Saturday, 4 September 2010

Stumbling in the Rain ...

“OH GOD, I must be getting old. I approached this with such scepticism! ...” I love being wrong. I was always going to have a soft spot for a new release by The Distractions on the excellent Occultation label, out of affection and brand loyalty. I just didn’t expect that when I got around to playing Black Velvet it would stop me in my tracks. There have, after all, been so many phoenixes rising from the ashes that it’s hard to keep up.
In the late 1970s The Distractions released a single called Time Goes By So Slow, which was 200 seconds of pop in excelsis, featuring glorious melodic hooks and one of the finest grrritty blue-eyed soul performances since the days of the Love Affair. It still sounds superb, and rates as one of the finest 45s released by Factory Records. It is also one of the least typical singles issued by the label. I have always argued it had the advantage of gaining attention because of its Factory links, while at the same time and for the same reason not really being appreciated for its mod perfection.
The Distractions regrouped in the mid-‘90s and recorded some demos. It is from these sessions that the Black Velvet set is drawn. There have been some pretty miserable returns to the pop fray, but The Distractions’ is strikingly impressive. The lead track, Black Velvet, is 360 seconds of dramatic pop perfection that you might dream of Willie Nelson or Robbie Williams singing (depending on your musical proclivities). Mike Finney is in remarkably good voice, and Steve Perrin’s songwriting is as perfectly formed as ever. Nick Garside is responsible for the production, which will please those of us who consider Hymn From A Village to be another contender for Factory’s finest moment.
I suppose playing thought association it’s not a great leap from Black Velvet to Blue Velvet, and the Bobby Vinton song. There is something of that feel about The Distractions at their melodramatic best - that sort of post-Johnny Ray ‘wringing the emotion out of every note’ school of pop. I always thought The Distractions should only have been allowed to perform ballads. I actually rather liked the idea of them covering Eden Kane’s Boys Cry. There was something appealing about that song having been originally a little out of time. Or was it? After all, Gene Pitney, PJ Proby and Chris Farlowe were looming on the horizon when it appeared, and their vocals were never knowingly understated.
The Distractions were fortunate to be associated with Manchester at a time when it was unexpectedly in the spotlight. But ostensibly The Distractions never seemed to have too much in common with, say, Joy Division, Magazine, The Fall. It could be argued they were much more in the true mcr pop tradition of The Hollies, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits, Mindbenders, and 10CC. There are many among us who would place Graham Gouldman up there as the true icon of mcr music. Ironically there is many a link between Gouldman and the post-punk mcr, from Strawberry Studios to Dave Formula, who had been in the mcr mod outfit St Louis Union which recorded Graham’s Behind The Door.
30 years ago The Distractions released a delayed debut LP, Nobody’s Perfect, on Island Records, produced by Virginia Astley’s brother. Although it has bewilderingly remained out of circulation, it was enthusiastically received at the time. Local writer Paul Morley was particularly keen, as was Sounds’ Dave McCullough who said: “Still. I want to hear this on my radio. I want to play this all summer long.” It’s from Dave’s review that the opening line here was borrowed. He finished his piece by threatening: “Don't DARE miss it! Don't you dare pass it over.” It applies to Black Velvet too.


  1. The BLACK VELVET EP shows that the Perrin/Finney combination still has the magic it had back when they were wowing the music press back in the late 70's, albeit with a much more mature sound. The title track could have been one of the better songs from the Everly Brothers, "Still It Doesn't Ring" is classic Distractions, possibly the most 'radio friendly' song on the EP and "If You Were Mine" is one of those songs that, if it got the airplay, would be the sort of song that would have a Wembley Stadium crowd swaying with their lighters aloft! Probably the masterpeice of 2010 - If only people still listened to real pop music on the radio!

  2. great entry, Kevin.
    here's my (somewhat belated) tribute