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Distractions - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 10 / 4 / 2020

Distractions - Interview


Malcolm Carter talks to Nick Halliwell, Steve Perrin and Mike Finney from underrated new wave band The Distractions about the long-awaited reissue of their 1980 debut album ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ in a two CD 40th Anniversary edition.

It’s finally here; forty years after it was originally released, the debut album, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ from Manchester band The Distractions has been reissued as a joint release through Occultation Records and Man In The Moon Records on CD. There’s a vinyl issue as well which, at the time of writing is still available, but as there seems to be more interest in ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ in 2020 than there was in 1980 it’s probably not going to be around for long. For those who still have the original Island label vinyl (which is no doubt worn out now) the new vinyl issue is worth checking out as it features a new remix by latter day Distraction and Occultation label owner Nick Halliwell. And for once the remix reveals a few surprises. The original album was a masterclass in pure, perfect pop music which this writer felt didn’t need any further attention even four decades down the line, but Halliwell has retained all that we loved about the album while lending, according to those I have spoken to, a contemporary touch. It’s a different and interesting listening experience for sure but maybe familiarity forces these ears to constantly return to the original mix. But if this new mix is going to introduce a new generation to one of the most important albums of not only the ‘80s but in pop music generally then it’s all good. The double CD features the original mix of the album as well as a host of relevant extras including both sides of the Island 7” version of ‘It Doesn’t Bother Me’ and the wonderful ‘And Then There’s…’ EP including ‘Twenty-four Hours’, available again at last. The second CD includes the new Halliwell remix of the complete ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ album, demos, the ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like that’ EP, and both sides of the Factory 7” ‘Time Goes By So Slow’. Full details are on the Occultation website here : https://www.occultation.co.uk/Occultation_Space/home.html Time hasn’t diminished the thrill of hearing ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. Even forty years later it is still a thrill hearing those timeless, perfectly crafted pop songs. Having what is basically all the original bands recordings in one place is heaven. And time has been kind to ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, as it’s one of those albums that hasn’t really dated. Much like we listen to The Beatles without thinking too much as to how old the songs are, we just enjoy them as they are part of our life, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is an album that will never date, will never grow old. Thanks to Nick Halliwell’s remix it’s set for another forty years… It took The Distractions some 32 years to follow up that debut and then they presented us with two albums, 2012’s ‘The End of the Pier’ and ‘Kindly Leave the Stage’ from 2017 which time has shown are the equals of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. Classic song writing still from Steve Perrin with Nick Halliwell proving a natural addition to the band with his own songs ( at times credits had to be checked, as Halliwell’s Distractions songs are straight out of the Perrin school of song writing) and Mike Finney proved he had lost none of the passion in his voice in the three decades between debut and second album; he’s still one of our best soul singers. It looks like this reissue might be the last Distractions album we will be putting on the special shelf though; a slim volume of albums from one of the most underrated but talented bands this country has ever produced, but this reissue, if it is the last we hear from The Distractions, is the perfect way to go, to have all these recordings from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in one place is a dream come true. Nick Halliwell, Steve Perrin and Mike Finney kindly answered a few questions surrounding the most welcome reissue of the year for us and we thank them all for their time; we would also like to thank everyone involved in getting this important project finally into our hands! PB: There have been attempts before to reissue ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ which were sadly unsuccessful, how did it all fall into place this time? STEVE PERRIN: Nick, I think you’re best placed to answer this one. NICK HALLIWELL: Oh…I suppose I am. Well, without wishing to bore everyone, we owe a lot to Neil Storey, who did much of the groundwork for his HiddenMasters project. Late last summer I was contacted by Man In The Moon Records asking if I could help get ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ reissued. I’d started a remix for Neil a few years earlier, so I finished that off and eventually it became a joint venture with me sourcing and mastering all the audio. The hardest part has always been licensing the Island material, but Man In The Moon managed it on terms which were just about viable. Essentially this is labour-of-love stuff. Nobody was going to make any money even before the whole coronavirus thing, but we all felt that if it didn’t happen for the 40th anniversary it probably never would. PB: It must have taken some planning to get clearance on all the various tracks? How long did it take to put the whole package together? SP: Yours again Nick… NH: Actually it had to be done very quickly, which is why there are a few minor errors with credits and things. I think first conversations between Man In The Moon and Occultation were late August 2019 and I mastered it in December that year. One of the reasons it made sense for Occultation to come on board is that we administer the non-Island tracks on the band’s behalf. One of the lovely things about this project was that a lot of people chipped in and gave us stuff for nothing or at cost: Neil, of course, Alan Wilson let us use those four 1978 demos, John Cooper came up with the master to FAC12, Peter Saville provided the artwork (which Universal had lost) … There’s a huge amount of affection for the band and nearly everyone we asked just wanted this to happen and understood there wasn’t any money in it. PB: Are you all satisfied with the final track-listing or were there more songs you would have liked to have been included? SP: There were some songs that we recorded in the 1990s which would have been nice to include but, given the limitations of the project, it made more sense to keep it to the first period of the band’s existence. That certainly makes it more neat and tidy and probably more musically coherent. NH: It seemed best to stick to the first incarnation. The material recorded by the 21st century Distractions is still available for anyone who wants it. I also think this makes it a much better listening experience. The 20th century Distractions didn’t record a lot, so there were no studio versions of unreleased songs, hardly any alternate takes, etc. The 2xCD edition includes everything the band released 1978-81 plus four early demos. That was everything we were able to find. No radio sessions appear to have survived, for instance. We used every song of which we had a proper studio recording, and some songs appear more than once in different versions. PB: Nick was obviously involved due to the remixing. How involved were the other members of the band in which songs were chosen? NH: The material chose itself as there wasn’t a huge amount. The remix was done in almost exactly the same way as the final two Distractions albums: I did rough mixes, sent them to Steve, he’d make the odd suggestion then I’d adjust things and send to Steve who’d sign off. SP: Nick did all the hard work but it was my job to check the mixes and give the odd bit of advice. I think the only thing we disagreed on was that he wanted to take the fuzz guitar orchestra off the end of ‘Looking for a Ghost ‘and I wanted to keep it in. In the end, he let me have my own way. NH: ‘Looking for a Ghost’ was the one track where I didn’t think much needed doing, so I suppose I was trying to find a way of making it a bit more different from the original. But Steve was right, it’s fine as it is. PB: Why did you feel the need for remixing and, Nick, what was your end goal regarding the remix? SP: I have a lot of time for Phil Chapman and Jon Astley who produced the original album. The remit they were given was to make something that sounded like a hit in 1980, so that’s what they did. Unfortunately, like anything that is ‘of its time’, it quickly began to sound dated. Actually, when Nick got the multi-tracks it turned out that there wasn’t much wrong with the mix but a lot had been lost in the mastering and pressing. That was especially true of the bottom end. Of course, none of us knew enough at the time to point that out and I suspect that nobody would have listened if we had. NH: As Steve says, it’s the kind of record any producers commissioned by a major label in late ’79/early ’80 would’ve had to come up with. I was fortunate in not having those pressures, so I decided to approach it more in the spirit of the independent singles and, above all, the way we did the two final albums, i.e. stripped back to the five-piece band. So, I dropped a lot of the guitar and keyboard overdubs, pushed the bass and drums up, tried to sort out some of the tempi a little bit. Most of what I did was subtractive. The only things I added were a few cases where original acoustic guitar parts were flanged to within an inch of their lives so I re-recorded them myself but trying to play more or less what’d been done originally, only without the flanger. PB: Were the band dissatisfied with the original mix? MIKE FINNEY: For the first six months it was just great to have an album out, but then as time went on I realised that just wasn’t the way we sounded. SP: Much has been made out of this in the ensuing years but if the album had been a hit I doubt that you would have heard a peep out of anybody. PB: Why do you feel ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ failed commercially first time around? SP: It’s very hard to say. Anybody who has followed music for any length of time will have heard something, maybe not even something they’ve liked, and thought ‘That’s a surefire hit’ only to watch it sink like a stone. That’s why A & R departments used to have revolving doors. NH: It was held back for a few months, finished early Feb 1980 but didn’t come out until late May and things moved quickly back then. Plus it had that “major label’s idea of new wave” sound whereas by the end of 1980 you had the Postcard bands whose sound was not that dissimilar to the way the early singles had sounded, another aspect I had in mind while remixing. MF: I think there was a strike at the plant or something which meant it came out later than it should’ve done… Now it’s coming out again when there are no shops open to sell it. If I were paranoid I might start to think we were cursed… PB: What do you all think of the new remix? SP: I much prefer it to the original and it did throw up some surprises. Nick said that he wanted to dig the band out and, at times, I think he’s dug out Buddy Holly and the Crickets. I hadn’t realised what an influence they must have been but ‘Fantasy’, in particular, sounds like ‘Peggy Sue’. There’s the beat, my guitar is really trebly and with Mike’s voice on top it sounds like we’ve traveled back to 1957. MF: I love it! PB: Are there any songs on the album that listening again forty years later you are particularly proud of? MF: I’m really proud of ‘Waiting for Lorraine’, ‘Fantasy’, ‘Still It Doesn’t Ring’, ‘Looking for a Ghost’ and ‘Leave You to Dream’. SP: I’d half-forgotten about ‘Leave You to Dream’. When I listened to it again I thought ”Why wasn’t that a single?” The answer in 1980 would probably have been: “Because it’s too soppy”. PB: Any that you think now with hindsight you should have maybe left off or could have been improved? SP: When we started doing this we realised that we had to respect the integrity of the original record so there was no point in suggesting major changes. Otherwise my instinct would have been to dump everything and start again but then you’d end up with a record made by a bunch of sixty-odd-year-olds rather than twenty-odd-year-olds. Certainly, I wouldn’t write any of those songs now, for better or for worse. NH: That, of course, is why ‘End of the Pier’ and ’Kindly Leave the Stage ‘aren't full of songs about staying in hoping some girl would ring your landline. The Distractions emerged from their own audience and always sang about their lives at the time. MF: I wish Nick could’ve remixed the ‘And Then There’s…’ EP but the tapes are lost. PB: Is this new edition a limited run or will it be available for the foreseeable future? SP: As far as I know, the vinyl is limited but the CD isn’t. NH: Realistically the answer to that has probably changed: as Steve says, the LP was always going to be a small run, we were expecting a bigger CD run. However, given that the album appeared in shops in the UK and Ireland only (a condition of the Universal licence, they wouldn’t let us have worldwide or digital) on 20th March and then all shops were closed within three to four days it’s highly unlikely more copies will now be pressed. So if you want one grab it now. We (Occultation) should be getting some more sent to us by post for mail order sales by the time you read this, but then I don’t know whether we’ll be able to get any more. PB: Now I have the double CD and vinyl I know from people I’ve played both mixes to that those unfamiliar with ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ tend to prefer the new mix. If the album gets the attention now it deserved back then and interest in The Distractions increases because of this what are the chances of a follow-up to ‘Kindly Leave the Stage’? SP: From my point of view, ‘Kindly Leave the Stage’ was written as the final Distractions album so I think that any attempt to follow it up would be fundamentally dishonest. I suspect that Mike disagrees with me about this. NH: As Steve says, we wrote ‘Kindly…’ as the final Distractions album. As I said earlier, with both ‘Kindly’ and ‘End of the Pier’, it’d’ve been absurd to write songs about the kind of subject matter covered on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ because a) it’s no longer the late 20th century so b) the mobile telephone has rendered many of those songs archaic and c) everyone involved is forty years older. The reason the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ material worked so well was because it was an unromanticised view of what people were experiencing then. Three albums plus another album or two’s worth of non-LP tracks is perfect, isn’t it? Steve and I are still working together on other projects and Mike fronts a live version of the band with Alex, the original drummer, performing the 20th century stuff. MF: I doubt Steve’s going to be able to get over from New Zealand again so that probably is it. PB: Are you surprised that music you made forty years ago is still being played and appreciated today? Do you think if you had carried on as The Distractions after ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ that you would have eventually gained the status the band has today? SP: I’m absolutely amazed. When we started off nobody had a forty year career in popular music. We were only about twenty years after Elvis. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed together but I imagine it would have involved some form of violence. MF: It wouldn’t’ve happened - we weren’t equipped for stadium gigs and that’s what you needed to do in the ‘80s. NH: They were great songs put into the mouth of a great singer. PB: Thank you.

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Interview (2017)
Distractions - Interview
The recent release of the band's third album, ‘Kindly Leave The Stage’ on the Occultation Recordings label is being promoted as the last Distractions album. Malcolm Carter speaks to Steve Perrin and Nick Halliwell about why they have decided this will be the final word from the Distractions.
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