Reach For Love

One of the best things about Factory Records was that in the early years of its existence the label put no pressure on artists to conform or play the industry game. Commercial considerations were way down the list of essential requirements for a release. Art came first. Not to say they didn’t want a hit every now and then to pay the bills but the musicians were more or less given the freedom to record anything they wanted to, to experiment and to explore.

The other side of this, which was probably just as important as the one above theoretically (and Factory’s directors especially Tony Wilson were very into their theory), is that in attempting to prove that an independent record label could stand alone outside the majors, they also refused to play the game. To Wilson this meant, certainly in the first half of the 80s, that there would be no promotion, no pluggers, no advertising (apart from bill posters). The records would sell themselves because they were brilliant and because they packaged inside beautiful sleeves.

This worked fine for New Order. New Order could release a single, a work of art on 12 inches of vinyl housed in a Peter Saville sleeve, and know that a fanbase of  60- 80, 000 people would buy it within a week of it being released. However, as Stephen Morris pointed out to Wilson in what became a heated debate ‘while sitting in the studio for hours waiting for Bernard to redo his guitar for the umpteenth time’, this policy of no promotion (or anti-promotion) was letting the bands down. Wilson replied that ‘the trouble with you is that you’re too money- minded’.

If ever there was a record that came out on Factory that should have been a massive hit and wasn’t it was Reach For Love by Marcel King. It was produced by Be Music, the catch all name for New Order band members producing other artists. In this case, the producer was Bernard Sumner along with ACR’s Donald Johnson (who played many of the instruments as well). Released in 1984 Reach For Love is a fantastic piece of dancefloor soul, a tough, urban sounding record packed with electronic rhythms and a pulsing bassline and topped with a beautiful vocal from Marcel. It should have been number 1. It wasn’t. Marcel had been at the top of the charts ten years earlier with the group Sweet Sensation and according to legend was found by Rob Gretton sleeping in a car and offered the opportunity to make a record on the spot. He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1995 aged just 38. Factory made many of the greatest pieces of pop culture of the late 20th century but they also fucked it up many times. Maybe they fucked it up for the right reasons but not selling a million copies of this single is a fuck up however you slice it. Your Monday however will be immeasurably improved by pressing play.

Reach For Love 

Pretenders Of Love

That was a tough week just gone and probably one to come (for various reasons but y’know, onwards and upwards- we still have music to keep us going). Shark Vegas were a Berlin based band, containing Mark Reeder, who was the Factory Records man in Germany. He put together Shark Vegas, and went through some line up changes including a drummer, Tommy Wiedler, who went on to The Bad Seeds. They supported New Order in 1984 and had a song (You Hurt Me) that was produced by Bernard Sumner and Donald Johnson (as B Music). Bernard wanted to release as a single and played guitar over the end section. In 1987 a compilation called Young, Popular And Sexy (FAC US 17) was released in the US and Australia. On it was this long forgotten song, a bit of a lost electro-pop classic- yes, there are bits of it where it sounds massively like New Order.

Pretenders Of Love

I don’t have a MP3 of You Hurt Me but here’s the 12″ version from Youtube (FAC 111 and recorded at Conny Plank’s studio in 1984).

I’ve Been Waiting To Hear Your Voice For Too Long Now

By 1985 New Order were well into their stride, the faltering, unsure, step-by-step progress of the early years well in the past. 1983’s album Power, Corruption And Lies more or less invented electronic indie and contained at least two career high points (Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face) as well as the blueprint for Blue Monday. The run of singles from 1982 to 1985 takes in Temptation, Blue Monday, Confusion, the peerless Thieves Like Us plus its B-side Lonesome Tonight. Then they put out another album, recorded in 1984 and released in May ’85- Lowlife.

Lowlife only has eight songs on it but almost every one is a winner, disco and rock seamlessly intertwined. The sound combines full on synths and sequencers with Hooky’s distorted bass providing the rock ballast. Stephen’s drumming, with plenty of digital delay, is crisp and loud. The guitars are trebly and choppy, like Velvets era Lou Reed on acid. Lowlife is the first New Order album to contain singles and the first to feature band photographs on the cover (which Peter Saville then obscured by wrapping in tracing paper). From opener the Salford country & western of Love Vigilantes with Barney’s enigmatic Vietnam War lyric to the magnificent closer Face Up this is a record I never get bored of. Face Up is huge, a glorious synth and bass intro, sampled choral voices, synth drum pads and then … whoosh, we bounce along in NO disco heaven. The lyrics contain the usual mix of clunkers and the perfect skewering of life (see ‘your hair was blonde, your eyes were blue, guess what I’m gonna do to you’ and ‘we were young and we were pure and life was just an open door’). Up until 1989 the lyrics were usually a group effort. For Technique Barney took over lyrics and vocals completely, something else Hooky rues as a nail in the coffin.

Sub-culture is here too, another disco-rock peak, Barney’s vocals sounding like a guide vocal that he never bothered to redo (and all the better for it). That one fingered synth intro, followed by the drum machine and then the dark lyrics about walking in the park late at night and shafting on your own. Sub-culture is a close cousin of The Perfect Kiss and builds similarly, synth drums and bass riffs piling on top of each other. It was later released as a single in remixed form (by John Robie, an inferior version really with backing vox and synth stabs. Peter Saville was so disappointed he refused to design a sleeve for it). Hooky points to Robie’s influence as being one of the turning points that ruined the group. Before Robie they didn’t write songs following any rules- after Robie Bernard insisted on all the songs being in his key and eventually they became verse-chorus- middle eight formulaic. But let’s leave the blame game aside and stick to the songs. Elegia is their intense instrumental tribute to their former, deceased frontman. I posted the unedited fifteen minute version last autumn and if you haven’t heard it you should seek it out. The Perfect Kiss is inserted as track two, a peak among peaks (although it’s an edited version on Lowlife. You need the full-on 12″ version, a single for which the 12″ format might have been invented). The Perfect Kiss has peaks and troughs, bass playing that is something else entirely, and several climaxes. This Time Of Night and Sooner Than You Think are both good album tracks. If pushed I could live without Sooner…. I suppose. But today’s song is this one, closing side one, Sunrise. Possibly the rockiest song on Lowlife it opens with descending synth chords before being joined by a superb bass riff -then the whole band join in, pronto. The guitars rattle, bottle tops on the strings to get a Morricone sound and Bernard’s vocal is straining, at the top of his register. The synths continue to wash away. The guitar, bass and drums drive away. At the end Bernard thrashes the toggle switch on his guitar. Done.

Sunrise

Alarm Clock

This is the tune I was looking for before getting distracted by West India Company, a 1990 offering from German DJ West Bam (Maximillian Lenz). Offering doesn’t really do this speaker shaking 12″ justice. It’s a slap in the face and a shiver down the spine with a juddering riff (sampled from Gang Of Four apparently and then borrowed from this by Weatherall for his legendary My Bloody Valentine remix) and a Tutonic breakbeat. Wakey wakey!

Alarm Clock

In 2013 West Bam released a new album which had this song on it, She Wants, with vocals by Bernhard Sumner (sic) and a slightly disturbing, NSFW video. If last year’s new New Order album had been more like this, I’d have liked it more.

I Just Want To See Your Face

In the early 80s Factory signed lots of bands who sounded very Factory. Many of them struggled to escape from the long shadow cast by Joy Division and New Order. Occasionally someone would produce something that stepped forward from those shadows. Section 25’s Looking From A Hilltop, from 1984, is one of those records. The single release had this version on the B-side, produced by Bernard Sumner and Donald Johnson from ACR, it is years ahead of itself. A pulsing bassline, percussion and drum machine way up front, with layers of synths, guitars and noises and hard to hear vocals. It is one of Factory’s most startling moments and despite being eight minutes long it never feels like it. Various underground djs and left of the dial radio stations in the States picked up on it pushing it further onwards. From Blackpool too. Kiss me quick.

Looking From A Hilltop (Megamix)

Haze

I’d forgotten about this one and found it while wasting time on Youtube recently. 1999’s Electronic album Twisted Tenderness didn’t exactly set the world alight and Sumner and Marr moved onto different and separate things afterwards. Track 2 is a little gem though, a highlight in either man’s back catalogue outside their main bands. Johnny Marr had got back into playing distorted guitar and the whole thing has menace and convincing swagger.

Haze

This live version done for Jo Whiley’s Channel 4 music show is even heavier.

This Time I’m Not Wrong

I’ve posted this before but thought it might be worth looking at again. Bernard Sumner’s got a very distinctive voice, not a great voice maybe, but it’s very recognisable. He’s popped up on guest vocals in various places, with 808 State and The Chemical Brothers most famously. In 1997 he sang on a song with Sub Sub, not long before they mutated into Doves. The song- This Time I’m Not Wrong- came out on 12″, the last release ever on Rob’s Records (Rob Gretton’s label, New Order manager). It sounds much more like Doves than Sub Sub and when their studio/rehearsal room burned down the Williams bros and Jimi Goodwin took it as a sign to move on. Listening to this, it’s pretty clearly where early Doves song Catch The Sun came from.

This Time I’m Not Wrong

The 12″ also has an early version of Firesuite.

Firesuite