island album were both featured on his BBC Radio 1 show:

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/25_July_1979 - The Distractions:  Time Goes By So Slow (single) Factory

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/16_August_1979 - The Distractions:  Time Goes By So Slow (single) Factory

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/09_June_1980 - The Distractions:  Something For The Weekend (LP - Nobody's Perfect) Island

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/07_July_1980 - The Distractions:  Louise (LP - Nobody's Perfect) Island


Dave Fanning. (c) tower.


Over the water in Ireland, the "Irish John Peel" was undoubtedly RTE's Dave Fanning.  He had The Distractions in the studio in 1980 but sadly no details of this show exist.  However, a few weeks later, the lead singer of John Peel's beloved Fall was in and amongst other things, Fanning and Mark E. Smith brought up The Distractions:


Dave Fanning:  What about then the bands that are around at the moment from the same area as yourselves, like say The Distractions, from the Manchester area?

Mark E Smith:  I like The Distractions, because they're like a paradox to us.  I think they're a good cabaret pop band.  I think they're very honest.  I like honesty in bands.  But I think once they got into the hands of the record company, I think they messed up a bit.

DF:  When The Distractions were on the programme some months ago, they mentioned the fact about going to London and not being able to get gigs and there's no way at all, and in Manchester there's so few places to play.  Well in the last six months there seems to be loads of bands coming out of Manchester, loads of albums on independent labels and things like that.  So it is that much better up there, do you need to go to London do you think?

MES:  Well we went to London because I think the Manchester scene is like an imitation of the London scene, the Manchester scene is rapidly becoming like London.  If you go to Manchester now, it's just like London.

DF:  With all the upswings of all the bands are there places to play over there now?

MES:  In Manchester?  There's the odd place, but it's no better than any other city.  I think just that Manchester turns out people like that, I think it's the city [4].


1. Paul Morley, 1980 and David Quantick, 1987:   www.thedistractions.co.uk.
2. Mick Middles, 2010:  http://thequietus.com.
3. Malcolm Carter, 2011:  www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk.
4. http://gcoleman.tripod.com/sixplus.html.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rock's lost treasures

From Rare Bird 9 in the US:
 

The Distractions were a quintet from Manchester, England who recorded only one album.  That 1980 album, Nobody's Perfect, has long been out of print, and it's our loss.  The band split up in early 1981, after the album failed to attract much attention.  Their commercial failure wasn't caused by a lack of effort.  Their small body of work demonstrated that these new-wavers were avid students of music history, and they skillfully applied their knowledge to their own enjoyable music. 


The Distractions - "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That" EP          (TJM 2) 1978

Before recording their one full-length album, the Distractions released a few singles and a 4-song EP in the U.K.  The 1978 EP, titled 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 (one of which, "Nothing", was remade for the album) 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.  And this was just a rough warm-up for the album to come.


The Distractions - "Nobody's Perfect" (Island ILPS 9604) 1980




Nobody's Perfect is easy to identify as a new wave album of its time. "Paracetamol Paralysis" and "Valerie" are punk gems; "Waiting For Lorraine" and "Untitled" have the punk attitude, if not necessarily its ethos.  But The Distractions took an educated approach to new wave without over-intellectualizing it.  Nobody's Perfect draws inspiration from all three decades of rock and roll that preceded it.  The band emulated everyone from Buddy Holly ("Wonder Girl", "Still It Doesn't Ring") to Phil Spector girl groups ("Boys Cry", "Looking For A Ghost") to Elvis Costello ("Something For The Weekend") and the Talking Heads ("Sick And Tired").  The wistful "Leave You To Dream" sounds like the Cars interpreting the third Velvet Underground album.  Finney's sincere and sometimes somber vocals give many of the songs unexpected emotional depth.  A unique and eclectic album from an intelligent and sophisticated band, Nobody's Perfect is truly one of rock's lost treasures.


Track Listings:

YOU'RE NOT GOING OUT DRESSED LIKE THAT

1. Doesn't Bother Me
2. Nothing
3. Maybe It's Love
4. Too Young


NOBODY'S PERFECT

1. Waiting For Lorraine
2. Something For The Weekend
3. Boys Cry
4. Sick And Tired
5. Leave You To Dream
6. Louise
7. Paracetamol Paralysis
8. (Stuck In A) Fantasy
9. Nothing
10. Wonder Girl
11. Still It Doesn't Ring
12. Untitled
13. Looking For A Ghost
14. Valerie
 

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Friday, September 9, 2011

A touch of soul in the darkness of punk

The second part of Mick Middles' fine piece in the Quietus last year.  This focuses on the two 2010 Occultation EPs, Black Velvet and Come Home.




The Distractions 

COME HOME & BLACK VELVET EPS

 – Mick Middles, December 1st, 2010

Almost nothing has happened since the heady days of 1982... apart, that is, from a momentary reunion of a Finney and Perrin Distractions in 1995.  This remains important because recordings from that fleeting time have resurfaced as part of the first of two Distractions EPs on Occultation Records.  Indeed, 2010 sees the first Distractions releases of any kind since the early '80s.  So long... and what is new?

Occultation, who have just issued the two Distractions EPs reviewed here, are also to release an album's worth of the band's pre-Island material* and, beyond that, plans are afoot for a complete album of all new material.  A difficult process, given that Steve Perrin currently lives as a teacher in New Zealand while Finney enjoys the less exotic climes of Holmfirth, Yorkshire.  Nevertheless, the two would meet in the summer of 2010, to records at Liverpool's Parr Street Studios... just a momentary flash, with Perrin's guitar as precocious as ever, his gorgeous swelling melodies now complimented by a Finney voice that has gained a honey-tone during the barren years... and longingly unpretentious soul, simplistic lyrics that leave room to breathe.  Perhaps it is that sense of space that has always proved so magnetic to writers.  Charles Shaar Murray once proclaimed that "The Distractions are good for dreams."  Paul Morley once called them "...the perfect pop band for the '80s" while David Quantick always regarded them as "his band."

Well I concur, despite the rather awkward fact that at least two members of this band ran off with a wife of mine... ahhhh... now there's true Distractions rub.  For all their oikish cuteness, for all their wash of innocence... scratch the surface – in the old days at least – and there would lie a web of sexual intrigue that was rooted deeply within the Manchester early '80s scene.  Innocence with a sting that refused to play by the rules.

Today, things are more relaxed.  The first EP kicks of with 'Black Velvet', a track drawn from those lost mid-'90s demos and the precise moment when the band finally discovered the depth of sound they had been searching for back in the Island days.  'Black Velvet' is simple lost love and, like 'Time Goes By So Slow', is arrives from a place of heightened perception.  A man dreaming of a lost and fading love... wallowing perhaps but lifted by the rich Finney voice.  This is the music of a lost band, in a sense, as drummer Van Den Berg has been lost to the mysteries of South Africa while bassist Nick Gartside is now firmly encamped in LA, surfacing as mixer and polisher of the 2010 version of the band.  This truly international flavour has undoubtedly stretched the scope and is completed by the addition of a third songwriter in Nick Halliwell.  Confused?  Well, against the odds perhaps, The Distractions now sound more coherent than ever and these two EPs sit perfectly back to back... as a mini-album, perhaps.

The second track on Black Velvet, 'Still It Doesn't Ring' hails directly back to 1978 and yes, it is as obvious as the title suggests.  A touch of Undertones – always a close cousin, in so many ways – and a fresh attack at an aged tune.  A yearning pop blast... heartfelt although nothing... nothing in this ancient echo could prepare you for 'If You Were Mine', arguably Finney's greatest soulful moment... I do not know of technical perfection but, in terms of sheer howl and angst, this links deeply to the Otis Redding who always sat so central in Finney's record collection.  Odd thing, I have to say, during the Secret Seven phase this was a voice that appeared to be weakening... not so now.  Does Mike Finney own the great lost voice of modern music?

The second EP, Come Home furthers that outrageous claim.  Here Perrin's song-writing has gained the depth of age.  The downside is that this comes at the expense of that lovely old naiveté but, well, that's nothing if not a perfectly natural progression.  'Lost' is a pure pop gem, written by Perrin under the New Zealand sun.  Again there are huge blocks of silence built into the production.  If only Nobody's Perfect had been gifted such treatment.  The lyric will take you nowhere in particular – is a simple existential expression – but you can forgive that and ruminate on the fact that almost nobody is making pop music like this any more.  At least in 'Nicole', a girl is ushered swiftly to the spotlight.  Only in the glorious sprawl of Nick Halliwell's 'Oil Painting' are the realities of the band's advancing years appear to be approached.  "You may not be an oil painting..." sings Finney which, I strongly suggest is not something anyone wishing to retain manhood status should ever say to a lady of any age and, frankly, all is not retrieved by Finney's level admission "...and neither am I."  Nevertheless, and at the risk of encouraging the wrath of Steve Perrin, it is my personal favourite of the six songs on these two remarkable EPs.

For Mancunians of a certain age, witnessing the unlikely return of The Distractions will provide a touch of unexpected hope.  The fact that, despite the band being scattered around the globe, they have appeared in better shape than even warped nostalgia might allow, is simply stunning.

The hope is that Occultation can succeed where Island failed.  That is – to state the obvious – to link this to the audience that yearns for the touch, the warmth and, as we began, for the soul in the darkness of punk.  The great lost band of Manchester are back.

(c) Mick Middles / the Quietus


* Possibly not quite the case - watch this space for more details.


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Monday, September 5, 2011

A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn

Part 1 of Mick Middles' brilliant piece on 2010's Black Velvet and Come Home EPs in the Quietus.  




The Distractions 

COME HOME & BLACK VELVET EPS

  Mick Middles, December 1st, 2010

A touch of soul in the black night of punk.  A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn.  Emerging into post-punk Manchester, the unlikely Distractions became the best dance in town, adding songs and a touch of the old to a disparate mess of a local scene.  They became the perfect counter-balance to the introversion of Joy Division, the stubborn aloofness of The Fall.  A most un-Mancunian ensemble.  Then again... maybe not.  It was Mark E Smith who first alerted me to the charms of this band.  Although not one to overtly praise those he would find in his support spots, he warmed to the sexual frisson of their infectious simplicity.  They reminded Smith of the finer edge of Merseybeat.  There was, he said, a "touch of The Everly's" in there... "a bit of Orbison".

Catching them for the first time at Manchester's Band on the Wall in 1978, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Mike Finney, as anti-cool, anti-star vocalist, blessed with a voice of dark honey, a cheeky dance stance and the looks of a geography master.  Behind him, orchestrated by the band leader Steve Perrin, The Distractions bobbed away in precocious style.  Adrian Wright's steely guitar.  The shy – Tina Weymouth-style – bass stance of Pip Nicholls and the solid rhythm of sticksman Alec Sidebottom... who I had encountered before as a member of '60s Stockport psychedelics, The Purple Gang.  This was home grown bunch that had been quietly emerging since 1975, I have been latterly informed.  But best of all best of all they arrived at the Band on the Wall, fully armed with an album's worth of nuggets.  Pure classic gold that had yet to be discovered.  Within a year, they would emerge as the most promising band in Manchester.  Initially emerging with the raw and modest You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That EP on Tony Davidson's TJM Records (which included the bare bones of 'It Doesn't Bother Me', set to resurface in polished form as the band's first single for Island Records).

Before that, however, came the Martin Hannett produced* classic, 'Time Goes By So Slow'.  Even from the epicentre of the era of Joy Division, this song of the surreal state of heartbreak so perfectly illuminated post punk Manchester.  Indeed, for thirty years I have not been able to walk past Alfred Waterhouse's stunning Manchester Town Hall without the lyric, "They put your statue up in Albert Square...and all the people passing by, just stare..." striking an evocative note in my head.  A song as a tangible heart of a city and, frankly, quite unprecedented.

For a while, The Distractions usurped Buzzcocks as the best paid band in the city.  Inevitably, however, cracks in the band camaraderie began to appear at the very moment they appeared set to crack the charts.  Their Island album, Nobody's Perfect, immediately disappointed, not for the lack of great songs... but for an achingly clumsy hand of production.  Not since Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers LAMF, had an album full of jewels appeared in such a muddied state.  Worse, even than that, principle songwriter Steve Perrin decided that enough was enough, and left to for the aptly named Escape Committee.

Legend tells of an Island meeting where two bands were plucked from the roster... the decision resting on which to unceremoniously drop from the label.  The other band, U2, was duly retained while Manchester's finest hurtled directly back to the shadows of obscurity.  Even a comparatively eclectic rebirth, with ex-Ludus guitarist Arthur Kadmon – and an excellent Rough Trade EP – couldn't rescue the limping unit.  Soon they fragmented, with drummer Bernard Van Den Berg, bassist AJ and co-singer Debbie Shore filtering into position next to Finney and Kadmon.  What transpired was a uneven unit prone to over-adventure and an unlikely taste for Latino rhythm.  Well, it was the age of Kid Creole although the Manchester equivalent never quite gelled.

Finney was unbowed however and, with Van Den Berg, AJ and co singer Julie, (as Secret Seven) scored a short-lived record deal with, of all labels, Bronze, hardly a suitable home for an ironic pop ensemble who mixed strains of Velvet Underground with Dollar.  The liaison lasted just one single 'Hold On to Love' and a bizarre flirtation with ZTT (Mike and Julie provided vocals on an edit of Art of Noise's 'Close to the Edge').

Almost nothing has happened since the heady days of 1982... 


(c) Mick Middles / the Quietus.


* Martin Hannett didn't produce FAC12, rather it was Brandon Leon.


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