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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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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Steve Perrin Interview Part 2

To complement the original 2007 Q&A done with Steve Perrin at the Mod Pop Punk Archives, Steve has kindly answered some more probing questions. Here's the second part...

You weren’t a fan of touring, but what were your most memorable gigs? You supported some famous names at the time, A Certain Radio, The Fall, Buzzcocks, Joy Division...

SP: Maybe the Nashville in London supporting Joy Division when they were at the height of their powers. Most people would probably disagree with me but I don’t think any of their records captured how intense they could be live. Other than that, supporting Adam and the Ants was always interesting.

A couple of noted names were involved in the sleeve design of some of The Distractions’ records. What was it like working with Peter Saville (Time Goes By So Slow and Nobody’s Perfect) and Kevin Cummins (Nobody’s Perfect and And Then There’s...)?

SP: We knew Peter from the early days at Factory but he pretty much worked on his own. I don’t remember being consulted at all on the Time Goes By So Slow sleeve, although I really liked it. The Nobody’s Perfect sleeve we had a little more say in. It originated from a photo session Kevin had done for Record Mirror where I was standing in front of a billboard with photos of the rest of the band on it. Peter took that and changed it around a little. There’s a really nice detail in that you can see the reflection of the model’s face in the glass of Adrian’s portrait. I believe the model was Peter’s partner at the time though I could be wrong.

The famous Leigh Festival had a formidable line-up, what was it like?

SP: Sparsely attended. I suspect that it was one of Tony Wilson’s great conceptual ideas to put it on in a place exactly equidistant between Manchester and Liverpool. The problem was that Leigh was practically impossible to reach by public transport so the darlings of the music press ended up playing to each other, a few journalists and three members of the Greater Manchester Police Drug Squad, all of whom were dressed like Starsky.

How did the move from TJM to Factory come about, on the back of You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That or through gigs?

SP: Tony Wilson rang me at work and said Paul Morley was going to make You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That single of the week in the NME and did we want to do the next single on Factory. We did.

Anthony H Wilson. (c) Avenue and Alleyways.

Did you meet the late Tony Wilson often?

SP: Yes, and my mum used to enjoy talking to him on the phone when he rang up. Tony was a brilliant and frustrating character, the nearest Manchester will ever get to Andy Warhol as a conceptual thinker. The difference was that, unlike Warhol, he talked all the time. And he just did not care. The cowboy boots would have been one thing but wandering about with saddle bags over his shoulder was taking it to another level.

How did Island see you? Was there any pressure to come up with an “image”? To write certain kinds of songs? In other words, as Tony Wilson is said to have put it, "to play the game”?

SP: To be fair to them, they pretty much let us get on with it. The press really liked us so there was no pressure to develop an image or to write in a certain way. The only area where they did step in was in the choice of singles. They wanted to put “Boys Cry” out and I really objected to that as I didn’t want the band to be known for a cover version. Funnily enough, I heard it on the radio a few years ago and thought they were probably right but at the time I sulked.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Supporting Joy Division

Ian Curtis, Electric Ballroom, 26th October 1979. (c) Joy Division-New Order blog.

The Distractions were frequent touring mates of Joy Division during the all-too-brief careers of these two great Manchester groups. For example, towards the end of 1979, The Distractions helped Joy Division kick-off and finish a national tour, with time to help them play a 'Factory in London' gig midway through. They supported Joy Division at the Nashville Rooms in London on 22nd September 1979. Steve Perrin counts this as his most memorable gig, "when Joy Division were at the height of their powers. Most people would probably disagree with me but I don't think any of their records captured how intense they could be live." Following a home fixture at Factory at the Russell Club supported by Teardrop Explodes (Paul Simpson had just left to form the Wild Swans), Joy Division embarked on a national tour supporting Buzzcocks. Before a double date at the Apollo in Manchester, Joy Division, The Distractions and A Certain Ratio went down to London to play the Electric Ballroom on 26th October 1979, and both distinctive lead singers were snapped for posterity. The year finished with an invite-only New Years Eve performance at a first floor warehouse somewhere along Oldham Street in Manchester, Joy Division supported by The Distractions and other Factory artists.

Mike Finney, Electric Ballroom, 26th October 1979. (c) Rock Photos.

Joy Division's gigs from that period in 1979 [1]:

22 Sep - Nashville Rooms, London (supported by The Distractions)
28 Sep - Factory at the Russell Club, Manchester (supported by Teardrop Explodes & Foreign Press)
2 Oct - Mountford Hall, Liverpool (supporting Buzzcocks)
3 Oct - Leeds University (supporting Buzzcocks)
4 Oct - City Hall, Newcastle (supporting Buzzcocks)
5 Oct - Apollo, Glasgow (supporting Buzzcocks)
6 Oct - Odeon, Edinburgh (supporting Buzzcocks)
7 Oct - Capitol, Aberdeen (supporting Buzzcocks)
8 Oct - Caird Hall, Dundee (supporting Buzzcocks)
16 Oct - Plan K, Brussells
18 Oct - Bangor University (supporting Buzzcocks)
20 Oct - Loughborough University (supporting Buzzcocks)
21 Oct - Top Rank, Sheffield (supporting Buzzcocks)
22 Oct - Assembly Rooms, Derby (supporting Buzzcocks)
23 Oct - King George's Hall, Blackburn (supporting Buzzcocks)
24 Oct - The Odeon, Birmingham (supporting Buzzcocks)
25 Oct - St George's Hall, Bradford (supporting Buzzcocks)
26 Oct - Electric Ballroom, London (supported by The Distractions & ACR)
27-28 Oct - Apollo, Manchester (supporting Buzzcocks)
29 Oct - De Montford Hall, Leicester (supporting Buzzcocks)
30 Oct - New Theatre, Oxford (supporting Buzzcocks)
1 Nov - Civic Hall, Guilford (supporting Buzzcocks)
2 Nov - Winter Gardens, Bournemouth (supporting Buzzcocks)
3 Nov - Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (supporting Buzzcocks)
4 Nov - Colston Hall, Bristol (supporting Buzzcocks)
5 Nov - Pavilion, Hemel Hempsted (supporting Buzzcocks)
7 Nov - Pavilion, West Runton (supporting Buzzcocks)
9-10 Nov - Rainbow Theatre, London (supporting Buzzcocks)
15 Dec - Eric's, Liverpool (supported by Section 25, two gigs in one day)
18 Dec - Les Bains Douches, Paris
31 Dec - warehouse in Oldham Street, Manchester (with The Distractions & others)

1. Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis & Joy Division. London: Faber & Faber.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Steve Perrin Interview Part 1

To complement the original 2007 Q&A done with Steve Perrin at the Mod Pop Punk Archives, Steve has kindly answered some more probing questions:


It’s well documented that you met Mike at college, Pip (Nicholls) joined after missing out with the Buzzcocks and Adrian (Wright) and Alex (Sidebottom) joined via an NME advert. When and why did Lawrence (Tickle) and Tony (Trappe) leave in the early days?

SP: Lawrence was there in the very early days before we ever played a gig. He was a really good guitarist but was obsessed with the Rolling Stones so probably left because we didn’t sound like the Rolling Stones. Tony played the first few gigs with us, including one supporting Buzzcocks at Rafters where he turned up wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt. At the time I saw this as the last straw. Now I think it was a move of pure genius.


How did you tend to work on songs? Were they presented to the group fully-formed or did they tend to evolve from words with chords into something more complete? Also, did you generally start with a tune and then write lyrics to it, begin with the words and then set them to music, or did the two generally evolve together?

SP: Song writing tended to be individual but song choice and arrangements were pretty democratic. The writers would circulate tapes of themselves bashing something out on an acoustic guitar and if everybody liked something it would get done, if somebody disliked something it wouldn’t. From that point on we’d work stuff up and any ideas were welcome. The distinctive drum pattern on “Fantasy”, for example, was something that Alex came up with.


One thing I find interesting is that, although songs are credited to various different band members, there’s very definitely a "Distractions aesthetic” which runs through pretty much all of them, particularly a certain lyrical approach, a down-to-earth approach to songwriting of a kind later developed by certain other Mancunians, with wit and pathos. At least three of you must’ve contributed lyrics, so how do you explain this wonderful consistency? Was it conscious to any degree? A happy accident? Or perhaps shared experience?

SP: My guess would be shared experience. The lyricists were all working class males of a certain age from the North West of England who had had little socio-geographical movement so we had rather a lot in common. It is vital, however, to consider Mike’s role in this. As the singer he had to be comfortable with what he was singing so, occasionally, Adrian or myself would come up with a lyric which didn’t fit and the song would not get done. I mean, I love that Antony and the Johnsons song “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy” but I doubt that I would have been able to get Mike to sing that.


Similarly, was there any conscious decision to write love songs that had a little grit in their oysters?

SP: I think that was conscious, yes, but probably also due to our shared vision of life at the time.


What was the Manchester scene like in the late '70s, early '80s? Any memories of the pubs, clubs and venues around the town before in the years before The Smiths and “Madchester” arrived?

SP: It was a really vibrant live scene. Most people will probably disagree with me but I think most of the bands were better live than on record. My favourite place was The Ranch on Dale Street which was an offshoot of Foo Foo’s Palace, owned by Frank “Foo Foo” Lamar, Manchester’s answer to Danny La Rue. It was amazing. No stage, no PA system and no door policy so you could get in dressed in whatever took your fancy. Kevin Cummins’ photos from the Ranch really capture that period and would be worth a book on their own.

The Ranch, Dale Street, 1976. (c) Manchester District Music Archive..

Did you ever see yourselves as punks? The thing that first grabbed my attention when I heard the TJM EP was that it was the first new record I’d heard that didn’t have that wall of distorted guitars from the Ramones’ first LP, via the Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks, etc. It made it sound pretty radical to my youthful ears. Everything else coming out around that time (and for a while afterwards) was either the kind of stuff that was later dubbed "post-punk" or else rama-lama cartoon punk thrash. Go on, tell me it was a sheer accident, one day the batteries in your distortion pedal ran out mid-song and you thought “that’s it! That’s the sound!”

SP: Well, before punk got codified it was a fairly open concept. The initial New York bands were all quite different and that was initially the case in Manchester too. In terms of the look, people were mostly wearing stuff they found in secondhand shops or made themselves. As for the guitar sound, that was deliberate. I wanted to sound like a cross between Hank Marvin and Steve Cropper. Big “rock” sounds have never interested me. I don’t have a big “rock” personality.


Similarly, what you were doing at the time, referencing all the drama of sixties pop, was pretty radical at the time, it was supposed to be "Year Zero”, we weren’t supposed to admit that we even liked any records made before late 1976 (with a few exceptions such as The Stooges, Velvets, etc.) The Distractions always sounded thrillingly modern to my ears, but punk audiences could be very intolerant of anything that wasn't Sham 69 - did you ever encounter any hostility?

SP: Again, in the early days people were pretty open minded so a show with us, Joy Division, the Fall, Exodus (a reggae band) and John Cooper Clarke seemed to make sense. That mostly stayed the case in places like Manchester, Liverpool and London but, elsewhere, “punk” got codified pretty quickly and, yes, we did encounter some hostility. I seem to remember some pretty hairy gigs in remote parts of Scotland.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You Two

Island Label Sampler 1980 feat.
Side 2 track 4: The Distractions - Boys Cry;
Side 2 Track 5: The Distractions - Waiting For Lorraine.
(c) eil.com.

A classic rumour surrounds The Distractions leaving Island Records. In his 2009 review of Factory Records Communications 1978-92, Mick Middles drops in an intriguing line: "Factory couldn't hold them and they departed to make one shockingly produced album for Island before being dropped, legend tells, in favour of a certain Irish rock band [1]".

In the Reformation webzine piece on Stuff The Superstars, Paul Hanley expands on this rumour slightly: "Legend has it that there was once a cash crisis at Island Records and a last minute meeting was called to decide whether to drop The Distractions or U2. (They went with The Distractions by the way) [2]."

In his his recent Q&A session, Steve Perrin added: "It was interesting being signed to Island Records at the same time as U2 and seeing how a group who really wanted to take over the world operated. I think we just wanted to escape from the boring lives we had been born into, and to that extent, I suppose we were successful [3]".

U2 en route to Britain in 1980 (to sign for Island and inadvertently but ultimately spell the end of The Distractions' time on Island?). (c) Threechordsandthetruth.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Live in New York

The Distractions, backstage at Hurrah's, New York, 1980. Adrian Wright, Pip Nicholls, Mike Finney, Arthur Kadmon, Alec Sidebottom.

On 4th and 5th September 1980 The Distractions played at Hurrah's on 36 West 62nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhatten. Hurrah's is described as one of the epicentres of the movement that saw punk evolve into new wave. Many British bands cut their US teeth at Hurrah's - Simple Minds in '79, XTC, The Specials and The Cure in 1980, and Joy Division were meant to play there on their ill-fated tour which never materialised due to Ian Curtis's suicide. Each of these bands have since cemented their place firmly in musical history.
By the time of this US visit, Steve Perrin had left the group due to disillusionment with touring and the music business in general. As Mike Finney explains before one song, "we used to have a chap called Steve who left and we got him", pointing at the new guitarist, Arthur Kadmon, previously of Manicured Noise and a founder member of Ludus. The well documented problems the band were having with Island Records were mentioned during the gig as well: "This one's on an LP you can't buy because Island haven't released it, but never mind, it's jolly good".
Several unrelased tracks were aired at the Thursday night gig - Something New, Aspirin And Aftershave ("about suicide", Finney informs the audience!), In The Night-Time, Nothing Lasts ("a song about Manchester"), and the set finished with a cover of Roxy Music's Re-make/Re-model.
The Thursday night set list:
1. It Doesn't Bother Me
2. Something For The Weekend
3. Something New
4. Aspirin And Aftershave
5. (Stuck In A) Fantasy
6. Still It Doesn't Ring
7. Boys Cry
8. What's The Use
9. Good Girls Don't Get To Paris
10. In The Night-Time
11. Nothing
12. Louise
13. Nothing Lasts
14. Time Goes By So Slow
15. Waiting For Lorraine
16. Sick And Tired
17. Valerie
18. Maybe It's Love
19. Re-make/Re-model
A nice little review appeared in the New York Times on 7th September.

Pop Rock: The Distractions
Manchester, England, has been producing some challenging new rock bands lately. Joy Division was the most serious and gloomy; The Distractions, who were at Hurrah last Thursday and Friday nights, are closer to the mainstream of English pop-rock, but they are distinctive stylists and, underneath their often humorous surface, serious. Manchester must be a serious place.
Mike Finney, the lead singer, looks more like a banker than a rock singer, and the bands two guitarists, bassist and drummer look similarly mis-matched. The Distractions manage to paint some interesting pictures of their hometown, describe situations that range from romantic to painfully funny to disturbing, and interact on stage in an intense but convivial manner while conveying the visual impression that they just met in a park or a pub. But their sound is tight and brittle. They write within conventional pop-song structures without cloying sweetness, and without the fashionable angst that seems to be the emotional staple of so many new bands.
Mr. Finney may not look like a singer, but he actually sings; he employs a variety of vocal timbres and phrases confidently. The Distractions deliver the goods and could do well in America, though how well they'll do, given the conservative, recessionary aspects of the American music business, is impossible to predict.
- Robert Palmer
An intruiging flyer for Hurrah's on the New York City Stories blog shows a "Factory Video Night" on 18th August 1980 featuring videos of Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Bob (Vinny?) Reilly and Section 25. Just a couple of weeks after The Distractions played Hurrah's their former label mates and pals New Order appeared, only a few months after Curtis's death.

New Order, Hurrah's, 29th September 1980. (c) Getty Images.


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