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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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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bittersweet soul sensation

From the always excellent Unpopular by Alistair Fitchett:

 Unpopular Advent 2012 - Day 15: 

The Distractions, Factory Star & The June Brides

The Distractions - ‘Wise’ from ‘The End Of The Pier’ (Occultation)

Factory Star - ‘Olympian’ from ‘New Sacral’ (Occultation)

The June Brides- ‘A January Moon’ from ‘Between The Moon And The Clouds’ 7” (Occultation / Slumberland)

If you were to make a list of contemporary record labels that have consistently delivered remarkable quality over the past few years you would be hard pushed to find anyone more worthy of the top slot than Occultation. Their commitment to Wild Swans alone would ensure their place in any right minded heart, but in 2012 they released a trio of discs that demanded attention.

Firstly, former Factory Funsters The Distractions returned with their second album after more than a quarter of a century and it was worth its wait in gold. ‘The End of The Pier’ was filled with suitably rounded and reflective middle-aged melancholia mixed with sharply observed and deftly coloured stabs of passion. Guitarist Steve Perrin laced razor blades through daisy chains whilst Mike Finney cemented his position as a Reggie King for our generation. A bittersweet soul sensation. 

Martin Bramah’s latest set meanwhile resonated with the spirit and sound of the best of his earlier Blue Orchids offering ‘The Greatest Hit’. ‘New Sacral’ offered six sharply refined, avuncular and angular ripostes to the modern world. A glowering triumph of burbling, magical-realist urban psychedelia.

And what of The June Brides? Phil Wilson and his band of merry pranksters proved they still have the moves to charm a weary soul. There is surely an argument to be made that says The June Brides are the sound of a modern English Country music - by turns brittle, gritty and full of comforting warmth. A national treasure and no mistake.

(c) Unpopular.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hidden History

The Manchester District Music Archive has recently launched its online exhibition, City Fun - The Hidden History of Manchester's Post-Punk Fanzines, curated by Abigail Ward and Dave Haslam.  Truly a treasure trove of Distractions articles (some of which we've shown previously, 1, 2, 3), here's a couple about the Factory single in volume 1, issue 11 from 6th November 1979:


The Distractions

The Distractions current single on Factory Records is now being promoted and advertised by Island Records though remains on the Factory Label.  The bands' next single is two recorded tracks from the TJM EP and will be out in November/December, the tracks being 'Doesn't Bother Me/Maybe It's Love' [it was actually One Way Love] produced by John Astley/Phil Chapman (Jags single).  Island are fully satisfied with The Distractions and will now be recording their album in January.

THE DISTRACTIONS  (Factory) by Andy Zero

‘Time Goes By So Slow’ / ‘Pillow Fight’

Time Goes By So Slow written by Adrian Wright and Pillow Fight by Mike Finney/Steve Perrin – on the original 5,000 labels it’s the other way round – a mistake creating an instant collectors item for those that ‘collect’ things.  Now there are 20,000 copies pressed.  All the facts for freaks.

‘Time Goes By So Slow’.  A melodic lilting ‘love(?) song’, “I wonder why you had to go,” vocals delivered emotively, the bass and drums thud and guitars riff and jangle, the organ floating lightly behind.  A great song.

‘Pillowfight’.  The words start jealously, “What did you dream about last night/Bet it wasn’t me”.  The bass goes up and down, fast paced the drumming crisp and solid, the two guitars jangling/riffing in a style encompassing and surpassing Cliff Richards/West Coast psychedelia/that cotton pickin’ down home sound – but this is Manchester 1979 and it could be 1985 but what’s the odds.  And the backing vocals moan accusingly satirical while the organ flirts on the edge of consciousness.  Two original, well crafted songs, modern, I think they’re brilliant.  The sound is clear and well mixed, the production is well criticised.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

30-year break

Here is the second part of that great Blurt interview by Dave Steinfeld with Steve Perrin, Mike Finney and Nick Halliwell:


The Distractions

(c) Nick Barber efsb at flickr.

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

BLURT: Tell me a little about what each of you was up to during "the 30-year break" -- either musically or otherwise.

STEVE PERRIN (SP): It was actually two 15-year breaks as we played together for a while in the mid-1990s. Apart from that, my only involvement in music was briefly working for an independent record label in Italy in the late '80s. Otherwise, I've spent more time writing academic papers and a PhD thesis than I have writing songs. It's good to be writing songs again.

MIKE FINNEY (MF): I had a band called the Secret Seven straight after The Distractions in 1983, but it was short-lived. [Later that year], I recorded a vocal track for the first Art Of Noise single. It was originally called "Close to The Edge," but came out as "Close to the Edit."  I'm the Edit!

I was [also] in a band called The First Circle, with Alex [Sidebottom] as drummer and some of Mancunian band Dr Filth. Sort of country-rock, as was the vogue in the mid-‘80s. Then I stopped singing until Steve and I restarted The Distractions in '95, stopped again and restarted in 2010. In the meantime, I am currently employed as an International Trade consultant for the Croda Chemical Group. A global company but UK headquartered.

Nick, you're credited with getting The Distractions back together even though you weren't a member of the original band. Tell me a bit about how that happened -- how you got Steve and Mike to agree to another album and perhaps what The Distractions meant to you in the first place.

NICK HALLIWELL (NH): The Distractions have been one of my favourite bands since 1978; beautifully crafted songs and one of the all-time great singers. I wrote something about them on the Granite Shore website, Mike contacted me [and] then put me in touch with Steve. I was bemoaning the fact that one of the finest English singers of our generation had made so few records and Steve said, "You've got a label. When it makes you a million, stick him in a studio."  I suggested I could spare a few hundred quid straight away [and] asked him if he'd write a couple of songs. [Steve] conferred with Mike, then got back to me saying, "I'll be in the UK in June!" So I booked a studio. At some point along the way, the two of them told me it'd be a Distractions record - that had to come from them rather than from me. We recorded the "Come Home" EP in Liverpool in two days in June 2010, having met for the first time at the studio. Hearing Mike sing the song I'd written for it was a very special moment.

The next logical step was an album. Steve wrote about half of it and sent the demos to me, I chipped in with a song ("Wise"), then [we] came up with a few more between us. It was important to have something cohesive, so Steve and I worked together closely. I tried to pick up on the themes he'd established in his songs.

Tell me how The Distractions first came together and also a bit about what the music scene in Manchester was like during the mid to late ‘70s.

SP:  Mike and I met on a college course and he kept singing, so I suggested that we form a band in an attempt to shut him up. That worked -- but only briefly. We were messing around for a while but when punk started to happen, it gave us an outlet as a number of small clubs started to put on punk nights.

It was a very small scene in Manchester, though -- I would guess no more than 100 people to start with [and] very incestuous. We found a bass player because Pip applied too late for the job with Buzzcocks.  So Pete Shelley passed on [his] phone number to us.

MF: Steve and I met at college in 1975 in Stockport. We were on the same course on day release. We used to go to the pub afterwards and I would sing along to the jukebox -- Buddy Holly, Roxy Music, Elvis, whatever was playing -- and Steve said we should start a band. He says it was just to shut me up but I think it was because he could see the girls in the pub swooning.

Mike, who are some of the vocalists who you count as inspirations or personal favorites?

MF: It's quite a mix, really. My very early childhood favorites were Elvis, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, followed by John Lennon ("This Boy" is still a favourite). Then somebody played me Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Sam & Dave, Levi Stubbs [and] Sam Cooke and I knew what they meant.

On the new album, The End of the Pier, several of the songs deal with aging, the past and/or a sense of time running out. Coincidence or not?

SP:  We finished recording "Nobody's Perfect" on my 23rd birthday so all the material on there was written between the ages of 20 and 22. When I started writing songs for "The End of the Pier," the one thing I knew for sure was that I couldn't pretend to be 22. Having said that, I wasn't initially sure what the album was going to be about. Most of the songs came from musical ideas and a couple of them started out with completely different sets of lyrics. Then I had a conversation with Nick about Mike's voice in which one of us -- I can't remember who -- said that if we were going to record him at his best, we had to do it now as the voice changes due to bodily developments. That seemed to spark something off and all this stuff started pouring out.

Also, it was a conscious decision to make an album with a coherent theme as "Nobody's Perfect" doesn't have that; it's just a collection of songs we had at the time.

MF: We're older and time is not getting any longer.

How were the recent gigs in Salford?

MF: Fab! Thoroughly enjoyed the gigs. It was great to see so many friends, a lot of whom I hadn't seen for 30 years [and] also seeing Steve as I only see him once a year.  My 10-year-old son was wearing my silver jacket that I hadn't worn since playing [New York City club] Hurrah! in 1980. He got onstage to prove it! Both my sons got to see me do what I love most and I never thought they would, so [that was] a huge bonus.

Apart from those few '95 gigs, we hadn't played since 1980. We did "Time Goes By So Slow," "Waiting for Lorraine," "Leave You to Dream," "It Doesn't Bother Me" and "Valerie" together for the first time in 32 years. It was a good feeling. Joni Mitchell was half right: Whilst you don't know what you've got till it's gone, you don't really know until you have it restored.

NH:  Everyone I've spoken to has been very complimentary and it feels like an achievement in retrospect. I've been mixing the recordings and we're astonishingly tight considering we only had one short rehearsal the day before. The current line-up has one hell of a rhythm section in Arash Torabi and Mike Kellie, Steve and I have an uncannily shared sense of timing and Mike was on jaw-dropping form.

What are the other three former Distractions (Pip, Alec and Adrian) up to these days? Also, is it true that Adrian was the writer of "Time Goes By So Slow"?

SP: Yes, Adrian wrote "Time Goes By So Slow," but whoever designed the label [of the single] got the credits the wrong way round and we've been trying to sort that out for years. He's not involved in music anymore.

Pip continues to do solo stuff which can be heard on MySpace. Alec leads the Republic of Swing samba band, which is a serious live proposition.

MF: I haven't seen Pip for 15 or 16 years but I believe that [he] is living in Warrington (between Manchester and Liverpool). I haven't seen Ade since way back in the ‘80s, but I spoke to him briefly in '95 when we had a get-together to record [some songs and do] three or four gigs. Three songs that came out on the Occultation "Black Velvet" EP were from that time. He was contacted again in 2010. Whilst he still didn't want to be in the band, he sent copies of some live recordings, which we enjoyed hearing again.

One of my favorites from "Nobody's Perfect" is the opening track, "Waiting for Lorraine." If you would, tell me a bit about the inspiration for that or any memories you associate with it.

SP:  In Manchester, the early punk scene was closely tied [in] with the gay scene largely due to the fact that only gay clubs would let in unconventionally dressed individuals. If I remember correctly, I had three consecutive girlfriends who decided after a relatively short time in my company that they preferred women. This left me rather confused but at least I got a song out of it.

Any plans for the immediate future -- either as The Distractions or individually?

SP:  We've tentatively talked about a third -- and probably final -- album. It has a working title and I think I know what the subject matter is but nothing is actually written yet. I'm guessing that Nick will make a Granite Shore album first on which I'm hoping to do some backing vocals.

MF: No plans individually, but I'll be happy to do some more with the boys if [they] are available.

Neil Storey, the man behind Hidden Masters, was the press officer at Island Records all those years ago. Me and Steve have known him since 1979 and he's been a fan and friend for a long time. He plans to release a retrospective of The Distractions next year with all the old records and some unreleased stuff he's found in the Universal vaults. I can't wait to hear them!

NH: As far as The Distractions go, it's up to Steve and Mike though I'd love to do another album. I'm now working on a Granite Shore LP, I'd also like to do some more producing and there's Occultation Recordings to run. We're reissuing the Wild Swans album, "The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years," next year, with a vinyl version at long last, and there are a few other projects in the pipeline.

What was it like recording and performing together again after more than 30 years?

MF: The recording seemed very natural. After Steve left in 1980, well... it was never really quite right when he wasn't there, so we just picked up where we left it.

SP: It felt completely normal. It's the rest of life that feels pretty weird!

(c) Dave Steinfeld, Blurt.

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