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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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