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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, July 27, 2013

Looking For A Ghost

Here's the last part of Nick Halliwell's all-important blog piece which covers Nobody's Perfect.  The Granite Shore and Occultation Recordings founder and now Distractions guitarist takes us through the album, track-by-track, side-by-side, with a final focus on the magnificent penultimate track, Looking For A Ghost.

Written in granite: Looking For A Ghost

As for that album it is absolutely wonderful. It does rather sound as though most of the budget was spent on trying to get a hit with Boys Cry, the only cover version on the LP, which has a huge Spectoresque production although we'll come to the one other big number in a moment. It opens with Waiting For Lorraine, setting out the band's stall perfectly, picked guitars of a kind that echoed later on in the playing of Johnny Marr, a great pop tune, proper chorus, clever teenage angst lyric and that wonderfully perfect pop voice of Finney's. That's followed by the LP version of Weekend, frankly one of the weaker songs (although only relatively speaking) in the standard Friday On My Mind vein and then the aforementioned Boys Cry. Another short, upbeat pop song in Sick And Tired and then one of the album's real high points, Leave You To Dream, a song of such beautiful simplicity it still produces a bittersweet smile almost 30 years on. Side one closes with Louise (see Lorraine) and the amusing Paracetomol Paralysis, a song about... er... well, it's in the title, really, delivered at breakneck pace.

If side one is great, side two is even better. It starts with (Stuck In A) Fantasy, another wonderful pop song and then a new version of Nothing, from the first EP, a song well worth revisiting. Another achingly beautiful bittersweet pop song (that's pretty much what The Distractions did, as you'll've gathered by now) called Wonder Girl and yet another called, ahem, Untitled.

That brings us to my very favourite song on the album. As with so many of my favourite songs, Looking For A Ghost incorporates elements of both the sublime and the ridiculous. You can pretty much work out the lyric from the title: "People wonder why I smile the way I do/They think I should be sad now you're not around/People wonder why it is I don't miss you/Perhaps they don't know what I've found" it begins. Finney delivers his finest, subtlest vocal performance and, to his enormous credit, he does so to the most over-the-top, preposterous backing vocals ever laid to tape (or any other medium).

They start off as silly "boo! I'm a ghost!" ooohs and ahs and then ramp it up from there. By verse 2 you're giggling, the longer the song goes on, the sillier the BVs get. Then we reach chorus 2, and suddenly we have a choir of ghosts... They drop out for verse 3 and then the final chorus is both the funniest and the most touching thing you'll ever hear as the orchestra brought in for Boys Cry plays a few bars as the ghost chorus goes absolutely berserk. It is utter genius. The first few times you hear it you can't help laughing until you cry... But underneath the wondrous bombast there's also pathos... Well, OK, there's also bathos (and, by the sound of the choir, the rest of the Musketeers). It is truly wonderful.

They then make sure things end on an even sillier note: as the phantasmal chorus disappears off into the fade-out, in comes a piano, playing Satie-like chords for a few moments... And then in come the band at full-pelt playing a daft song called Valerie at Ramones-like speed. It's a truly great second side to a wonderful album. The songwriting is superb throughout, there's wonderful ensemble playing (no histrionics anywhere, barely a guitar solo), the songs are short and very, very sweet. When I look at the sheer breadth of albums from this period that have been reissued on CD over the last 15 years or so I just can't understand why either Island haven't put it out or at least licensed it to some smaller label. You could compile the entire Distractions catalogue (the EP, Factory single, Island album, 3 singles and 'b' sides and Rough Trade EP) all onto a single CD. Why on earth hasn't anybody done this?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Classic post-punk single

Part two of the 2008 piece by Nick Halliwell of The Granite ShoreOccultation Recordings and now the latest line-up of The Distractions.  This covers the singles on Factory and Island, and what everyone thought was the group's final EP.

Steve Perrin, Mike Finney, Mike Kellie, Nick Halliwell, Arash Torabi.

Written in granite: Looking For A Ghost

After the EP, which was rough and ready, with very short songs, they released one of the all-time classic post-punk singles and, in a pre-post-modern kind of way it was a classic pop record released on Factory Records, of all labels. Not produced by Martin Hannett either, so it sounded unlike anything else Factory had done up to that point and yet seemed to fit perfectly, because what it did have was class. The song, Time Goes By So Slow, was a piece of 24-carat genius, with an intricate arrangement and a performance that sounded as though it was so breathless it might collapse at any moment until they reached the amazing middle section, with that wonderful jazzy chord at the end of each little sequence.

For the first time on this single it becomes obvious that Mike Finney has one of the great pop voices, with a wonderfully broken edge, a catch in his throat that brought a lump to mine. Unfortunately, as I say, he looked like a chubby bespectacled bank clerk although for me this enhanced rather than diminished his stature, it was purely that I rather suspected that he might perhaps never get his due and unfortunately I was all too right. As a fellow wearer of glasses he was one of my heroes and to this day he remains one of my favourite vocalists. Unfortunately he came along just as we were entering the 1980s, a decade when most people agree that the way you looked could be of some slight importance.

After Time Goes By So Slow the band signed to Island and released a new version of It Doesn't Bother Me from the EP as a single (on white vinyl!), and very wonderful it was too. Then they came as close as they were ever going to with Boys Cry. It was so nearly a big hit; it picked up plenty of airplay, it started to sell but stalled just short of being a proper hit. That was followed by the album and one more single on Island, a retooled version of album track Something For The Weekend, a fine enough track but not the greatest choice of single. After that the band were dropped by their label, releasing just one more EP, well up to standard, called And Then There's... on Rough Trade before folding.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Embracing the pop idiom

A step back into the recent past, this is the blog that kick-started it all. In this first part, The Granite Shore's and Occultation's Nick Halliwell (later to become The Distractions' new guitarist!) discusses the group's ethos and the debut EP:

Written in granite: Looking For A Ghost

There are now very few of my very, very favourite albums which are yet to appear on CD and there's only one I can only think of released on a major label: The Distractions' Nobody's Perfect, which came out on Island in 1980. I remember buying it, it was in a sale and also in that same sale I came across an original US copy of Big Star's Third on PVC records. This was so much better than the UK version, often known as Sister Lovers that even today I always programme the CD to play the fourteen tracks from the PVC version in the order I know and love. But that's a matter for another day because today we're looking at The Distractions.

Should they have been huge? Well... In terms of their songwriting and the records they made oh yes, undoubtedly, they're so much better than their nearest southern equivalent, probably Squeeze. Except that where Squeeze were all nudge-nudge, wink-wink and undoubtedly very clever but ultimately not terribly exciting, The Distractions' records were perfect. However, as the LP title points out, Nobody's Perfect and the band's problem was... there's no getting away from it, I'm afraid – they looked like the junior staff of a bank who'd jumped up on stage at a party. Although this actually endeared them still further to people like myself, it was never going to see them become proper pop stars. A horrible irony as they were one of the first post-punk groups which genuinely embraced the pop idiom. 

At the time when I first heard them, on the debut EP You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, I was shocked at the sound of the thing. The guitars weren't buzz-saw Ramones/Buzzcocks at all! Pretty much every new group releasing their first record then (the EP came out as a 12" on TJM Records in 1978) had the distortion switched on. Indeed, as Mancunians I was expecting something along the lines of the Buzzcocks, a group I adored at the time as they wrote fantastic pop songs but delivered them with attitude – and a buzz-saw guitar sound. The sounds of The Distractions' instruments weren't punk at all, and in many ways I felt this made them more punk than many of the other records appearing at the time. Like Pete Shelley, they dealt in matters of the heart, but they did so on a much more down-to-earth level; there was nothing coy about them at all.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Re-mastered pressing

We mentioned a couple of months ago that, as part of the forthcoming Distractions box-set, Hidden Masters will be including a re-mastered pressing of the debut album:

Currently untitled, the Distractions retrospective is being planned for release Autumn 2013 as 1 x vinyl + either 2 or 3-CD set, presented in a 12″ hard back, casebound book format and will include their one and only Island album as a re-mastered 180gsm pressing – about which, the final line in Paul Morley’s July 3rd 1980 lead review for the NME stated | This is heart beat music that bruises the soul.

Judging from the tantalizing snippets heard thus far, the re-mastering process - which is being undertaken with full blessing of The Distractions - will undoubtedly enhance the record.  Meanwhile, over on the respected Rate Your Music site, Nobody's Perfect has been the subjected of a couple more reviews from collectors.

popphil - 08 Dec 2010

The Distractions are sometimes assimilated with the mod bands that were rife at the time their sole album was released.  However, they completely escape categorization and that's what makes them unique, of course, but also timeless although none of their songs has ever made much of an imprint on the pop-rock fan's musical memory.

"Nobody's Perfect" includes fourteen songs, among them a fantastic cover of a little-known song written in 1964 by Buddy Kaye and Tommy Scott, called 'Boys Cry'.

Three of the band members contributed to the song writing and it is striking to notice that even though Steve Perrin is credited on most of the songs - whether individually or together with main vocalist Mike Finney - the best song might well be Adrian Wright's '(Stuck in a) Fantasy' which opens side two of this rich and varied record which does not sound outdated at all even thirty years later.

Babe_N_Co - 31 Oct 2011

When It Does Ring 

Jingly rock songs may hardly sound more natural than on the Nobody's Perfect album.  Songs are catchy and upbeat like they made them in the sixties when the rock was still young, but nonetheless the album is filled with punk spirit as the time demanded it then.  To my great delight the album isn’t smooth at all; it sounds agreeably rough and rebelliously boisterous.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

NME album of the year

As well as receiving the Single of the Week accolade, The Distractions also featured in NME's album of the year poll.  1980's end of year list saw Nobody's Perfect at number 37, sandwiched between Captain Beefheart and Stevie Wonder.  Label- and tour-mates Joy Division topped the list with Closer, and groups present who The Distractions knew and played with included Echo & The Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Magazine, John Cooper Clark and OMD, highlighting the global stature of the North West's post-punk scene.

As well as now including the end of year lists on their website, the NME also host a video of a track from Nobody's Perfect, courtesy of David Quantick at YouTube, the maudlin epic Looking For A Ghost.  Lest we forget, it was this track which led directly to the creation of this site, the reunion, new records, gigs, and yes, the forthcoming boxset, via the original post on The Granite Shore website...

The Distractions - Looking For A Ghost video

From the album Nobody's Perfect, and some World In Action footage of Hulme.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Time Goes By So Slow (Wright)

A year before a the birth of The Distractions website, and a couple of years before a reunion or new records were being discussed, the group got some deserved recognition at the excellent Drowned In Sound.  Their article Factory Records' The Distractions on 'Time Goes By So Slow' tells the story of the career-defining track through Mike Finney:

After recording 4 tracks for TJM at Arrow Studios in Manchester – somewhere near Bootle Street, in November 1978, we had struck-up a friendship with their house engineer, Brandon Leon. This EP (You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That) was released in March 1979.

Brandon asked us to record a couple more tunes in free overnight sessions, so we recorded 'Pillow Fight' and the first song of Adrian’s, 'Time Goes By So Slowly'.

Steve Perrin - Pip Nicholls - Mike Finney - Adrian Wright - Alex Sidebottom

In May that year Tony, who we had long known from the Factory at the Russel Club, had asked if we would like to record a couple of songs for a Factory single. To save on costs we used the two we had, offering 'Pillow Fight' as the A-side and as then untested on stage 'Time Goes By So Slow' (‘Slowly’ becoming ‘Slow’ because the tape title had that written on it. Due to the long title, 'Slowly' would not fit…)

Tony was very pleased with the recordings which he had discussed with Rob and Alan asking if they could flip the sides and have 'Time Goes By So Slow' as the A-side, to which we happily agreed. (In the ‘flipping’, Steve and I were credited as writers, Adrian shown as writing ‘Pillow Fight’. This was not corrected when Island re-pressed…)

A sleeve was designed by Pete Saville and FAC12 was released in August 1979. It received critical acclaim with our second Record of the Week in NME among others. Tony had been setting us up for a deal with CBS, but Island Records beat them to it in September. Island pressed another 5,000 copies, but would not press more. The cynically minded would suspect that was to create interest for the first Island release.

The recording session for 'Time Goes By...' took place at an overnight at Arrow, but as this was intended to be the B-side, recording was ‘live’ with very few overdubs. The drum and bass bridge to the choruses was arranged in the studio, based on an idea by Alec, which adds a dynamic previously missing. I sang it with one light on in the studio, I would have sang it in the dark for atmospheric reasons, but needed one light to see the words. The whole thing was finished in about 3 hours, including the lead guitar and vocal overdubs and the backing vocal track, which was all of us following Steve’s harmonies. Ah well, Nobody’s Perfect!

Adrian tells me that the song is a Pygmalion analogy with his girlfriend becoming a statue in Albert Square devoid of the senses... by George, I think he had it! Here's the hand-annotated lyrics to 'Time Goes By So Slow':

(c) Drowned In Sound, 26th January 2009.

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