Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sandpaper, Factory Records, Joy Division And The Noises In Vini Reilly's Head: The Beautiful Messing Of The Durutti Column

Vini Reilly’s first album, The Return of The Durutti Column, was more notorious for its sandpaper sleeve than the music contained therein. The sleeve was a Factory Records joke, designed to destroy neighbouring albums. Joy Division were employed on a piece-rate to stick the sandpaper sheets onto the sleeves. “I was highly embarrassed,” Reilly recalls. “I hadn’t done anything to help them on their albums. But I had praised them when they were Warsaw. I mentioned them to Tony (Wilson) because I’d seen them twice.”
The Durutti Column’s music, despite borrowing a band name from a group of Spanish anarchists – was less demonstrative, and more rewarding. It also gave Reilly a box-seat during those early, crazy days of Factory. “I remember it being very disorganised. For example, Tony Wilson left me to my own devices after that first album had been done. I didn’t even know it was going to be an album, I just got picked up by (producer) Martin Hannett, was taken to the studio, recorded 30 odd pieces of music off the top of me head, and went away.
“I was very seriously ill at that point, and I went back home and concentrated on being depressed. A couple of weeks later, Tony handed me a white label, and said: ‘Listen to it, see what you think’. I liked it, I said, ‘Yeah, carry on, it’s great. Brilliant.’ After that I was earning a wage from royalties, which meant I could concentrate on just doing music, which was all I ever wanted to do.
“I’d always worked, I’d never been on the dole. I’d been expelled from school, I was all over the place. Anyway, I bought a 4-track reel-to-reel from Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe. It was knackered, it was a very old machine. I bought it off my own bat, just to muck around with. And one night, about three o’clock in the morning – I was staying at my mum’s house, she was quite elderly - I went in the spare bedroom, and I just felt very inspired and I recorded for about three hours, with a very cheap drum machine, a space echo and one guitar, and one very cheap microphone, and that’s LC. I didn’t do it to make an album, I just did it because I was inspired.”
LC (short for “Lotta Continua” – continuous struggle) is no noisier than Reilly’s debut,  though it includes some piano, and skittish drums by Bruce Mitchell of Albertos Y Los Trios Paranoias. Reilly sings occasionally (in the manner of a whispering Bernard Sumner), notably on the beautiful opener, Sketch For Dawn.
“Next day Tony Wilson asked me could he have a listen. I had a very early Walkman, he listened to it, and he wouldn’t give me my Walkman back. He carried on listening to it all afternoon. After a couple of hours he said, ‘This is an album.’ I said ‘I don’t think it is,’ but the next day we went into a very small studio which was really built for jingles, but it meant that Bruce could add his drumkit and I put a piano down. That’s all that was added, and Tony said: 'That’s great, that’s an album’. I didn’t really mind, I was quite happy about that. So if you listen to LC you’ll hear hiss from the space echo, hiss from the quarter-inch tape, a very old tape that had been recorded over and over again. As far as audio people are concerned, sonically it’s terrible. It’s full of hiss and all sorts.”
Broadly speaking, it’s uncategorisable. Reilly – classical by training, derailed by punk - went for “new wave”, by which he meant he was in serious opposition to rock’n’roll, and while he was experimental by intuition, his instincts were towards listenability. There’s a lovely song for Ian Curtis, The Missing Boy, which demonstrates that while Reilly was a Factory man, his music transcends that time and place.
“It’s an instant reaction, because I spoke to Ian after his attempted suicide. I knew him quite well, and I also knew his Belgian girlfriend, Annik, she was a friend of mine. I didn’t really know his wife but I knew Annik very well, when I went to Brussels I used to stay with her. She was very intelligent, sophisticated, worldly, and Ian was spellbound by her. The trouble was, he had epilepsy and the treatment if you had epilepsy in those days was to give you a huge amount of barbiturates, and when you take that sort of medication at that level, you lose any sense of reality, and that’s basically what happened. He was in a difficult situation anyway, because he had a young daughter, who’s been a friend of mine ever since. She came into Factory when she was 14, and Tony pointed at me and said ‘Vini’ll look after you’. I did. And she’s now a fine young woman, a very good photographer and a dear friend.
“The title for The Missing Boy came from when we were in America. It was myself, ACR, and New Order. I was just sat by the hotel swimming pool one day, in LA, and we were feeling very pleased with ourselves, because we were just working class Manchester guys, and here we were in LA. I suddenly turned round, and I said to Tony very clearly, ‘You know who’s missing, don’t you?’ And he looked at me straight away, and he said, ‘Yeah, Ian’. That’s why I called it that – he was missing. And at exactly that point, the piece of music arrived, and that was it. It was just there. These things just arrive. There’s no work involved. There’s no cerebral , intellectual exercise. It’s all simple, very simple, and it’s played as it is in my head.”
Reilly, who is recovering from a series of strokes, confesses to some bemusement at the continuing interest in his old music. “I can’t hear whatever it is that people are hearing in it. All I hear is me messing about, and that’s it.”
Messing about, he suggests modestly, is “all I’ve ever done. It’s hard to explain.  I get a piece of music in my head. You know when you play a piece of music, it’s a series of events that take place over a space of time. When I hear a piece of music – when one arrives in my head from wherever, it’s not like that, it’s complete, a beginning, a middle, an end, it doesn’t happen over a space of time, it’s complete in itself. It just exists in my head – I plug my guitar in and tap into it, and play it. I don’t need to rehearse it, I don’t need to work it out or practice it. I just play it. In that sense, it’s not improvised, it’s complete in its entirety in my brain. Then once I’ve done it, I’ve lost all interest in it, it’s done. Then I’ll go to the next little point in my head which is another complete piece of music. It doesn’t make any sense. I can’t really explain it very well – that’s the best I can do.”
LC has recently been reissued by Factory Benelux