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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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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The most amazing record - Drowned in Sound

There's a funny little review of the lead track off the Come Home EP on the influential Drowned in Sound website this week.  In the Worth a Swizz! section of the singles reviews, we have the following:

The Distractions - ‘Lost’ (Occultation, listen/watch here)

The Distractions were once on Factory and split up before a great deal of you were even born.  Now they are backbackBACK on Occultation Records, who have promised not to put a hex on me even though I have given them my address for the purposes of sending me records.  THEY KNOW WHERE I LIVE.  Which makes ‘Lost’ the most amazing record I ever heard, in like, my whole life. 

Quite!  The Distractions have previously featured at Drowned in Sound where Mike was interviewed in a Time Goes By So Slow article, and also when New Order bass player, Steve Morris, selected FAC 12 for his Factory Records mixtape:  "Great pop band, this track sounds like something straight off Nuggets or some other 60s psych collection.  Mike Finney was a kind of Martin Fry-style spangly frontman and they had a girl bass player."

Drowned in Sound, 26 January 2009. (c) Drowned in Sound.

There's also another review at the Norman Records blog, which, although perhaps not as glowing as previous ones, is complementary enough - and there's no arguments about being placed alongside the Railway Children and The Sound!

3*: Come Home! by The Distractions

Brian gave this 3/5.

It’s odd when these lost 80s indie bands start reforming. They never seem to manage to recapture the magic of their earlier output.  Be it they’ve had families, been in jail, got into smack, become bus drivers or neuroscientists or simply sat in the pub all day like Gazza.  I don’t know bugger all about these lot.  They apparently had a single on Factory once.  But didn’t Crawling Chaos?  Don’t see them throwing a glossy 12″ at us anytime soon.  This three track record has a very polished sheen, a rather MOR gait & a worthy stance.  I’m being diplomatic here, but when Phil mentioned Lloyd Cole he wasn’t actually too far from the mark.  It’s all very well executed & they are consummate musicians to boot.  The singer sounds like he’s really putting his all in.  This ain’t my bag.  For old Railway Children fans and possibly lovers of later works by The Sound?  Ant says his Dad may like this.  Which gives you an idea of the more mature market this should be aimed at…

Many thanks to Drowned in Sound and Norman Records for the mentions.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Manchester's Next Big Thing

Check out this fine article from May 1980's Zig Zag magazine which was posted on the Cactus Mouth Informer blog (@CactusMouth) earlier this year.  The piece's author is the unlikely named Hugh Jarse (actually the renowned Kris Needs, Zig Zag's editor) and a Daniel Meadows also has a handwritten credit.

YOU keep hearing ‘bout this Manchester Scene.  In London they grit their teeth and queue… for Buzzcocks first, then Magazine, The Fall, Joy Division, JCC, A Certain Ratio – and none of those sound like each other, few play jangly power-pop or the stereotyped NM.  Jealousy will get you nowhere but Inter-City would seem to shoot you into a hot-bed of creativity.  No-one admits to being hued greeny down here but there’s no denying they have something up there.

“For every band that’s been heard of in Manchester there must be ten that haven’t, says Mike Finney, singer with The Distractions, who are currently tipped to be Manchester’s Next Big Thing.  In the smoke we’re only just starting to get the know ‘em.  Just a couple of singles on Factory and their big new label, Island (the standout-ish 'It Doesn’t Bother Me') and a handful of gigs to whip us up.  But tomorrow (May 2) the wheels grind into action with the release of the first Distractions album, an impressive affair which will be promoted by a brace of previously hard-to-come-by gigs.

The album crams a commendable 14 tracks of wide variety and much sticking strength.  The Distractions have their own economic, highly tuneful pop sound already, but there’s also a bevy of influences at riot here, from the Velvets and Flamin’ Groovies, through Phil Spector and '60s pop to Bowie and the Buzzcocks.  They have a fine way with epic ballads, like the massed desolation of 'Valerie' and 'Looking For A Ghost', where Ronnie Spector would be well at home.  'Waiting for Lorraine' harks to the Byrds in their psychedelic period.  Mike Finney has a distinctive low voice.  There’s a lot of soaring keyboards.  Some older songs that are on the fast and obvious side ('Paracetemol Paralysis') don’t work so well – bombast ain’t their strong point, melody is.

These are first impressions from one tape hearing and a one-sided white label (!).  Let’s get on firmer ground and impart some facts…

The Distractions are Mike Finney (vocals), Steve Perrin (guitar) – main composers – Pip Nicholls (bass), Adrian Wright (guitar / keyboards) and Alec Sidebottom (drums).

Mike met Steve at college – “We were messing around doing old Velvet numbers”.  The four-piece was completed by one Laurence Tickle (bass) and Tony Trap (drums).  The latter pair didn’t last long.  Pip, who was working as a porter at Manchester University till Island signed them last September, came in on bass after she’d tried for the vacant bass slot in the Buzzcocks in ’77.  The weighty and short-lived Garth had got in the day before she phoned Shelley, but she was told about The Distractions.  “Marriages are made in heaven,” says Steve.

Adrian came in through an NME ad, and he knew Alec.  There followed a couple of years gigging around Manchester (a lot) and any other place they could.  They supported such as Buzzcocks at Rafters, The Fall (“We used to be like The Fall’s pet dog at one time, being dragged around behind them”), Joy Division, and Ultravox (“they wouldn’t let us use their dressing room”).

The first time we came to London was with Joy Division,” explains the likable Steve.  “Then we started to get gigs in our own right, but it was a hard job.”

“Buzzcocks helped a lot of bands early on,” added Mike.  “Perhaps that’s why everyone else does it now.”  (He adds that the Buzzcocks’ current low profile stems from a six-month do-your-own-thing situation – Shelley going to Amsterdam, Diggle doing solo stuff, and the other two into rockabilly and horse-racing!).

Anyway, first Distractions vinyl came in the form of an EP, ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ on TJM, a set-up they don’t like to talk about.  They then got involved with Tony Wilson’s mighty Factory label, releasing ‘Time Goes By So Slow’, before bringing out the excellent ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ on Island.

How come you went to Island?

Steve: “Nobody saw us.  We got signed on the strength of two records.  It was ridiculous!”

Mike: “Island were the only company to come to Manchester and offer us something.”

Steve: “We were impressed because by then we were feeling really pissed off, really isolated in Manchester.”

Once contract were inked Steve could hand in his notice as a social worker, Alec as a carpet fitter, Pip the porter, and Mike and Adrian were relieved to come off the dole.

They charged into Revolution Studios, Stockport, to lay down their debut album through Jan-Feb.  Revolution is a fiftenn-quid-an-hour 24-track built from scratch in a geezer’s house!

Steve: “People have got a real prejudice against that – having a studio in a house.  But it was a good atmosphere to work in and it was to be near home (they live in sunny Stockport).  Also it’s cheap.”

Steve: “We wanted to make a record.  A lot of people’s first album is their live set, and that’s the end of that, tart it up with the odd guitar overdub or something.  We actually wanted to make a record, which I think we’ve done.  It’s still like a history of The Distractions though.”

Producing were two geezers who worked on the single, called John Astley and Phil Chapman, who came up with the idea one day to tackle the long-forgotten ‘Boys Cry’, and early-60s hit for heart-throb crooner Eden Kane.  The sound here is HUGE, layered mountains of sound.  It’s be the single and could strike – but the whole thing kicked off as a gag…

Steve: “It was a joke.  Id’ never heard it before – our drummer was the only one who’d heard it.  We had a spare day in the studio and did it.  Originally, we were just going to do the backing track and Phil was going to sing it through a wah-wah pedal for a laugh.  We went crackers and overdubbed everything – five acoustic guitars!  It was like everyone going crazy, and in the end we liked it so much we kept it.”

Would you call yourselves a pop group (like others have)?

Steve: “Not particularly.  I don’t like the idea of having any sort of label on us.  The vaguer the better.  You can call anybody a pop band – Joy Division are a gothic pop band.”

There’s loads of tracks on the album (14, including early material like ‘Valerie’, ‘Paracetemol Paralysis’, ‘Sick And Tired’ – “that’s been redone though, now it sounds like an American cop show theme” – to more recent stuff like ‘Looking For A Ghost’, ‘Wonder Girl’ and ‘Fantasy’).

Mike: “ We didn’t want to put on the past singles.”

Well I hope I get the other half of this album soon.  I suggest you acquire the whole lot.  Distract yourself.

Hugh Jarse (Kris Needs)


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stockport Merseybeat

Paul Morley's 2006 anthology of Manchester and Liverpool is snappily entitled North By North West - departure 1976 arrival 1984 - a particularly local history compiled by Paul Morley. The Manchester disc is a roll call of the obvious - Buzzcocks, The Fall, Magazine, John Clarke, The Durutti Column, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, New Order and The Smiths. But in amongst these giants are The Passage, Blue Orchids, Ludus and, in at number 10, The Distractions. Here's what Morley had to say about Time Goes By So Slow in the sleevenotes:

North By North West. (c) http://saltyka.blogspot.com.

"The Distractions had a girl on bass, Pip Nicholls, who I remember spelt her name with a few l's or was it a few p's? Their Drummer Alec Sidebottom had been playing local music since the 60's, when he was in the Purple Gang. Their singer Mike Finney wore glasses like he didn't even know it. Their guitarist Adrian Wright used to play the guitar like he was having a nervous breakdown.

To some extent they were more Liverpool pop eccentric than some of the other groups around at the time, even though they came from Stockport, as if the Undertones had come from Hazel Grove. Perhaps it was something to do with the Mersey, which started its journey to Liverpool just outside Stockport. Perhaps they were Stockport Merseybeat.  They were a bit warped cabaret as well, as if Tony Christie had formed a punk group inspired by Elvis Costello and Jonathan Richman. They started to write these bouncy, bitter kitchen sink love songs after Pete Shelley's showed what you can do with a love song and a punk sound.

After releasing the quite magnificent pop song Time Goes By So Slow on Factory they signed for Island on the same day as U2 and The Distractions didn't sell so well, there was some debate at Island as to which band to keep. For a moment The Distractions, being from Manchester which was quite a place at the time, led the race. In the end U2 overtook them, and made another album for Island. The rest is that thing that U2 know very well as history. For The Distractions the rest was a film you'd want to see directed by Ken Loach, or at the very least by Pedro Almodovar."

It's a fine collection, although a notable omission from the Liverpool or 'Liverchest' bonus disc is Occultation label-mates, The Wild Swans. Front man Paul Simpson does feature by the way of Care's Flaming Sword, but the obvious Wild Swans track, the indispensable Revolutionary Spirit, found its way onto John Peel's Right Time Wrong Speed 1977-1987


Lost video!

The video for Lost from the Come Home EP is now on YouTube.

The video is also streamed here on the Occultation website (you'll need QuickTime to view it).  On the Occultation Recordings YouTube page you'll also find videos for previous Occultation releases from The Wild Swans and The Granite Shore.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lost video - stills

The video for the lead track on the Come Home EP, Lost, will be ready in a couple of days.  It features Mike, Steve, Nicks Garside (who shot the video) and Halliwell, Stuart Mann (drums) and Richard Turvey (keyboards).  Here's a few stills from the video which was shot in Liverpool during the recordings of the EP at Parr Street Studios, 16-17th June 2010.

Mike & Steve 

 Steve, Nick Halliwell & Mike

Nick Halliwell, Steve & Mike


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One of the singles of the year - All Gigs

A cracking review of the Come Home EP from Paul Pledger at All Gigs (who also reviewed the Black Velvet EP a couple of months ago).

The Distractions - Come Home EP Review

EP Review

Having already recently reviewed a single by The Distractions ("Black Velvet"), I feel compelled to let you just discover the band for yourselves without blabbing on about their history. But, sod that, I'm going to anyway. It's OK - I'll be brief.

Formed in 1975, the once-pop band outfit drew on punk influences from 1977 onwards, released their debut 12" in 1979 ("You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That"), recorded one of the greatest indie-pop singles EVER in 1980 for Factory ("Times Goes By So Slow") and ended up being signed to Island for a few excellent singles and a slightly hit-and-miss album, still awaiting a respectful reissue (hint, hint).

2010 has seen a virtual hive of activity for original members Mike Finney and Steve Perrin, with two EP releases, this being the second. "Come Home" has a couple of title-connotations, one being that bassist and producer Nick Garside and Perrin have travelled from half-way round the world to record the three songs, plus Garside produced James' single of the same name. He also produced another fabulous indie single in "Brighter" by The Railway Children in 1987 - he's got the chops, all right.

"Lost" kicks this EP off in stunning fashion - if Pulp had written this, the entire population of good-taste world would be jumping on this, playing it and giggling like kids but, as it is, it's by The Distractions and echoes the crackling under-current of energy and unrequited romantic delusions expressed on their early singles. This is right up there with the best singles of the year, no contest. 

And there's more - flip side "Oil Painting" is back to slightly more maudlin and melancholic retroisms, yet hasn't been penned by the usual duo Finney and Perrin. Instead Occultation label-guide Nick Halliwell wrote the wondrous homage to barbed lyricists ever - you've gotta love lines like "The camera doesn't lie/You're no oil painting/but neither am I".

Third song "Nicole" is a charming mid-tempo offensive on the emotional souls out there, neither world changing nor forgettable, yet still a better pop-song than most can muster these days.

A round-up album of their very early output (plus a pile of shelved 90's material) will appear in 2011, something that collectors are seriously hankering for, but this sumptuously packaged artefact is more than enough to share a good pint with during the winter. Marvellous.
Paul Pledger


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