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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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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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