The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
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From Dry to Oklahoma with an atlas - The Durutti Column Biography 1992-2005 by John Cooper
The Durutti Column would strongly begin the nineties by releasing the album 'Obey The Time' on Factory Records, yet by the end of 1992 Factory Records would go bust and there would be little or no output from the group.
In 1994, Factory Records would be resurrected as Factory Too, and Vini Reilly, who IS The Durutti Column, would become one of the first groups on the label. But by the end of the decade Factory would closed (again) and Vini would sever all his ties with Factory and Tony Wilson. The following years would become one of the most artistically creative periods of Vini's long and varied career.
At the end of 2004, events would again turn full circle as The Durutti Column negotiated a new deal with F4, the fourth generation of Factory Records, capping a year which was also the bands most successful to date.
Things were looking quite different back in 1992, where, amidst the background of the collapse of Factory Records, The Durutti Column played a few solo shows with Rob Gray (Little Big Band) in Milan, Italy and at the Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room in London. These shows saw Vini and Rob, who notably guested on The Durutti Column's The Guitar and Other Machines, playing solo and together on a mixture of Durutti Column, blues standards and Rob Gray originals. Later in '92 there was a gig at the Jabez Clegg in Manchester.
Everything remained quiet until October 1993 when Vini went into the studio in London. There here renewed his working relationship with producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), who had produced Morrisseys Viva Hate (co-written by an uncredited Vini), as well as two previous Durutti albums, 'The Guitar and Other Machines_ and 'Vini Reilly'.
The resulting album, Sex and Death was released in November 1994, the first album release by Factory Too, and the first studio album in four years.
To mark the release a Factory Too spokesperson commented: "It isn't just that it is historically and emotionally significant - Vini's work is all about the simplicity of music, the beauty of melody and the fact that there is something about popular music that is, to put it simply, important. If Factory Too is to have any relevance it has to be about exactly those same things."
Vini explained the title in simple terms: "Well, that's what everything I write is about... sex... and death."
The album, which was recorded in Manchester and mixed in London, saw Vini on fine form and playing in a variety of different styles. Moving on from the House experiments of Obey The Time it featured Bruce Mitchell on drums, John Metcalfe on viola and was bolstered by occasional bass guitar from New Order's Peter Hook, producer Stephen Street and even Vini himself. It was The Durutti Column in full flow.
Historically, the group hasn't regularly featured a bass guitarist. Speaking in 2004 on the Tom Robinson Evening Sequence on BBC 6 Music, Vini Reilly explained why: "I could never work with a conventional line-up; I never had a bass player in a band ever when I was doing my own music because I played the bass notes with my thumb on the lower notes of the guitar anyhow so a bass guitarist would have got in the way so the conventional line-up would never have worked anyhow".
Vini explained the recording methods he employed making the album in a 1995 interview with Mark Prendergast for the US Magazine 'Keyboard': "I remember recording a thunderstorm outside my French window at five o'clock one morning, and overdubbing by playing a Strat straight into a Lexicon, pulling that onto another DAT, and then bringing the whole lot into the studio to use as a backing track for a Spanish guitar lead. Three or four pieces were done in that kind of a way. Peter Hook lives around the corner, so he'd pop in occasionally too."
The band toured extensively in late '94 and '95, often with Peter Hook guesting on bass. The shows in Manchester and London were 'happenings' featuring two contrasting support acts: the mesmerising Guo Brothers (who had also supported ex-Factory band James in London in 1986) playing traditional Chinese music and instruments and Mark Springer (formerly of Rip Rig and Panic - famously once a musical guest on the BBC TV show 'The Young Ones') and also a free drink!
In 1995 the tour continued and moved farther afield to Portugal which had long been a favourite touring destination of Vinis. Hooky came too as they played a hectic schedule of three cities (Lisboa, Coimbra and Porto) in three days.
Factory Records was always a label that liked to do things first. And they liked to use The Durutti Column to push back the frontiers. The first ever cd-only album, Domo Arigato, and the first ever commercial Digital Audio Tape release The Guitar and Other Machines. Into the nineties and Factory Too again looked to be the first. Sex and Death: The CD-ROM was launched on 24 October 1995 at a special event at the ICA in London which doubled as a low-key gig. Speaking at the launch, Tony Wilson said: "CD-ROMs allow intimacy and what better music to use than Vini's?"
The CD-ROM included nearly the complete audio album (for some reason 'For Colette' was left off, even though it would apparently have fitted onto the disc) including track-by-track introductions by Vini, a guided tour of The Durutti Column's musical equipment and Vini's medication and a history of the group complete with footage of Bruce Mitchell's earlier band Alberto y Trio Los Paranoias. All this and it was housed in a very attractive box wrapped in a sheet of black sandpaper, in homage to "The Return of the Durutti Column", the first Durutti album released way back in 1979.
Factory Too would later write to those who had registered for its Durutti Database to inform them that they had a stack of both MAC and PC versions packaged in the "World's First Virtual Reality Sleeve" as it was dubbed. The CD-ROM would eventually sell out and now it is quite a collectible.
The Sex and Death era effectively drew to a close when, for the final time, The Durutti Column played the Haçienda in Manchester. In two years the Haçienda would be gone, its doors closed forever.
1996 saw a temporary departure from Factory Too for the release of 'Fidelity' on Les Disques du Crépuscule. In a press release the album was described as "mixing smoothly actual dance beats with the unique style of Vini Reilly's guitar. Additionally some titles are enlightened by Ellie Rudge's pure & fragile vocals. The result is a collection of anytime melodies with today's sounds."
Fidelity featured the Durutti Column debut keyboard / programming skills of Laurie Lexicon (aka Laurie Laptop), a friend of Vinis, who would go on to make further occasional studio and live appearances with the band.
1996 also saw the advent of Factory Once, an initiative to re-release The Durutti Columns entire Factory Records back catalogue on compact disc with, in Factory Toos words "all the usual catalogue campaign goodies - digitally remastered, extra tracks (sympathetically chosen from the appropriate era), insightful liner notes (uncredited but written by Tony Wilson) and mid-price even."
The first wave of releases comprised 'The Return Of The Durutti Column', 'LC', 'The Guitar and Other Machines' and 'Vini Reilly'. Each album came replete with new artwork by 8vo that paid homage to the original. In the case of Vini Reilly, the original abandoned 'arty' sleeve by 8vo was used for the first time. Apparently Vini had decided that he wanted to use a photograph for the cover but hated the results. In the end he gave the instruction to "do it like Bob Dylan."
By the mid-Nineties the internet's popularity extended to the world of The Durutti Column. Factory Too, as ever ahead of the game, launched its aforementioned Factory Internet Home Page v1 (Fac 2.07) in 1995 and, in 1997, Robert Stanzel's extensive and lovingly assembled Unofficial Durutti Column Internet Activities were given Fac number Fac 2.26. Both sites featured free audio downloads. Fac 2.07 offered 4 "small wav files to spruce up your desktop" which came in the form of short sampled guitar riffs by Vini Reilly. Fac 2.26 had four full-length outtakes from the Sex and Death sessions.
1997 also saw Vini turn his attentions to the next album. A trailer single on the short-lived Trade 2 Singles Club, for the album entitled 'Sing To Me' had to be aborted after contractual difficulties with London Records. Interestingly, the b-side 'Kiss of Def' featured Vini exploring complex drum and bass stylings. According to Fac 2.07 this was "the coolest piece of post-jungle ambient or maybe that's post-ambient jungle any of the dance snobs around here have fallen into in their short and sad lives." All of these tracks would later surface in one form or another, with 'Kiss of Def' appearing as one of the extra tracks on the Factory Once reissue of 'Obey The Time'.
On 14 September 1998 there was a special one-off gig in the stately surroundings of Manchester Cathedral. Support came courtesy of Graham Massey from 808 State (and ex-Factory band Biting Tongues). The set opened with the gloriously-titled Throw Me a Meatball Mother which turned out to be 4 Sophia. A beautiful 8vo-designed poster featuring the two Situationist cowboys was created especially for this gig.
Later that same month the band participated in a new event titled the First Annual Festival of Drifting which took place on the South Bank in London. Described as a "post-ambient feast featuring some of the major names and influences of post-rock pylons Labradford". The whole Drifting festival, spread out over several nights featured a diverse range of artists including Bill Nelson, Pan Sonic and The CONET Project. The Durutti Column headlined the show on 25 September at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The title Drifting was rather aptly appropriated from the above same Situationist cowboys poster and comes from the English translation of the speech bubbles in the cartoon. As one cowboy said to the other: "No, I just drift".
The new album, entitled 'Time Was Gigantic... When We Were Kids' arrived in 1998 trailed in typical Factory style by a postcard which promised it "sometime soon, probably".
We were treated to exotic Eastern rhythms ('I B Yours', 'Twenty Trees'), the angelic voice of Eley Rudge (notably on the now-released 'Sing To Me'), trademark echo-laden guitarwork ('Organ Donor'), ironic track titles ("Pigeon" inspired by and structurally similar Peter Green's "Albatross" a song which in the next decade would become an occasional, improvised, live favourite).
A key event in the history of The Durutti Column was the arrival of Keir Stewart as producer. The producer and multi-instrumentalist gave The Durutti Column added impetus. Keir had worked with The Fall and had his own studio, Inch, which Vini had often frequented. It was an open secret that Keir was a big fan of The Durutti Column and he had seen them play at one of their shows at The Royal Exchange in Manchester. One thing led to another and Keir went from triggering samples on stage to playing occasional bass guitar, not to mention becoming the bands regular producer.
Around the same time as Time Was Gigantic…, the remaining four Factory Once albums were released. Vini was scathing about the album in an interview with The Independent: "Without Mercy is a joke. That album's terrible. It was all Tony Wilson's idea to make it more classical. He had aspirations that I should be taken seriously. That never interested me. Everyone's obsessed with form. 'Is it avant-garde? Is it jazz?' It's just tunes, innit? Daft tunes." Although Vini now virtually disowns this album, the auditions which preceded this classical project did have the effect of bringing a very young John Metcalfe to his attention. He described how it all began to Tom Robinson in 2004: "He was one of the few classically trained musicians who could improvise and you could just say well Im just playing G, its in G Minor, and after a point I didnt even have to tell him anything, I would just start playing and he was there and that was it".
Later in 1998, upset by what he perceived as lack of promotion for the 'Time Was Gigantic ...' album, Vini sacked his manager and mentor of 20 years, Tony Wilson. It was a difficult thing to do, as after all, Wilson was the man who got The Durutti Column as we know it, on the road. Vini acknowledged the debt quite succinctly to The Independent: "He gave me my career".
More recently Vini elaborated on what the split meant: "It was a real shock and very, very difficult because first and foremost Tony Wilson was a very close friend and is once again a good friend but we kind of went our separate ways for a while. We disagreed profoundly over some of the things that were happening. I felt that Factory had lost its identity and that was the problem, so I left. I was very, very sad to leave and Tony was very upset and felt personally rejected. It was just a very difficult thing to do and a very sad time really".
1998 proved to be quite a turning point for Vini as he also received a substantial tax demand from the Inland Revenue and was forced to sell his home.
Coincidentally, or maybe at least partially, because of, these two events the immediately following marked the beginning of an unprecedented level of Durutti Column activity.
The vacant post of Durutti Column manager was filled by Phil Jones, a friend of the group who had known Bruce Mitchell since the late Seventies. A while after Tonys departure, Vini and Phil sat down together to discuss a way forward, and a fruitful relationship was born.
The Festival of Drifting came back to London for its second (and final) visit. The event was transposed to the atmospheric surroundings of the Union Chapel in North London and also featured a couple of nights in Edinburgh. Again, The Durutti Column headlined one of the nights. Labradford also remained involved, alongside Pole, Matmos, Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and Pan American.
2000 / 01
The gestation of the current Best of the Durutti Column 2CD retrospective set can perhaps be traced back to Michael Winterbottoms 2001 film '24 Hour Party People'. After a 90 minute journey through the life and times of Tony Wilson (played to great comic effect by Steve Coogan) and a brief cameo from Vini himself with Coogan's voiceover telling us "this was cut from the film, you'll probably see it on the dvd" (we didn't) there is a visitation. From God. And the Lord said unto Tony: "Vini Reilly is due a revival. You might think about a greatest hits. It's good music to chill out to." Indeed, though Vini would shudder at the notion that people thought that his music was 'ambient'. The germ of an idea of a compilation (which would be the first since Valuable Passages in 1986) was sown. Then in 2002, talking to the Independent newspaper, Vini's then girlfriend Carol muses: "you should do a new compilation album...".
2002 saw the first fruits of a "tenuous" new record deal with the small UK label Artful Records. On hearing of the deal, Vini headed straight to Keir Stewart's Inch recording studio where they recorded together in on-off fashion. The resulting album Rebellion was a mixed blessing. Speaking in 2004, Vini admitted: "It was piecemeal, and recorded in a very strange way". The rap experiment with Bic, straight folk song 'The Fields of Athenry' (mooted as a single though a small pressing of promos was as far as it got) and the vocal talents of 12-year-old Camilla Britten (Vinis then girlfriends daughters friend) showed a truly wide variety of styles.
In Summer 2002 the first fruit of The Durutti Column's relationship with Phil Cleaver's Kookydiscs was released. The aim was to make available again The Sporadic Recordings and collect together various other outtakes, reversions, rare tracks on a second disc. The Return of the Sporadic Recordings was a limited edition of 2,500 copies.
In late 2002 / 2003, Vini's mother died after an illness. The new album 'Someone Else's Party' featured sombre artwork and marked a near personal and critical high in terms of the music. Speaking on BBC Radio 6Music, Vini, in typically self-deprecating fashion, told Gideon Coe that the album was one of the first that he has been happy with. This was no faint praise because the album was a tour de force. 'Requiem for my Mother', written the night after her funeral, is the centrepiece and has become a highlight of the live set where it is also known as 'Mother' or 'My Mum'. Another song with many titles is 'Woman', which features a repeating loop of an old children's playground song. The phrase "Sea lion (or sealine) woman" is thought to be a corruption of "See the lyin' woman". The KCRW radio station in California strongly promoted the album and 1-track promo CDwere pressed. Once again there was no official UK single release. Another classic sampled voice, that of South American singer Rebekah del Rio, features on 'Spanish Lament'. Vini improvises a haunting guitar piece around her acapella vocals sampled from the soundtrack of the film 'Mulholland Drive' (the 'Silencio' mime art theatre sequence). The tune of the vocals is actually 'Crying' by Roy Orbison.
Also in 2002, Vini was invited to write the music for the Twelve Stars Theatre Project's stage production of 'Treatise On The Steppenwolf'. This was billed as "an edited version of 'The Hip Bible of 1960s counterculture', Steppenwolf, and a specially created score played live by legendary Manchester-based group The Durutti Column". There were only three performances of this show, at the Tramway in Glasgow. In a bizarre connection with Factory Records, the director of the show was Gerard (aka Caesar) from old Factory group The Wake. Caesar recalls how Vini was invited to become part of the project: "Vini became involved during the planning / pre-production phase of the project. We had two meetings in Manchester. The first was to have a general chat. After the second meeting, Vini went ahead with his work on the tracks. The initial idea behind the production was to collaborate with Durutti Column and the use of the Hermann Hesse adaptation came later. People are always saying - Vini should create a soundtrack - I decided to do something about it. Vini had free rein to do what he liked. The performance was shaped accordingly - using the music as a guide through the text. He did have a rough version of the script - as a reference point - but I don't think it influenced what he was doing much."
Whilst there was no specific soundtrack album, music from the shows including a version of 'Harry Dreams The Dream' entitled 'Lullaby 4 Nina' materialised on 2004's Tempus Fugit and versions of 'Drinking Time' and 'Woman' from Someone Else's Party also appear. The band, comprising Vini, Bruce and Keir, also played the soundtrack live for each of the performances of the show. Sadly there was no touring production.
Other highlights from a highly creative and productive year were an electric set at the legendary Ronnie Scott's in London where they were playing for the first time in 17 years, and appearances at the Glastonbury Festival, Summer Sundae, Leicester (hosted by another ex-Factory person and Leicester legend Kevin Hewick), Bracknell South Hill Park Arts Centre, and rounding it all off at Manchester Academy 3 in December.
The album 'Tempus Fugit' was released on Kooky via in May 2004. The album was the first (discounting The Return of the Sporadic Recordings) to result from the relationship with Phil Cleaver's Kookydiscs. The cover photography was by Vini's girlfriend Rachel McFarlane. 'Guitar Woman' is a reworking of 'Woman' from 'Someone Else's Party'. 'Salford' became a staple of the live set.
With the intention of raising money to fund a secure payment facility for the official website a new venture was launched: The Durutti Column Subscription Service. For a £15-a-year payment the avid Durutti fan received a specially recorded subscription-only CD and a bi-annual newsletter. The first subscription CD, Faith (dcsub04) was released in May 2004 and contained outtakes from Tempus Fugit and other albums, three previously-unreleased demos including one of the all-time classic track 'The Missing Boy'.
Details of the double CD compilation that would become 'The Best of The Durutti Column' trickled out as the year progressed, having originally surfaced in late 2003. The 30-track 2-disc set would eventually be released in October. Phil 'Kooky' Cleaver compiled the album which came replete with loving sleevenotes by Tony Wilson, track-by-track commentaries from Vini Reilly and a striking cover photograph, again by Rachel Mcfarlane, of Vini standing, torso bared, in front of his life's work.
A solitary summer date at the Big Chill Eastnor Castle in August was followed by an autumn tour which was scheduled to tie in with the release of the album. Proceedings kicked off in the illustrious surroundings of the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.
John Frusciante famously said during a Red Hot Chili Peppers live performance that Vini Reilly is the best guitarist in the world. Clearly, Vini is keen to play down that accolade but, on the other hand, City Life magazine used it for the front page headline for the September 2004 article on The Durutti Column to coincide with this show and the album.
The support act was John Metcalfe who played material from his new album 'Scorching Bay'. The Durutti Column's set itself was recorded with video cameras. The Class A acoustics of the magnificent purpose-built concert hall suited the Durutti live experience although as Vini admitted in City Life: "I'm a bit scared because it's such an auspicious place for this serious classical music - I'm not sure we warrant that. I'm very comfortable playing sweaty, beer-swilled venues. As soon as you move into a formal concert atmosphere it all becomes a bit more difficult."
The remainder of tour took in more intimate venues in Tunbridge Wells and Brighton before ending with another sold-out date at Ronnie Scott's with guest John Metcalfe.
What next? Vini already has the next album in the can. A dvd of archive and recent live / interview material is promised. And who knows, maybe that mooted tour of the USA will take place. And as Vini told Tom Robinson, "One day I'm gonna do something that I'm proud of but it's not happened yet". There's plenty of time left.

Biography index

Dry [1991]
Dry [1991]
The Durutti Column; Keyboard Magazine 1995
The Durutti Column; Keyboard Magazine 1995
The Durutti Column; promotional photo c.1998
The Durutti Column; promotional photo c.1998 [background l-r: Bruce Mitchell, Keir Stewart, Tony Wilson; foreground: Vini Reilly]
The Durutti Column live at Manchester Cathedral, 1998; poster by 8vo
The Durutti Column live at Manchester Cathedral, 1998; poster by 8vo
The Durutti Column live in Liverpool 8 May 2004
The Durutti Column live in Liverpool 8 May 2004
The Best of The Durutti Column
The Best of The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column live in Paris 3 September 2005
The Durutti Column live in Paris 3 September 2005
The Durutti Column live in Paris 3 September 2005
The Durutti Column live in Paris 3 September 2005
Oklahoma [2005]
Oklahoma [2005]