ModPopPunk Archives: Please tell us about the origins of the DISTRACTIONS? What the musical influences you brought to the band?
Steve Perrin : Mike [Finney] and I met on a college course that neither of us wanted to be on in, I think, 1974. We were both very bored but we responded to boredom in different ways. I became catatonic, he sang all day. I suggested that we form a band largely to shut him up. At the time he was obsessed with all varieties of soul music and I was heavily into the Velvet Underground and the Beatles. We both liked David Bowie and, especially, Roxy Music so we started off playing covers of everything from “Suffragette City” to the Velvalettes “Needle in a Haystack”. When we started writing our own stuff the Distractions’ sound, I guess, ended up being a mixture of all of those things.
MPP A: Let's talk about your connection to New Wave late 70s, when did you first get into it?
Steve: When we first formed the band there was no possibility of us ever getting any gigs. We just did it to stop ourselves from going insane. Nobody else apart from Mike and me would stay in the band for very long as there was no chance of making money, becoming famous or meeting girls if we carried on the way we were. That changed in 1976 when Buzzcocks brought the Sex Pistols to Manchester. Suddenly it turned out that there were a large number of misfits who were into similar stuff to us who had been living similar subterranean existences. That meant that we were able to put together a stable lineup. Pip [Nichols] had just missed out on a job with the Buzzcocks so Pete Shelley passed her phone number on to us. Adrian [Wright] came via an ad in the NME and brought Alec [Sidebottom] with him. That’s the lineup that made most of the records.
By 1977 the live scene had really taken off in Manchester so it was easy for us to get support gigs with the Fall, Joy Division and the Buzzcocks, then we started playing our own shows.
MPP A: How did you get hooked up with TJM records and later FACTORY?
Tony Davidson from TJM turned up at one of our gigs and offered to release a record for us. Nobody else was offering and we couldn’t afford to do it ourselves so we agreed. That record [“You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That”] got a lot of good press and led to an offer from Factory where, I think it’s fair to say, we felt rather more comfortable.
MPP A: In '77 how would you say the Manchester scene compare to the one in London?
Steve: As far as I can see, the London scene was built around the juxtaposition of art school graduates and yobs who had left school at 16 with few, if any, qualifications. In Manchester we were light on the art school influence and heavy on the yobs. You could convince quite a lot of people that you were a conceptual genius if you’d been to technical college.
Having said that, there was a voracious yearning for information which is typical of an intelligent, if unfocussed, youth movement. People were sitting in freezing council flats reading Dostoevsky, Warhol and Wilde.
What’s also interesting is that a lot of the early movement coalesced around the rougher gay pubs and clubs in town, particularly the Ranch on Dale Street, as they were the only places you could go to wearing funny clothes where you wouldn’t get beaten up.
MPP A: You were DISTRACTIONS' guitarist so what's your favorite guitar, piece of equipment? Your first guitar was?
Steve: My first electric guitar was a red solid bodied Hofner which I wish I still had. I got rid of all my gear after I left the Distractions except for a Gibson J 50 acoustic so I guess that must be my favorite.
MPP A: Which songs are you most proud of? Who was writing the songs? What was your song usually about then?
Steve: There were a number of songwriters in the band. I wrote most of the stuff – some on my own, some with Mike. Adrian wrote less but did write our most famous song, “Time Goes By So Slow”. Unfortunately there was a mix up in the labeling process and the song got credited to me and Mike. We’ve been trying to sort it out for years but don’t seem to be getting anywhere as it turned up on a Korova compilation in 2006 still with the wrong writing credits. Understandably, Adrian is not very pleased.
As for which songs I’m proudest of…I haven’t really listened to any of the records since we made them so I don’t know. Maybe “Looking For a Ghost” as everybody else but me hated that song. It’s like having a child that nobody likes, you have to love it more.
MPP A: What were your ultimate goals as band and why did the band split in 1981? What was the last thing you did before you broke up?
Steve: I don’t think we really had goals, which was one of our problems. It was interesting being signed to Island Records at the same time as U2 and seeing how a group who really wanted to take over the world operated. I think we just wanted to escape from the boring lives we had been born into and, to that extent I suppose, we were successful.
I left the band in 1980, soon after the release of the album, as I was exhausted, sick of playing live and disillusioned with the music business in general. I was replaced by Arthur Kadmon who had been the guitarist in Ludus and went on to work briefly with the Fall. Shortly after that the band were dropped by Island but released an ep called “And Then There’s” on Rough Trade. From what I understand things just fell apart from then on. I don’t really know as lines of communication were not fully open at the time.
MPP A: Did you tour a lot? Did you enjoy?
Steve: Too much. I hated it.
MPP A: Strangely DISTRACTIONS records never get reissue and it's a pity. Why?
Steve: Basically Island was bought out by Universal and they refuse to release the stuff or allow anybody else to. There’s a guy in the States who runs an independent label called Acute who has been trying to persuade Universal to let him reissue “Nobody’s Perfect” for about five years but they keep trying to charge him a huge amount of money which he doesn’t have and he’d be unlikely to make back, meanwhile the tapes are presumably sitting in a vault somewhere. The band members have no influence as we don’t own any of the material.
MPP A: Are you still in touch with ex DISTRACTIONS members?
Steve: To varying degrees. Mike is my oldest friend and I speak to him regularly. After the Distractions he worked with the Secret Seven, Dr Filth and, briefly, the Art of Noise. He’s no longer involved in music. Pip and I exchange the occasional email. After the band she studied sound engineering and, for a few years, played with Liverpool band the Frocks. She’s still writing and recording her own stuff. Alec I used to run into regularly when I still lived in Manchester. He’s very involved in Latin American percussion and spends as much time in Cuba as he can. Adrian I haven’t seen for years. I’ve tried but he doesn’t like to socialize.
MPP A: What other bands have you been in since '81? What does the future hold for you?
Steve: When I left the Distractions I put a band together called the Escape Committee. I wanted to do something more downbeat (to suit my mood) and, I guess, we sounded like a rather more woozy Young Marble Giants. We played one show but my heart wasn’t really in it so apart from briefly playing with Mike in a radically different Distractions lineup in the early 1990s and accidentally finding myself managing a record company in Italy in the late 1980s I have removed myself from the music business and retreated to the world of academia where the holidays are better. I moved to New Zealand in early 2007 so we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.
MPP A: Any final comments?
Steve: Nice talking to you. Take care.