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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, September 5, 2011

A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn

Part 1 of Mick Middles' brilliant piece on 2010's Black Velvet and Come Home EPs in the Quietus.  




The Distractions 

COME HOME & BLACK VELVET EPS

  Mick Middles, December 1st, 2010

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 1975, 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 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).

Before that, however, came the Martin Hannett produced* classic, 'Time Goes By So Slow'.  Even from the epicentre of the era of Joy Division, this song of the surreal state of heartbreak so perfectly illuminated post punk Manchester.  Indeed, for thirty years I have not been able to walk past Alfred Waterhouse's stunning Manchester Town Hall without the lyric, "They put your statue up in Albert Square...and all the people passing by, just stare..." striking an evocative note in my head.  A song as a tangible heart of a city and, frankly, quite unprecedented.

For a while, The Distractions usurped Buzzcocks as the best paid band in the city.  Inevitably, however, cracks in the band camaraderie began to appear at the very moment they appeared set to crack the charts.  Their Island album, Nobody's Perfect, immediately disappointed, not for the lack of great songs... but for an achingly clumsy hand of production.  Not since Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers LAMF, had an album full of jewels appeared in such a muddied state.  Worse, even than that, principle songwriter Steve Perrin decided that enough was enough, and left to for the aptly named Escape Committee.

Legend tells of an Island meeting where two bands were plucked from the roster... the decision resting on which to unceremoniously drop from the label.  The other band, U2, was duly retained while Manchester's finest hurtled directly back to the shadows of obscurity.  Even a comparatively eclectic rebirth, with ex-Ludus guitarist Arthur Kadmon – and an excellent Rough Trade EP – couldn't rescue the limping unit.  Soon they fragmented, with drummer Bernard Van Den Berg, bassist AJ and co-singer Debbie Shore filtering into position next to Finney and Kadmon.  What transpired was a uneven unit prone to over-adventure and an unlikely taste for Latino rhythm.  Well, it was the age of Kid Creole although the Manchester equivalent never quite gelled.

Finney was unbowed however and, with Van Den Berg, AJ and co singer Julie, (as Secret Seven) scored a short-lived record deal with, of all labels, Bronze, hardly a suitable home for an ironic pop ensemble who mixed strains of Velvet Underground with Dollar.  The liaison lasted just one single 'Hold On to Love' and a bizarre flirtation with ZTT (Mike and Julie provided vocals on an edit of Art of Noise's 'Close to the Edge').

Almost nothing has happened since the heady days of 1982... 


(c) Mick Middles / the Quietus.


* Martin Hannett didn't produce FAC12, rather it was Brandon Leon.


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