Tag Archives: The Durutti Column

Debut Albums #11 – #15

I’m writing about fifty debut albums which I like and you may like or may want to hear. They are in alphabetical order from A to Z and are in batches of five albums. These are albums eleven to fifteen

“The Fabulous Expedition Of Dillard and Clark” – Dillard and Clark

I love Saint Etienne. Not just for their music (which is enough reason as it is) but also for how inclusive they are. Like all proper music fans, they want everyone to come along and join in with the trip, to hear the old music they love and the great new discovery they’ve just found in some dusty charity shop. They are pop fans and there’s no snobbery in their veins. This is also why Bob Stanley’s book “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was such a good read – Bob loves pop and wants to hip you to his favourites along the way.

Why am I going on about Saint Etienne when I should be talking about Dillard and Clark? Because in the autumn of 2005 I bought a double mix CD called “The Trip: Created by Saint Etienne” which opened my eyes to a ton of great stuff. I’d bought the Tom Middleton “Trip” mix CD a month or so before and that was amazing, the first disc a cool mix of disco and new wave (and the theme from “Picture Box” as a hidden track!!), the second a more downtempo mix including a few 70s kiddies favourites alongside Harpers Bizarre, the Dudley Moore Trio, Dorothy Ashby and Vangelis. (A few years ago I heard this CD being piped into a sauna at a health club I was visiting – it fitted perfectly). Anyway I got the Saint Etienne disc and devoured it. The first disc was cool enough – some Northern Soul, disco, American theme tunes. But disc two was something else. Just look at the track listing – Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, The Left Banke, Ice, Tim Hardin… soft pop and soft psych, melancholy and gorgeous. Just listening to it all now brings back memories of those days. Obviously records by Queen Anne’s Lace and Orpheus were going to be hard to find but the one song by Dillard and Clark led me to buying a CD with both their late 60s albums on it within a few days.

“The fabulous expedition of Dillard and Clark” was recorded and issued in late ’68. Doug Dillard had left his brothers in the Dillards to their own bluegrass country synthesis. Gene Clark had left the Byrds with his own melancholy heart and had left CBS after a failed solo LP. Dillard and Clark combined their immense talents, surrounded themselves with sympathetic players from the LA scene and made a quiet gem of an album for A&M – also home to the Flying Burrito Brothers, so someone there was on the country rock pulse.

It opens with “Out on the side”, like a gentle Dylan song – all Al Kooper organ fills, lots of guitars and gentle drums, but with Byrds style harmonies. And Gene Clark is singing like a sad angel. “She darked the sun” is more traditional country, all fiddle and mandolin, while “Don’t come rollin'” is Dillard’s show piece, fast and breezy but the words have a post-hippy sentiment… “We can have love and peace if we want, it’s a state of mind, no more”. So far so straightforward – country or rock. Then the two start merging. “Train leaves here this mornin'” is slower and is a list of mistakes – bad contracts, being in the wrong place, strange parties – but Clark and the other musicians sing and play with such warmth and love, it sounds like they are just sitting in a circle playing for themselves. (A song so great not even the Eagles can ruin it). “With care from someone” sounds like it’s lifting chunks from the verse of “A taste of honey” (that descending bass and ascending melody) but resolves into a joyous harmony chorus. “The radio song” adds an electric harpsichord to the instrumental mix and is full of heartache. “Git it on brother” is more traditional country but “In the plan” is questioning existence and deep thoughts while the closing “Something’s wrong” harks back to Clark’s childhood and innocence and compares it to his current existence which is found wanting, all the while the music matches these thoughts, lots of minor chords and sad melodies.

It’s difficult to listen to “The fabulous expedition of Dillard and Clark” without hearing how much other music sounds like it, from the Eagles onwards through other Californian country rock and alt.country. It must have been mindblowing hearing it in 1968 when such a country rock cross-over was far from the mainstream. (Indeed a worthwhile comparison point is “Roots” by the Everly Brothers.). It may have sold poorly at the time but by golly it was influential.

“The Return of the Durutti Column” – The Durutti Column / “The Graveyard and the Ballroom” – A Certain Ratio

It’s a few days after Christmas, 1985. My family are in Cardiff looking around the sales, hoping for bargains. I don’t find any, but I do find two cassettes instead – they may be full price but I don’t care, I’ve got Christmas money to spend. And the tapes look so interesting… Big cardboard boxes covered in fabric – one in blood red, the other in deep blue. Both have a simple font on the front with the band name, the album title in italics and the catalogue number. One is Fact 14c, the other is Fact 16c. I buy them both.

I’ve written about “The return of the Durutti Column” already (go on, you know you want to read my Toppermost again) so I don’t need to convince you of its greatness again. As I only knew “Without Mercy” and “Say what you mean…” It was quite a revelation, such simple beauty. And inside that red box was a piece of sandpaper with the credits printed onto it. Perfect. But “The graveyard and the ballroom” was something else.

For a start it was a reissue of ACR’s first album from early 1980 which was half studio and half live, and only available as a cassette in a pouch. I’d seen the name mentioned in Record Collector and loved the combination – graveyard and ballroom can only mean death disco. I didn’t realise it was referring to the Graveyard Studio and the Electric Ballroom. Inside was a card with the credits on one side and a picture of the original cassette on the other, inside an orange plastic pocket. It looked stylish, cool and very very clean.

As for the music… The studio side was amazing. I couldn’t understand how it had been recorded on a four track, there seemed to be lots of echoes and reverbs on different instruments. How the hell did Martin Hannett produce such sounds? The snare drum was tuned high but was loose too, a unique sound. The drums and bass carried the funk, while guitars were trebly and jangling and sharp, and Simon Topping’s words were very odd, flailing flesh, crippled children, being anonymous in death, not typical. There were odd noises too from some kind of primitive synth or effects box, alongside wah-wah guitar which was not “Shaft” at all. It all sounded like they were struggling to play but that added to the fun. I totally loved it. All the songs were great but “Flight” stood out. For a start it was so spare – single bass notes, guitars playing muted chords, so much space. And the words were great – implying so much with so little. The studio side ended with “Strain”, stopping and starting over and over again.

The live side repeated some of the songs from the studio side but that didn’t hurt. “All night party” had been their drumless debut single but now it had Donald Johnson’s funky drums giving it more propulsion. “Choir” and “Flight” were more expansive live, and there’s song they would never return to again. But more than anything there’s a humour that isn’t apparent elsewhere. As the drum intro to “The Fox” starts, Topping laughs “That sounds like Joy Division, doesn’t it?” Later he sings the opening line of “Disorder” at one point before giggling. It’s a side you don’t expect from a Factory band and makes it all the more human. Loud trebly sparse funk. Wonderful. I would cycle to school and back singing songs from it for months to come. What higher praise is needed?

“Crocodiles” – Echo and the Bunnymen

By the Autumn of 1985 I’d heard enough Teardrop Explodes – both albums and a load of b-sides – to know I loved them. Maybe I should give their arch enemies Echo and the Bunnymen a go? For some reason I actually did the decent thing and started listening to a band’s records in the order they were released. So in October ’85 I bought a cassette of “Crocodiles” from the record shop within Debenhams in Cardiff. It had two extra tracks on it, after all…

“Crocodiles” is a good mix of bright and dark. The music is trebly and sharp, Will Sargeant’s guitar could cut your hand off if you let it, Les Pattinson’s bass is steadfast – not as ‘in your face’ as Peter Hook’s bass lines, but harder tougher and the rock the music is built on. Pete De Freitas’ drums kick like angry mules. And Ian McCulloch sings like… Himself.

“Going up” fades in with odd noises, scratching guitars and sonar beeps before the whole band come in properly – propulsive and harsh, Mac already plotting his own greatness – “If we should pull the plugs out on all our history” – before the band rock into the distance. Normally at this point on the cassette would be “Do it clean” but a peculiarity meant my tape played “The puppet”, a failed single. It sure as hell wasn’t “Do it clean”. “Stars are stars” jangles along but always reminded me of something else I could never put my finger on. “Pride” is choppier and better, about family jealousy, though mentioning “Peter” and “Julie” could be digs at Mac’s former members of the Crucial Three (though Julie was the name of Mac’s sister, also the subject of “Passionate Friend”). “Monkeys” is chime and menace and the earliest Bunnymen song, and the most hemmed in of Pete De Freitas’ performances. “Crocodiles” is taken at breakneck speed and hurtles to its illogical conclusion. End of side one.

“Rescue” was the first song written with De Freitas in the line up and also the first song not produced by “The Chameleons” (Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe) – Ian Broudie is at the controls here. Whatever Drummond and Balfe may be or become, at this point they weren’t the greatest producers in the world and both “Crocodiles” and “Kilimanjaro” (recorded straight after “Crocodiles” at the same studio) are thin productions, lacking in what can only be called ‘balls’. “Rescue” is more muscular and shows some lingering doubts already – “If I said I’d lost my way…” – “Is this the blues I’m singing?” – which would develop by the time of the third Bunnymen album. But here the guitars actually chime and it sounds great. “Villiers Terrace” sounds like a cool place to be, everyone sounds out of it. Both the Bunnymen and the Teardrops recorded “Read it in books” twice and this version is by far the worst – the version on the b-side of the Zoo single of “Treason” is my preference. “Pictures on my wall” is great, leading into “All that jazz” which is mean and threatening – all those barricades and fist shaking. A very late 70s lyric. “Happy death man” is a good closer – atonal piano over the top, even if it does have the Teardrop horns. “Like to keep things dark” – yeah I still recognise that feeling. It grooves along, and fades out into “Going up” coming back in. A nice touch. A nice opener, but buying “Heaven up here” two weeks later showed their real potential. I think “Crocodiles” suffered from being issued amongst a wealth of great albums – “Closer” was issued around the same time and let’s face it, everything will suffer in comparison to that album. But at least “Crocodiles” still turns up on proper best debut lists.

“76:14” – Global Communication

I have been listening to this album for just over twenty years (I bought it on the day it was issued – June 1st 1994 – and it was in the card wraparound sleeve, the velcro’s a bit worn now…) and still I don’t know the ‘names’ of the songs. But is that surprising? After all the titles are just the length of each track. It’s not the kind of thing you’d talk about down the pub – “Oh that song ‘8:07’ is so great…”

Again I might be cheating calling it a debut album… The first I heard of Global Communication was when I bought “Blood Music”, the second and last album by Chapterhouse. It had a free CD with it – “Pentamerous Metamorphosis” – which was the Chapterhouse LP ‘reworked by Global Communication’. And not long after that I bought “A collection of short stories” by Reload from late ’93 which was Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton who were Global Communication and Jedi Knights and E621 and oh it gets confusing. So was “76:14” a debut album? Well it’s my rules…

The album itself is all instrumental, mainly downtempo, synth washes, simple melodies building up layer by layer. There’s percussion sometimes, slightly harsh industrial synth hits, or a clock ticking, or sonar bleeps. It is an admirable late night listen on headphones, though more often than not I would find myself nodding off. I suppose that’s a compliment. “7:35” is more uptempo, leading into what can only be called a tribute to Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a real train” in “8:07” and “5:25” (or “Maiden voyage” as it was called when it was issued as a single) Then it all slows down again and the closing “12:10” takes choral voices into somewhere deeply chilled – like “1/2” from “Music for Airports” in an echo chamber. Very nicezzzzzzz. Oh sorry I just nodded off again.

The whole idea of no titles was to allow your mind to paint its own pictures and Global Communication encouraged people to write in with their thoughts and impressions. I remember reading at the time how a primary school teacher played it to her class and they wrote about it and sent it back to them. There’s even a very primitive website address on the sleeve – I wonder if it still works? I used the album myself as a functional piece of music – when my son was very young I would play the album to get him to sleep, the gentle tick tock of “14:31” would always ease him off gently into a snooze, but it was often difficult not following him.

It’s been odd watching how this album has become a classic over the years because at the time I never saw it happening. Yes it was great and a favourite album, but compared to the other fantastic music being issued around the time it was just one of many great albums. Maybe it was just a high water mark for this sort of music – from here chilled music would either head into trip-hop territory or towards more ambient and experimental areas. Twenty years on, this album feels as dated as any Orb album but I still return to it, still explore the textures and feelings, still fall asleep towards the end.

Maybe that’s not such a compliment after all.

Next time – Five more debut albums, including an album I would be surprised if any reader knows (or cares) about.

Spent Time

Those nice people at Toppermost suggested that I write about The Durutti Column a while ago. In fact it was one of the first names that was suggested by them to me. I mean, why did they think I might like Durutti Column? Was it my Twitter name – @durutti74? Or my email address durutti244? Surely not? (The numbers signify catalogue numbers incidentally in the Factory Records numbering scheme, you can look them up later. Or I suspect that some of you may know them anyway.). Or maybe the fact I’d written about them already.

Last time I wrote on the blog I was a little worn out on writing, and it probably showed in what was published. So writing about one of my favourite bands, indulging myself by diving into a huge back catalogue, picking a top 10 songs – it was all a pleasure. I’ve tried not to repeat what I said about DC before, it’s more of a straight history of the band, and it’s quite long too. But it’s worth a read if you like that sort of thing. The link is here

What I found when I was picking the top 10 was that I was slightly limited by what was available on Spotify because there’s always a playlist with each Toppermost. There doesn’t have to be, but it helps to prove your point to a newcomer to DC music to say “Here’s ten songs you can hear”. It didn’t help that three key Durutti LPs were missing from Spotify, and that “Without Mercy” isn’t the full album but the two excerpts that are on the “Valuable Passages” compilation. Picking ten songs was also tricky because there is such a huge and wonderful back catalogue to choose from. As such I’ll pick an additional ten songs (actually eleven cos I cheated) here which I would have included if (a) they were available and / or (b) I could have picked 20 songs. Or 21.

So, an additional ten (or so) Durutti Column favourites.

1 – “For Belgian Friends” from “A Factory Quartet” double LP, 1981

A one off collaboration with Donald Johnson from A Certain Ratio on drums. The first time Reilly returned to piano. He wanted the piano to sound like a guitar and his guitar to sound like a piano. A simple melody but very effective. A favourite which was hard to drop from the real top 10.

2 – “Never known” from “LC” LP, 1981

The sound of murky marshes, light fading, trains passing by at dusk, words incomprehensible, but the feeling is clearly audible. “LC” is a total classic album. Every home should have one.

3 – “Spent time” from “Another setting” LP, 1983

“Another setting” isn’t regarded as a classic DC album but I love it. This album closer is all about that sustained guitar, that Fender Rhodes and the fragile singing.

4 – “Saudade” from “Amigos em Portugal” LP, 1983

Reilly made this LP in one day in an unfamiliar studio in Portugal. Some themes would be developed on “Without Mercy” and “Circuses and bread”, but this little gem got tossed aside. It sounds too simple, but is still gorgeous.

5 – “The aftermath” from “Artists for animals” compilation LP, 1986

Another high point of their 85 peak. Slow and solemn, like a funeral march, and Reilly’s guitar sounds like it’s shaking from the grief. And he does that mandolin solo thing too. Stunning.

6 – “Catos Con Guantes” from “Our lady of the angels” EP, 1987

A seven minute Spanish guitar workout with additional viola and marimba interjections from time to time. Beautifully recorded, it could go on forever.

7 – “William B” from “Vini Reilly” LP / “Real drums real drummer” from “The Sporadic Recordings” CD, both 1989

Two versions of the same melody. “William B” is just pure guitar and strange vocal samples, both echoing into the distance. “Real drums real drummer” is Reilly and Mitchell racing each other to the end of the song, Mitchell rolling around the drum kit with abandon, Reilly bashing out chords and melodies, the same daft tune…

8 – “Contra-indictions” from “Obey the time” LP, 1990

Drum machines, chirping sequencers, Italo House piano patterns. Is this Durutti? Then a characteristic echoing guitar bursts through, perfectly placed, and you go “Of course it’s Durutti!”

9 – “Only love” from a free CD given away with “Total Guitar” magazine in 1995, added as an extra track on “Fidelity” reissue on LTM

Yes, it’s obscure. Yes, it’s good. A kind of remix of “The rest of my life” from “Sex and death”, this is just an incredibly haunting guitar refrain, some spooked choral samples and a hint of a vocal. But it’s very effective.

10 – “Drinking time” from “Time was gigantic…when we were kids” LP, 1998

Because sometimes Durutti Column can stun me with a real song with a structure, a tune, a full vocal and a heartfelt sentiment. And sometimes it can sound too personal, like the listener is intruding on someone else’s life.

So there’s more Durutti favourites. Ask me tomorrow and there could be a different ten.

If I can stop arguing with myself about Durutti Column songs, I should point out I’ve started another blog post which may take some time to complete as it covers a lot of ground musically and in terms of timespan, then there’s another piece looking at my parents’ record collection in the late 70s (they didn’t go disco) and a few bits and pieces I’ve got lying around to finish, and another Toppermost I’ve promised to write… So lots to look forward to in the future. Last year I said I’d take a summer break and I didn’t. This year I really will take a summer break. In the meantime, thank you for all your comments and support and linking in to my random meandering, especially those who link through their blogs. I still can’t believe I get away with it!

Next time – the importance of rules.

Say what you mean, mean what you say

Sometimes you can get lucky and become a fan (or fanatic) of an artist or group pretty early in their career and follow their career development from start to finish. For me I was lucky enough to discover The Smiths around the time of “This Charming Man” and followed their trajectory from debut to finale alongside my own trajectory from ‘First issue of a music paper bought at 14’ (Moz on the cover of Melody Maker, spring 84) to ‘First record bought on first day in polytechnic’ (which was “Strangeways” on its day of release). Enough people have written about The Smiths and there are many better writers out there who will be approaching them eventually.

On the other hand, sometimes it can be fun to pick up a record entirely by chance and fall in love with it, then have the pleasure of discovering the back catalogue. These days it’s easy, you find a new old band, then you feed their name into Google, watch a few songs on Youtube, check out their history on Wikipedia and hear some samples of their other work on iTunes. It wasn’t always so simple. .

At the start of August 1985 I was passing time after my O levels, that nervous two months between taking the exams and receiving the results, trying not to think about it but always there in the back of my mind. I had spent two weeks in Germany on a school exchange where my love of Kraftwerk was considered the height of uncool. I had bought a Roland monosynth for £130 after saving all my pocket money that spring and was exploring analogue synthesis, or just making noises. We had a week’s family holiday planned in Hebden Bridge for a week in August just before my results came out, and a few days before the holiday I went record shopping in Cardiff. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just something to listen to.

In those days there were more record shops. In Spillers there was nothing I fancied. The old Virgin store opposite Cardiff Castle yielded little of interest, neither did Our Price. HMV seemed dull but there was a bargain bin of twelve inch singles towards the front. Flicking through the detritus of failed careers there was a record with a beige sleeve with a strip of paper stuck to it on the left, it didn’t look like the other sleeves there, it looked stark and serene and intriguing. When I saw it had a Factory Records catalogue number I thought I’d give it a go. It was only 99p, I didn’t have much to lose. In retrospect it was one of the best 99ps I ever spent because I was now entering the world of The Durutti Column.

At that point I knew virtually nothing about them but simply took it on trust that if they were on Factory then they must be alright. As such I wasn’t racing home expecting miracles, but once I was home I was entranced. I couldn’t really have picked a better introduction to Vini Reilly’s music than the “Say what you mean, mean what you say” EP . Six pieces of music ranging in length from a minute to nearly nine minutes, held together around a metallic drum machine and the kind of musicianship I had never heard before. The piano – acoustic or electric – was played with such skill it made most of the synth bands I was accustomed to sound like one finger numbskulls. The songs that had guitar featured beautiful haunting echoing guitar playing, delicate and light as clouds. The whole record had a melancholy air – not gloomy or depressing, but the minor chords and suspensions made me feel strangely queasy inside. There had been a few songs I’d encountered before which had those ‘turn your stomach upside down’ chord changes but this record was blessed with so many of those gorgeous changes. The singer seemed shy, like he was whispering his secrets. I completely fell in love with the record. My favourite song on it was “e.e.”, an uptempo instrumental that had so many twists and turns I could barely keep up, and one of my favourite guitar solos ever. It’s not that it’s complicated or anything, it’s just lovely and the way the piano chords change underneath it as it progresses makes my heart skip a beat even now.

So now I had a new love, what was I going to do with it? There wasn’t a lot of sources of information around at the time – I read the three weekly music papers but they weren’t really complimentary to many Factory acts besides New Order. There weren’t many big discographical books around in 1985 – there was one which appeared in WH Smiths in Penarth but it was full of errors, it even listed “Techno pop” as a real Kraftwerk album (with a track listing too). Oddly enough the best source of information was a quarterly catalogue from Gema Records. I would look through their list, find records I fancied, send off a cheque and hope for the best. About a month later I’d either get what I wanted or absolutely nothing. HMV had one Durutti Column LP and that was “Without Mercy” so I stuck it on my Xmas list in Dec 85 and it appeared under the Christmas tree alongside my other requests – “World shut your mouth”, “Songs to learn and sing” and “The clock comes down the stairs”. For about three months this album – or side one at least – became my ‘washing up’ album. My brother and I would alternate washing up after tea and play our choice of music over the house hifi. He would play…thinks… “Sandinista” and “Cut the crap” cos he was going through his Clash phase. So as a comparison to that, “Without mercy” was a breath of fresh air. Effectively a modern classical piece, it takes a few musical themes and develops them and passes them amongst a small number of instruments. It’s really quite beautiful. OK, side two is a bit drum machine heavy and some of the dance beats don’t really work, but side one is end to end gorgeous.

A few days after Christmas our family popped to Cardiff to ‘do the sales’. As ever the HMV sale wasn’t very interesting – some things never change – but I spotted some tapes I hadn’t spotted before. Factory Records had issued some tapes in ridiculously big but beautiful linen covered boxes, colour coded per artist – Joy Division was purple, New Order was white. I picked up “The graveyard and the ballroom” by A Certain Ratio (blue box) and “The return of The Durutti Column” (red box). I can remember the first time I heard the latter album, sitting on my bed, headphones on in the middle of winter with the sound of birds in my ears. The whole album was short, sweet and quite lovely – only guitar and elemental drum machine, but it showcased Vini Reilly’s incredible guitar playing to the full – and Martin Hannett’s remarkable production too.

At the start of March 1986 another Gema Records catalogue arrived and as ever the entire family poured over it – usually with my illuminated magnifying glass as it was written in a very small font. There had been a Factory discography in Record Collector so I now knew that the Durutti Column had made four albums but there were other things listed in this catalogue which made no sense. There was a twelve inch single called “Tomorrow” though so I ordered that alongside a few other records and promptly forgot about it.

On Friday 21st March the postman was unusually early to our house, this was because we had a package of records being delivered. Just before my brother and I headed off for school we found out what Gema Records – that most random of mail order shops – had sent us. I can’t remember what else was in the package other than my records – “I’d like to see you again” by A Certain Ratio, a peculiar Virgin synth compilation called “Machines” (which is actually rather good and worth seeking out) and the “Tomorrow” twelve inch which had been reviewed as a new release in the Melody Maker the week before. I didn’t understand the sleeve but the title of the b-side looked interesting – “All that love and maths can do”. That day in school was boring, I couldn’t wait to get home. In the afternoon we had double maths and I sat behind S and J, two girls who I was crushing on simultaneously (as you do when you’re 16). Then we were meant to have double physics but it was cancelled. Some of the class stayed on to do work but I thought “Sod it, get home before anyone else, hear the new records” so cycled home as fast as I could (and I could cycle fast, a friend with a speedometer on his bike clocked a speed of nearly 30mph following me home one day).

So back home on a lovely clear Spring afternoon – what to listen to first? Well it has to be “Tomorrow”. The a-side starts, descending chords on the guitar, a viola plucks, Vini sings, it is great. Turn the record over.. Oh and live version of the same song, yes very good very good. Then the applause abruptly stops and Vini plays a few notes and I’m completely lost. Some descending chords with a filigree of notes at the end, a viola soars over the top, this is beautiful and could go on forever. Then at one minute and ten seconds. Vini plays a series of notes and chords that are indescribeable, especially with the Roland Space Echo smothered all over them, and a sampled choral voice ebbs and swells as well and this happens four times and then it returns to the initial chords and the viola returns and the choral samples swell up and why am I dancing about architecture here? Technically THAT happens like THAT but emotionally … No it’s okay… I’m not crying…it’s just something in my eye… And my insides are turned upside down…but it’s alright you know. You know how sometimes words fail you? Well that’s me every time I hear “All that love and maths can do”. It’s not even the circumstances of bunking off school and staring at two girls in Maths and that song title. That piece of music gets to the very heart of me.

A week later, the school had broken up for Easter and that Friday we went to Cardiff shopping. In HMV in the new albums rack right at the front was the new Durutti Column album “Circuses and bread”. Two days previously I had devoured the two column review of it written by Sorrel Downer for the Melody Maker, and now I had it. I have this theory that “Circuses and bread” is a series of duets but I could be totally wrong. It is mainly tranquil and minor key and lovely and if I’m in the right mood for it I can sometimes feel like it’s my favourite album ever. There are a few moments which are amongst Durutti’s finest – “Royal infirmary” is almost as magical as “All that love and maths can do”, the two versions of “Dance” show Vini almost rocking out on guitar, and although it could be said that “Blind elevator girl” goes on a bit, the middle section is fantastic. I played the album over and over during that depressing Easter, alongside an old rediscovered album from my parents’ collection.

The problem remained – what about the rest of their back catalogue? Well it still wasn’t appearing in the racks of any Cardiff record shops, and I didn’t realise I could order records in Spillers, so when another Gema Records list arrived in the autumn of 86 I put “Another setting” on the order and hoped for the best. And lo and behold it arrived a month later. It had one of my favourite sleeves ever and some great songs. Opener “Prayer” I knew for some reason and I have no idea why. Closer “Spent time” had a gorgeous Fender Rhodes piano clunk, reverbed drums and a wail of feedbacking guitar in the distance as Vini sang about things ending. I have said it before and I’ll say it here publicly – I want “Spent time” played at my funeral. OK? In between there’s some mumbled shy vocals, lots of drums, some lovely guitar playing and “Second family”. Now it’s a pretty unassuming piece, guitar and cor anglais playing a moderately cheerful melody for a few minutes and then towards the end Vini peals off a string of descending minor key thirds on the guitar ending with an almost flamenco flourish and an arc of harmonics as the cor anglais circles the periphery of the piece and in those 30 seconds it moves from bright and shiny to sudden darkness and is quite shocking. It’s a great album, even if Tony Wilson wasn’t fussed on it and it’s quiet sadness was the perfect soundtrack to autumn train rides back from college as the light faded into night.

The winter of 86 moving into 87 was a time of movement for me. All my UCCA and PCAS forms were in so I started going around the unis and polys for interviews – Liverpool Uni, Salford Uni, Sheffield Poly. Lots of train journeys on my own for the first time, early starts from South Wales to up North, hanging around at Birmingham New Street or Bristol Parkway for late connections, shivering in the cold and dark. In February I found a second hand copy of “LC” and though it was battered and scratched, it still sounded otherworldly and it soundtracked these journeys. Even now, hearing “Never known” takes me back to watching dusk fall across the scrublands and crumbling industrial complexes between Manchester and Crewe. At the time I wasn’t that impressed by “LC”, it sounded murky and half formed to me. Yes there were standout tracks like “Jacqueline” and “The missing boy” and “Sketch for dawn” but everything else sounded wrong to me. Of course now I know my initial opinion is crap and I love it from beginning to end, but it took some patience to get there.

In the Spring of 87 the retail arm of Virgin decided to return to mail order records. Our family thought it might be better than Gema Records and when this huge thick catalogue was delivered we are devoured it, looking for things we’d never seen before. Ironically it turned out to be just as random as Gema Records, of all the records my family ordered it was only my two which came. One record was Perfect Vision’s “Tongues out” mini album, the other was “Friends in Portugal” by Durutti Column. Twelve more songs recorded in 83 and half wonderful and half – dare I say it – awful. “Torn dress” and “Wheels turning” are perhaps my least favourite Durutti tracks, Vini’s singing is more wayward than usual and the songs don’t go anywhere. Two songs – “Estoril at night” and “Favourite descending intervals” – were adapted into “Without Mercy” but sound fine as individual pieces. Other tracks – the title track, “Saudade”, “To end with” are lovely.

April 9th 1987 was when another Gema Records order was received and two more Durutti records. The seven inch single “I get along without you very well” was weird, Tony Wilson’s ex-wife singing over a tinkling soundtrack. “Valuable passages” was a compilation CD – my first ever. I didn’t even have a player at that point. It opened a new world because it gave me new Durutti songs and a hint that there were other records of theirs out there – what were these EPs on odd labels and how the hell did I find them? Once I had a cd player for my eighteenth birthday my first purchases were the other available Durutti cds, “Circuses and bread” and the Japanese live album “Domo Arigato”. Also on my eighteenth birthday I persuaded the Saturday morning Radio Wales DJ – who also happened to be my Computer Science teacher in college – to play “Jacqueline” for me.

Summer 87, A levels results and the turmoil of which uni to go to based on my slightly disappointing results. I could have gone to Liverpool Uni but instead chose Sheffield Poly. I sometimes wonder how different my life would be had I gone to Liverpool. The frantic dash of sorting out what to take and organising accomodation was soundtracked by a new Durutti EP – “The city of our lady”. The highlight of this EP was an eight minute Spanish guitar workout called “Catos Con Guantes” which was beautiful. But it was obvious now that the main task of getting the bulk of the back catalogue was done, so from now on it was a matter of keeping up the new releases and looking out for oddities along the way. Being based in Sheffield allowed me easy access to the major northern cities and their record shops, so I managed to pick up records like “A Factory Quartet” (three Durutti songs) from Manchester HMV or “Deux triangles” EP from a second hand shop in Leeds. And there was a new album too – “The guitar and other machines” rocked in ways I could hardly imagine but still had that gorgeous guitar flowing. That album was played for a whole week while I wrote an assignment on AJ Ayers and all I remember of the assignment was that I dedicated it to the Durutti Column.

Around that time it was said in the press that Vini was working with Morrissey and that whetted my appetite. How would it sound? Would they write together? When the “Viva Hate” album came out in March 88 I played little else for a month. Looking back I still think it’s a great album but there isn’t enough Vini on it. Only twice did it sound like a true collaboration. The eight minute “Late night Maudlin Street” built up from simple drum machine and guitar to layers of Vini’s echoing guitars and pianos while Moz exhumed his own past. “Will never marry” – from the “Everyday is like Sunday” EP later that spring – has an orchestral sweep lacking on previous releases, and once Moz shuts up around the two minute mark then Vini let’s fly with some delicious guitar work. But they fell out after that and never worked together again. Shame.

The next Durutti album was issued around Easter 89, at a time when I wasn’t in the best of moods. I was about to be thrown off my course for lack of attendance and work after a huge crisis of confidence. Someone somewhere should have spotted that I couldn’t really cope with these things and – well – we’ll get to that somewhere else along the line probably. So I could really have done with a bit of Vini at that point. One night at my local pub there were a few new friends of friends and I said to one of them “You look like Vini Reilly” because she did. She said “Who?” I said “The guy from The Durutti Column” and she said “I LOVE them!” Turned out she’d seen them on BBC2 Womad show the previous year where they’d played three songs and loved it. So that was my meeting Grace, who I think is the one reader of this blog in New Zealand. If so, hello. A few days later I’d bought “Vini Reilly” and loved the vocal samples throughout, there was less reliance on synths and more reliance on those beautiful guitar melodies, and that night gave my tape of it to Grace at a houseparty.

I could go on through their career and list great moments but quite frankly… Looking back, that was the ‘golden period’ for me. I still buy Durutti records as and when and they are frequently superb. The Kooky and LTM / Factory Benelux labels have done a great job of keeping the music out there, issuing new material and doing expert compilations of older material. The “LC” expanded issue from earlier this year was superb, compiling a host of material together which I originally searched for over a period of years. And that is sort of my point. In those days the lack of information on a band and their records increased their desirability. I felt more of a connection to the music partly because I had to hunt for it so hard, the thrill of the chase, finally tracking down a copy of the twelve inch of “Lips that would kiss”, hoping it would be worth the wait, having two or three new songs to get to know. I made more of a personal investment in the music because of the effort involved in obtaining it, and because there was less money for me to spend on buying music I was more prepared to work at new music, I had the time to devote to a record, to allow it to develop in my mind. Maybe it’s a teenage thing, everything seems more heightened then, your senses more attuned. But these days.. It’s just too easy. A few years ago I downloaded the entire career of a band I was interested in, and it took half an hour, and I still don’t think I’ve heard it all yet. I don’t feel the music is ‘mine’, I haven’t invested the time in it and the ease of getting the music has devalued it in my mind. I still prefer physical music – CDs – to anything else. I like the ‘artefact’ I suppose. I can still devote myself to new (and old, or new to me) music but the life of a mid forties family man with commitments doesn’t give so much chance to do that. But listening back to the Durutti Column still stirs emotions, memories of forgotten friends or lost crushes or a simpler life. I know Vini has had health issues these last few years and I wish him good health, and a huge thank you to him for making music that has affected me so much over the years.

Next time : Songs my parents taught me – the start of an ongoing series reviewing the records in my parents’ record collection.