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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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Friday, November 30, 2012

Time goes by so quickly

There was a fine interview with main Distractions, old and new - Steve Perrin, Mike Finney and Nick Halliwell - on the Blurt site earlier this month.  The lengthy introduction from Dave Steinfeld is a good read in its own right:


The Distractions

[L-R: Perrin, Finney and Halliwell.]

A 30-year layoff hasn't dimmed the Mancunian post-punkers' enthusiasm or talent.


This past summer, while thumbing through an issue of Uncut one night, I noticed a very short piece about a band called The Distractions.  I had to read it twice to make sure it was the same band I was thinking of and that I wasn't imagining things.  Blessed with an excruciatingly limited discography and no members who went on to big things, The Distractions were obscure even in their native England.  But to a small but rabid group of fans, this Manchester quintet was considered one of the great lost bands of the New Wave era.  As recently as last year, I looked for news about them online and found very little, which led me to wonder whatever happened to the band members.

What a difference a year makes.  This item in Uncut said that a new album by The Distractions was imminent -- more than three decades after the last one!  I was stunned.

For the uninitiated... The Distractions were part of the late '70s post-punk scene in Northern England.  After a few singles and the wonderfully titled EP You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, the band released their one proper album, Nobody's Perfect, in 1980.  The disc featured 14 songs and covered a broad musical spectrum. "Waiting for Lorraine," the opener, was an angry song about unrequited love in the form of an unreturned phone call, a theme revisited later on the album, literally, in the track "Still it Doesn't Ring."  Other highlights include "Looking for a Ghost," which UK journalist David Quantick once aptly described as "the greatest sleepwalking nightmare ballad ever," and a rocking anthem of independence titled "Untitled."  Most of the tunes on Nobody's Perfect were written by guitarist Steve Perrin, some in collaboration with singer Mike Finney.  But a couple were penned by second guitarist Adrian Wright.  The Distractions were rounded out by a rhythm section that may have had the best names in all of rock history: bassist Pip Nicholls and drummer Alec Sidebottom.

Nobody's Perfect was loved by almost everyone who heard it -- but unfortunately, few people did!  There are various theories as to why The Distractions never made it, ranging from the fact that a little band called U2 was signed by the same label (Island Records) around the same time; to, as another UK journalist, Ian Cranna once wrote, "bands fronted by overweight and bespectacled singers were not the stuff of which legends were made."  Whatever the case, The Distractions weren't long for this world and Nobody's Perfect remains one of the ultimate "cult" albums of the post-punk period.  Ironically, the band's best known song didn't even appear on the album. The wonderful single "Time Goes By So Slow," released in late 1979 by the tastemakers at Factory Records and a popular track on college radio here in the states, was their (relative) moment in the sun, an incredibly sad lyric married to an infectious melody.

Unlike some stories in rock and roll (say, that of The Tourists, an English band who came up around the same time as The Distractions and had very marginal success but whose singer was one Annie Lennox), this tale doesn't have a happy ending -- at least in the sense that the band members did not go on to achieve greater success after their breakup.  None of The Distractions ever became a household name and most of them currently have day jobs.  In this case, the happy ending is simply that three decades and change after Nobody's Perfect, they're still alive and well, and indeed they finally released their sophomore set, The End of the Pier, in late August.

The band's current lineup finds Finney and Perrin joined by Nick Halliwell, Granite Shore guitarist, owner of Occultation Recordings and catalyst for the reunion; bassist Arash Torabi of The June Brides; and drummer Mike Kellie, whose extensive resume includes stints with both The Only Ones and Spooky Tooth.

In contrast to Nobody's Perfect, The End of the Pier, while still a Distractions record, is a more concise, unified album.  There are only 10 songs this time around.  Also unlike Nobody's Perfect, the subject matter of these songs isn't quite as varied.  Throughout The End of the Pier, there's a sense that time is short; indeed, the first line on the album is "We're running out of time."  (Incidentally, Finney sings the hell out of that song, "I Don't Have Time," in a voice that recalls World Party leader Karl Wallinger.)  This theme is echoed in tracks like "Too Late to Change" and "The Last Song" which, appropriately, closes the disc.  Even the title of the album can be taken as a reference to time running out.  These days, it seems, time doesn't go by so slow.

The Distractions celebrated the release of The End of the Pier with exactly two live dates, in the Manchester borough of Salford.  This may seem strange but the fact is, it's miraculous that these dates happened at all.  The band members no longer live in Manchester these days; rather, they're spread throughout England, and Perrin is based in Australia.  So it was no small feat for them to come together for these gigs.  This writer lives in America and wasn't lucky enough to attend either of the Salford dates -- but I was lucky enough to be the one to write about them on these shores, a result of seeing that short piece in Uncut and then tracking the unassuming Mike Finney down online.  For this piece, I spoke with Finney, Perrin and Halliwell, all of whom were great interviews. 

(c) Dave Steinfeld, Blurt.

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