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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A missive from The Great Pop Wars

Here's part one of A missive from The Great Pop Wars by Paul Morley from the 27th October 1979 NME.


IN THE basement of a small recording studio in Manchester pop's newest darlings are rehearsing.

Instruments and speakers are squashed into the dark cellar leaving just enough room for five Distractions to stand or sit, and for me to squat and listen.  Listen to a series of songs so succinct and suggestive; pure pop songs.   It's not quite fair to describe The Undertones as 'perfect pop' without becoming fully acquainted with The Distractions' mature and endless repertoire.  The spirit is the same.  It confuses the cynics, and wins the hearts of those who know and will not be swayed.

The Distractions sound is distinguished by the needly, jangly guitar quarrelling of Steve Perrin and Adrian Wright:  "I just wanted to find a sound as far away as possible from the usual heavy riffing," explains Perrin, "and this is what I ended up with."

Distinguished by the subtle, seductive soul singing of the unlikely looking Mike Finney; "I like Otis Redding," Finney says, "but I can't sing like him!  I tell you, if Wilson Pickett said tomorrow that our new single was great I'd be over the moon."

Distinguished by the fluid orchestrated passion of the five instrumentalists... "That's work innit?" dismissed Perrin, "we work hard on the guitar parts and the vocal parts... at the moment the five people are working really well.  I'm not going to kid myself that it's going to last forever but while it is I'm going to make the most of it."

The group rehearses into the night.  Organising still further the devastating detail of songs already recorded, 'it Doesn't Bother Me', 'Maybe It's Love' from their four track EP 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That', the new single 'Time Goes By So Slow' and its B side 'Pillow Fight' and classics known and loved by their considerable home following, 'Waiting For The Rain', 'One Way Love', and legendary 'Valerie'.

A MANCHESTER pub, a table, The Distractions sat around the table.

"I hate corny dancers," Finney says, utterly uncaring about his uncool double chin and wiry spectacles.  "If there's one thing i can't stand it's corny dancers!  They're even worse them lousy comics!"

The  Distractions are in a good mood.  After all, this very day they've received free passes for Manchester's respectable nightclub The Factory.  A sign of success.  And that's not all.  "Howard Devoto likes to stand around in clubs and let everyone see him," Finney whispers in my ear, "and he usually doesn't let on to me.  The other day he waved at me!  Like this," he raises his arm, "I thought, waving!  What's this!?"

"That's when he decided he'd arrived," explains Perrin, "when Howard Devoto waved to him!"

Now, of course, The Factory has closed.  And The Distractions are probably hipper than Howard Devoto.

In the Manchester pub, we're wondering about The Distractions' sound.  "I don't know what to call it," shrugs Perrin, "think of a name and I shall reject it!"

He gets very earnest when any sort of label is mentioned.

"I do!  It's terrible innit?  I hate living up to labels... we are a whatever group... Kelloggs!  We are a Kelloggs group!... people ask us what sort of music do you play.  It's the most stupid question!  What can you say?"

"The nearest I get," offers Finney, "when people ask me what we play is well do you know the Buzzcocks, it's a bit like that only now.  What can you say?"

You could try Starry Eyed And Laughing.  The Distractions' guitar sound perversely resembles the old Zigzag favourites energetic interpretation of Byrd patterns.

"Well I will from now on," humours Finney.

THE GROUP are rehearsing in the studio cellar for a strange date on the Norway cabaret circuit.

Seriously!?  The ghost of Less Dawson lurks in the background.  It's desperation, really.  They've been playing through necessity the incestuous, limited Manchester rounds for approaching two years, and feeling frustrated.  "We played Sheffield once," cracks Perrin, "and we got travel sick."

But Norway?  Cabaret?  The group shrug their shoulders.  It's be an experience.

On stage, the group look the part.  Their presence is lovable verging on the Opportunity Knocks; there is a huge disruptive gap between the way they look and the searing sensitivity of their songs.  A deceptiveness comparable with The Undertones.

But Norway?  Cabaret?  Perrin particularly hated the idea, but the vision of months with no gigs carried them through to the audition.  Their true feelings have them getting drunk, insulting the panel of judges and playing what they felt was terrible.  They hoped in a way they'd blown it.  They learnt next day that they'd booked for a month of Norway nightclubs.

They never went.  A few days after painfully deciding that, no matter what, they couldn't face the degradation, Island Records moved in with the pen, the paper and the promises.

- To be continued -

Paul Morley, NME, 27 October 1979


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