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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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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Another (and final) album

The penultimate part of the terrific piece over at Caught In The Carousel by Dave Cantrell. This is the first half the interview with key Distractions where they discuss the old days, touching on the sounds of the new album.

An Interview With The Distractions 

By Dave Cantrell

INTERVIEW with Steve Perrin, Mike Finney & Nick Halliwell

CITC: Steve and Mike, I know the barebones, Wiki version of the Distractions origin story – formed in ’75 at college, swept up into the energy of punk – but could you flesh it out a little, including why the short-lived stab at reuning in the late '90s didn’t take and how you were able to come together this time?
Steve: To call what was happening in 1975 a band is pushing things a little. Basically Mike and I and a revolving cast of other people were making a noise in a primary school at the weekends. None of the other people stayed very long as there was no chance of getting any gigs, making any money or meeting any girls, which seem to be the main motivations of a lot of people to get involved in bands. Mike and I would not have objected to doing any of those things but were also compelled to carry on making this noise as ‘normal’ life seemed to only have the potential to drive us crazy. The good thing about punk was that it led to a number of small venues opening where untried bands could get a chance to play. Also you didn’t have to be musically competent if you were in some way ‘interesting’.

Our first gigs were played with Pip Nicholls on bass (who we met through Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks) and Tony Trappe on drums. Tony left soon after and Adrian Wright came in on guitar and brought Alex Sidebottom with him to play drums. That’s the lineup that made most of the records.

The mid 1990s thing was interesting but it was hard to get people interested. It was before the internet had become ubiquitous so it was difficult to let people know what we were doing. Then personal stuff started to get in the way. Our then bass player, Nick Garside, went to California to do some work, met a woman and never came back. Our drummer, Bernard Van Den Berg, went to South Africa to do some work, met a woman and did come back briefly but eventually decided to move to South Africa permanently. Then I moved to New Zealand (I had already met a woman so she came too).

Mike: It’s correct that Steve and I met at college, but the original drummer was the son of one of Steve’s colleagues and the other guitar was a colleague of mine. We practised in a church school hall for a while until we decided that my mate’s love of the Stones was too much for Steve and me (nor conducive to writing our own songs!) so Lawrence left and we finally got hold of a bass player through Pete Shelley, with whom we shared many a glass of bitter ale. Pete gave us Pip’s number and we practised with Steve, me, Pip and Tony, the drummer. We played our first four gigs at the Ranch Bar in Manchester, the haunt of most of that city’s ‘New Wave’ and ‘Punk’ artists and a few clubs in Liverpool as well. It soon became clear that to improve and play the kind of stuff Steve and I were writing (“Still it Doesn’t Ring” and “Valerie” were the two that stayed with us), we needed a better drummer and another guitar or keyboards. Most of our songs at that point were written walking to the beer shop, bottles or cans then taken back to Steve’s mum’s for further inspiration.  We advertised in NME and Sounds ‘Free pages’ (Steve always said you get what you pay for…) and got Alec for drums and an old mate of his Adrian, who could play guitar well and some rudimentary keyboards.  The practice room in the church in Wythenshawe (a large council estate in Manchester) was a bit too distant for Alec and Ade, so we started practising in a pub, first in Mossley, a town just outside Manchester, then in a pub in the centre of Manchester.

In late 1978, we got a practice room in Tony Davidson’s place (TJM), along with Joy Division, Buzzcocks and an assortment of other Manchester bands.  It was there we met Brandon Leon, who supplied us with recording time for both You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That and “Time Goes By So Slow”.

As for the '94/'95 reunion stuff, it started because we had studio time in Nick Garside’s ‘Out of the Blue’ studio in central Manchester. He was a fairly well known producer from the ‘Madchester’ scene and asked if we would record some tunes with him playing bass. This became 6 songs, three of which became the Black Velvet EP that Nick Halliwell released, one was used by Factory magazine [Scream City by Cerysmatic] and the other two are awaiting extra further treatment some time in the future. In 1995 we booked a session in Joe Meek’s studio in London and recorded one track on all-valve equipment (the same as used for Telstar and My Generation!). The drummer was Bernard Van Den Berg who was originally in the Secret Seven with me, but also in the 1994 Distractions. The bass player this time was Kevin Durkin, who was in the Escape Committee with Steve and originally in the Direct Hits, another TJM band.  We didn’t fold, we just sort of ‘fizzled-out’.

In 2009, I saw a mention of The Distractions on the website for Granite Shore, Nick Halliwell’s band, which was very complimentary of us and I sent a ‘Thank You’ note to Nick. A few weeks later, I noticed on the same website a note from Nick asking me to get in touch. I did and Nick asked if I would like to record some more tunes. I was happy to do so, but only if Steve was involved – now in New Zealand. Nick somehow got the whole thing together and we recorded the Come Home EP in Liverpool. We all enjoyed it so much, and Nick being a really Top Guy, we started talk of an album.  That was recorded in 2011 in Exeter.  It seems to be doing very well and now there’s talk of another (and final) album…Love it!

CITC: Steve, Nick, you’re both playing guitar throughout the record but instead of the standard roles such a set-up suggests – one’s primarily lead, one’s rhythm, maybe some switching up – the two of you seem to intertwine, overlap, etc, to the extent it sometimes seems a single guitarist overdubbed. Was that the intention or is it just a naturally occurring dynamic between the two of you?

Steve: I think it’s because we’re both songwriters who play the guitar rather than guitarists who write songs so the main thing that’s going through our heads is “what does the song need?”. The only bit of conventional lead guitar on the record is on “I Don’t Have Time” but that’s only there to reflect the lyric and what Mike’s doing with the vocal.

Nick: I don’t think either of us has ever had any interest in becoming a guitar hero, although Steve’s lead break on I Don’t Have Time suggests he’s the better qualified of the two of us. As he says, we’re both thinking about what the song needs, so on any given song you’ve generally got one of us underpinning the rhythm and the other the melody of the song rather than attempting to embellish and there’s a certain amount of switching back and forth, sometimes during the same song - 100 Times on the new album is a good example, initially I’m playing the rhythm and Steve the melody, then we swap – I didn’t even realise we’d done this until I came to try and work out what I’d done so I could play it live! Essentially, when you’ve got a vocalist as good as Mike Finney you’ve got to leave him enough room to do his stuff. Essentially The Distractions' recipe is that if the material’s strong enough you’ve just got to let Mike put it across and anything that detracts from that is an – if you’ll excuse the pun – unwanted distraction.

Steve: The relationship does seem to have evolved naturally and, organically, our sense of timing is very close but I remember liking the fact that on early Rolling Stones records you couldn’t tell which guitarist was doing what: it just sounded like one big guitar. Maybe that’s an unconscious influence, I don’t know. Certainly, when it was time to prepare for the live shows and I was listening back to the recordings I quite often couldn’t work out which part was Nick and which was me.

Nick: Not just naturally but almost tacitly – Steve and I have only ever met in recording studios and on stage. The first time, on the first morning of the Come Home EP sessions, the only discussion was about which of us would plug into which amp and having resolved that I don’t remember us ever talking about anything guitar-related again. Steve sends me demos of his songs, with him playing the guitar, so if he’s carrying the rhythm I’ll usually go for the melody and vice versa. I can’t remember us ever actually talking about any of this though… When Steve and I said goodbye, in the bar of The King’s Arms in Salford on the evening of Saturday 1st September, his parting words were “one day we must actually sit down and have a conversation…”. I rather imagine this with the two of us as gnarled old men. It’ll be fairly soon then.

When I came to mix the record, I was struck by how tight the guitars were, even though Steve and I had only played together once before when we recorded the album, and the obvious thing seemed to be to use that. So neither guitar is mixed as “lead”, they’re each placed consistently in one speaker throughout the album at pretty much identical levels, I think mine’s on the left and Steve’s on the right but it might be the other way around. I did use one or two little production tricks to reinforce this but it was merely a matter of capitalising on something naturally occurring.

[to be continued - final part to come]

(c) Dave Cantrell. Caught in the Carousel

1 comment:

  1. Oi Oi Dave,Nick, Steve, Great Interview. I look forward to the next Segment. M


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