I Don’t Know Where To Begin

As you probably know Johnny Marr’s autobiography, Set The Boy Free, came out recently. I was in a shop and had just picked it up when my phone rang. Mrs Swiss said her Mother had just phoned saying she’d found a Christmas present for me and she was really excited because I’m ‘difficult to buy for’.

‘So whatever you do, don’t buy the Johnny Marr book’.

I put it back, sighing slightly as I’d have to wait until the end of December to read it.

Electronic was a bolt hole for both Marr and Bernard Sumner and the original intention was to put out club inspired music with a variety of guests. First single Getting Away With It was a big hit in December 1989 so the idea of releasing things quietly and anonymously was shot to pieces there and then. Follow up Get the Message in 1991 was a brilliant piece of pop. It was followed by a remix 12″ where the song structure was stretched into a dancier groove.

Get The Message (DNA Groove Mix)

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.

Cities In The Park

Just over twenty five years ago Factory Records put on a two day festival in Heaton Park, Manchester, in memory of Martin Hannett who had died earlier that year. Day One, Saturday August 3rd, included Buzzcocks, Paris Angels, Ruthless Rap Assassins, The Railway Children, OMD and The Wonderstuff. Day Two, Sunday, was almost entirely Factory acts- Happy Mondays, Electronic, ACR, Revenge, Durutti Column, The Wendys and Cath Carroll plus De La Soul, 808 State and New fast Automatic Daffodils. There were two day camping tickets- but who would want to camp in Heaton Park?

We went on the Sunday. It was hot. I met my brother there, who came in when some of the crowd outside pushed the fence down. He had a ticket but just fancied coming in through the fence. From memory Durutti were good but a bit lost in a giant field, Revenge were a bit iffy (Hooky playing bass, singing and whacking the syndrums repeatedly, probably trying to overcompensate for the bad blood between him and Bernard Sumner, New Order’s split and their relative positions on the bill). ACR were good, 808 State really moved the crowd, De La Soul were shouty. Electronic were imperious, especially when the Pet Shop Boys turned up on stage and you scanned left to right and saw key members of New Order, The Smiths and PSBs all together for one song. It’s shame they played live so rarely.

The whole event was filmed and a video released which I bought but no longer have. Here’s a scene setter…

And here an enthusiastic Tony Wilson interviews Johnny Marr, Rowetta, Shaun Ryder and Bez…

This Youtube uploader has labelled this as Electronic live in London  but it’s definitely Heaton Park.

Happy Mondays were by 1991 a stunningly effective if very unlikely stadium band. Kinky Afro rocks. No, it doesn’t, it grooves.

Getting Away With It

I’ve been off work this week, half term holiday. Not done very much, pottered about, visited an exhibition at The Lowry, popped into town and went to a record shop or two, took the kids out, attended a protest meeting where I met Johnny Marr… that sort of thing.

Trafford Council, the Tory run council where we live, have recently announced that as they have no legal obligation to provide transport for disabled and special needs young people over the age of sixteen that they would be withdrawing the service. Most disabled youngsters from the borough attend Brentwood Special School in Timperley and come from all over Trafford. Transport with an escort is essential for these kids. They cannot travel independently. Trafford Council is in favour of ‘independence’ but most of these young people will never be independent as the rest of us know it. Travelling on a public service bus is simply impossible. Not to mention dangerous. The policy is due to be enforced for all of them from September. This will affect our son Isaac. He cannot travel independently, it is out of the question. Under this policy the choice we will have is to either  pay Trafford’s proposed parental contribution (£400 per month) or to take him to school ourselves. The school is several miles away. As I have to leave for work at 7.30 this obviously affects Mrs Bagging Area’s ability and freedom to work if she has to make an hour’s round trip at 8am and then again at 3pm.

More outrageously they cut the transport instantly for eleven young people last September without warning. This has adversely affected the children and the families- some autistic children have been completely disrupted by the loss of transport. Some have needed new medication as a result. At least one parent has lost their job and others have had to give up work or renegotiate with their employers. Some children have been unable to attend 16-19 education. The transport axe fell without warning and in some cases the council asked parents to provide evidence that their child was still disabled, including a girl with Downs Syndrome- as if she had grown out of it when she turned 16. The total cost of the savings for this year is £70, 000, which is a drop in the ocean in the finances of the wealthiest borough in Greater Manchester. Central government have cut local government funding and asked them to make further cuts. Trafford’s Tory ruling group have bent over backwards to accommodate them.

Trafford Council’s motto, displayed proudly on their recently refurbished town hall (multi-million pound refurbishment I might add), is Hold Fast That Which Is Good. Enabling disabled young people to attend school might fit into the category of ‘that which is good’. The education provision in Trafford is rated as Outstanding. Cutting services for the one of most vulnerable groups in society is not. Many other councils in the north-west have decided that although they are not legally bound to provide such transport for disabled and special needs youngsters, they are morally bound to do so. Conservative Party morality is clearly something else entirely.

On Wednesday night we attended a protest at Trafford Town Hall before full council met. Several Labour and Lib Dem councillors have spoken on our behalf. An online petition has over 2000 signatures. The council have delayed a final decision so far. As we stood in the dark outside the town hall with our banners and placards a familiar figure came into view. Johnny’s niece attends Brentwood Special School so he has a personal involvement. And that is how I ended up on the steps of Trafford Town Hall standing next to Johnny Marr- a man whose poster was on my wall as a seventeen year old, whose records I have bought religiously over the last three decades- as he shouted the words of a chant I made up for the benefit of the council and cameras. Was I freaked out? Just a little. The Manchester Evening News report is here with our son Isaac to the left of Johnny in the first picture. Maybe best to ignore some of the mealy mouthed comments at the bottom. The protest was on ITV Granada’s 10.30pm news too. Let’s hope the press attention counts for something as the Tory ruling group meet to consider their final decision.  So while the protest and the campaign are the most important aspect of this, and persuading Trafford Council to accept their responsibilities is the number one priority I have to say I was a tad giddy about meeting Johnny Marr and before leaving we had time for a brief chat and photo opportunity. Top man Mr Marr.

Electronic Factory

When Electronic released their first two masterful singles (1989’s Getting Away With It and 1991’s Get The Message) they seemed to have the future in their palms. They talked of collaborating with a variety of people all based around the core of the pair. Bernard wanted a break from New Order. Johnny had left The Smiths. Both wanted to do new things and break new ground. I always imagined this would lead to something a little different than just the song-based tracks that made up the first album (which I love by the way and many of the songs on it are first rate). The other stuff ended up on B-sides but I always thought they should have pursued this and made an instrumental, dance music album as well as the dance influenced pop. Lucky Bag was on the flipside of Get The Message, Hacienda house with Italo piano. Lean To The Inside was a classy, more chilled piece which came out on the Feel Every Beat 12″. A whole album of this kind of thing could have worked really well.

Lucky Bag (Miami Edit)

Lean To the Inside

Disorder

New Order split up, sort of, for the first time in the late 80s, splintering into several bands who all sounded a bit like New Order. After ten years together they needed some space from each other. Depending on who you believe a) Bernard had had enough of Hooky’s habits and wanted to make music without having to have his bass on everything b) Hooky thought Bernard was a big-headed, lead singer who was trying to take over the band to make dance records. And so began the intermittent sniping at each other which, despite a massively successful reformation in the mid-90s and again in the early 2000s, has led to New Order touring and making records without Peter Hook. And whatever he’s done and however he behaves, it doesn’t really seem like New Order without Hooky on bass.

Bernard and Johnny Marr recorded a handful of great singles- Getting Away With It and Get The Message- and their first album was a good ‘un from start to finish. Having abandoned The Smiths Bernard had to coax the best guitarist of his generation into playing the guitar at all on the debut. The rough and funky guitar break on Feel Every Beat, last song on the album, make ’em wait, is signature Marr. The song also has Barney rapping and getting away it. Just about.

Feel Every Beat (12″ mix)

Hooky formed Revenge/took Revenge. He claimed Johnny Marr had promised to work with him first and then left him in the lurch. Now, now children, play nicely. Revenge’s debut single was also good, full of sparkling guitars and NO-esque keys and singing. I don’t have it on the hard drive at the moment and can’t be arsed ripping it so it’s video only. The album had a few moments too but nothing as fresh as 7 Reasons. 7 Reasons had an opening line as arch as anything Barney could come up with… ‘It’s good to be young and gifted again, to see if it all happens twice’.

He went on to find more chart success with Monaco (with David Potts). I was less fussed about Monaco and don’t own anything by them- they sounded like a photocopy of New Order. A photocopy of a photocopy of New Order. But I don’t begrudge Hooky that. I saw Revenge playing at Cities In The Park, in Heaton Park, in 1991. They played in the middle of the afternoon and sounded like a dance Sisters Of Mercy. Electronic played later, with both Pet Shop Boys turning up. They were much, much better.

Stephen and Gillian shrugged, tutted and then got on with making music as The Other Two. Their debut was also a little slice of joy. Sounds a little dated now I think. Kylie should have covered this. It is in lots of ways a long way from Transmission.

Factory lost New Order and gained three sub-bands, none of whom (Electronic excepted occasionally) could match New Order’s record sales. Then Factory went bust, waiting and hoping for the band to put an lp out in time to save the label but ti didn’t happen. Electronic, Revenge and the Other Two had all put out their records on Factory. By the time they kissed and made up, Factory was gone.

Still

Johnny Marr looks the business in this photo- the black barnet, drainpipes, denim jacket and white shirt buttoned all the way up (from The Smith’s appearance on the Oxford Road Show). As does his songwriting partner next to him, but Marr’s look was always a bit more streetwise.

Johnny’s been promoting his new solo album with his band, playing the 6 Music red button thing this week. I haven’t got Playland yet so can’t comment. But the version of Still Ill was first rate.

Still Ill (6 music live)

Still Ill is a reminder of what an inventive guitarist he is (and he wrote it aged about 18) and also of how stunning Morrissey’s early lyrics were. This song has more great lines than some people manage in an entire career- ‘I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine and it owes me a living’ for starters. And whatever your opinion of Morrissey it is sad and unpleasant that he has been having treatment for cancer.

Getting Away With It was Electronic’s masterclass of a first single. Marr and his band played it live at Maida Vale. Opinion seems to be split on this live version but I think it’s alright. Watch it quick, these red button sessions have a habit of being taken down.