The New Olympians

So here we are again ……. upstairs at The Kings Arms…..drinking beer and talking nonsense.

However there is something slightly different this time, the great and the good of the 80s Manchester Scene appear to have congregated on this warmish Friday Night (with intermittent showers) – so we have a couple of “Things”, a “Hamster”, a postman called “Jon”, a couple of “Mutts” and a “Kit B” and that’s just within listening distance. Davey Hammond has come from Thetford as well – but disappointingly he has not brought his smelly flowerpot with him. The object of all this attention is “The Distractions” who are back together performing live for the first time in 30+ years in support of a new album called “The End of the Pier” (which I must get round to reviewing at some point).

Tonight is a show put on by Occultation Records and three of their roster are performing.

First up we have the June Brides whose unconventional six piece line-up includes violin, and trumpet, and just about squeezes onto the stage. They play light melodic tunes – a lot of them in a minor key. The room is not particularly full at this point (perhaps the punters have not heard about the curfew at the Kings Arms) although the audience is appreciative of the bands relaxed and melodic performance. The new single “January Moon”sounds particularly good in this setting.

Downstairs for another beer and a chat with a couple of the Mutts and then back upstairs with some anticipation to see Factory Star. This is around my sixth time of seeing them and the first time with the full line-up of Bramah, Dutton, Moran and McKechnie. But hang on a minute there are only three of them stage? I know Martin is here because I was talking to him earlier. What is going on, I ask myself?  The trio launch into a muscular version of “Hanging Man” and about four minutes in Mr B emerges from the dressing room, guitar in hand, plugs in, and joins the fray. A bit of a James Brown moment perhaps – without the sparkly jacket.  The tension has been built and frankly after that it does not abate. We get around 50 minutes of intense, frenetic and fascinating music. The sole track from the new mini-album “New Sacral” is “Olympian” – for the most part we are treated to excerpts from “Enter Castle Perilous” and “Blue Orchids” classics. Martin is particularly focused  and the band are at their very best with an almost unforgiving barrage of sound. The high-points for me are a mesmerising “When Sleep Won’t Come” and the almost incandescent closer “Angel Steps” which has Martin exorcising a few demons at the end . Mr B exits stage centre as the band powers to a stunning conclusion. We collectively agree that it’s the best gig yet by the band.

I position myself stage left for the Distractions – I want to catch this in all its glory. It’s a bit of Rock and Roll history and it deserves some attention. The legendary Mike Kellie is on drums (Spooky Tooth, The Only Ones) and looks in pretty fine fettle for a chap in his mid-60s. Lable boss Nick Halliwell is stage left and June Brides bassist – Arash Torabi (who gets the honorary Chris Dutton badge for doing two sets in an evening in two different bands) is stage right. The centre of attention is the two original members of the band Steve Perrin and Mike Finney. I readily admit to coming to the band late in my life – I have been given a potted history by my chum and fellow DJ Stephen Doyle and having had a review copy of the new album I am fully aware of their work. What all of that recorded sound doesn’t prepare you for is the experience of hearing Mike Finney’s voice live – it is one of those great voices – deep, resonant and full of emotion. We get quite a few songs from the new album, and couple of oldies, but I begin to glance nervously at my watch as 11pm approaches – the band is around three quarters of their way through the set – maybe they have got a dispensation, as it’s Friday night, from the dreaded 11pm curfew at the Kings. But no – the sound-man comes over and  says “three minutes”. Notwithstanding the disappointment of an early conclusion there are sufficient high points in the set to make this a memorable experience – “Waiting for Lorraine” from “Nobodys’ Perfect” gets a very warm response – and “The Summer I Met You” from the new album strikes me as being particularly fine.

Apparently on the following night the band got to do a full set.

Will we see it’s like again? One would hope so, but with Steve Perrin being in the Antipodes there are some specific organisational barriers to get round.

Altogether a very pleasant evening in fine company with some excellent music. Well done to Nick Halliwell et al for making it happen.

(didn’t take my camera so no pictures…..)

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