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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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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Peel & Fanning

 John Peel. (c) rocklistmusic.

The incomparable John Peel often stated his favourite ever single was Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, and it is to this band that The Distractions were and still are frequently compared [1-3].  Peel himself gave The Distractions a little airplay in the late '70s, early '80s as FAC 12 and the Island album were both featured on his BBC Radio 1 show:

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/25_July_1979 - The Distractions:  Time Goes By So Slow (single) Factory

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/16_August_1979 - The Distractions:  Time Goes By So Slow (single) Factory

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/09_June_1980 - The Distractions:  Something For The Weekend (LP - Nobody's Perfect) Island

http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/07_July_1980 - The Distractions:  Louise (LP - Nobody's Perfect) Island

Dave Fanning. (c) tower.

Over the water in Ireland, the "Irish John Peel" was undoubtedly RTE's Dave Fanning.  He had The Distractions in the studio in 1980 but sadly no details of this show exist.  However, a few weeks later, the lead singer of John Peel's beloved Fall was in and amongst other things, Fanning and Mark E. Smith brought up The Distractions:

Dave Fanning:  What about then the bands that are around at the moment from the same area as yourselves, like say The Distractions, from the Manchester area?

Mark E Smith:  I like The Distractions, because they're like a paradox to us.  I think they're a good cabaret pop band.  I think they're very honest.  I like honesty in bands.  But I think once they got into the hands of the record company, I think they messed up a bit.

DF:  When The Distractions were on the programme some months ago, they mentioned the fact about going to London and not being able to get gigs and there's no way at all, and in Manchester there's so few places to play.  Well in the last six months there seems to be loads of bands coming out of Manchester, loads of albums on independent labels and things like that.  So it is that much better up there, do you need to go to London do you think?

MES:  Well we went to London because I think the Manchester scene is like an imitation of the London scene, the Manchester scene is rapidly becoming like London.  If you go to Manchester now, it's just like London.

DF:  With all the upswings of all the bands are there places to play over there now?

MES:  In Manchester?  There's the odd place, but it's no better than any other city.  I think just that Manchester turns out people like that, I think it's the city [4].

1. Paul Morley, 1980 and David Quantick, 1987:   www.thedistractions.co.uk.
2. Mick Middles, 2010:  http://thequietus.com.
3. Malcolm Carter, 2011:  www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk.
4. http://gcoleman.tripod.com/sixplus.html.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rock's lost treasures

From Rare Bird 9 in the US:

The Distractions were a quintet from Manchester, England who recorded only one album.  That 1980 album, Nobody's Perfect, has long been out of print, and it's our loss.  The band split up in early 1981, after the album failed to attract much attention.  Their commercial failure wasn't caused by a lack of effort.  Their small body of work demonstrated that these new-wavers were avid students of music history, and they skillfully applied their knowledge to their own enjoyable music. 

The Distractions - "You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That" EP          (TJM 2) 1978

Before recording their one full-length album, the Distractions released a few singles and a 4-song EP in the U.K.  The 1978 EP, titled You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, already showed that they did not intend to limit themselves to the usual new wave sounds.  These four songs (one of which, "Nothing", was remade for the album) show influences including Elvis Costello, early Kinks, early Byrds (singer Mike Finney sounds uncannily like Gene Clark on this EP), and dashes of surf-rock and psychedelia.  And this was just a rough warm-up for the album to come.

The Distractions - "Nobody's Perfect" (Island ILPS 9604) 1980

Nobody's Perfect is easy to identify as a new wave album of its time. "Paracetamol Paralysis" and "Valerie" are punk gems; "Waiting For Lorraine" and "Untitled" have the punk attitude, if not necessarily its ethos.  But The Distractions took an educated approach to new wave without over-intellectualizing it.  Nobody's Perfect draws inspiration from all three decades of rock and roll that preceded it.  The band emulated everyone from Buddy Holly ("Wonder Girl", "Still It Doesn't Ring") to Phil Spector girl groups ("Boys Cry", "Looking For A Ghost") to Elvis Costello ("Something For The Weekend") and the Talking Heads ("Sick And Tired").  The wistful "Leave You To Dream" sounds like the Cars interpreting the third Velvet Underground album.  Finney's sincere and sometimes somber vocals give many of the songs unexpected emotional depth.  A unique and eclectic album from an intelligent and sophisticated band, Nobody's Perfect is truly one of rock's lost treasures.

Track Listings:


1. Doesn't Bother Me
2. Nothing
3. Maybe It's Love
4. Too Young


1. Waiting For Lorraine
2. Something For The Weekend
3. Boys Cry
4. Sick And Tired
5. Leave You To Dream
6. Louise
7. Paracetamol Paralysis
8. (Stuck In A) Fantasy
9. Nothing
10. Wonder Girl
11. Still It Doesn't Ring
12. Untitled
13. Looking For A Ghost
14. Valerie


Friday, September 9, 2011

A touch of soul in the darkness of punk

The second part of Mick Middles' fine piece in the Quietus last year.  This focuses on the two 2010 Occultation EPs, Black Velvet and Come Home.

The Distractions 


 – Mick Middles, December 1st, 2010

Almost nothing has happened since the heady days of 1982... apart, that is, from a momentary reunion of a Finney and Perrin Distractions in 1995.  This remains important because recordings from that fleeting time have resurfaced as part of the first of two Distractions EPs on Occultation Records.  Indeed, 2010 sees the first Distractions releases of any kind since the early '80s.  So long... and what is new?

Occultation, who have just issued the two Distractions EPs reviewed here, are also to release an album's worth of the band's pre-Island material* and, beyond that, plans are afoot for a complete album of all new material.  A difficult process, given that Steve Perrin currently lives as a teacher in New Zealand while Finney enjoys the less exotic climes of Holmfirth, Yorkshire.  Nevertheless, the two would meet in the summer of 2010, to records at Liverpool's Parr Street Studios... just a momentary flash, with Perrin's guitar as precocious as ever, his gorgeous swelling melodies now complimented by a Finney voice that has gained a honey-tone during the barren years... and longingly unpretentious soul, simplistic lyrics that leave room to breathe.  Perhaps it is that sense of space that has always proved so magnetic to writers.  Charles Shaar Murray once proclaimed that "The Distractions are good for dreams."  Paul Morley once called them "...the perfect pop band for the '80s" while David Quantick always regarded them as "his band."

Well I concur, despite the rather awkward fact that at least two members of this band ran off with a wife of mine... ahhhh... now there's true Distractions rub.  For all their oikish cuteness, for all their wash of innocence... scratch the surface – in the old days at least – and there would lie a web of sexual intrigue that was rooted deeply within the Manchester early '80s scene.  Innocence with a sting that refused to play by the rules.

Today, things are more relaxed.  The first EP kicks of with 'Black Velvet', a track drawn from those lost mid-'90s demos and the precise moment when the band finally discovered the depth of sound they had been searching for back in the Island days.  'Black Velvet' is simple lost love and, like 'Time Goes By So Slow', is arrives from a place of heightened perception.  A man dreaming of a lost and fading love... wallowing perhaps but lifted by the rich Finney voice.  This is the music of a lost band, in a sense, as drummer Van Den Berg has been lost to the mysteries of South Africa while bassist Nick Gartside is now firmly encamped in LA, surfacing as mixer and polisher of the 2010 version of the band.  This truly international flavour has undoubtedly stretched the scope and is completed by the addition of a third songwriter in Nick Halliwell.  Confused?  Well, against the odds perhaps, The Distractions now sound more coherent than ever and these two EPs sit perfectly back to back... as a mini-album, perhaps.

The second track on Black Velvet, 'Still It Doesn't Ring' hails directly back to 1978 and yes, it is as obvious as the title suggests.  A touch of Undertones – always a close cousin, in so many ways – and a fresh attack at an aged tune.  A yearning pop blast... heartfelt although nothing... nothing in this ancient echo could prepare you for 'If You Were Mine', arguably Finney's greatest soulful moment... I do not know of technical perfection but, in terms of sheer howl and angst, this links deeply to the Otis Redding who always sat so central in Finney's record collection.  Odd thing, I have to say, during the Secret Seven phase this was a voice that appeared to be weakening... not so now.  Does Mike Finney own the great lost voice of modern music?

The second EP, Come Home furthers that outrageous claim.  Here Perrin's song-writing has gained the depth of age.  The downside is that this comes at the expense of that lovely old naiveté but, well, that's nothing if not a perfectly natural progression.  'Lost' is a pure pop gem, written by Perrin under the New Zealand sun.  Again there are huge blocks of silence built into the production.  If only Nobody's Perfect had been gifted such treatment.  The lyric will take you nowhere in particular – is a simple existential expression – but you can forgive that and ruminate on the fact that almost nobody is making pop music like this any more.  At least in 'Nicole', a girl is ushered swiftly to the spotlight.  Only in the glorious sprawl of Nick Halliwell's 'Oil Painting' are the realities of the band's advancing years appear to be approached.  "You may not be an oil painting..." sings Finney which, I strongly suggest is not something anyone wishing to retain manhood status should ever say to a lady of any age and, frankly, all is not retrieved by Finney's level admission "...and neither am I."  Nevertheless, and at the risk of encouraging the wrath of Steve Perrin, it is my personal favourite of the six songs on these two remarkable EPs.

For Mancunians of a certain age, witnessing the unlikely return of The Distractions will provide a touch of unexpected hope.  The fact that, despite the band being scattered around the globe, they have appeared in better shape than even warped nostalgia might allow, is simply stunning.

The hope is that Occultation can succeed where Island failed.  That is – to state the obvious – to link this to the audience that yearns for the touch, the warmth and, as we began, for the soul in the darkness of punk.  The great lost band of Manchester are back.

(c) Mick Middles / the Quietus

* Possibly not quite the case - watch this space for more details.


Monday, September 5, 2011

A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn

Part 1 of Mick Middles' brilliant piece on 2010's Black Velvet and Come Home EPs in the Quietus.  

The Distractions 


  Mick Middles, December 1st, 2010

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 1975, 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 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).

Before that, however, came the Martin Hannett produced* classic, 'Time Goes By So Slow'.  Even from the epicentre of the era of Joy Division, this song of the surreal state of heartbreak so perfectly illuminated post punk Manchester.  Indeed, for thirty years I have not been able to walk past Alfred Waterhouse's stunning Manchester Town Hall without the lyric, "They put your statue up in Albert Square...and all the people passing by, just stare..." striking an evocative note in my head.  A song as a tangible heart of a city and, frankly, quite unprecedented.

For a while, The Distractions usurped Buzzcocks as the best paid band in the city.  Inevitably, however, cracks in the band camaraderie began to appear at the very moment they appeared set to crack the charts.  Their Island album, Nobody's Perfect, immediately disappointed, not for the lack of great songs... but for an achingly clumsy hand of production.  Not since Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers LAMF, had an album full of jewels appeared in such a muddied state.  Worse, even than that, principle songwriter Steve Perrin decided that enough was enough, and left to for the aptly named Escape Committee.

Legend tells of an Island meeting where two bands were plucked from the roster... the decision resting on which to unceremoniously drop from the label.  The other band, U2, was duly retained while Manchester's finest hurtled directly back to the shadows of obscurity.  Even a comparatively eclectic rebirth, with ex-Ludus guitarist Arthur Kadmon – and an excellent Rough Trade EP – couldn't rescue the limping unit.  Soon they fragmented, with drummer Bernard Van Den Berg, bassist AJ and co-singer Debbie Shore filtering into position next to Finney and Kadmon.  What transpired was a uneven unit prone to over-adventure and an unlikely taste for Latino rhythm.  Well, it was the age of Kid Creole although the Manchester equivalent never quite gelled.

Finney was unbowed however and, with Van Den Berg, AJ and co singer Julie, (as Secret Seven) scored a short-lived record deal with, of all labels, Bronze, hardly a suitable home for an ironic pop ensemble who mixed strains of Velvet Underground with Dollar.  The liaison lasted just one single 'Hold On to Love' and a bizarre flirtation with ZTT (Mike and Julie provided vocals on an edit of Art of Noise's 'Close to the Edge').

Almost nothing has happened since the heady days of 1982... 

(c) Mick Middles / the Quietus.

* Martin Hannett didn't produce FAC12, rather it was Brandon Leon.


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