Monday, February 28, 2011
The Return of The Distractions
Feb 20, 2011 - Stephen Canavan
The Distractions - a review of the first new material released by the cult Manchester Post/Punk band in more than 30 years.
For any aficionado of Manchester's luminous musical history and heritage discovering a 'lost' band to fall in love with is an unexpected joy, akin to finding a ten pound note stuffed down the side of an armchair.
A chance mention on a Manchester United website in the spring of 2010, that the Manchester band The Distractions had reformed to record some new tracks, piqued my interest in hunting out and listening to the music of a band warmly recalled by post-punk veterans, and glowingly mentioned in books like Mick Middles 'Factory: The Story of a Record label'.
Railing against the prevailing dictates of post-punk's musical austerity, The Distractions were a breath of fresh, unashamedly pop air, into a stale scale dominated by the mothball stench of the raincoat, and haunted by Ian Curtis's tragic suicide.
The band formed in 1975 and their classic line up of Mike Finney (vocals) and principal songwriter Steve Perrin (guitar), Pip Nicholls (bass), Adrian Wright (guitar), and Alec Sidebottom, began to mine a rich pop scene of sixties influenced post/punk.
Their debut EP, 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That', released in 1979, received ecstatic notices in the press and the band signed to Factory, releasing the classic 'Time Goes By So Slow' (FAC12) written by guitarist Adrian Wright.
Their only album 'Nobody's Perfect' (Island Records) released in 1980, was critically acclaimed but commercially ignored, and is long deleted. But it has attained over the years a lustre that only a true classic can attain. Discovering the record now through the wonders of ebay, it's remarkable how this brilliant record has remained unreleased for so long. Packed with effervescent pop nuggets such as 'Waiting for Lorraine' and 'Valerie', and the haunted ballad 'Looking for the Ghost', (a song so possessed by loss it needs an exorcist), thirty years after it's release the album still sounds fresh, and perhaps more importantly, like a record you can't live without owning.
The band split in 1981; but for this new born Distractions fan, the news that vocalist Mike Finney and guitar maestro Steve Perrin had recorded two new EPs at the tail end of 2010, as The Distractions, with help from bassist Nick Garside was sweet news indeed.
The good news is that both EPs 'Black Velvet', which comprises three tracks recorded circa 1995, during a brief reformation, that featured Nick Garside on bass, but which saw no songs released; and in particular 'Come Home', featuring new songs written in 2010, both out now on Occultation Recordings, are superb.
Time has not diminished the power either of Mike Finney's yearning white soul vocals, now textured by time with the warmth of depth of an Irish malt, or Steve Perrin's effortless song writing and jangly guitar.
While both are strong I especially liked the latest release 'Come Home'. Perrin's 'Lost' features poignant lyrics, delightful piano by Richard Turvey, chiming guitars, and a great performance from Finney, 'Nicole' aches with longing, while Nick Halliwell, who also plays guitar and adds vocals, song 'Oil Painting' is another melancholy masterpiece.
So the Distractions are back! And with hopefully more new tracks to follow in the next coming months, to go with a compilation of their TJM, Factory Records, and mid 1990s material entitled Nothing that is to be released later this year. So while it may have taken over 30 years for the band to release another record; the likes of ‘Black Velvet' and ‘Come Home’ prove that good things come to those who wait.
Friday, February 25, 2011
This article from - surprise, surprise - Sweden reads as if it was published in about 1981 before the release of the And Then There's... EP on THAT Records (not Rough Trade as sometimes stated). It's from the Aaren Strup website, "an encyclopedia of New Wave and Punk music from 1977 to 1982 with images and interviews":
Steve Perrin gitarr, sang
Pip Nicholls bas, sang
Mike Finney sang
Adrian Wright gitarr, klavistur, sang
Alec Sidebottom trummor, slagverk, sång
Superb pop från Manchester. En grupp som funnits i några år nu, men som haft svårt med skivbolag och i kunnat slå igenom ordentligt. De började sin musikaliska karriär med en 12-tums EP på ett Manchester baserat bolag som heter "T. J. M. records". Efter det blev det en singel (Times goes by so slow) på "Factory". Sedan gick de vidare till "Island", ett större bolag som trodde att gruppen var något att satsa på eftersom pressen alltid rosade Distraction. En LP släpptes, men den slog konstigt nog inte alls och efter den så bildade gruppen ett eget bolag "That records" som kommer att distribueras av "Rough Trade". Man kan bara hoppas att bandet får den framgång som de är värda.
Nobody's Perfect - Island (IUPS 9604), 1980
Svängig och charmig till tusen, varierad rock som i det närmaste är perfekt. Gruppen har en fin känsla för smakfulla arrangemang och bra poplåtar. Den här plattan har allt: bra sångare, bra material och den har gått hem hos pressen. Tyvärr så har den inte blivit något genombrott.
Artiklar om: The Distractions
- NME 791027 s. 24 "Happiness is just a distraction" - Paul Morley.
- NME 801018 s. 27-28 "Attention! You are about to be distracted" - Charles Shaar Murray.
Translation with google's assistance and a few improvements:
Steve Perrin - guitar, vocals
Pip Nicholls - bass, vocals
Mike Finney - vocals
Adrian Wright - guitar, keyboards, song
Alec Sidebottom - drums, percussion, vocals
Superb pop from Manchester. A group which has existed for some years now, but who had difficulty with the record company to allow them to record properly. They began their musical career with a 12-inch EP for a Manchester-based label called TJM Records. After that there was a single (Time Goes By So Slow) for Factory Records. Then they went on to Island Records, a larger company who believed that the group was something to bet on because the press always acclaimed The Distractions. An LP was released, but strangely it wasn't a hit at all and after that the group formed a separate label, THAT Records, for an EP which will be distributed by Rough Trade. One can only hope that the band will be the success that they deserve to be.
Nobody's Perfect - Island (IUPS 9604), 1980
Swinging and charming to thousands, a varied rock that is almost perfect. The group has a fine sense of tasteful arrangement and great pop songs. This album has everything: good singers, good material and it has hit home with the press. Unfortunately it has not been their breakthrough.
Articles about The Distractions:
* NME 27 October 1979 p.24 "Happiness is just a distraction" - Paul Morley.
* NME 18 October 1980 p.27-28 "Attention! You are about to be distracted" - Charles Shaar Murray.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
While we await the eagerly anticipated Distractions compilation album followed by a new album in 2011, here are details of the next record on Occultation Recordings (which also features two of the newer Distractions).
Enter Castle Perilous is the first album by Factory Star, the latest Occultation signing led by Fall and Blue Orchids founder Martin Bramah. The album, produced by Nick Halliwell (The Granite Shore; guitars and vocals on the Come Home EP and author of Oil Painting) and engineered by Richard Turvey (The Wild Swans; piano and organ on Lost and Nicole), was recorded in just three days in January 2011. It is raw and articulate, the sound of a band captured red in tooth and claw.
Advance ordering will start in the Occultation Shop in March who should receive copies of the album before the end of that month. Enter Castle Perilous is released on both vinyl and CD; both editions come in full-colour heavy-duty 350gsm outer sleees with inner sleeves and there will be a special price at which both editions can be bought together. More details to follow.
Track listing and credits:
Side one: 1. Angel Steps 2. Big Mill 3. Away Dull Care 4. Cheetham Bill 5. Black Comic Book
Side two: 1. When Sleep Won't Come 2. The Fall Of Great Britain 3. New Chemical Light 4. Stone Tumbling Stream 5. Arise Europa!
Martin Bramah: vocals & guitar
Hop Man Jr.: keyboards
Chris Dutton: bass
Tom Lewis: drums
All songs written by Martin Bramah, except Angel Steps and New Chemical Light written by Martin Bramah and Ann Matthews. Music arranged by Factory Star.
Produced by Nick Halliwell. Engineered by Richard Turvey, Parr Street Studios, Liverpool, 15th-17th January 2011.
Backing vocals and hand claps: Ann, Nick, Hop Man, Chris ‘n’ Tom.
Mixed by Nick Halliwell and Martin Bramah at The Hidden Room, Exeter, 22nd-23rd January 2011.
Mastered and cut by John Dent at Loud Mastering, Taunton.
Sleeve photos by Jim Donnelly.
Sleeve layout by Andy Chambers.
Nick and Richard (and Parr Street Studios) feature in the Lost video below, and you can find Oil Painting and more of Nick's songs at the Occultation SoundCloud page.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Not sure where this review of Nobody's Perfect came from originally - it's the Editorial Review from Amazon.com but reads very much like a translation (so we've tidied it up a bit):
The Distractions - Nobody's Perfect. (c) amazon.
The Distractions, Manchester, UK. They were formed in 1975 by Mike Finney (vocals) and Steve Perrin-Brown (guitar), along with Lawrence Tickle (bass) and Tony Trap (drums). They had a few changes until finally Finney and Perrin settled on Pip Nicholls (bass), Adrian Wright (guitar) and Alec Sidebotom (drums). At first they played live, playing songs like 'Waiting for Lorraine,' 'Paracetamol Paralysis'... They were supporting the main bands of Manchester area, releasing a single and an EP that will be here soon.
At the end of the summer of 1979, they signed with Island, but until the spring of 1980 we would not see the light of their first and only LP, the wonderful 'Nobody's Perfect.' Fourteen songs full of new-wave sound, the peculiar sound of Manchester, voices like Clive Gregson (Any Trouble). Really an authentic jewel of the British New Wave. The reviews were very good, but this did not translate into sales in the commercial market, and they split in 1981.
'Nobody's Perfect' is their majestic LP, and for the delight of all lovers of Pop-Rock... it's here.
* * * * * (5 Stars)
Tracks: Waiting For Lorraine / Something For The Weekend / Boys Cry / Sick And Tired / Leave You To Dream / Louise / Paracetamol Paralysis / (Stuck In A) Fantasy / Nothing / Wonder Girl / Still It Doesn't Ring / Untitled / Looking For A Ghost / Valerie
Friday, February 18, 2011
While some Distractions now have adopted homelands - Steve Perrin, New Zealand; Nick Garside, USA... Mike Finney, Yorkshire - it is Sweden that's home to some of the most ardent Distractions fans. From December last year, here is a piece from the Popgeni blog, thanks to Björn for the article and to Hans for the Occultation link:
Band som bara släpper ett album kan bli odödliga, men samtidigt klart irriterande.
Speciellt om debuten håller löjligt hög klass. Kanske handlar det om att fega ur och inte våga jobba ihop uppföljaren som förmodligen inte når upp till samma nivå.
Att engelska pop och new wave bandet The Distractions från Manchester splittrades bara ett år efter debutalbumet ”Nobody's Perfect” (1980) hade nog mest att göra med uteblivna listframgångar trots att recensenterna gjorde vågen för deras singlar och fullängdaren.
”Nobody´s Perfect” är en bortglömd diamant för den breda massan, men ett högt älskat album bland de som investerade när det begav sig.
Att sångaren Mike Finney och gitarristen Steve Perrin 30 år efter uppbrottet var tillbaka i en inspelningsstudio i juni i år för att spela in vinyl-EP'n ”Come Home” betraktar vi upplysta som ett litet popmirakel.
”Come Home” släpptes i november och på andra sidan nyår kommer ett samlingsalbum med tidigare outgivet material från bandet.
”Nobody's Perfect” finns inte på Spotify, så det blir ingen chans att lyssna in.
Men videon till ”Lost”, ett av de fyra spåren på ”Come Home”, visar med eftertryck att gubbarna fortfarande har känslan.
With apologies to the author, here is rough translation with the help of google:
Bands who only released one album can be immortal, but are clearly annoying.
Especially if its debut is of a ridiculously high standard. Maybe it's about chickening out and not daring to work together on a sequel that will probably not reach the same level.
The English pop and new wave band, The Distractions from Manchester, split just a year after their debut album "Nobody's Perfect" (1980), which was probably mostly to do with the lack of chart success despite critics hailing their singles and the full length record.
"Nobody's Perfect" is an overlooked diamond in the crowd, but a much-loved album amongst those who invested in its time.
The singer, Mike Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin, 30 years after the breakup were back in a recording studio in June this year to record the vinyl EP "Come Home" which we regard as an enlightened little pop miracle.
"Come Home" was released in November and what's more, in the New Year, there will be a compilation featuring previously unreleased material from the band.
"Nobody's Perfect" is not on Spotify, so there is no chance to listen.
But the video for "Lost", one of the three tracks on "Come Home", indicates strongly that the old men still have the feeling.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
This advert appeared in what looks like the New Musical Express in 1980:
The Distractions - It Doesn't Bother Me advert, 1980. (c) heavy_metal_maniac.
What the papers are saying…
…The news is out. The hot poop of “new pop” hitpack is in our midst in the shape of Manchester’s latest contribution to the great British pop renaissance… Ladies and gentlemen, The Distractions…
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
…The Distractions are one of the best young pop groups to have emerged this year and this could well be The One… the Distractions are gonna be on your sister’s wall in 1984, so be prepared…
Buy The NEW SINGLE Produced by John Astley and Phil Chapman
“it doesn’t bother me”
Sunday, February 13, 2011
This great little review of the Come Home EP escaped our attention from December. Another from Sweden and the Raised on Records blog, this isn't the first reviewer to say that Lost could have been at home on Nobody's Perfect, The Distractions' one and only album (to date...):
Eden Kane's crying little boys are back. And it's not a comeback like many others. "Lost" sounds even better than the album "Nobody's Perfect."
(c) http://raisedonrecords.blogspot.com. Translation by google.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The wonderful Manchester District Music Archive has seen a some cracking Distractions artefacts from the early days of 1977 added recently by 'FranDaman'. The first is a set of tickets (nice badge as well) for gigs at The Ranch on Dale Street, often referred to as the home of Manchester punk.
The Ranch was part of Foo Foo's Palace and for a time The Distractions were almost considered to be the Ranch house band. The other artefact is a frankly, rather disturbing flyer for a July 1977 gig. Where to start with this...
Monday, February 7, 2011
In a week which saw the first Distractions interview of 2011 at Penny Black Music, this Record Mirror interview from 8 September 1979 also turned up.
A SIGN OF THE TIMES
MIKE NICHOLLS has his fashion sense tested by The DISTRACTIONS
WHAT A funny old world. There go Squeeze raking in the ackers but without a new sock in sight and here come The Distractions, who'd rob for a bob yet dressed to the nines.
Mike Finney looks well pleased with his himself after a successful shopping expedition. Inside the reception room at Indigo-Arrow Studios we can hear him trotting all the way down from Deansgate, Manchester's busy commercial centre. That's because he's wearing well-heeled black winkle-pickers.
"Just look at the shine on them!" he beams with a smile as bright as his shoes. Rising above the ankles are a pair of de rigeur pleated flannel pants, which, as Mike is at pains to point out, possess a waist-line of of a mere 29.
"That should knock all this Billy Bunter of rock (as one rag suggested) nonsense on the head," he decided, while juggling with a 2 1/2 yard long roll of cream cloth. The latter will metamorphosise into a right dandy dinner jacked for our rising star.
"Well, there goes your street-credibility," admonished Steve Perrin, himself looking quite dapper in tab-collared purple shirt and contrasting polka-dot tie.
Steve is one of the two guitarists with The Distractions. Mike is lead vocalist, more by fluke than intention. Both were friends at Stockport College of Technology - or rather acquaintances.
"He always used to sing at the back of the class," recalls Steve. "I wouldn't have minded, but I could never get any bloody sleep!"
Ha! Overtones of the Undertones. What it did mean, however, was the nucleus of a band. T'other guitarist, Adrian, was recruited from a music paper ad, and like Mike is 23, a year older than Perrin, the bassist is a cute, elfin-like figure who goes by the unlikely name of Pip Nicholllls [yes, 4 Ls, as alluded to by Paul Morley in his North by Northwest sleeve notes].
Petite and blonde, she resembles nothing so much as a less vicious version of Toyah Wilcox. Pip was presented to the boys by no lesser personage than Pete Shelley after she failed an audition to join Buzzcocks in the summer of '77. The friendship between the two bands continues.
"A nice guy, Pete," reflects Steve, "but have you noticed how quiet he goes in front of the bar? Soon as it's his round he starts moaning about poor record sales!"
Anyway, unable to replace Dephoto Devoto, Pip ended up with a group which went on to play a number of support gigs to baldy's old band. First there was the original punk hangout, The Ranch, followed by a full house at Rafters and other odd gigs "To give all Manchester correspondents in the music press a break!"
One of these was a pub gig where the band played with a group which was later to call itself The Smirks. I mention to The Distractions how I remember being talked into going by Smirksman Ian Morris while we were both waiting to sign on.
"Sign on? You?" exclaims an astonished Mr Finney. "Actually, I had a funny experience at the dole office the other day," he begins, always ready with a daft anecdote.
"This fella said, to me: "I'd like a word with you," then he asked me to autograph this record! Then he said "how come you're signing on when you're in a band?" He didn't believe me when I told him we weren't making anything out of it, so I said he ought to try coming to one of our gigs!"
THE record autographed was the Distractions sublime 12 inch four track 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That' EP, which, due to the ambiguous pressing policy of their former label, has been deleted. The original deal was that after 6,000 copies had been sold, the group would get a share of the royalties.
The band have a strong suspicion that only 4,000 were ever pressed, which means so far they haven't seen a red cent - or even a copy of their own record for that matter.
"It's ridiculous," says Adrian. "Our own sisters haven't been able to find them, yet we've had thank-you letters from Frankfurt and Holland saying how great it is!"
"One of them reckoned it was the 'Spiral Scratch' of '78," reports Steve, "but I don't see Boredom on it!"
Ever cheerful, recent events show things looking up for The Distractions. At the moment they are being managed by Brandon Leon, their producer and meantime master of ceremonies at Indigo-Arrow. A compact, hyperactive character, Brandon is presently doing a tour of the record companies, with some very encouraging results:
"EMI read a feature about us and were immediately interested in us (hint: It wasn't Jimmy Parade's one-word review of the single, which like the band's reaction to it, is unprintable), they didn't give a damn about the way we sound!"
Another label is also mentioned. "Yeah, that would be alright," opines Mike with a glint in his eye, "the same one as Suzi Quatro!"
At that point the fifth member of the band makes a belated appearance. The drummer, Alec, looks like the wreck of the Hesperus at the best of times, but on this particular occasion he'd just come back from Greece. He didn't just come back weather-beaten, he appeared to have travelled back on the rough end of a tidal wave. Either that, or dragged backwards through a coal mine.
He started wafting through the music papers. "Betta catch up with the news," he announced while complimenting the Greek grasp of UK rock 'n' roll. "They had all the British imports out there, you know," he discloses, rubbing a cold sore. "The Ruts, an' all that!"
IT transpires that Alec is about the only one in the band with a day job, which explains his ability to afford fancy continental holidays.
What do you do?
"A'hm a carpet fitter," he replies as the others subside into merriment. Nothing wrong with that. We all like a bit of shag-pile don't we?
"And he lives over the brush," pipes up Mike for no particular reason, "that's the trouble with this band - there's too many people shacking up."
But of course. Actually he was once a social worker, while Mike himself describes himself as a professional coconut shaker. And Pip? She's a "freelance vegetable grower."
"I tried cultivating some marrow and cauliflower," she demures, "but I planted them too late so there's no sign of them yet. Still, the beetroot have come up alright - and the peas."
My, what we find in Record Mirror features these days - fashion hints, gardening tips, the Greek disco scene... but what about their music? Well let's begin by saying The Distractions have obvious commercial tendencies, something which characterised their sound long before the whole powerpop schtick became unschtuck. They run the whole range of influences from The Beatles to the Groovies and the Velvets, while retaining an identity of their own - particularly in the visuals dept, where Mike's mode of apparel often gives the impression he's bent on starting the new craze of Civil Servant Rock.
Apart from the 'Dressed Like That' tracks, material includes songs with such titles as 'Waiting for Lorraine' - an old hobby of Steve's - and stage fave, 'Still It Doesn't Ring.' Next waxing up to be 'Pillow Fight' and 'Time Goes By So Slow' which will be released on Factory Records in wonderful seven inch black vinyl. What about when the big dotted line is signed. Will a move to The Smoke be on the cards?
"Nah," replies Mike, "Too many mods down there." "Yeah," adds Steve, "It's a pity there hasn't been a rocker revival at the same time."
Mike Nicholls, Record Mirror, 8 September 1979
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Lo and behold, 32 years after its release, The Distractions' debut EP You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, is still receiving attention. Produced by Brandon Leon and engineered by Phil Bush at Arrow Sound studio, Manchester, in November 1978, it really is one of the finest debut records of its time. In this review, Rune (aka Magic Moments) at Rate Your Music (where it is currently rated as 1978's second finest EP) agrees:
TJM2 sleeve design by Alan Adler.
Finally! I don’t know the last time I found a truly great new wave record. Probably some 25 years ago. But here it is: the glorious debut EP from The Distractions, incredibly titled You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That. From the opening lines of “Well, some people try to just make other people sad/ But you don’t try so you can’t be so bad/ You’ve got too much pride and too little to do/ And what you want to wear is all that matters to you/ I suppose the tedium will drive you mad” the theme of love is treated from refreshingly new angles, and in the voice of Mike Finney you believe every word.
The first two tracks, ‘Doesn’t Bother Me’ and ‘Nothing,’ were later rerecorded in more polished versions, but these original takes may after all be the better ones. For instance, I just love the way the rhythm guitars keep churning with a wonderful ‘dusty’ sound on ‘Nothing’. However, my favourite is ‘Maybe It’s Love’, actually, the most listened to track in my iTunes library: What a killer! The melody line of the final track, ‘Too Young’, is definitely not as strong as on the other tracks, but being more punk than new wave it still works great as a closer. Overall, You’re Not Going Out… can compete with anything in the new wave / pop punk area: Costello, Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Blondie, whatever. Utterly unfair that it didn’t sell and too bad for all of us that it has been as good as unavailable for ages. But sometimes life is kind, you know, and all four tracks (as well as the classic Factory single Time Goes By So Slow and tracks from the Black Velvet sessions, this autumn's excellent comeback EP, will be included on the forthcoming Nothing album. If you’re into British new wave you’re in for a treat.