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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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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happiness is just a Distraction

The second part of Paul Morley's missive from The Great Pop Wars from the 27th October 1979 NME (first part here).


A MANCHESTER pub, a table, The Distractions getting drunk.  Four boys and a girl who likes girls.  Singer Mike Finney, guitarist Steve Perrin, guitarist Adrian Wright, drummer Alex Sidebottom and bassist Pip Nicholls.  A chubby one, a small one, a serious one, a scruffy one and a girl who likes girls.  "I tried to pretend I was bisexual," Pip says, "but I just couldn't con myself."  Pip's presence, which is treated as no big deal, emphasises the ambiguity in Distractions songs of relationships and reasoning.

They entered the year having been around since the time Buzzcocks were just breaking out of Manchester, and seemed to be going nowhere.  They had established a sound and were confident about it.

They could have gone two ways; 'noise' ('Sister Ray') or arranged songs ("I'd always wanted to play the guitar solo in 'I Heard Her Call My Name'.").  Determined to reject rather than passively absorb influences, they went for arranged songs.

Tony Davidson, a local businessman who runs a rehearsal studio and record label and fancies himself as a whizz kid pop entrepreneur, charged up to the group: "Hey, you got a good review in Sounds, how do you fancy me putting a record out for you?"  He didn't like the group much, but somehow, out of a multitude of disagreements and misunderstandings, a four track EP came out on Davidson's flash TJM label.  I could do nothing but make 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That' single of the week.  It's still a favourite.

It wasn't a very good business deal, but at least The Distractions had a record out and a few more people picked them out of the crowd.  Tony Wilson of Factory Records asked if they'd like to put a record out on his label.

They in turn asked if he'd like to be their manager.  He had to decline.  He likes to think of the people he manages as 'his children.'  He calls A Certain Ratio, a group he does manage, 'my boys.'  He admitted he couldn't feel that way about The Distractions, despite loving their music.  Drummer Alex, after all, is older than Wilson, with a history with local groups stretching way back into the '60s.

Local studio man Brandon Leon became their manager, and produced their records.  "I went along to see them for the first time at TJ Davidson's rehearsal studio.  He'd asked me to see this group," he recalls, "and they were playing, with no PA, and it was awful.  Oh god, I thought, what have I let myself in for.  I turned to the guy who was stood next to me, he looked like one of the band's father, and I asked him what he did.  I'm the lead singer, he said."

After much humming and haaing, the Factory single was Finney-Perrin's 'Time Goes By So Slow' backed with Wright's 'Pillow Fight'.*  I could do nothing but make Factory 12 single of the week.

Ripples reached Island Records.

ON A quiet grey Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, sat all alone in my London flat I phone Steve Perrin.  Hey, I say, I go to America for a couple of weeks and when I get back you've signed with bloody Island Records.  No longer on the outside looking in!

"Yeah, it happened quick really," he tells me.  "People at Island seem to want to update their image, and we were encouraged to sign because they've signed The Slits and the B-52's and it seemed good people to go with.  It wasn't really surprising when it happened.  And now we're getting gigs in London and we can't get any gigs in Manchester."  He sighs at the injustice.

The group have arrange a free gig at Manchester's Fun House on December 1st - the first date available; a present for their fans.  They've re-done 'It Doesn't Bother Me' with John Astley producing for their first single, and will be preparing an LP in January.

"We went through a week of just being really pleased," says Perrin, which sounds like something a member of a pop group would say, "but now we're getting down to some hard work and rehearsal, cos it's easy for it to all fall flat.

"In a way it's weird cos like I still get the NME every week and see all these names that are getting on TOTP and now we're close to them... like opening the NME and seeing that big picture of Mike staring out at me from the live pages.  It frightens me... I don't think we've really come to terms with it yet.  I hope we never really do, in a way."

THE DISTRACTIONS are the types who always get the slobbering, non-stop chattering idiot sat next to them on the bus.  They're the confused underdogs, each in different ways.

Their songs are born out of unfortunate problem page experiences, nervousness, wry humour, revenge, relief.  With vivid accuracy and comprehensive urgency they deal with inadequacy, hesitancy, prejudice.  Wise words about naivety and jealousy that drip with delicious imagery.

Like the two other great British pop groups XTC and The Undertones there are two sets of songwriters within the band.  Adrian Wright's songs are weary, almost nasty.  Perrin-Finney songs are bitter, twisted, ironic, hurt...

"I'm basically very romantic," decides Perrin, "but there's just so many things fighting against it.  I know that jealousy is the most absurd thing in the world but it doesn't stop me getting ridiculously jealous.  I wish someone would get jealous about me!  That's a hell of a compliment.  It's like I've written all these songs about other people, why doesn't somebody write a song about me!"

"That's because they don't know you've written songs about them!" Finney points out.

Maybe Pete Shelley has written a song about you, I say.  "It's a possibility," says Perrin as we reach the station and he flings me out of the car.

Paul Morley, NME, 27 October 1979

* Of course, it's the other way round - 'Time Goes By So Slow' was Adrian's!


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