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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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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manchester Punk Diaries 1977/78

Some extracts from Mick Middles' fascinating Manchester Punk Diaries 1977/78 (subtitle:  Two Sevens Clash - Adventures in Manchester Punk), which have been serialised on John Robb's Louder Than War website.  The first extract sees Middles going to the Deeply Vale Festival in Rochdale in July 1978 1979 with the chap who released The Distractions' first record...

On the Sunday, I was picked up from my Disley house by Tony (TJ) Davidson. Tony was nothing if not fascinating blend….good looking occasional football hooly and, most famously, owner of the TJ Davidson rehearsal studies on Manchester’s Little Peter Street. (Two doors away from the eventual site of The Boardwalk). TJ’s was a set of dank rooms, largely painted a deep brown…this sombre setting proving bizarrely perfect for Kevin Cummins iconic photographs of Joy Division, initially taken for Sounds magazine. But beyond Joy Division, the growing blend of disparate bands would be locked in a state of murky practice…just hanging in the building would see you in conversation with members of Linder Sterling’s extraordinary Ludus, with glam rockers V2, the soulful, power pop band The Distractions, The Fall, Private Sector, Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds…indeed, many of the acts that would troop to Rochdale, excited to be performing at any kind of festival. Sitting centrally in this hugely evocative building, would be TJ himself, literally amid the bands that would start to cluster on his own TJM label.

Tony was – and is – likeably roguish…and something of a paradox. Back then, he lived with his wife in a lovely house in leafy Marple….what’s more, he would spout punk ethics while driving his Lotus Eclat. To my delight, he also took me for regular trips to Manchester’s Playboy Club. Not, it might latterly seem, the most PC of evenings, but back in the seventies….almost the best fun one could have in a comparably austere and still soot-blackened city centre. I didn’t complain.

I didn’t complain, either, when Tony picked me up in Disley and headed for the hills of Rochdale; literally hurtling off Barton Bridge at 110mph, the Eclat powering on, laden with freshly minted copies of The Distractions’ soon-to-be-legendary ‘You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP.

I had visited the festival site on the previous day…soaking in a ramshackle set from The Fall, among others. My little Fiat had struggled as it bounce along the farm-track, suffering two impromptu police drug searches (Quite absurd, considering the amount of chemical consumption taking place, unchecked, in the lower field).

Because of the previous foray, I was quietly confident of guiding Tony and his Lotus serenely to the heart of the festival site. Mulling on this, I instructed him to turn left on to the farm track.

That day, I discovered a great deal about a top of the range Lotus. Being aerodynamic and low slung, it is not the perfect vehicle in which to traverse a rock laden farm track. Especially, as the farm track in question slowly snaked for two worsening miles, loosening and, eventually, snapping the Lotus exhaust clean away from its holdings, scattering a loose array of piping across the rocks and mud.

“Tell me,” said Tony….calm as you like.  “Tell me, Mick that you haven’t brought me down the wrong farm-track.”

Somewhere, in an adjacent vale, The Distractions were taking the stage.

A touch of soul in the black night of punk. A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn.

Emerging into post-punk Manchester, the unlikely Distractions became the best dance in town, adding songs and a touch of the old to a disparate mess of a local scene. They became the perfect counter-balance to the introversion of Joy Division, the stubborn aloofness of The Fall. A most un-Mancunian ensemble. Then again…maybe not.

It was Mark E Smith who first alerted me to the charms of this band. Although not one to overtly praise those he would find in his support spots, he warmed to the sexual frisson of their infectious simplicity. They reminded Smith of the finer edge of Merseybeat. There was, he said, a ‘touch of The Everly’s’ in there…’a bit of Orbison’.

Catching them for the first time at Manchester’s Band on the Wall in 1978, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mike Finney, as anti-cool, anti-star vocalist, blessed with a voice of dark honey, a cheeky dance stance and the looks of a geography master. Behind him, orchestrated by the band leader Steve Perrin, the Distractions bobbed away in precocious style. Adrian Wright’s steely guitar. The shy – Tina Weymouth-style – bass stance of Pip Nicholls and the solid rhythm of sticksman Alec Sidebottom…who I had encountered before as a member of ‘60s Stockport psychedelics, The Purple Gang. This was home grown bunch that had been quietly emerging since ’75, I have been latterly informed. But best of all….best of all…they arrived at the Band on the Wall, fully armed with an album’s worth of nuggets. Pure classic gold that had yet to be discovered. Within a year, they would emerge as the most promising band in Manchester. Initially emerging with the raw and modest ‘You’re are Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP on Tony Davidson’s TJM Records, (Which included the bare bones of ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’, set to resurface in polished form as the band’s first single for Island Records.

Read all parts at Louder Than War:


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