Saturday, April 30, 2011
From the incomparable Manchester District Music Archive comes this extract from the Factory Records Newsletter and Shareholder analysis, September 1979:
FAC 12: The Distractions; 'Time Goes By So Slow' 7inch 45rpM B/W Pillow Fight. Reminds the Management of Austin Texas 66 but take your choice. 'Lyrical, sophisticated, dynamic' (NME) (who's paying this guy). Distractions are a Manchester five piece who signed to Island Records on Sep 18th '79, due to an irresistible desire to play the game. This single has sold out its first 4,200 (2,000 labels went down at the Factory... you've got problems), reprint and press under way even now. First release on Sep 1st '79. The boys and ? are even now preparing to support the Undertones... thank you asgard, and will be passing everybody's way in late October.
Later in the newsletter is detail of the legendary Leigh Festival:
FAC 15: 'Zoo Meets Factory Half Way': Leigh Open Air Pop Festival, Bank Holiday Monday, Aug 27 '79. Poster and event. [Crawling] Chaos, Distractions, A [Certain] Ratio,Teardrop [Explodes], OMITD, Echo and [The Bunnymen]., Joy Division. 'A staggering event' (Se) 300 White on black posters; all put up.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The original Distractions' home town of Stockport gave birth to one of the most important recording studios in British music history. The Strawberry Studios website is dedicated to the studio's founders, the people behind the music and the groups who recorded there.
Why had those early Factory releases had that magical Hannett sound? The young genius had been able to plug in his digital thingy into the outboard racks of a major world-class thirty-six track studio that was in Stockport - Stockport ladies and gentleman, Stockport, because 10cc were a Manchester band and they had taken the proceeds of the delicious I'm Not In Love and had reinvested in their home. Reinvested. Built a fuck-off studio. Respect."
Originally a tiny twenty-foot-square studio above a record shop in Stockport town centre called Inter-City Studios, Strawberry Studios' history began in 1967. Peter Tattersall, who had roadied with Billy J Kramer and Dakota, purchased the studio's equipment and partnered with Eric Stewart of the local group, The Mindbenders. Stewart's favourite song at the time was The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever, hence the name change by October 1967. Due to being considered a fire risk to a neighbouring historic building, Tattersall and Stewart were forced to move the studios and so, having found a suitable shell of a building in Waterloo Road, rebuilt Strawberry Studios.
Strawberry Studios, refurbishment, 1968. (c) http://www.strawberrynorth.co.uk/history.htm.
Early hits recorded at Strawberry included a Stewart, Godley & Creme single Hotlegs which reached No.2 in the UK charts, not to mention famous football songs from Manchester City, Leeds and Everton. Neil Sedaka cut two comeback albums at Strawberry before Stewart, Gouldman, Godley and Creme themselves recorded under the name 10 cc and were rewarded with a No.2 hit, Donna. The rest, as they say, is history for 10 cc, who went on to record number one albums and top 10 singles, all at Strawberry, while investing income back into the studios to attract the likes of Paul McCartney and Bay City Rollers.
Strawberry Studios, 1974. (c) Peter Wadsworth at Manchester District Music Archive.
From 1976 Strawberry expanded down south (Strawberry South in Dorking) and over the road (Strawberry 2) freeing up some studio time for local groups and producers. Martin Hannett would produce Factory Records acts Joy Division, Durutti Column, Stockholm Monsters, The Names, Minny Pops as well as The Stone Roses, and used the Studio facilities to mix songs by Factory's OMD, A Certain Ratio and the Happy Mondays. Other legendary groups who recorded at Strawberry included The Ramones, Buzzcocks, New Order, James and The Smiths.
Strawberry Studios, 1984. (c) Peter Wadsworth at Manchester Music District Archive.
The Distractions' first release for Island Records was recorded at Strawberry, 1979's update of It Doesn't Bother Me (it was track 1 on the debut EP) b/w One Way Love. The single took two days to record at Strawberry and a further two days to mix at Olympic in Barnes, London - compared to the preceding single, FAC 12, Time Goes By So Slow, which was recorded in a few hours overnight.
Strawberry Studios, Blue Plaque, 1968. (c) http://www.strawberrynorth.co.uk/.
The late '70s, early '80s were Strawberry's heyday and by the mid-'80s the studios were sold to a rival concern, Yellow 2. As the record industry withdrew to London, Strawberry had become a video production facility by the 1990s. By 1993, the studio closed for good, ending the association of Strawberry and Stockport for good - gone but not forgotten.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
As reported in the Manchester Evening News in June 2010, Revolution Studios in Cheadle Hulme, Manchester were up for sale. The article name-checked local bands New Order, 808 State and Take That, as well as Iggy Pop and The Who, and claims the studios had been open 35 years . The Revolution website has now been taken down but some content is still accessible.
Andy Macpherson owned and ran Revolution Studios from 1977. The following is from their now defunct website:
"Revolution has a team of professional, experienced engineers, producers and programmers that allow a seamless and easy journey from initial track laying to finished master. The studios have two Eastlake designed control rooms and two large playing areas with various isolation booths. It is also fully equipped for 5.1 mixing. The extensive studio equipment list includes 3 Pro Tools HD rigs, Otari 2 24 or 16 trk analogue recorder and a 24trk digital Sony Dash recorder ."
"The studio has a large selection of valve and condenser microphones, vintage and modern outboard, and great selection of musical equipment such as a Bluthner/Haessler grand piano, 2 Hammond organs, Sonor Lite drum kit and stacks of amps. All this ensures that artists can obtain the sounds they want and the recording to match. Revolution also provides its own mastering service using industry standard SADiE and TC Electronic equipment. CD duplication with on-board printing is also available ."
"Revolution has been host to many successful artists, including The Who, Doves, Johnny Marr, New Order, 808 State, Take That, Corey Hart, Eric Clapton to name but a few, for there are many more.
Andy has worked with/for the following artists: Buzzcocks, The Who, De La Soul, Teenage Fanclub, Sad Café, Pete Townshend, Saxon, Deborah Harry, Roger Daltrey, Frank Black, Eric Clapton, Barclay James Harvest, Preacher Boy, Marilyn Martin, Jon Astley, Marius Muller, Jim Capaldi, Senseless Things, The Pasadinas, Knebworth Festivals, Corey Hart, Tanita Tikaram, Jackie Graham, Loz Netto and many more ."
What this potted history of one of Manchester's lesser known but significant studios doesn't tell us that it was here that one of Island Record's lesser known albums was recorded between 14/01/1980 and 6/2/1980...
ILPS 9604: The Distractions - Nobody's Perfect
The Distractions were pictured on the final day of recording in Revolution Studios by Kevin Cummins, as seen on Getty Images.
Revolution Studios, Church Road, Cheadle Hulme. (c) placenorthwest.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Some extracts from Mick Middles' fascinating Manchester Punk Diaries 1977/78 (subtitle: Two Sevens Clash - Adventures in Manchester Punk), which have been serialised on John Robb's Louder Than War website. The first extract sees Middles going to the Deeply Vale Festival in Rochdale in July
1978 1979 with the chap who released The Distractions' first record...
On the Sunday, I was picked up from my Disley house by Tony (TJ) Davidson. Tony was nothing if not fascinating blend….good looking occasional football hooly and, most famously, owner of the TJ Davidson rehearsal studies on Manchester’s Little Peter Street. (Two doors away from the eventual site of The Boardwalk). TJ’s was a set of dank rooms, largely painted a deep brown…this sombre setting proving bizarrely perfect for Kevin Cummins iconic photographs of Joy Division, initially taken for Sounds magazine. But beyond Joy Division, the growing blend of disparate bands would be locked in a state of murky practice…just hanging in the building would see you in conversation with members of Linder Sterling’s extraordinary Ludus, with glam rockers V2, the soulful, power pop band The Distractions, The Fall, Private Sector, Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds…indeed, many of the acts that would troop to Rochdale, excited to be performing at any kind of festival. Sitting centrally in this hugely evocative building, would be TJ himself, literally amid the bands that would start to cluster on his own TJM label.
Tony was – and is – likeably roguish…and something of a paradox. Back then, he lived with his wife in a lovely house in leafy Marple….what’s more, he would spout punk ethics while driving his Lotus Eclat. To my delight, he also took me for regular trips to Manchester’s Playboy Club. Not, it might latterly seem, the most PC of evenings, but back in the seventies….almost the best fun one could have in a comparably austere and still soot-blackened city centre. I didn’t complain.
I didn’t complain, either, when Tony picked me up in Disley and headed for the hills of Rochdale; literally hurtling off Barton Bridge at 110mph, the Eclat powering on, laden with freshly minted copies of The Distractions’ soon-to-be-legendary ‘You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP.
I had visited the festival site on the previous day…soaking in a ramshackle set from The Fall, among others. My little Fiat had struggled as it bounce along the farm-track, suffering two impromptu police drug searches (Quite absurd, considering the amount of chemical consumption taking place, unchecked, in the lower field).
Because of the previous foray, I was quietly confident of guiding Tony and his Lotus serenely to the heart of the festival site. Mulling on this, I instructed him to turn left on to the farm track.
That day, I discovered a great deal about a top of the range Lotus. Being aerodynamic and low slung, it is not the perfect vehicle in which to traverse a rock laden farm track. Especially, as the farm track in question slowly snaked for two worsening miles, loosening and, eventually, snapping the Lotus exhaust clean away from its holdings, scattering a loose array of piping across the rocks and mud.
“Tell me,” said Tony….calm as you like. “Tell me, Mick that you haven’t brought me down the wrong farm-track.”
Somewhere, in an adjacent vale, The Distractions were taking the stage.
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 ’75, 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 are 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.
Read all parts at Louder Than War:
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Here is Malcolm Carter's fantastic profile piece from the March issue of the Penny Black Magazine that complements the interview published earlier (there's a Factory Star interview in this months):
Profile: The Distractions
Author: Malcolm Carter
At the tail end of the seventies and early eighties Manchester’s The Distractions released a handful of singles and one album that although well received by the music press and almost everyone who heard them never did much in the way of record sales. It was puzzling that here was a band that appeared on all the right labels, Factory, Island and Rough Trade, which had the best songs around and good press in the music weeklies, but seemingly couldn’t get their records out of the shops.
Sadly the band broke up or just faded quietly away by the end of 1981, but not before they had released some classic, timeless pieces of pop music which still stand strong today.
It’s not always a good thing for our favourite bands to reform. More often than not we either get sub-standard rehashes of former glories or new songs that simply don’t compare to the songs from the bands' heyday. The Distractions, once again, prove they are different to the rest with the release of two 3-track EPs. The band has lost none of the power, passion and talent for writing catchy melodies and captivating lyrics that they displayed thirty years ago. Writing that and the realisation that The Distractions sole album, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, is indeed thirty years old and still sounds fresh really brings home just how special this band were. And the songs on these EPs prove that The Distractions still are really special.
The first EP, ‘Black Velvet’, consists of two new songs, the title track and ‘If You Were Mine’ and a re-recording of ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’ from the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ album. These three songs were recorded in 1995 and The Distractions for those sessions were original singer Mike Finney, original guitarist Steve Perrin together with Nick Garside on bass and Bernard Van Den Berg on drums.
Nick Garside also produced the songs and makes such a sterling job you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ producers Phil Chapman and Jon Astley were still involved too. Garside captures perfectly that haunting sound that invaded many of The Distractions' best songs.
The new version of ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’ shows that Finney has lost none of the passion in his vocals displayed on those songs put down three decades ago. In fact with the raspy edge that the years have added to his vocals Finney shows that he is still one of our best soul singers. The band have slowed down the pace of the song slightly, but Perrin’s guitar still rings brightly and when he joins in vocally with Finney it brings a smile to the face of any old Distractions fan. It’s an inspired and worthy re-working.
Both of the two ‘new’ songs would have slotted nicely onto ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. Both are Steve Perrin originals and again they show that the talented guitarist can still write melodies that are hauntingly pretty and that Perrin is still an exceptional lyricist.
‘Black Velvet’ and ‘If You Were Mine’ are both excellent ballads of the type we have come to expect from The Distractions.
Finney pours his heart out in the former. It sounds as if he is about to break up any second such is the emotion in his vocals and even at six minutes the song ends all too soon. It’s one of the best songs the band has ever recorded and given their past accomplishments that’s some praise.
‘If You Were Mine’ is another heartbreaking ballad which follows much the same path and again one can only wonder why, when one of England’s best vocalists gets together with one of our most talented guitarists / songwriters, they are not shifting truck loads of records. Way back in the sixties, which is an era where The Distractions draw a lot of inspiration from surely, people used to say, when their favourite new band failed to sell records, that "they are too good for the charts" and that saying keeps coming back to me as I listen to The Distractions.
The second EP, titled ‘Come Home’ was recorded in 2010 and this time we have two new Steve Perrin songs in ‘Lost’ and ‘Nicole’ and one from new member, guitarist Nick Halliwell, called ‘Oil Painting’. Again Nick Garside produced and plays bass, but this time Stuart Mann sits in the drum seat.
If anything the opening song, ‘Lost’ harks back to the classic sound of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ even more than the songs on the ‘Black Velvet’ EP. Finney again displays a roughness in his vocals that he has obviously gained over the years while still injecting so much soul and passion into each and every word; surely the time has come when he gets the recognition he rightly deserves. Finney is up there with Chris Farlowe, Steve Winwood and all the other blue-eyed soul vocalists.
‘Nicole’ is another classic Distractions ballad which is just as atmospheric as say ‘Looking For a Ghost’ but the biggest surprise on this EP, apart from the fact that ‘Lost’ is yet another Distractions song that should sell like hot cakes but probably won’t, is that new boy Halliwell’s ‘Oil Painting’ fits in so seamlessly with Perrin’s songs that I had to check the writers credits twice.
Not only is it another classic Distractions ballad where Finney turns in what is arguably his best vocal over these EPs but lyrically Halliwell, on this showing anyway, is up there with Perrin. The guitars pick out a melody that you instantly fall in love with and lines like “you are no oil painting, neither am I” take you by surprise and then when a melancholy Finney sings “A girl floats past with hair aflame and lips of royal blue and soon you will be horizontal too” you realise that Halliwell is the perfect lyricist for The Distractions. If the guitarist has other songs of this calibre he’s going to be an asset to the band. I can’t go as far as to say that ‘Oil Painting’ is better than Perrin’s ‘Lost’ as that song recalls so well everything that made us love The Distractions all those years ago, but it’s certainly its equal and an outstanding piece of music.
So with these five new songs The Distractions have really picked up where they left off in 1981 and prove once again that when it comes to timeless, classic pop music they are the leaders. Just as ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’, ‘Time Goes By So Slow’ and ‘(Stuck in a)Fantasy’ still sound as fresh today as they did when they were recorded more than thirty years ago the same will be said of ‘Lost’, ‘Oil Painting’ and Black Velvet’ in years to come.
Welcome back then to one of the best bands that ever came out of the UK. Just don’t let them slip away this time. Way back in 1987 David Quantick, in a NME 'Rewind' piece, wrote that “for a generation stuck in a world of would-be naifs, revivalists and fools without imagination, we should all have ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. I know that not because Occultation Records sent out a copy of the review with the EPs but because for the last 24 years that piece of yellowing paper that I cut out of NME has been on a pin-board in front of my desk, even after moving abroad, for proof that I wasn’t alone in what I felt about the album. The same can now be said about these two EPs. Just buy them; please don’t let the band fade away again.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
This Distractions extract from the 1992 'Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music' by Colin Larkin is the basis of most historical summaries of the group. But it also mentions another forgotten Distractions track, one of their live tracks from the early days, 'Do The'...
This Manchester, England new wave band first formed in 1975 by college friends Mike Finney (vocals) and Steve Perrin-Brown (guitar), together with Lawrence Tickle (bass) and Tony Trap (drums). Restructured under the influence of the Buzzcocks towards the end of 1977, Finney and Brown stabilized the line-up with the addition of Pip Nicholls (bass), Adrian Wright (guitar) and Alec Sidebottom (drums), who had previously played ith the Purple Gang in the 60s. Their live set composed of 'Waiting For The Rain' [sic], 'Doesn't Bother Me', 'Pillow Fight', 'Do The', 'Valerie' and 'Paracetemol', mixing the spirit of punk with a taste of the 60s. After supporting most of the main bands in the Manchester area, they made their record debut in January with 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That'. This resulted in a contract with Tony Wilson's Factory label, and the release of 'Time Goes By So Slow'. Originally the b-side 'Pillow Fight' was to be the main track, but was flipped over at the last minute. Both good pop songs, they had the potential to climb the national charts, but failed through lack of radio play and promotion. At the end of September they signed to Island Records and released a re-recorded version of 'It Doesn't Bother Me'. In 1980 Nobody's Perfect was issued, a mixture of new and old songs from their early live set, followed by the singles 'Boys Cry' - a remake of the old Eden Kane hit - 'Something For The Weekend', and the EP And Then There's. All received favourable reviews, but commercial success remained elusive, causing the inevitable split in 1981.
Album: Nobody's Perfect (1980).
The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 1
Colin Larkin (1992)
Colin Larkin (1992)
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
A couple of photographs of The Distractions taken by Kevin Cummins have appeared on the Getty Images website. At the risk of breaking copyright rules or having to fork out several hundred pounds, we won't host the photos except for tiny thumbnails.
The first shows The Distractions in Manchester on 6th June (or July) 1979, and the photo was used in Paul Morley's NME article that year on 27th October 1979, Happiness Is Just A Distraction. Click here to view the photo at Getty Images.
The second is from 6th February 1980 and is described as being "in a Manchester studio." This would have been Revolution Studios in Cheadle Hulme and was taken on the final day of recording for the Nobody's Perfect debut album (also Steve Perrin's birthday, which explains his cheerful demeanour). Click here to view this one at Getty Images.
All images (c) 2010 Kevin Cummins. Credit: Getty Images.
Friday, April 1, 2011
There was a rather prophetic comment on Jon Wilde's 'Lost' records article in the Guardian three years ago. However, Lost and Nothing are no April Fools...
"Some legendary records have resurfaced over the years." (c) Sarah Lee / Guardian.
bigAlittlea - 1 April 2008
"To the best of my knowledge, nothing by The Distractions is available on CD. I've got slightly ropey vinyl versions of their one and only album, 'Nobody's Perfect', and the 'Time Goes By So Slow' single, plus a seriously battered 12" EP that I picked up in a record shop in New Orleans, of all places. But it'd be nice to have a shiny remastered version as well.