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the official distractions website

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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Friday, August 30, 2013

Quietly excellent

This is the first half of fine piece by David Hepworth in the July 1980 issue No 3 of The Face magazine.  Many thanks to Jackie Whatmough for the article.


Distracted Distractions 
(l to r): Steve Perrin, Adrian Wright, Mike Finney, Pip Nicholls, Alec Sidebottom.  
Photo: Paul Slattery.


DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION

EVEN FOR a native of Manchester, a city that prides itself on turning out pop stars who neither look nor act the part, Mike Finney, lead singer with The Distractions, could well be the ultimate case of miscasting.

Were you in the market for a dodgy photocopier, you'd expect to run across scores of similar types - the fuller figure, the sensible spectacles, the incorrigibly jolly manner - but rock 'n' roll?

Well, there he goes, skipping across The Venue stage in a plaid jacket that could best be described as unfortunate and giving the old melancholy the treatment like a latterday Roy Orbison; not so much of the piercing anguish, but much of the same doleful sincerity.  No side to him at all, if you get my drift.

Earlier that day the first finished copies of The Distractions' quietly excellent and extremely playable debut album, "Nobody's Perfect", had arrived at Island Records and he and drummer Alec Sidebottom had fondled their copies like Christmas morning children.  For a band who've been in business for near on five years they still betray equal parts dry amusement and genuine joy in the things they do.

You wouldn't guess that Sidebottom had passed this way before in the late sixties with The Purple Gang, of "Granny Takes A Trip" almost fame.

Absorbing the vaguely ungainly left-field pop that makes up "Nobody's Perfect", sorting through the various strands (British Beat, psychedelia, Velvet Underground), it's not easy to come to terms with the fact that The Distractions are a product of Tony Wilson's Factory and have performed more support gigs with The Fall than can be consistent with a sense of humour.  But apparently when Finney and guitarist/songwriter Steve Perrin first cooked up the combo it just seemed natural to roll with the flow of Mancunian punk and play the same dungeons and watering holes. Considering the fact that their brand of beat is superficially frothier and considerably less portentous than that of their contemporaries, who wear their ironies like capes, it's amazing that they found the level of acceptance they did.

[to be continued]

(c) David Hepworth, The Face, No 3, July 1980.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Manchester magnificence

The esteemed Paul Morley reviews the debut EP in the 17th March 1979 issue of NME (adding to JCC's earlier piece).  This scan is again courtesy of NME's History of Rock and Roll archives. 


 Pic by PETE SHELLEY

SINGLES


Reviewed this week by PAUL MORLEY

SINGLE OF THE WEEK


THE DISTRACTIONS:  You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That (TJM)




More Manchester magnificence!  Sadly skimmed over in Johnny Clarke's wordless guest column a few weeks back, this poshly packaged 12" EP on Manchester's wealthy TJM pabel is yet another Mancunian pop classic and no way must it be overlooked.  Like 'Spiral Scratch', 'What Do I Get?', 'Shot By Both Sides', 'Jilted John', unique, complete, tenacious.

Contained are four immaculate gems of teenage vulnerability, each of three minutes of under, based on steely, needly guitar poetry, snug with a smooth charm, structured with superior wisdom.  Such precious, precocious pop!   (sigh).  Brittle young Byrds meet Peter Pan Shelley and it's so very, very special. 

The opening song 'Don't Bother Me' is truly sublime - Peter Powell has simply got to make it his record of the week.  Buy it and make it a hit.  (What is it about us Mancunians that makes us so soft and sulky?)





Formidable tunes


A couple of short Distractions record reviews a year apart; their debut EP, "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That", and the first Island single, It Doesn't Bother Me (which was re-recorded after Steve Perrin had left the group).  Once again, these are courtesy of NME's History of Rock and Roll archives.

First up is a short but very sweet review by none other than John Cooper Clarke in the 10th February 1979 issue of NME.  Note the Single of the Week by The Only Ones (their drummer: future Distraction, Mike Kellie). The second review is by Chris Bohn in the NME on 16th February 1980.




SINGLES
Reviewed (briefly) this week by
JOHN COOPER CLARKE

THE DISTRACTIONS:

You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That (TJM).

Twelve luxurious inches, four formidable tunes.  Melodic and sharp as a barrel of japs.  The astringent elegance of their delivery kills.




THE DISTRACTIONS: "It Doesn't Bother Me" (Island WIP 6533)

Though the Distractions no longer surprise us (as they did when the record was first issued on Factory), at least the life has been remixed into their bright pop, which was so distressingly missing when Island picked up the first single for release.  This time the voices and organ have had their full bodies restored, which nevertheless doesn't detract from the music's basic zippiness.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Merseybeat band from the wrong city

Another great article from NME's History of Rock and Roll archives.  This was in the 'After Dark 3' section of Melody Maker on 8th March 1980.  Words by Steve Taylor, photo by Kevin Cummins.




Another roadside Distraction

WHEN a band's manager picks you up from the station in an ancient but well-preserved Morris Minor convertible and the evening restaurant meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is accompanied by the strains of two octogenarian musicians who wander among the tables hissing things like "It's in C" to each other, it's a fair bet that you're well north of Watford.

This is, in fact, Manchester, and the five young people sharing this appalling consumption of stodge in anticipation of a sweaty gig in a small, bright and friendly local club are The Distractions, who sport the curious identify of a nouveau Merseybeat band from the wrong city.

After much banter and wit and a hammering performance from the band, conversation proper had to wait for breakfast the following morning with singer Mike Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin.  Warnings of their combined conversational force proved understated: Finney anchors the exchange in a modicum of sense while Perrin is given to high-pitched flights of fantasy and hyperbole.


Perrin and Finney. (c) Kevin Cummins.


"I DON'T like music," Perrin concludes a discussion of the band's private tastes.  "I like Nico," he relents.  "Phil, our producer, came into the studio one morning," continues Perrin, "and said, 'You know the trouble with this band - everyone thinks they're somebody else: Adrian think he's black, Pip and Alec think they're a heavy metal band, Mike think he's a cross between Buddy Holly and Otis Reading, and you think you're a girl group.'"

This last jibe refers to Perrin's long-distance affair with the Ronettes and the whole band's admiration for Phil Spector.  Both Finney and Perrin prefer the studio to live work, so not surprisingly they've been more active in recording than gigging.

Inevitably, Factory Records wanted to record them, but were initially beaten by Manchester studio mogul Tony Davidson, who released an erratic EP, "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That", on his TJM label.  Factory went on to release the classic "Time Goes By So Slow", which Island picked up and somehow lost.

The second Island single, "It Doesn't Bother Me", looks in danger of going the same way, but the forthcoming album, a very intelligent production by John Astley and Phil Chapman, ought to correct this drift.

WHAT about their teenage problem-page lyrics, then?  "I like anything that's slightly naive," Finney explains.  "Joy Division have an air of naivety about them.

"Phil the producer once said to me, 'You know the reason why you lot sound so naive - it's because you still live at home.'"  Perrin rises to leave, but pauses, "I must get me mum to throw me out," he concludes. 

- STEVE TAYLOR.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The quintessential pure pop single

Here's another little piece thanks to NME's superb History of Rock and Roll.  Time Goes By So Slow is described as the perfect pure pop single, in this from the 22nd December 1979 issue of NME.  Later in the article, Factory Records and their cousin label down the East Lancs, Zoo Records, are hailed as the years' best.  Of course, Zoo's last release was current label-mates The Wild Swans' debut, the majestic Revolutionary Spirit.




*MISSED TREATS*

The quintessential pure pop single/sensibility must have been the year's most sought-after cliche.  And, along with The Jam and The Undertones, surely nobody came closer to that ideal than Manchester's Distractions with the sublime 'Time Goes By So Slow' (Factory); all tingling electric guitars and heartfelt melancholy vocals.

The two best new labels - this year's Fast Products if you like - were Zoo in Liverpool and Factory in Manchester.

Zoo released a stream of colourful and eerie singles, the finest being Echo And The Bunnymen's ominous doom-laden ode to the eve-of-destruction 'Pictures On My Wall'.  On the same label came the Teardrop Explodes' two singles 'Sleeping Gas' and 'Bouncing Babies' which typified the Zoo sound; jaunty and danceable on one hand, but with more than a dash of evil and foreboding on the other.  Smart they were, though never too quirky nor clever-clever.




On Factory, besides The Distractions there was Joy Division following up one of the albums of the year with a single to match in the daunting 'Transmission'.  There was, too, A Certain Ratio's 'All Night Party', thick with a mesh of guitar, moody vocals and some of the year's more sinister lyrics.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Last Pop Group

This review of a Liverpool gig by Ian Wood is from NME, 21st April 1979, courtesy of their new History of Rock and Roll site [1].




The Distractions

Liverpool


The Distractions must be the ultimate Second Generation Manchester band.


While most of their confederates have concluded only one duff record deal, The Distractions have had three.

The first produced a still-born single which never appeared through various wrangles; their second was an EP for which they get royalties from the 6001st copy (guess how many were pressed?); happily their third dotted-line looks more hopeful, even if the producers of this upcoming effort are the same parties for the vinyl debut of the talking dog of That's Life infamy.

Ruff justice, what?

The same luck finds The Distractions sharing a bill with the UK Subs whose phenomenal lack of talent is only matched by their audience's total commitment to dismembering a hastily erected crash barrier.

The Distractions certainly provide a visual contrast to black leather and moody rebellion.

Stage centre, cuddly Mike Finney fulfills all the sartorial requirements of males at the Ritz, having foregone his usual silver lame in favour of a more discreet black satin.  Guitarist Steve Perrin is no less natty in suit, bassist Pipnicholls (her spelling) sports an amazing psychedelic pyjama top, a steal at ten pence from Marks and Sparks, which leaves the more muscular members of the band - Adrian Wright (guitar), veteran drummer Alex Sidebottom - looking distinctly threadbare either.

It's amazing such a motley crew can produce such a crisp demonstration of tuneful pop excellence, their own originals proving the missing link between oldies like 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' and an abnormally good rensition of 'I'm Waiting For The Man'.

But while their concise approach is circa '65, the knowing glances and lyrical realism are right up to date.  For The Distractions, love is only a maybe, and the dreaming ceased a long time ago.  No the phones never ring, nobody can be trusted and nothing bothers 'em.  Got the picture?

And while the Shangri Las looked sadly into the sunset, The Distractions aim for retribution with the set's highlights, the terminal 'I'm Tired' and the hilarious 'Paracetamol Paralysis'.

It's a performance of A-sides only, firmly driven by Sidebottom's powerful drum attack and steered by Finney's gruff but distinctive vocals.

The Distractions are the Last Pop Group from Manchester at the boundaries of innocence and sly knowing.  Or as they put it succinctly...

I love Valerie / 
But Valerie loves you

Ian Wood


Friday, August 2, 2013

Better to have loved

Here is Melody Maker's review of Time Goes By So Slow from 8th September 1979, courtesy of the History of Rock and Roll [1].  As has happened elsewhere [2], the flip-side (originally the A-side until Tony Wilson insisted that Adrian Wright's song became the lead track), Pillow Fight, is actually referred to as "Pillow Talk".




THE DISTRACTIONS: "Time Goes By So Slow" (Factory FAC 12).

Fragile, professionally amateur single from the world's most perfect youth club band.  Yearning Buddy Holly loser vocals over a loose backing - piping organ, jangly guitar - full of 1965 nostalgia.  But with a twist: "Time Goes By So Slow" is a reasonably straightforward lost love song, with a neat, kinetic instrumental break at the end, while "Pillow Talk" has the singer wanting to know just what was his girl dreaming about last night and was it HIM?  Another classic line: "A sick fantasy is better than none at all."  The Distractions are the musical version of the principle that it's better to have loved unsuccessfully than not at all.  At present, perhaps too under-produced to be a hit, but you never know.



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