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Distractions - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 14 / 12 / 2013

Distractions - Interview


Malcolm Carter talks to Distractions members Mike Finney and Steve Perrin, and Neil Storey, the owner of record label HiddenMasters, about 'Parabolically Yours' the 80's new wave band's forthcoming retrospective

At a time, even when it seems that almost every album ever made is now given the reissue treatment on CD with anniversary packages, box sets and limited/deluxe versions appearing weekly, most music lovers could still make a list of albums that have long been deleted and never been reissued on any of the ‘new’ formats. On a personal note one such album on my list is the Distractions' ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. Originally released on the Island label in 1980, the Manchester band’s debut album has never been reissued on any format, and of the clutch of 7” singles the band released around that time, few have made an appearance on any of the many compilations of 80's music that are readily available. It’s been frustrating for fans of the band, although maybe understandable. ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, although receiving critical acclaim at the time, failed to sell in great numbers and once the band parted ways it was probably felt that there wouldn’t be enough interest for a reissue, but that all changed when the Distractions released a couple of EPs on the Occultation Records label a few years back. Finally gaining the recognition they always deserved, and not just from the music press this time but from a new generation of music fans who had discovered the band’s now thirty year old recordings and couldn’t believe that they hadn’t aged a day during that time, the Distractions proved that they had lost none of the magic they created over three decades ago. Two of the new songs on the EPs, namely ‘Lost’ and ‘Oil Painting’, could have been pulled from ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, the timeless, intelligent pop music that the band produced all those years ago was back sounding as fresh and relevant as ever. The fact that ‘Oil Painting’ was written by ‘new’ Distraction Nick Halliwell, but sounded like a Steve Perrin song meant that original members Steve Perrin and Mike Finney had given some thought to the project and were keeping alive the standard they set some thirty years ago. And Mike Finney had lost none of the emotion in his vocals; he still ranks as one of the best blue-eyed soul singers ever. 2012 finally saw the release of the Distractions' second album, ‘The End of the Pier’. While capturing the spirit of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ the ten original, new songs also captured more attention than the band’s debut did on release. Again, timeless, intelligent pop music, coupled with sharp lyrics was the order of the day. The album was more, so much more than we could have hoped for. We have covered the history of the Distractions over the previous interviews that have been published on this site together with reviews of their Occultation Records releases, but news has just arrived that the long promised reissue of the band’s early work is now really underway and finally looks like actually happening. HiddenMasters, the label behind the 'Jess Roden Anthology', which has been extremely well received, not just for the music that it brings together but for the outstanding way the package is presented, has taken on the task of not just reissuing ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, but compiling a complete retrospective of the band’s work from their early days right up to the present. Given the label's past excellent work, it comes as no surprise that this is not just going to be the standard double CD reissue of an album and a few extra tracks but the complete Distractions story. A PledgeMusic campaign is being set up shortly and this link http://www.pledgemusic.com/widgets/6874?get_widget=true will point you to a free download of a previously unreleased Distractions song as a taster of what is to come. We took this opportunity to put a few questions to Neil Storey from HiddenMasters and Steve and Mike from the Distractions about the new collection, and their answers reveal that ‘Parabolically Yours’, the title given to the project, is going to satisfy the needs of the most dedicated Distractions fan. PB: It’s been over two years since the initial murmurings of a re-issue of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. Is it now really going to happen? The fact that a title, ‘Parabolically Yours’, has now been revealed has given us a little more hope! Has a date been set? NS: It most certainly is! And yes, that’s the title. There’s no official date currently set due to a number of factors, not least of which is we’re still wrestling with the budget which will also impact on the actual pricing. Due to the nature of what we have planned, this won’t be a cheap-as-chips manufacturing process either; careful consideration has to be given to the weight of paper being used, the quality of that, the board being used to house the actual book and having bespoke packaging made in which to ship the finished set. All of those things (and many more, for example, where we actually manufacture which is currently either going to be in the Czech Republic or maybe Germany) have to be firmed up before we get to the stage of working out the actual price. I’ve a rough figure in mind but we won’t confirm that until the actual pre-ordering process begins. So long as all goes according to plan, then I’m reasonably confident we should have finished copies by approximately May/June 2014. PB: Obviously organising such a project takes time, but this seems to have taken an especially long time to come to fruition. What caused the biggest headache on this project? NS: Firstly, there are no headaches involved in a project like this; a few problems and issues to resolve but, because HiddenMasters projects are what some might describe as labours of love, that means there can’t ever be headaches, just ‘stuff’ to figure out. We’ve also had to find all the source tapes and, in fact, we’re still short of one. So, if any of your readers knows the whereabouts of the BBC session recorded in October 1980, I’d love to hear from him/her! SP: I would add that the fact that this is coming to fruition is largely down to Neil’s dedication and tenacity. Others have tried in the past and been put off by endless wrangling with former labels. I guess Neil having contacts in the Island/Universal organisation helped, but he’s had to put a lot of hours in to get to where we are now. PB: We’ve heard that a PledgeMusic campaign is getting underway. When it is that likely to happen? NS: Only when we have all the ducks lined up and in a satisfyingly neat row. A project like this cannot be rushed because otherwise something’s bound to go horribly wrong and bite us in the arse. (Our lawyer is responsible for that quote… and he’s right). As much as I don’t want to, I’ll delay any HiddenMasters project until it is exactly right. Because, unless it is precisely as it should be, then ultimately one is letting the artist down, and letting the fans down. And, that simply doesn’t happen so far as I’m concerned; it’s not an option. One example – with our recent 'Jess Roden Anthology', we changed the packaging and overall design at the last minute. It caused a considerable delay, but it was the right decision. The fans were a bit pissed off initially because that project had been more than three years in the making, but they stuck with us, and all we’ve had are enthusiastic responses for what we ended up putting together. Jess was, and continues to be, thrilled with what we did. PB: Are there going to be any ‘limited edition’ versions of the album? NS: The 1st edition of the set is limited to 500 copies worldwide. Pre-ordering will be exclusive to PledgeMusic.com and any copies remaining after that process will be exclusively available from HiddenMasters.net – in other words, this will not be found on, say, Amazon or via any other carrier whatsoever. PB: Apart from the fourteen songs on the original album are there going to be any bonus tracks included like the Island and Factory singles? SP: It’s best not to think of this as a reissue of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, but as a Distractions retrospective. Over the years people have asked me if there’s any unreleased stuff, to which I have always replied ‘no’. Things have, however, been unearthed that I’d totally forgotten about. Happily I’ve been surprised by the quality of most of it and, yes, the Island and Factory singles will be on there. NS: I don’t think in terms of ‘bonus tracks’; that’s not how we work. To me, that’s just a bit of a cop out. Reissue an album and chuck in a few (so-called) bonus tracks, singles, B-sides or maybe a couple of live tracks. Frankly, that’s a bit rubbish and doesn’t really offer any kind of value for money as I see it. No: this is a different beast altogether, and we’ll be including a good deal of material that has never, ever, been heard before. Be prepared for a few surprises. PB: We’ve heard that the packaging of the album is going to be something a little special? Can you tell us a little more about that? NS: Sure. It’s a 12” hard-backed, case-bound book format. The inside pagination is currently at 80 pages (and I don’t think that’ll now change). So, pretty substantial! Images inside include between 80 and 90% that have never been previously seen alongside a lot of other ‘things’. SP: Again, there’s stuff in there that I didn’t know existed. I would have sworn that some of it didn’t, but it’s hard to deny the existence of a photo when somebody who looks like a younger version of your self is in the middle of it. NS: We are not really wanting to give the game away too much as I’m sure you’d understand, but it looks pretty good. Actually, you asked about delays previously and, I guess one of the ‘delays’ was caused by the fact that it did take quite a long time to figure out just how the layout would best work. The cover is quite graphic (for want of a better word) and, while a picture of Hulme Arch Bridge in Manchester may not sound very exciting, it sits perfectly. That, too, took time to figure out. The genesis of that was, I knew in my mind’s eye that, with the title suggesting curves, we needed something quite stark to represent that. One afternoon, while walking along a canal near where we live, we came across a set of canal bridges that, if shot from the right angle, made the most fabulous curves. We experimented a bit, then Jayne (who is overall responsible for the design and layout) saw a web image of the Hulme Arch Bridge and we realised if we shot that just right, we should have what we were after. We shot that in Manchester on a very dull day (exactly what I’d hoped for). With only a teeny amount of PhotoShop work, we had our front sleeve for Mike and Steve to approve. Obviously, if they didn’t like it we’d have been back to the drawing board, but it got the thumbs up! We also struggled with the opening pages for quite a while. Neither Jayne nor I could get a layout going that worked, until, in the middle of one night, she put the first eight or so pages together in about half an hour flat. They worked absolutely perfectly – from which I’ve been slotting the rest in from that beginning. We’re now pretty close to having the entire book sorted out; just a few more images need attention and some more text to drop in. After which, Jayne will do her not-inconsiderable thing and tweak away until it’s as good as it humanly can be (it’s not for nothing that she’s won the design awards she has over the years). The text, by the way, consists of interviews with all those relevant to the band. In other words, there is no journalistic essay (however worthy that might be). This is the Distractions, and those who played a key role telling their story in their own words. PB: Is the early version of ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ and the other songs from the ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP going to be included too? SP: All the tracks from ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ will be included and there’s other stuff from earlier, and later, than that. PB: Why do you think Island have never re-issued ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ or why no other re-issue specialist has picked up on it? Island have reissued many of their albums through the years that didn’t exactly set the world on fire on their initial release. Yet despite ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ attracting more and more interest over the years there’s never been a reissue. NS: Well, I heard there was a small label in the US [Acute Records] who were interested at one point a few years back, but that came to naught. I have no idea why none of the so-called specialist re-issue labels haven’t picked up on the Distractions. Ever since I created HiddenMasters, this has been on our to-do list (for want of a better phrase). Like any label, we have to formally apply to the relevant masters’ rights holders, and while Universal always knew we wanted to work on a proper Distractions set (not just a ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ re-issue), we still had to go through the proper channels. The actual title clearances came through mid-way through last year although, as you know, the project has been going longer than that. These things take time! Plus, as much as this is a priority, we have other HiddenMasters projects on the go as well. PB: Personally I think that one of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’s’ qualities is that the music is timeless. It could have been made in any decade from the sixties on. What are your thoughts on why this music that is now 33 years old is more popular than ever? SP: It was interesting to talk to some of the people who came to 'The End of the Pier’ shows at the Kings Arms in Salford [in August-September 2012]. I was the only one from the band staying in town, so I spent a fair bit of time on Saturday wandering around on my own and running into people who had seen the Friday gig. The main things they mentioned were the songs and Mike’s voice, so I guess it’s down to that. NS: It’s down to the songs (in my view). Either they stand the test of time or they don’t. The Distractions tunes are fab. Not much more to say than that really. PB: How much input have the members of the original band had in choosing any of the extra tracks included in the new issue? SP: We’ve been consulted at every stage. I quite often wake up in the morning and find a forgotten recording or photograph in the inbox. MF: ‘Parabolically Yours’ looks excellent, and Neil is filling us in every step of the way. I am hoping I don’t get to know too much as I would like the surprise element, but as I trust Neil totally I know it will be just what is wanted. Love it! NS: Yes, Mike and Steve are involved at every step of the way, from the first murmurings to everything else, really. Nick Halliwell has also been heavily involved too. Alex Sidebottom, the original drummer, has been really helpful as well. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Don’t forget, this is their record, set, call it what-you-will. Therefore (and just the same as with any HiddenMasters release), the artist or their estate have complete right of veto across the board. If, for sake of argument, Steve really hated one of the pictures we were planning to use, then it’d be ditched; simple as that. We’re just the conduit to making this sound and look as good as it humanly can. Having worked extensively with the band during the Island days, it’s been wonderful reuniting. PB: Are original producers Jon Astley and Phil Chapman involved in anyway? Who is taking on the task of remastering? NS: No, they’re not, but yes, I’ve been in touch with Jon. Phil I’ve not spoken to (yet). Richard Whittaker at FX Mastering in London has done all the analog/digital work plus any required restoration and he’ll be re-mastering the full track-listing. Richard is, quite simply, one of, if not the best analog/digital specialists in the world. He’s also one of the most unassuming people on this planet and incongruously let slip the other day that he was nominated for a Grammy recently for his work on The Who. Richard works with us on all our projects and his care and attention to detail mirror our own. PB: Is the reissue just going to concentrate on material from the early eighties or, given that ‘The End of the Pier’ was so warmly received last year, are any newer songs going to make an appearance? SP: It’s going to come bang up to date. NS: ‘Parabolically Yours’ is the entire Distractions career from inception to present. PB: It’s not unusual for bands to get back together now to play live gigs just to recreate whole albums that, in some cases, are regarded more highly today than they were when originally released. Given the Distractions have proved that they still cut it live with the ‘End Of The Pier’ gigs is there any chance that we are going to see the band promote ‘Parabolically Yours’? NS: We’re somewhat geographically challenged since Steve and Mike are continents apart, but, while things like interviews about this project haven’t been discussed yet, I’m pretty sure they’ll be up for promoting it. I certainly hope so! MF: Steve’s over in the UK next year... SP: I tend to think that those ‘recreating the old album’ shows are my generation’s equivalent of doing a summer season in Blackpool; a thought that fills me with dread. Also I think it would only be relevant to do that with ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ if we reunited the original line-up of the band and that’s definitely not going to happen. Having said that, it was interesting to revisit some of the older material at 'The End of the Pier’ shows, and Mike and I will be around to promote ‘Parabolically Yours’. MF: There may be another gig or two, but we're not sure – our planning hasn't changed much in 30-odd years. SP: Maybe we could do an acoustic radio session or something. We’ll see. PB: Thank you.

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Distractions - Interview

Distractions - Interview

Visitor Comments:-
673 Posted By: Paul Carroll, Ashton under Lyne on 01 Jan 2014
Brilliant article 14/12/13, it was great to see The Distractions again in Salford last year. A real treat to speak personally to Mike and Steve. A few of us brought our grown up children to show them what had influenced their and obviously our musical tastes. Really looking forward to the new album, the format sounds amazing and I'm sure all the hard work and dedication of some very talented people will be worth the wait.

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