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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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Saturday, February 18, 2012

All Dressed Up

Part one of Dave McCullough's article in the 23rd June 1979 issue of Sounds.  The Distractions are pictured by Paul Slattery near Arrow-Indigo studios which were in the shadow of Granada TV (home of Coronation Street):



THERE WAS this dog called Prince.  Liked doing the usual sort of things that dogs do, chasing after sticks, eating pairs of socks, running after cars, a fairly typical family mutt, much loved by his owners, a charming Mancunian couple, and living the sort of life-style that the less fortunate human beings in this cruel world would no doubt envy.

One evening, however, a very strange thing happened.  While giving Prince his usual helping of Winalot and Pedigree Chum, Prince's owner Charlie stood  agog with shock and, like a man possessed, stared glassily at the dog for several minutes, unable to move.  Charlie, you see, had heard Prince say something, he had heard the dog speak.

"Sausages" had in fact been the word uttered from Prince's slobbering jaws, and it was just the start of a series of phrases and wild sentences that rolled from the canine tongue in the ensuing months with growing assurity.

Soon, Prince became a regular guest on TV's Esther Rantzen Show and an EMI recording pup-star, complete with his debut single, which through cruelly scant promotion flopped dismally.

That's the story of Prince and it's a story that rolls around my head as we speed through the shiny darkness of the Manchester suburbs.  Prince's producer, Brandon, is the driver, and his wife is a companion who shares my intrigue in the talking wonder dog.  We've just seen Brandon's newest proteges, The Distractions, play Manchester's Factory club, and after a busy day of continual interviews they're at last heading home for some sleep in warm cosy beds.

Brandon Leon is a well-known producer at the city's Arrow-Indigo studios, a short, thin, dark-eyed little man who's deeply into The Business, the industrial rolling stock that is rock and roll in these parts, clearly a man with connections and, as the Distractions' lead-singer Mike Finney puts it, plenty of pull.

Brandon has been the Distractions manager for precisely one week, and obviously preparing to shake this particular outfit out of something of a rut and place them firmly on a smooth operative course to success.

The band are known chiefly for an EP they released last March on TJM called 'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That', a marvellous quartet of pop songs of a quite staggering standard that were the first real fruits of a 'buzz' that had been ringing around the Distractions for some time.

Only four thousand had been pressed by TJM and the single has become intensely collectable.  I didn't own a copy.  Brandon didn't own a copy.  The band shared two copies between the five of them.  Earlier at the gig drummer Alec Sidebottom had stolen away to the band's van and had returned furtively with two fresh copies of the EP under his coat like dirty postcards, slipping one each to Brandon and yours truly.

'You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That', uniformly Single Of The Week back in Spring I recall, was a very hot item indeed, reminiscent in many ways of the Undertones' 'Teenage Kicks' scorcher in that it positively spilled-over with kicking, biting, hissing potential.

The Distractions clearly had exceptional songwriting skill-kids in Finney and guitarist Steve Perrin-Brown, and, moreover, a powerful enough backing fuel in bassist Pip Nicholls, drummer Alec Sidebottom and rhythm guitarist Adrian Wright to stoke the already considerable songwriting fires.

Over the Spring months and up until Brandon's assignation, it's been all quiet on the Distractions front and I came to Manchester to see what was happening.

Over the phone Brandon had told me that the band couldn't get gigs in London, dim promoters who are obviously as out to lunch as most other departments of the r'n'r bureaucracy, displaying a hesitancy that is currently all too rife in booking bands outside the major corporate London agencies (one prominent promoter told Brandon that he could only give bands gigs if they had had full-page ads in the music-press).

It had been Brandon's task in the seven days he'd been in control to surmount this warrant ignorance in the booking-field, and to sever all final connections with TJM whose, er, methods have earned that an, um, controversial reputation.

His first achievement in many ways, I suppose, was the fluke of myself choosing THAT week to pay the band a visit.  That gig at The Factory was indeed arranged through Tony Wilson, Factory owner and local media personality star, for MY benefit, the Distractions being slotted in at the last moment between support bands and the headlining Simple Minds.  A 'Sounds gig' as many were to call it with a chuckle later that evening.  I call it PULL. (Arrogant bastard. - Ed).

After bursting my way into the sound-check like Superman and checking the bodies I'd left in my path for Band Members, I team up with the rugby-ball shape of lead-singer Mike Finney.  Mike wears little clear-rimmed specs and tonight he is dressed to the nines in a stunning black velvet (I think) suit and shining black winkle-pickers that are polished in a way that leads me to inquire if he's getting married after the gig.

"No," he smirks, "I thought I'd wear something special, like..."  Mike is chubby and looks like your favourite northern comedian.  He laughs a lot and is an extremely likeable lad.

His partner Steve Perrin-Brown has neanderthal features and seems more serious, contemplative even.  Later that night he strolls around stage in a pink suit.  Drummer Alec, a veteran of the classic Jilted John album, is a dour professional and one of the very best at his trade.  He's married with kids they tell me.  Adrian Wright has Steve's seriousness and bears an uneasy resemblance to his partner Alec.  Adrian sits-in on the interview and appears to be challenging Mike and Steve's hitherto monopoly in the song-writing stakes.

Which leaves us with bassist Pip, who looks for all the world an eight year old boy but who is in fact more than twice that age.  Pip is one of the best young bassists I've seen this last year and is currently going through the terrible pressure of changing a girl's body into that of a guy.

To be continued...

Dave McCullough, Sounds, 1979.

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