Backs To The Wall

This was written before the result of the general election was known but in gloomy, pessimistic anticipation of a Johnson win. Maybe I was wrong and he’s been turfed out into a cold December Downing Street, the door banging shut behind him.

Music is important isn’t’ it? It brings us together, gives us shared experiences (personal listening experiences and shared ones at gigs or on the dance-floor). It gives a voice to people. It allows us to recognise ourselves in the art others have made. Music gives us something to dance to in the face of disaster and disappointment, both personal and political. Lifts us up and brings us down. Makes us laugh and smile, cry and sigh. Makes you feel like you can face the world.

A Certain Ratio have been celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with a tour and a box set and two new releases (an old one in their unreleased version of Houses In  Motion and a new one in the Chris Massey remix of Dirty Boy, both featured here previously). In 1989 they were only ten years old and had left Factory for the major label environs of A&M. 1989’s The Big E album had several songs I’d consider to be keepers but didn’t sell well. The single Backs To The Wall was remixed by Frankie Knuckles, one of the originators of house music. He adds a chunky house beat and pumps up the disco elements of the song although in 1989 terms this remix feels quite slow. Nice job though, the symphonic stabs are good, there’s some funky guitar riffs and housed up piano chords, a bubbly bassline and several vocal lines that jump out given the current situation, not least the ones about the economic hard times and money talking, ‘we’re going nowhere, nowhere fast’, ‘we all need friends to help in the end but nothing lasts forever’ and the chorus…

‘Backs to the wall
Stand up tall
Don’t let ’em get you down’

Back To The Wall (Frankie Knuckles Remix)

Dirty Boy

A Certain Ratio have been having a new lease of life since singing to Mute with new singles, old songs excavated from the vaults, re-issues, box sets and gigs. Last year’s single Dirty Boy, featuring guest voices from the living (Barry Adamson) and the dead (Tony Wilson) has been remixed by Chris Massey, a Manchester based DJ, producer and promoter. The remix is if anything better than the original version, Jez Kerr’s bass in the foreground and a thudding house beat putting ACR back at the heart of the dancefloor. The video is a time shifting delight, intercutting footage of Manchester and it’s people from the last forty years, the Hacienda of the late 80s, dancers at a 70s discotheque, ravers at an outdoor festival, Jez and the band live on stage in ’89 and recently, the Mancunian Way then and now, our orange buses and a 60s motorcyclist speeding through the city centre- the old and the new.

 

Bring It Home To Me

On a Factory tip recently I dug out my double disc re-issue of A Certain Ratio’s Sextet, their second album, released in 1982 and their first without Hannett at the controls. Hannett was dumped as producer by New Order, Durutti Column and then ACR too which can’t have done much for his state of mind. Sextet- so called because they’d recently become a six piece band- is full of good songs, heavy noir vibes and that Mancunian funk. The song that leapt out me was Knife Slits Water, a single from the same year and on CD 2 it’s long B-side Kether Hot Knives. I’ll save the B-side for another time.

Knife Slits Water takes the group’s dark funk, particularly foregrounding Donald Johnson’s drumming, a large dollop of echo on the kick drum creating a very futuristic dance sound, some busy bass and the distant but tough vocals of Martha Tilson, lyrics she wrote about sex and sexual politics. Tony Wilson’s vision of ACR as white boys playing funk, clad in ex-army khaki with short back and sides and whistles, is perfectly realised here. In 1981 the group had done a Peel Session- Skipscada, Day One and Knife Slits Water- and that’s the version I’m posting here. They were years ahead in ’81 and still sound like that now.

Knife Slits Water (Peel Session)

The other Factory album that I was rediscovering was Section 25’s From The Hip album, a Bernard Sumner produced 1984 lost classic and it’s single Looking From A Hilltop, one of the greatest of all Factory’s releases. But again, let’s leave that for another day. The pictures above were taken in Section 25’s hometown Blackpool on Sunday afternoon, the modernist arches of the amusements centre in brilliant Fylde coast sunshine.

Shoes With No Socks In Cold Weather

In their fortieth year A Certain Ratio have gone all out and are set to release an anniversary box set in May, twenty eight tracks making up the singles and B-sides that weren’t included on any of their albums and sixteen previously unreleased songs. You can read about it here. Ahead of this they have just put this out, the semi-legendary results of the time in 1980 that ACR, Martin Hannett and Grace Jones assembled in Stockport’s Strawberry Studios to record a cover version of Talking Heads’ Houses In Motion. In the end Grace never completed her vocal for the track so Jez Kerr’s guide vocals are used instead (from a period when Jez wasn’t even ACR’s singer yet). How this has managed to lie unreleased for nearly four decades is something of a mystery but now it’s here and, as they say, better late than never, the Eno- produced New York funk of Talking Heads transplanted across the Atlantic to a side street in northern England at the start of the 80s. Taut bass, monotone vocal, congas and some stunning distorted, choppy guitar playing from Martin Moscrop before those wonderful, off key horns.

The video is completely new but fits the general vibe perfectly. The song is the from the vaults find of the year so far.

Dreampieces

This was on the last episode of Andrew Weatherall’s monthly radio show, a reworking of a 2008 song from Headman with A Certain Ratio’s singer and bass player Jez Kerr on treated but distinctive vocals. Headman describes it as his usual post-punk sound updated with Italo-disco and synth-pop. The 2018 rework was posted on Twitter by Jez and said to be a Weatherall rework but I can’t find any reference to that in the Music’s Not For Everyone show or on Youtube where it is said to be a rework by Robi (Headman himself). Either way, Weatherall or Headman, this is a pumping bassline, horn-led, dance floor thumper, not too far from Jez’s day job, early 80s mutant disco funk. Stick it on the next time you have guests round and see what happens. You can buy it at Bandcamp. Embed not working- find it at Youtube.

Walk Right Into Better Days

This is the fourth time in as many years I’ve seen A Certain Ratio in the run up to Christmas. They signed to Mute last year and have a new Best Of album out but they’re still playing small, intimate venues. Gorilla on Whitworth Street in Manchester was rammed on Saturday night, the sort of gig where people are so jammed in that it’s difficult to move/dance. I arrived late, couldn’t find my friends and found myself down by the side of the stage right by Martin Moscrop with a perfect view of his pedal board and Denise Johnson occasionally coming over to sing right in front of us, as the pictures above show. The first half of the set was usual trip into late 70s and early 80s Manchester, songs that are now getting on for 40 years old, a northern noir response to punk and funk- Do The Du, Wild Party and Flight all sound particularly alive and vibrant. Denise comes on and we get a superb run through the early 90s groove of Be What You Wanna Be. Mickey Way from 1986’s jazz-funk Force gets a welcome outing, Moscrop moving from guitar to trumpet to cowbell to drums from one song to the next. Poor Jez Kerr has to play sitting down when he’s not singing, suffering from sciatica- between songs he apologises for this and in a nod to the average age of the crowd says that he’s got a bad back but probably so have half the audience. In reply a walking stick and a crutch get waved around from near the front row. New song Dirty Boy is played, fitting right in with the rest. After this it’s the familiar crowdpleasers- 27 Forever with an extended section, a reworked Good Together and Won’t Stop Loving You (in its Big E version rather than Bernard Sumner’s remix). They finish with Shack Up, Denise’s vocals all the way out front with Donald’s drums putting the funk into the punk. ACR return for an encore and as usual start swapping instruments, drummer Donald on slap bass and Martin on drums before ending with the samba workout Si Firmi O Grido. Drums strapped on, percussion in hands, the band troupe off the stage and into the crowd, finishing the gig in the centre of the floor surrounded by the audience. Sweaty, tightly packed fun.

The Big E

Dirty Boys

A Certain Ratio are putting out a compilation album in October which by the looks of it mirrors their current live set, opening with Do The Du, Wild Party and Flight and then moving through their back catalogue taking in Mickey Way, 27 Forever, Won’t Stop Loving You, Good Together and finishing with the samba drum fest of Si Firmir O Grido. Attached to the end of the compilation are two new songs, the first of which was posted online yesterday (the 11th anniversary of Tony Wilson’s death, presumably not coincidentally). The song is called Dirty Boys and has the voice of Wilson on it along with vocals from Barry Adamson. It sounds like a reinvigorated ACR still have plenty to contribute.