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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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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Factory's greatest pop record

From Andy Wake at the Songs From Under The Floorboards blog comes this fine piece on The Distractions' most famous track, Adrian Wright's Time Goes By So Slow.  Take a look around the Floorboards blog, amongst the gems covered are The June Brides, Life Without Buildings, and Joy Division Live at the Electric Circus.




The Distractions - Time Goes By So Slow

by Andy Wake

Title: Time Goes By So Slow
Format: 7"
Label: Factory
Year: 1979

Side A - Time Goes By So Slow
Side B - Pillow Fight




A few miles out of Manchester, the town of Stockport gives birth to a river which flows west to Liverpool and whose name became synonymous with the latter’s Sixties music scene.  It must have been tough being a Mancunian back then but despite being in the shadow of Merseybeat, Manchester as always had its own thing going on.

At least in the Seventies the title of 'centre of the musical universe' quite rightly shifted to my home city with the advent of punk and the rise of Factory Records.  It was a great time for a music obsessed teenager to be growing up but in 1979, the year of post punk, one record in particular stuck out for it’s unashamed debt to the beat groups of the previous decade.  In my opinion it’s still the greatest pop record Factory ever released.

Time Goes By So Slow was The Distractions second single and never fails to fill my head whenever I pass through its name checked Albert Square.  It’s one of those records that at first seemed out of time but now just sounds beautifully timeless…




Title: Come Home
Format: 12" vinyl / CD EP
Label: Occultation
Year: 2010

Tracks - Lost / Nicole / Oil Painting

So on to the present and thirty odd years later the core of the group - vocalist Mike Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin - are back sounding just like the classic Distractions of old with a couple of EPs on new label Occultation.  Both come with differing sleeve shots of that all important Albert Memorial with Black Velvet featuring material recorded in the Nineties and Come Home containing three newly written tracks.

Andy Wake, Songs From Under The Floorboards, March 2011


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Leave Me at Cabaret Futura

Cabaret Futura: Fools Rush In Where Angels Dare To Tread. (c) Discogs.


One of The Distractions' lesser known songs - maybe even one that's missed by completists - is Leave Me on the 'Cabaret Futura: Fools Rush In Where Angels Dare To Tread' compilation LP.  This record was recorded in Spring 1981, released on Martyrwell Music and distributed by Virgin [1].  By now, Steve Perrin had departed to be replaced by Arthur Kadmon, founder member of Ludus with Linder, and one-time brief member of The Fall.  It was Arthur's Leave Me that was recorded live at the Cabaret Futura club for 'Fools Rush In...'  Engineered by Andy Rose and John Astley, and produced by Richard Strange, it's a punchy number, starting sparsely with Mike's quivering vocals leading to a rousing and soaring keyboard-led chorus.  It's The Distractions alright, but, to paraphrase Mr Peel... it's different... but the same.


6. Leave Me, The Distractions. (c) Discogs.


Dave Thompson's review in Rovi:

Though it remained in operation for no more than two years, London's Cabaret Futura club left an indelible mark on the UK scene of the early '80s.  Alongside the better (self)-publicized Billy's, it was there that much of what would soon emerge as the new romantic movement took shape - there, too, that the later Batcave crowd first coalesced.  It stands to reason, then, that any vinyl souvenir of the venue - particularly one recorded during the very heyday of the Cabaret - should echo those concerns... right?  Wrong.  Eschewing contributions from any of the better-known/remembered acts to darken the Cabaret stage, Fools Rush In (its very title is a commentary) concentrates instead on the left field that was the club's bread and butter.  

True, Positive Noise and Kissing the Pink went some way toward making a major label rumble, while the name of Richard Jobson will instantly thrill anyone with fond memories of the punk-era Skids.  Club owner Richard Strange, too, contributes one track to the proceedings.  But names and notions are the album's sole concessions to popularity.  Jobson serves up two pieces of poetry accompanied by bandmate Russell Webb, but otherwise pointedly avoids any comparisons with the kind of material he was normally associated with; the heavily accented "Daddy" is an adaptation of a Sylvia Plath poem and "India Song," set in the age of British colonialism, raises just one smile with its mocking allusions to Ultravox ("India, it means nothing to me").

Elsewhere, Monkey House Blues serves up a note-perfect xerox of contemporary Talking Heads, all agitated rhythms, quirky vocals, and mutant funk, while The Distractions - a fairly useful mod revival band two years earlier - are now reduced to workaday post-power poppisms.  Capalula is a performance artist whose live act was both entertaining and intriguing, but really doesn't translate to vinyl alone - "The Pure Voice" appears to be a collection of novelty snorts and vocal exercises.  And Strange's own "Let's Flatten Manhattan" is one of the least impressive songs from his Phenomenal Rise cycle, its inclusion here primarily justified by the fact that he left it off his other two albums.  

That leaves Everest the Hard Way and Eddie Maelov & Sunshine Patterson to consistently entertain, and they do so with zeal: Everest is edgy new wave cut from the same cloth as the very early Bunnymen and company; Maelov & Patterson want to be the first Velvet Underground album and don't care who knows it.  Neither band ever delivered on the promise displayed here but, in a way, that was the point.  

Unlike so many other compilations, Fools Rush In was never intended as a shop window for new talent's wares.  Rather, like the earlier seminal Live at the Roxy WC1 punk document, it was a reminder of a very special club, a few special evenings, and the most fun you ever had being po-faced, pretentious, and arty.  And let's face it, we all need to be reminded of that, occasionally. 



6. Leave Me - The Distractions. (c) Discogs.




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Monday, March 21, 2011

Up In Albert Square

Nice little piece from the fine Bagging Area blog from a fellow Mancunian.


I Put Your Statue Up In Albert Square




"That's Albert Square Manchester, not Albert Square Walford.  The Distractions, a largely forgotten early Factory Records band, released FAC 12, a wonderful piece of guitar pop called Time Goes By So Slow.  The record was Single Of The Week in the NME and drew praise from Paul Morley (a bit inevitable perhaps) and Jon Savage, who called them 'the perfect youth club band'.  There are so many little gems in the Factory back catalogue and this song is one of them.  From Factory they went to Island, and then back to the independent sector with Rough Trade before splitting in 1981.  They have become active again recently recording and gigging, and are set to release a compilation album this year.  If this little blog helps to shift a couple of copies of that, or just jog a few memories, I'd be very happy."
Swiss Adam



Another Manchester aficionado recently had this to say about Time Goes By So Slow at The Tedious World blog:

"There were also several one-shot acts such as The Distractions, whose debut single Time Goes By So Slow was perhaps the best pure 'pop' music Factory put out until Temptation by New Order.  Like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, whose also recorded their first single on Factory, The Distractions signed to a major label soon after, but vanished when the subsequent album failed to cross over."

D. C. Harrison

Friday, March 18, 2011

A retrospective... and new songs

Here's the second part of Malcolm Carter's terrific recent interview for Penny Black Music:




The Distractions - Interview

Malcolm Carter talks to vocalist Mike Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin from underrated 70s punk/new wave band the Distractions about their comeback and two new EPs, 'Black Velvet' and 'Come Home'




So with rumours of Occultation planning a re-issue of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ and associated singles plus news of a new album filtering through it felt appropriate to ask Mike Finney and Steve Perrin a few questions to make sure that this isn’t all just a dream for those of us who fell in love with, and to, the music they made decades ago.

Penny Black: The Distractions are back states the press release. But how long for? You’re not going to get us all excited again and disappear after just one album and a clutch of classic singles again are you?!

Steve Perrin: That’s the plan. Yes.

Mike Finney: Well, as we live on different continents, and Steve is New Zealand while I still live in England, it is difficult to get together properly – but equally difficult to split.

PB: Back in the late '70s/early '80s The Distractions seemed to have it all. Great songs, a superb vocalist, brilliant guitarists and even white vinyl 7” singles. So why didn’t the singles and one of the best albums ever not sell?

SP: It is hard to say. We tended to inspire complete devotion in a small number of people (many of whom were journalists so didn’t need to pay for their records) and complete indifference in everybody else.

MF: It was more about how we looked and the difficulty in putting us in the right pigeon-hole perhaps?

PB: Who owns the master tapes to ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ now? Are we going to finally see a reissue to replace our worn out vinyl with?

SP: Universal bought out Island so they own the tapes.

PB: Will ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ and ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ be included as bonus tracks if the album is re-issued? They weren’t on the original album. As different labels were involved I guess we won’t be that lucky. '24 Hours' would be another welcome addition to the album!

SP: There’s a very good chance that some sort of retrospective will appear in 2011. What’s going to be on it, though, is a bit up in the air at the moment.

PB: The new songs, spread over two EPs, are every bit as strong as the songs on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. But what is most surprising is that you’ve included a version of ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’ that stays true to the original and shows the band have lost none of their passion and power. Why did you choose that particular song from your back catalogue?

SP: It’s one of the first songs that Mike and I wrote together.

MF: In 1976.

SP: I suppose we’ve got a soft spot for it.

MF: And it made it through to the album.

SF: Of course it makes very little sense since the development of mobile communications technology. I mean, why doesn’t he go out and do something constructive while taking his mobile with him? No sense in moping.

I think the other reason it was recorded was that the 1990s line-up had a plan to play one old song at each gig we did but we only got round to that one. We might have done ‘Valerie’ as an encore once, but I can’t swear to it.

PB: Of the two recently released EPs, one contains new songs that were recorded in 1995. Many fans missed that The Distractions were together again then let alone actually recording. Was anything actually released at that time? Were any gigs played?

MF: Nothing was released in 1995, despite the recording. A few low key gigs, but only in Manchester and Liverpool.

SP: Unfortunately it was before the internet had really taken off so it was hard to alert people who might have been interested.

PB: Is the line-up that recorded the songs on the ‘Come Home’ EP in 2010 a settled line-up now?

MF: Yes, I hope so.

SP: The next record will have the Finney/Garside/Halliwell/Perrin line-up with somebody playing drums. It would be nice if it was Bernard Van Den Berg, but we’ll have to see.

PB: Can we expect an album of new songs soon and maybe some gigs?

MF: New songs are being written.

SP: There should be some sort of new record. Gigs are more difficult given that we live in four different countries.

MF: The median point is somewhere in Iran or the Russian Steppes.

SP: Nick Garside is keen to do something in Manchester, but co-ordinating everybody’s schedule is a bloody nightmare.

PB: Mike, you went on to form Secret Seven after The Distractions disbanded in 1981. Again, the band received good press but seemed to disappear quite quickly. What happened? Did you give up on the music business then?

MF: The Secret Seven was set-up to intentionally have certain conflicts – unfortunately I was too na├»ve to realise what that really meant. When the arguments started, we blew apart. Bronze Records, who we were signed to, was folded because of the owner Gerry Bron’s divorce settlement and that sort of sealed it.

I joined up with Alec Sidebottom, The Distractions' former drummer, in a country-rock band called the First Circle and made demos, did quite a few gigs, etc., but I left because the rest of the band refused to play in the format we had.

PB: What happened to the other members of the Distractions from the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ era? What became of guitarist Adrian Wright, bassist Pip Nicholls and Alec?

MF: Ade is in North Manchester keeping at arm’s-length from music.

SP: Pip still plays and records and is living in Warrington.

MF: Alex is still based in South Manchester and playing in a Samba band, the Republic of Swing, and I think is teaching drums.

PB: The Distractions released songs on both indie and major labels back in the '80s. With the internet and downloads, it must feel like a completely different business now. Do you feel the band have a better chance of getting their music heard this time?

MF: Yes. Luckily there are people around who understand this kind of thing and I would rather leave that to them. Maybe that’s what I should have done before…?

SP: Probably less chance actually, as there’s so much stuff out there and the music press does not have the power it once did.

PB: Something that I’ve wondered for years is concerning the cover of Eden Kane’s ‘Boys Cry’ on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. It was a sympathetic cover but not up there with the originals on the album. Was it a band or label decision to include it on the album and also issue it as a single?

MF: In principle, we were all against it being released as it was meant to be a giggle in the studio and a tension reliever. Unfortunately, some of us believed that it really would help get us known if we released it onto the album as some of the Island people said. That then became the ‘lead-single’ from the album. Steve was very much against it and I was softy Walter and went along with it. The Island press officers wanted ‘Waiting For Lorraine’ or ‘(Stuck in a) Fantasy’ – we should have gone with them!

SP: After some persuasion the label got a majority of support in the band and I left in a huff. It’s a situation from which nobody emerges looking at their best.

PB: The Distractions were regularly, and in many ways quite rightly, compared to The Undertones back in the '70s and '80s. But the Undertones were in and out of the all important back then charts on a regular basis. It must have been frustrating for your band to see songs of the calibre of ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ and ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ miss out on chart placings.

SP: Yes, it was.

MF: I would have liked to be charting and it was indeed very important in the various decisions made by both us and others at that point. But it wasn’t an issue with The Undertones, Buzzcocks, etc., as much as that The Nolans and The Dooleys and the like were what the public wanted. I was happy to see The Undertones, Buzzcocks, etc., in there.

PB: It’s great to see both of you as the two main songwriters from the 1978-1981 line-up back together. Although Adrian Wright only wrote two songs on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ one of them, ‘(Stuck In A) Fantasy’ defines the classic Distractions sound. Was Adrian approached to re-join the band?

SP: Actually, Adrian also wrote ‘Time Goes By So Slow’, but it was wrongly credited to me and Mike on the record label. As Mike said, he keeps his distance and won’t come out for a drink, let alone join a band. He does know about the new stuff, however, and is fully supportive, as are Pip and Alex.

MF: Ade was asked (twice) to re-join, but he declined for personal reasons. I haven’t written any songs since The Art of Noise and that wasn’t used! I agree with you about Steve writing again. Good, innit?

PB: The songs on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ haven’t dated at all. Songs that are some thirty years old still sound fresh and with lyrics that we can all relate to will surely appeal to a new generation. Have you had any feedback from new converts who have checked out your back catalogue after hearing the new songs?

MF: Many of the recent listeners haven’t heard the old stuff as it’s neither digital nor in CD but vinyl format, but I would be interested when they do hear it. The response from those who were there in 1978-1981 is great.

SP: Most feedback has been from old supporters but some of them say that their kids like it.

PB: ‘Lost’, the lead track on the ‘Come Home’ EP, could easily have been pulled from the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ album and that’s a compliment not a criticism. Actually all the five new songs spread over the two EPs are classic Distractions songs but ‘Lost’ just has the edge. Mike, your vocals have always been described as soulful and the passing years have not diminished the passion in his vocals. I’d actually say that there’s a certain roughness now to your vocals which makes them even more appealing. Do you feel just as good, Mike, if not better, now vocally than you were thirty years ago?

SP: I think he sounds better. I think maturity has added to rather than taken away from what was already there.

MF: I was particularly pleased with the Liverpool recordings of ‘Lost’,‘Nicole’ and ‘Oil Painting’ as the two day session felt just like the ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ or the ‘Time Goes By…’ sessions, but I could listen to the songs afterwards. We had never played ‘Lost’ and ‘Oil Painting’ together before meeting up in the studio. It was the first time I had sang with Steve for about ten years, the first time Steve, me and Nick Garside had played together for fifteen years and the first time Nick Halliwell had ever played with the three of us. We just couldn’t have done that back in 1980.

I’m pleased that the passion is still there and I enjoyed the recording, both 1995 and 2010, more than the early stuff. I’m pretty sure that the roughness is due to being sober in the studio. The Liverpool session was unusually just a few pints in the evening on Albert Dock. Maybe I should have done that before too.

PB: Thank you.

(c) Malcolm CarterPenny Black Music, 31/01/2011.





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Monday, March 14, 2011

Classic pop never dates

Part one of the fantastic interview piece on the "reformed 70’s British punk/new wave group and 'great lost band' The Distractions" by Malcolm Carter at Penny Black Music.




The Distractions - Interview

Malcolm Carter talks to vocalist Mike Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin from underrated 70's punk/new wave band the Distractions about their comeback and two new EPs, 'Black Velvet' and 'Come Home'




There were some great singles issued in the last few years of the 1970s and the early 1980s.  The Jam and the Undertones were just two bands who released classic pop single after classic pop single.  They were rewarded, for the most part, with decent chart placings, 'Top Of The Pops' appearances and magazine covers.  But there was at least one other band who, during that time, was releasing equally outstanding singles and a classic album and who never got a chart placing, never got that 'TOTP' Thursday night appearance and was denied that 'NME' cover.

Hailing from Manchester, The Distractions first arrived on the scene with their 1978 EP, You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That.  Even the title struck a chord with teenagers throughout the land.  It was a good start, but the following years ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ single on Factory was the song that introduced The Distractions to a wider audience.  It wasn’t a typical Factory single.  There was a rush of melodic energy before the bruised vocals of Mike Finney came in with “I thought I saw you by my door today/I thought I saw you face the other way” and you knew instantly that here was a guy going through the same stuff that you were. 

That was the thing about The Distractions, a lot of their songs were about girls and all the feelings and problems associated with them.  The Distractions were singing about us.  We could identify with them.  But it wasn’t only those lyrics sung by Finney (surely one of our best blue-eyed soul singers) that held them apart from the other bands; this group knew how to write tunes too.  Tunes that got inside your head and stayed there.  Tunes that still stand up and sound fresh some thirty years after we first heard them.  ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ was the first indication that The Distractions were writing timeless pop music.  It was simply the perfect 7” single. 

The band followed that slice of pop heaven with ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ this time on the Island label.  A picture cover and white vinyl were unnecessary really.  This was another killer 45.  Although far from a copy of the Factory 7” it carried on in the same style.  Melodic, with so much energy coming through in the music and those vocals again stealing the show.  When Finney sang “Do what you want/It doesn’t bother me” he, once again, was speaking for us.  There was so much passion, so much soul in his vocals.  And those lyrics; here was one guy who didn’t need a dictionary to find out the meaning of unrequited. 

When the band’s only album was released the following year, 1980, it was more than we could have hoped for.  Fourteen songs that could have been issued as fourteen separate singles and every one of them deserved to make the charts.  Apart from the power pop rush that the band displayed on those singles there were some stunning ballads on the album which was titled Nobody’s Perfect.  'Still It Doesn’t Ring’ and the eerie, unsettling ‘Looking For a Ghost’ were highlights displaying a more melancholic side of the band and again lyrically we had all been there and felt that.

Island released a couple of singles off the album ('It Doesn’t Bother Me', contrary to what many think, was never on the album), but they were the wrong ones.  A cover of Eden Kane’s ‘Boys Cry’, although an interesting and inspired version, was an odd choice for a single given that ‘(Stuck in a) Fantasy’ which kicked off side two of Nobody’s Perfect was never given that privilege and, while ‘Something For The Weekend’ was a more understandable choice for the second single to be pulled from the album.  It was far from the best song on offer.

In 1981 a gorgeous EP was issued on Rough Trade.  '24 Hours' is still a great, timeless Distractions song, and then the band seemed to disappear.  No news reached these ears about the band officially disbanding.  News came through that Mike Finney had formed a new band named Secret Seven, but apart from that there was nothing. 

The strange thing is that because the songs the band left behind are truly timeless songs that could, and were, played constantly throughout the thirty years since they were recorded it was like the band still existed.  There was no mourning as such like when Weller broke up the Jam or the Undertones split.  Such was the power of the music that The Distractions made and the fact that it still sounds fresh today and hasn’t dated one single day over thirty years it has felt that the band, through their music, have always been there. 

There have been times when listening to Nobody’s Perfect or that clutch of singles that never made it onto the album when I did wonder that if by some miracle there was suddenly some new Distractions music if they would still cut it, if they could match the beauty and passion of their past. 

It came as no little surprise late last year to hear that the band, or two of the original members in Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin, had recorded, along with three other musicians, some new songs.  But before Occultation Recordings issued those brand new songs they released the Black Velvet EP which consisted of three songs Finney, Perrin and Nick Garside who is in the latest line-up, recorded in 1995.  There was a new version of ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’ which, if anything, is more affecting than the 1980 version and the two new songs proved that in 1995 at least the Distractions still had the talent to write and record songs that could stand proud next to their back catalogue of material.

Come Home, the other EP which Occultation issued recently, contains three brand new songs, two written by Perrin and one by new member Nick Halliwell and, believe me, all three songs are classic Distractions songs.  They could easily have been on Nobody’s Perfect they are that good.  The Distractions have not had to update their sound from that we fell in love with thirty years ago due to the simple fact that they had it right way back then, classic pop songs never date... (TBC)

(c) Malcolm CarterPenny Black Music, 31/01/2011.





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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Distracted Debra

The Distractions' one and only album to date was almost universally praised on its release by the gentlemen of the music press - Paul MorleyDavid HepworthKris NeedsDave McCullough, and later David Quantick.  However, there was one slightly dissenting voice in Melody Maker in the form of Debra Daley.  But it still makes great reading, 31 years on...




THE DISTRACTIONS: 
"Nobody's Perfect" 
(Island ILPS 9604)

BEHIND the stylishly modern cover of "Nobody's Perfect" lurks a tidal wave of teenage agony and heartache.  Almost every track is filled with the loneliness of the long distance lover forever "crying alone and waiting for the telephone" which never rings.  The Distractions spend night after night, gnashing their teeth in the face of constant rejection until sad becomes maudlin.

No wonder Lorraine and Valerie are down the disco with the other guys; this masochistic misery becomes paralytically self-centred.  Their obsessions are perfectly realised in the Kay/Scott composition "Boys Cry" - it's performed with heartfelt assurance and a tenderly appropriate "crying-style" vocal which elsewhere is tediously banal.

Steve Perrin (guitar and vocals) either wrote or collaborated on 11 of the 14 tracks and, while sometimes exhibiting a reasonably upbeat pop sensibility, he's overly seduced by the smooth tunefulness of the group.  There is much harmony and musical dexterity demonstrating that the Distractions can play and sing well but it's subjugated to an unadventurous lushness that inevitably sounds insipid.

Looking for the ultimate emotional cocktail, they toss their voices into the blender and come up with  "Looking For A Ghost."  While a super-sensitive voice sings disconsolately of how "my only lover lives encased inside my head," the barbershop quartet in the background goes over the top in an increasingly elaborate structure of oohing and aahing that makes the Platters sound like the Angelic Upstarts.  The Distractions are far too wimpish to carry off the grand tearjerking style.

They're at their best on two racy pop numbers called  "Waiting For Lorraine" and "Louise."  The first has some interesting textures and is athletic enough to avoid the soppy pitfalls of "Leave You To Dream" and "Nothing."  "Louise" benefits from an attractively springy intro with back-up harmonies and occasional keyboard capers.

At the moment the Distractions are a small sum of very obvious influences longing to be next month's Harpers when they are really only last year's True Confessions.

DEBRA DALEY, Melody Maker, 12 July 1980


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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good for dreams

The second half of Charles Shaar Murray's NME piece from 18 October 1980.








ATTENTION


YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE DISTRACTED

CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY is all set to beguile you with the story of THE DISTRACTIONS - a tale of magic and dreams, of bodybuilding and vows of celibacy.  You know, all the usual stuff...


ANOTHER BEGINNING: SOMEWHERE ELSE

A GREY afternoon beneath a gunmetal sky: Mike Finney stands in his blue T-shirt with white sleeves at the door of the semi-derelict building in Stockport where The Distractions - and many other bands from Manchester and its environs - rehearse.  He is expecting visitors, and when they arrive he leads them up flights of creaking, dusty stairs, through broken rooms piled with corpses of dead chairs, rooms where shattered boards reveal daylight and the exposed arterial system of pipes and wires.  It used to be a club, he explains.  "Now it's not fit for human habitation, so they 'ave bands in."  Time and space are cheap, and - like the other bands - The Distractions are glad to have it.

At the port of call, The Distractions are initiating new person Arthur Kadmon into the twists and turns of their numbers, old and new.  Pip Nicholls runs through her armoury of funk devices, snaps and fingerpops, pounding with her thumbs, pulling with her fingers.  Her bass goes sproing and whonk.  Alex plays hard, soulful rock drums, tempering, pushing.  Adrian Wright's guitar sounds like he looks: spare and wiry, remorseless Ramone chording, sharp, jagged funk chops and strangled, twitchy leads.  And Arthur, who used to be in Ludus, among other bands, feels his way in, playing what seems to be the most fun at any given moment, the exact complement to Wright.

Arthur and Pip are linked by more than a common Mo-Dette passion.  They are exploring magic, and their private conversations are a bewildering, esoteric maze of references to lines and pentagrams.  Further, they are linked by a pact of celibacy.  They seem to think that it will do them good and much of their dinner conversation is based around Arthur's indignation at Pip's alleged lapse from grace some two days earlier.

The Distractions' album sound is a frothy swirl of overdubbed keyboards.  Their actual sound is a light but flinty mesh of interlocking guitars and dangerous funk.  So where are the keyboards, Mike?

Finney looks embarrassed.  "Aye well, you see, the Vox organ's broke and so are we so we haven't got it fixed.  I could have brought the synthesiser, but we haven't got a spare amp for it because the vocals have to go through the amp that we normally use for that..."  The rehersal room doesn't boast an in-house PA system as part of its standard fittings: it's just a bare grimy room with an assortment of rock posters - and courtesy of some of the less sophisticated groups who rehearse there - a few willies and cusswords scrawled on the wall.

"The album had maybe too many keyboards on it: Steve was really into that, and we weren't around for the mix.  We've got to be there for the next one.  You should hear the monitor mixes for the album: we think they're much better."

(A few days later, a cassette of the aforementioned rough mixes arrives in the post.  Rough it is, but it sounds a lot more like The Distractions than the finished album did.  By contrast, the demos of Steve Perrin's new solo material - one of these new songs, 'Paris', is also in The Distractions' current repetoire - have a loose, floating sound that is the other side of the line drawn by the album, which appears in retrospect to be a compromise between basic Distractions and the sound in Steve Perrin's head).

"Steve was always more like a songwriter who played his songs on guitar than a performing guitarist in a group," Finney confides in the pub across the road.  "He was always saying that he was going to leave - for ages, it was.  Then he rang up to say he could do Ireland and the States with us if he wanted and we said he needn't bother because we had Arthur lined up and was quite upset, hung up on us.

"He's a good lad though; still see quite a lot of him, but he's moved up to London now."

Perrin was the band's lead songwriter; so what are The Distractions doing for material now?

"Well, I've got some stuff an' Ade's got some and Pip and Arthur are writing as well, so we should be all right."


THE LAST BEGINNING OF THE CURRENT BATCH

BACK IN the car park, Pip Nicholls discusses health and nutrition with a visitor.  A small delicate figure, she was mistaken for a very young boy by a member of the NME collective who saw the band at Dingwalls during their last London sojourn.  (The same NME person also thought Pauline Black was a boy the first time he saw Selecter, so maybe the error is not as significant as it might otherwise appear).  Pip actively encourages misapprehensions of this nature.  When The Distractions opened for The Members on tour, some of Tesco's crew hadn't twigged after a week.  She mentions that she is getting interested in body-building, and the visitor opens his mouth and carefully inserts his foot in it, murmuring something to the effect that more and more women are involving themselves in the sport these days.

Nicholls' voice freezes over.  "I don't associate myself with 'women'.  I dissociate myself from my body.  I dissociate myself from women.  I'm not even a feminist."  Then as the subject changes to the safer ground of which vitamin pills in which combination and quantity produce the best results, the voice softens.

"You should always take some vitamin C before going to sleep," she advises.  "It's very good for dreams."


AN ENDING (not 'the' ending; just 'an' ending)

THE DISTRACTIONS are just another group, and they shouldn't be.  They're not just another group to anyone enticed and intruiged by their soulful, bittersweet pop, or by Finney's gem of a voice, but the country is full of bands hunting and fighting for an audience, a break and a piece of that mythical action.  The Distractions should - by rights - be one of the ones who get it, because they're very good for dreams.  Take some before going to sleep.


Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 18 October 1980



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Thursday, March 3, 2011

You are about to be Distracted

Part one of Charles Shaar Murray's terrific article in the 18 October 1980 edition of NME.







ATTENTION

YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE DISTRACTED

CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY is all set to beguile you with the story of THE DISTRACTIONS - a tale of magic and dreams, of bodybuilding and vows of celibacy.  You know, all the usual stuff...

"Er, 'scuse me, lads, but I think there's a bit more to this torch song business than this."  Above: Pip Nicholls

Left: Arthur Kadmon, Adrian Wright, Mike Finney.  Above: Alex Sidebottom.  All pix: Daniel Meadows.


A BEGINNING: ONE OF MANY

"IF HE keeps that up for another minute he's going to come," the boy in the pink flying-suit says to no-one in particular.  He is one of several people seated or sprawled around the control room of the BBC's Studio Four in Maida Vale watching Mike Finney sing.

On the studio floor, Finney is standing before a large Sennheiser microphone, hands clamped just above his hip pockets, pelvis moving convulsively, reaching down deep to wherever it is that he keeps whatever it is that mkes him sing the way he does.

Finney's voice is deep, warm and grainy.  He has one of the best and most convincing soul voices in Britain, and he's on the last lap of a song called 'Nothing Lasts', six minutes of Talking Heads-meet-Velvet Underground-meet-Otis Redding written by Adrian wright, the only member of The Distractions to have a namesake in The Human League.

"I love this place the way it looks unreal," sings Finney.  "When it rains, the pavements shine like steel."  The composer looks up from his seat in the corner: a lean, gnarled individual with Doc Martens and a crop.  A couple of feet away, Pip Nicholls hooks the cap of a beer bottle over her lower front teeth and worries it until it comes loose.

Last night The Distractions didn't get out of Manchester's Rafters club until damn near four-thirty: this morning they got themselves together for the drive to London at seven-thirty, and it'll be dawn again by the time they back home for a few hour's kip before drummer Alex Sidebottom goes round to Salford Van Hire to explain the deep rip in the side of the van that they'll find when they get out after finishing off the mix.

The time-honoured institution of the Radio One session: it comes the way of groups who make a little bit of an impact.  The Distractions are a few steps up the ladder now.  They're big enough to have run out of places to play around Manchester and they've built up something of a London following for themselves.  Their Island album 'Nobody's Perfect' has sold neither exceptionally poorly nor exceptionally well, and they have recently sustained the loss of Steve Perrin, their principal songwriter and half of their guitar strike-force.  Their new single - a Perrin composition taken from their album and retouched with some overdubs from his successor, Arthur Kadmon - is unexceptional.  Many people in the band's entourage and following consider that a major Distractions hit single is inevitable, but it isn't going to be 'Something For The Weekend'.

But Mike Finney is still in there singing and the man in charge of the session, Dale Griffins is smiling approvingly.  Dale, who used to be known as Buffin when he was the drummer for Mott The Hoople in both its Ian Hunter and post-Ian Hunter editions, loosens the tie another notch and announces, "He's the most in-tune singer we've had in here for quite a while."

Finney is repeating the title of 'Nothing Lasts' over and over with steadily increasing passion and intensity, waiting for the end, but with just a couple to go he tries for a soulful Al Green screech and just misses.  The tape is run back and Finney returns to the control room for briefing and a swig of beer.  A plump, yeasty fellow with fair hair, he looks taken aback when someone asks him to "give it a little more Al Green."

"You're askin' a lot, aren't ya," he replies, on the way out.  "I'm the wrong colour for a start."  As an afterthought, he pokes his head back round the door.  "The wrong size an' shape an' all."  He goes back in to finish off.  Pip Nicholls clamps down on another bottle-top, wrenches it off and returns to the task of addressing an envelope large enough to accommodate a copy of 'Something For The Weekend' to The Mo-dettes' fan club.  It is intended primarily for Jane and Ramona of that group - it is marked 'Private And Personal For Your Eyes Only' - and is accompanied by a painstakingly drawn, inked and lettered comic strip which tells the tale of how Arthur and Pip fell in love with the Mo-Dette belles and how they think about them all the time.  A plane is shown in one frame traversing the Atlantic - The Distractions did the by-now obligatory five-day three-club stopover in New York and did right nice even though their records haven't even been released in the States - trailing a thought balloon which reads "M-M-M-Mo-Dettes".  This is no mere infatuation.

Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 18 October 1980



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