Publications > Scream City > Scream City Issue #5 > The Distractions by David Quantick

The Distractions
by David Quantick
Sometimes you have a band that feel like they are entirely yours. (This is no fun for the band who would like to belong to themselves but be liked by the world.) My band were The Distractions, and they felt like they were mine despite the fact that they'd made one of the great, great Factory singles, Time Goes By So Slow, despite the fact that they'd signed to Island Records when that was a cool, pre-U2 thing to do, and despite the fact that they were brilliant.
Mike Finney was possibly the only great white soul voice of the punk and post-punk eras, Steve Perrin a brilliant songwriter and inventive guitarist, and the rest of the band were a unique blend of the spikey modernist pop of Buzzcocks and the more retro groove of Costello.
There's a wonderful, rough, punk pop indie 12" EP. It's called You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That, and it's got Don't Bother Me on it. There's the Factory single, which is what people should mean when they say "perfect pop". There's the Island LP, Nobody's Perfect, which contains nothing but glorious songs. There's a batch of Island singles, including a cover of an oldie called Boys Cry and a clattering, sunny remake of Doesn't Bother Me. There's an EP, And Then There's... , on a small sub-indie label, recorded after Steve Perrin left, with one of the two great songs the Distractions made with Arthur Kadmon, the aching 24 Hours.
There's some live material, including the only available recording of the other great later song, the haunting Nothing Lasts.
And that's it. No hits, no compilations (until now) and not even anything on YouTube, except, brilliantly and for the Distractions typically, a Scandinavian punk band affectionately covering Valerie. The Distractions never had a hit, never made any money and never got a bad review.
All that is why I felt they were mine. I wrote about Nobody's Perfect in some magazines, I played Time Goes By So Slow every time it turned up on Factory compilation CDs, and that was it. Then Occultation Recordings came along and decided to bring out the Distractions on CD – "reissue" is the wrong word, as the Distractions have never been on CD, and almost missed the format completely. And now the Distractions are going out into the world again and their supporters and all the people who loved them are back.
The following, because they know it much better than I do, is everything you ought to know about the Distractions told by the people who were there.
Mick Middles, chronicler of Manchester music - "It was early '78. Mark E Smith said, 'You wanna write about that band, Distractions... great little band.' So I remember going down to Band on the Wall to see them. It was a bit embarrassing at first because I saw this guy in a brown suit loading the equipment onstage. I thought he must have been the manager, or one of the band's dads, so I approached him.
Turned out to be the singer, Mike Finney."
Mike Finney, Distractions singer – "I naturally had civil servant chic. Elvis Costello had to work at it."
Kevin Cummins, photographer – "My first memory of The Distractions is seeing them on stage and assuming it was the road crew warming up for them."
Mike Finney – "I met Steve at Stockport College in 1974. We both loved Roxy, Bowie, around 1974/75, but it was getting a bit jaded by 1976 – we were listening to the Velvet Underground again, the Stooges, MC5, Northern Soul. We found the emerging 'scene' really exciting. You could wear what you wanted, talk about poetry, music, art, literature, be whatever you felt like being. Just do something. I think the band was just how me and Steve were."
Alex Sidebottom, Distractions drummer – "I think the first gigs I did were at gay bars in Manchester. I remember one we played with U2 who were up doing some tracks with Martin Hannett. I got totally pissed and threw up in the back of their van!"
Mick Middles – "Their first EP – You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That – was on Tony Davidson's TJM label. He was a bit of a wide boy/footie hooligan type but I liked him. He just recorded the bands that rehearsed at his rooms, or many of them and released them. The Distractions just 23 slammed out four raw songs... but it certainly caught the spirit of them."
Mike Finney – "Arrow Studios in Manchester for an 'overnight' session. 12 hours from 9pm. Because our live equipment was quite poor, we had never heard parts of the songs before, so it was pleasing. We left next morning extremely tired and quite happy with it being our first recording."
Steve Perrin, Distractions guitarist and songwriter – "We wanted to make big, beautiful, fabulous sounding records. It was, however, difficult to do this on a budget of twenty-five quid or whatever.
Plus, we didn't know how to make the records we wanted to make."
Mick Middles – "Then came their all-too-brief spell with Factory for Time Goes by So Slow, which is their best recorded moment."
Mike Finney – "Tony Wilson asked us to do it after hearing You're Not Going Out.
We decided to record Pillow Fight and Ade's new one Time Goes By So Slowly as the 'B' side. Tony asked if he could flip the 'A' and 'B' sides. "
Mick Middles – "The feeling was that there were a lot of scratchy uncommercial bands about but The Distractions belonged in the mainstream. They had great pop songs, at least an album full, so it did make sense."
Kevin Hewick, Factory recording artist – "I thought Time Goes By So Slow was an instant classic, so much passion in the vocal especially and a perfect pop song structure.
The Distractions made sense to me."
Tracey Thorn, solo artiste and member of Everything But The Girl and Marine Girls – "I bought it, and fell completely in love with it. I was playing guitar in my first band at the time. I'd bought it for the bass player, who happened to be my boyfriend, and he'd passed it on to the rest. We bonded over that one record, and set about trying to write something half as good. When we realised we would never get anywhere near, we split up."
Mike Finney – "After our second Record of the Week in NME and Sounds, a few companies contacted us. We liked the idea of Island because of the whole attitude of the label and liked all the people down at St Peter's Square. We didn't know until after the event that Tony Wilson had been talking with CBS."
Neil Storey, Island Records – "I'd come to know about The Distractions a fair bit prior to their signing to Island. The Distractions felt like a really natural fit for Island."
Alex Sidebottom – "Factory were really concentrating on Joy Division at the time and we felt a bit left out, I think. We thought Island were the best bet as they took us out for really nice Chinese meals and let us have free Bob Marley albums."
Liz Naylor – "Myself and Cath lived with Pip and Adrian in Harpurhey and my memories of it are not too pleasant..."
Cath Carroll – "That was Pip's life as a pop star, sitting in the dark when the 50ps ran out of the electricity meter, yobs banging on the door furious that we were either perverts or Madness fans."
Mick Middles – "When the album arrived, it was great but suffered from very disappointing production. More than that, the impetus had somehow gone and they lost their power. I still love the album but, so much, if ever an album needed remastering..."
Neil Storey – "I think that Island, at that time, may have to hold their collective hands up a bit too. We simply didn't give them enough time to develop."
Cath Carroll – "The Distractions were a small town band, they weren't a big glossy band. Everything, the cover of the album, the flat production, Chris Blackwell, it was just wrong for them..."
Neil Storey – "Island, at that time, had also signed the Irish group... and just perhaps 24 there was a shift in balance. Don't forget, the Boy album sold dismally on release and that came out roughly at the same time as Nobody's Perfect so perhaps the powers that be had to make some kind of a choice.
I dunno... maybe."
Mike Finney – "I got to enjoy the playing, recording, gigging thing more and more. Unfortunately, Steve liked it less and less..."
Steve Perrin – "Most people who come into contact with me on a day-to-day basis seem to regard me as rather cheerful whereas those who have had to put up with me for extended periods, my wife and my mother being prime examples, see me as rather gloomy. Then again, I guess everybody contains both sides."
Cath Carroll – "The bigger change, the thing that made them totally different, was Steve leaving and Arthur Kadmon joining.
Arthur was great and the band gained an extra dimension, but..." Mike Finney – "Steve had left and so we were looking for a direction. The reason that we stopped after And Then There's was we wanted to change direction completely – unfortunately it seemed like four or five different directions when we talked."
Alex Sidebottom – "To be honest, I don't really listen to it much, as it is so personal and I can hear all my mistakes! But some of the tracks still stand up: Time Goes By So Slow, Boyscry, Still It Doesn't Ring... and the first EP has a tremendous energy."
Mick Middles – "The band split when an offshoot, called The Secret Seven, managed by me and featuring my wife at the time Julie, alongside Mike on vocals.
After releasing one single, Hold On To Love, that project also collapsed due to appalling infighting and sexual tension.
Just to finish off neatly, Mike Finney actually ran off with my wife Julie. Guess that's where the story ends..."
Liz Naylor – "Freed of the weighty shackles of modernist art expectations, it's enjoyable to go back to their work and just appreciate good songwriting without it being some homage to fucking Lennon/McCartney - I think Mike/Steve/Adrian were much more interesting and subtle as songwriters."
Kevin Cummins – "I thought they were the missing link between Freddie and the Dreamers and The Fall. They crafted perfect pop songs. Maybe they were ten years ahead of their time."
Steve Perrin – "The future is looking rather odd..."
Mike Finney – "I'm hoping to meet a tall, rich stranger."
Steve Perrin – "Nick Halliwell, who runs Occultation Records and may be Mike's biggest fan, kept going on about how criminal it was that Mike had done so little recording, so I asked him why he didn't do something about it. At this point somebody contacted Mike and he said that he didn't want to make a solo record, he wanted to make a Distractions record and he wanted me to be involved."
Mike Finney – "I've been accused of having both golden and Teflon balls, but never crystal ones."
Steve Perrin – "Whether this will work out or not, I don't know, but it should be interesting..."
David Quantick is a music journalist and comedy writer

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