The Distractions Interview
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The first part of a magnificent piece by the US site Caught In The Carousel. A historical scene-setting, and a side-by-side and track-by-track review of The End Of The Pier, is followed by an in-depth interview with Mike Finney, Steve Perrin and Nick Halliwell. What follows is just the beginning:
The Distractions Interview
By Dave Cantrell
Posted February 2nd, 2013
A few days after Christmas, 1979, I was on a plane coming home from London, a stack of singles on my lap. I had a zipgun haircut courtesy Rob at Lunatic Fringe, white vinyl Beatle boots a half-size too small, and the type of constant vibrating thrum running through my 23-year-old bloodstream as might be expected after two months in that place at that time. A miniseries of excitements and twists and adventures in creative penury backdrop that set-up but the story here is that stack of singles.
I had, of course, discovered Peel. On the edge of a bedsit bed in darkest Hounslow – when not at a show inspired by his show – I’d sit and listen those four nights a week to that little clock radio speaker blowing out my brain’s woofer. Thus did I hear “London Calling” the very first time it was broadcast, ditto The Cure’s “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” “Transmission” by Joy Division and scores of others. Thrilling as it was to hear the world debut of, say, “Eton Rifles,” it was the bands I hadn’t known before I’d landed at Heathrow that most enamored and intrigued. Whatever the reason – the startling D-I-Yness, the underdog energy – it was 45s by the likes of The Freshies, Home Service and Steve Miro that the kid in seat 14C, crossing westward over the Atlantic, lingered over the longest. Each was an artifact of accomplishment, a nugget with its own unique and shining facets. I felt the young pop archeologist mooning over his lapful of discoveries and as I sifted through them one in particular kept filtering back to the top of the pile: “Time Goes By So Slow” by The Distractions.
Built on an invincible pop hook and an equally immortal storyline – the poignant anguish of the left lover – it is the one song from that stellar selection of 45s that has, without exaggeration, replayed inside my head at least monthly, often weekly, since 1979. It was their third 7-incher, it turned out, and a couple more followed before full-length Nobody’s Perfect faithfully appeared in the summer of 1980. None of it was exactly groundbreaking, there were no grand new templates being forged, Paul Morley didn’t declare them rock’s saviors, Nick Kent and Julie Burchill didn’t get into a public slagging match over them. Basic verse-bridge-chorus stuff, really, with the odd solo thrown in like you do. The usual themes of young adult angst and wayward nights out. So why did almost everyone that heard them take them so thoroughly to heart and subsequently mourn the band’s short initial lifespan, despairing, as the years slid past, that that would be it for The Distractions?
It should come as no surprise that the question isn’t as answerable in words as it is in the music itself. As an album released in the madly rich maelstrom of 1980, Nobody’s Perfect wasn’t, umm, perfect – a handful of tracks feel a little rushed, the pressing left it sounding trebly and thin in places – and indeed it got a bit swallowed up in its time. But a couple of qualities assured that the album, and therefore the band, have not only not been forgotten but have been clung to as exemplars of a type sound that outlives the whims of trend and zeitgeist. The first is, in fact, exactly that: it’s aged well, edging into lost classic status as the decades have passed. Part of the reason for this, perhaps, is down to it never having been reissued (it had the relative misfortune of landing on the Island label, rather venerable at the time but it and many of its artists have since been sunk by the tsunami of corporate takeovers and mergers), leaving it a singular totem of a simpler musical time. Mostly, though, it’s the songs, the very character of that album – and again, by extension, the band, particularly core members Steve Perrin and Mike Finney – that ensured it would endure even as other records by supposedly more notable artists of the time, The Skids, Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs to name but three, have, by comparison, fallen into a slight aesthetic disrepair. There was something cherishable about Nobody’s Perfect, it was one of those records you felt protective of. The music, in short – and here’s the second reason the record still stands – was easy to adore, and is in fact almost impossible not to. Those of us that knew it, that owned (or still own) it, could never forget it. Not a landmark album, it nonetheless held its own inside the Gang Of Four/Joy Division/Clash-sized shadows that obscured it from general view. It was that brave little glow down there that wouldn’t go out. Hopefully, in the paragraphs that follow, some clues will emerge as to what it is about this band that makes what they do so pleasingly unshakeable, and why that channel that runs from your ears to the heart of your heart is so thirsty for them, even if you don’t know it yet.
[to be continued]
(c) Dave Cantrell. Caught In The Carousel
Saturday, February 16, 2013
The latest Occultation newsletter regarding the next essential Wild Swans releases has a couple of tantalising mentions of new Distractions material. First up will the long-awaited Distractions retrospective from Hidden Masters (the Jess Roden Anthology is their first successful reissue collaboration with Pledge Music). Details will be forthcoming soon but suffice to say it will be a multi-disc affair and contain plenty of previously unreleased and unheard material. To top this off, a third album may follow, eventually, and who knows what else after the success of last years' gigs...
News from Occultation
16th February 2013
The Wild Swans
This is our first newsletter of 2013, and there's plenty coming up. As some eagle-eyed fans have already spotted, we're planning a 2LP reissue of The Wild Swans' The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years in a few months' time. A lot of people have shown an interest in a vinyl edition so we'd like your input before taking any definite decisions. We're suggesting a double LP on 180g vinyl, with the original album on the first LP and all non-album Occultation tracks collected on the second, including the Tracks In Snow EP, featuring three tracks only officially available on a limited CD that sold out over a year ago. Like the album, these tracks have never been out on vinyl.
If enough people want it, we'd consider doing an even more limited "super-deluxe" version, but we want to know what you'd like to see. If you click on the image above or here you'll be taken to a short questionnaire which'll help give us an idea of numbers and how you'd like us to go about it.
If that weren't enough, we're also working with partners on a 2x180g reissue of the classic Incandescent compilation. We're aiming to release both at the same time which'd mean we'd be able to offer special pricing to anyone who buys both together. Again, most of this material has never been on vinyl and the original CD is long out of print. There are even plans for a truly spectacular deluxe hardback book format version.
More? Well, the band's classic debut single, The Revolutionary Spirit, has recently been chosen as the opening track on Cherry Red's huge Scared To Get Happy boxed set, due out in a few months. The box has further Occultation connections as it features Blue Orchids' Dumb Magician and The June Brides' Every Conversation.
2013 will also see a Distractions retrospective released - with Occultation involvement - by our friends at Hidden Masters, including everything the original band released and more.
In other news, work will be getting underway soon on the Granite Shore album and, after the success of Moon / Cloud, we're hoping to coax The June Brides back into a studio too. As The End Of The Pier has done so well, there are radical plans NOT to wait 32 years before a third Distractions LP, although we'll have to see... We still have a few copies of the limited version of the 180g LP including a free poster when ordered from The Occultation Shop.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Yet another decent review of the new album from last year, this one's from Alexey Provolosky at the Art School Pop blog.
Album review: THE DISTRACTIONS
The End Of The Pier
The End Of The Pier
Highlights: Girl Of The Year, The Summer I Met You, The Last Song
Two feelings at work here. One: The End Of The Pier sees The Distractions doing the absolute best they can. Two: however ridiculously consistent, well thought out and well-written this album may be, the songwriting just never threatens to raise them above ‘well, another good band from Manchester’. Lovely melodies, decent hooks, pleasant vibes. It is just that the excitement is way too measured and moderate.
You can imagine them coming to the studio 32 years after their previous (and debut) album, Nobody’s Perfect, with a clear intention of recording 10 perfect Distractions songs. No filler. And the interesting thing is – they succeed. They achieve that. It is just that you wanted more.
In some way, this record reminds me of Whipping Boy (particularly their eponymous, posthumously released third) – the main difference being the lack of that sweeping emotional edge the Irish band was so good at. But while this is a lot more placid and understated, eventually slow-burning tracks like “Too Late To Change” or “When It Was Mine” will charm you with their soft and pretty guitar lines and gentle, unobtrusive vocal melodies. Some of it may be more immediate, like the masterful pop-rocker “The Summer I Met You” (nice bass line!), but overall it is all quite mellow. The sad, quietly desperate “The Last Song” sounds like a fitting closer.
In the end, The End Of The Pier leaves a very pleasant aftertaste. There’s no getting away from it: it’s a very good album. And way too good to be great.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Another review from the The Hidden History of Manchester's Punk Fanzines at the City Fun exhibition curated by the Manchester District Music Archive. This review of a Band On The Wall gig is from the 6th November 1979 issue of City Fun (volume 1, number 11) and mentions two as yet unreleased tracks, 'The Shrug' and a cover of Allen Toussaint's ‘Shoo Rah! Shoo Rah!’
BAND ON THE WALL. MON 20th Aug.
Formed in late ’76. Consistently played in and around Manchester, steadily building a reputation – readers of past issues will be well aware that we all think they’re great. Steadily improving they play short, snappy pop songs in a vein inherited from the Kinks, Shadows, Small Faces and Flaming Groovies. They have contemporary similarity with the Buzzcocks (of course), Elvis Costello (listen to the words), Blondie (remember the pop). They are none of these. They are original. They are modern.
Tonight they look neat, cramped uncomfortably on a tiny stage. Left, Adrian Wright, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, grey pinstripe jacket, blue stripe short. Middle Mike Finney, vocals, shirt, tie trousers, casual. Steve Perrin, guitar, vocals, pink jacket, black shirt, red tie, badge-‘Battered Women Need Refugees’. Back Alec Sidebottom, drums, unkempt, professional – used to be in the ‘60s Purple Gang. Right, Pop Nicholllls, bass, white shirt, off white (very off) thin tie, trousers that I thought were green, loose fitting.
They look incongruous, a motley crew, sharp and challenging.
Their set list as follows:- opening with ‘Maybe It’s Love’. A classic pop song, maybe it is. Mike Finney demonstrates the inherent strength of his voice, full and mellow, they move quickly… a steady stream of potential hit singles. ‘…Weekend’, one of their best newer songs. A memorable chorus sounding sad but true as we are informed that is it just something for the weekend. ‘Waiting For Lorraine’, this is brilliant clear noise, guitars shimmering, driving, skitting across the frets in a wash of sound that remains in my head two days later. The rhythm is driving and cutting. The wit and blade, Steve Perrin, introduces “one to stand still to”, ‘The Shrug’, some kind of ultimate dance tune, beat aimed at the feet, each verse progressively faster. Dead still, Mike Finney sings the words quickly and clearly, his delivery clipped almost throwaway. He shrugs but if you don’t pay attention you miss it. Smart. The bank crank up behind him, the most over the top song they play, ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’, when Perrin and Finney write songs the telephone never rings and everyone waits up all night with a broken heart. The organ gets an airing, its chopped tones adding an extra dimension halfway between church and Woolworths. Most of the songs are about love, no-one lives happily ever after…
Steve Perrin expresses his dislike over a technical hitch. Pip Nicholllls starts a humming bass riff, Alec Sidebottom takes up the rhythm. I’m thinking they’re filling the gap. Adrian Wright changes guitars. Perrin unleashes a guitar break. The vocals start crooning seriously and we are well into The Distractions’ disco excursion, ‘Sick and Tired’. Wright concentrating intently, chopping funk riffs at 78 rpm. Finney shuffling sideways on heels and toes, hands making graphic gestures. ‘Stuck In A Fantasy’ – a new one less dynamic range than their older material, it chugs and beats, the drums approaching hypnotic at the end of the song. Finally, ‘Valerie’, another classic from the early days. Bass, moody blips and pulses, continual bubbling; Pip Nicholllls giving looks to band and audience alike. Perrin’s cut features staring sideways from his eyes. The band at full tilt. The drumming some of the best you’ll hear. Finney giving it this with his voice and that with the loose knee shuffle. For an encore then do ‘Shoo Rah! Shoo Rah!’, a Allen Toussaint song, a great version multi-racial chorus and opposing swathes of noise across my ears.
The Distractions set their own standards. They are one of those rare bands who play gigs that me glad I was there and nowhere else at that particular time. Tonight is not one of those nights. Tonight is exhilarating. The Distractions are friendly. Mike Finney laughs, smiles and jokes; we get introduced to his jacket, hung up at the back of the stage “which isn’t working tonight”. Some members of the audience dance and are asked to collect their wages afterwards.
The band do not quite gel and then stick. The music/entertainment is excellent… towards the end of the set two smart men walk over and put their heads in the speaker cabinets, they appear to confer, they nod their heads, it’s OK. The Distractions stimulate my emotions as The Fall stimulate my intellect. Incisive, witty, snappy, abrasive. They are sexual, they are straight-laced. They are clean-cut. To be distracted is a pleasure. “A sick fantasy is better than none at all.” I’m in love.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Another piece from Manchester District Music Archive's City Fun - The Hidden History of Manchester's Post-Punk Fanzines exhibition. This one's a slightly odd but interesting article by Andy Zero about his criticism of The Distraction's management. The NME and Sounds 'Record of the Week' articles on the debut EP are two we've still not tracked down yet...
Been getting some earache about my comment that The Distractions have never had a strong manager. The Distractions were originally managed by Martin X, 'Wingnut' as he was then known. Apart from his unfailing enthusiasm for the band, from their early days, he also got them gigging and their name known, not to mention sussing out their deal and record release with TJM that got them 'Record of the Week' in both NME and Sounds. Since he packed in managing The Distractions frequency of gigs has dropped dramatically. I don't exactly know why he stopped managing them - had he been approached by a 'major' company he would have been just as likely to insult them as to negotiate a deal.
The Distractions are into deals - as far as possible on their own terms.
The Distractions are now managed by Brandon and Berni from Arrow Studio in Manchester. They have successfully negotiated the deal with Island Records and potentially placed the band on a better footing than ever before. However, there has been a criminal lack of gigs. Apart from the waste of talent there are a number of people who'd like to see them every night, and in the days as well, if possible. This situation is being slowly put right by their agency (RFP), I believe. It is quite possible though yet to be proven, that the Brandon/Berni management will be most suitable to The Distractions' particular temperament.
One of the original ideas behind City Fun was to stimulate and provoke music, in Manchester in particular. We also like to have a laugh. We're probably laughing at you. I hope we're succeeding. When someone tells me something I then have to decide whether or not I want to write about it, and if so how. Print and be damned and sometimes I am. I don't care about courting friends or enemies. I do care about writing the truth. OK.