Interview by Mark Bayross
First formed in the late 70’s as the central force behind Tony Wilson’s Factory Records, The Durutti Column soon became dominated by fellow Mancunian Vini Reilly, and is now his solo project. Although never reaching the stellar status of the likes of New Order or Happy Mondays, The Durutti Column has built a sizeable cult following, while the prolific and talented Reilly has developed a reputation as both an elusive maverick and a genial musical collaborator. With a new album out, SOMEONE ELSE’S PARTY, it was time to catch up with Vini…
Was your new album harder to write than previous ones, given the intensely personal nature of the subject matter?
Actually, it wasn’t written specifically to be an album. It was more of a cathartic reaction to what was happening in my life. It was a very extreme, lonely time for me. I was nursing my mother when she was dying and going back home on my own, getting out my eight-track portastudio and hammering away. I was really just trying to express how I felt. Some of the pieces I created didn’t go onto the album – they were actually too dark and extreme, while some of them I thought were quite peripheral. It wasn’t really meant to be an album. It was just a whole series of pieces that I felt stood up in their own right.
It is clearly a very melancholic album, but I thought the last two tracks had a quite an uplifting quality.
Yes, my mother was actually quite lucid and positive right until the end. She didn’t want my sister and I to think of her dying as a dark, tragic event – she would have hated that. I suppose this album is a kind of metaphorical tombstone. I lost my father when I was 16, so I didn’t know him very well, whereas I was very close to my mother. This is a tribute to her – I was very lucky to have known her.
Was it a conscious decision to have lots of found sounds on the album?
It was really through coincidences, a collision of accidents. The modus operandi of making music was so basic. I just had this plastic eight-track with one microphone… On one track, called SPASMIC FAIRY, the sound of the bass drum was me hitting a book on top of a microphone and the hi-hat is me flicking a piece of paper! None of it was recorded in a studio – it was just me at home. It wasn’t meant to be released, and it certainly wasn’t hi-fi…it was whatever was at hand at the time…
You have a vocal sample taken from MULHOLLAND DRIVE on the album. Are you a David Lynch fan?
Not particularly. My girlfriend had got the film out on DVD and we were watching it very tired, slumped on the sofa. I wasn’t really watching it that much…I can’t actually remember the story or the ending… Anyway, I was literally jerked out of my seat by that vocal performance by Rebekah del Rio. So the next day, I went into Manchester to try to track down one of her recordings, and I couldn’t find anything. Do you know there are no recordings of anything she’s done? It’s mad! The only thing available was the soundtrack to the film, which I bought. That’s when I realised that it’s actually a cover of Roy Orbison’s CRYING… So, anyway, I chopped it around and tried to get it into a song structure that sounded different and original.
What else inspires you to write?
It’s more inspired by actual occurrences and very often by people. People constantly amaze me and surprise me. I have known some wonderful people and that is definitely one of my biggest influences. The thing is, that can make you very subjective and if you don’t know who it’s about, you won’t always know what a song means.
You have said that this album is the first one of your career that you have felt happy sharing with your audience – is that really true, and why?
Yeah, if 45% is a pass mark in an exam, this one is 45%. Just in terms of the music, I hope it’s worth something to someone. I don’t think the others really were.
Even though many of your earlier releases are now collectors’ items?
I don’t really like the idea of that collectors’ stuff – it’s all a bit exclusive. But then you can’t really prevent it if you don’t pursue a commercial career with a big record company.
About that record company – I’m a big Factory Records fan. What was it like being part of that group of people?
It was very odd. I really enjoyed the whole experience of being part of Factory. It was so anti-music business – the fact that the musicians owned the rights to their music was something that was never heard of before. I guess we were all a bit idealistic and naïve, and it led to some absolute calamities, but it was all done with a sense of genuine integrity.
How did it feel being part of a story that was made into a movie?
I was very disappointed with the film [24-HOUR PARTY PEOPLE]. I thought it should have been either a comedy or factually-based, but in trying to do both, it did neither. There were so many extreme people around and so many things that happened that were surreal. Some of them were too extreme and outrageous to repeat here. It’s a shame they can’t tell the story of what really happened. I also thought the film went on too long – I got a bit bored of it.
Did you and Tony Wilson really have such a fractious relationship?
We had the most amazing relationship – we were such close friends. The trust he invested in me was so remarkable, and vice-versa. Then, when there’s so much at stake and you have an argument, you really do…we used to have screaming rows! But they were always honest and I still have great affection for him. He’s an extraordinary man.
It’s almost like he has deliberately created a bit of an anti-hero character for himself…
I know what you mean. But I feel like he’s had no choice in that!
You have had a pretty amazing career – what has been the highlight so far?
The highlight for me is always the next piece of music – nothing ever tops that. I don’t really enjoy looking back too much – I try to live for the moment as much as possible. I’m always excited about new pieces of music – I’m working on a new song at the moment and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done!
Is it true you had a trial for Manchester City?
[Laughs] Well, I was selected for a trial for Manchester City, yes…as was Johnny Marr and Jez from ACR [A Certain Ratio], all at different times, of course. We all reacted in the same way, which was not to turn up! I was very clear in what I wanted to do – I wanted to be a musician. My older brother was actually very angry at me for not pursuing it, my uncles too. I was quite a good player, actually. I do still play for pleasure.
You knew Ian Curtis quite well. I feel I have to ask – what was he like?
What was sad for me was Ian and I had just got to the point where we were no longer talking about music or the weather…when we lost him, I was just beginning to get to know him. He was just a lovely bloke, incredibly interesting and alive in his thinking. These days, I know his daughter Natalie – she’s a close friend. She’s very like him, although thankfully, she doesn’t suffer from epilepsy. She’s a very forceful young woman – it is some comfort to know that, thanks to Ian, we now have her around.
What was Martin Hannett like to work with?
He was great. He was an amateur psychologist! He would pull your brain around to get something from you. He also had an amazing sense of humour – he was a very funny, humorous guy, very witty… God, there were so many casualties… He was a fantastic guy. It was a great honour to work with him. He was an example of the kind of extreme character who would gravitate towards Factory, and whom Factory would gravitate towards.
And Rob Gretton too?
Rob was amazing as well. Before Factory, even before punk, Rob was a guy I knew from an area of Manchester called Wythenshawe. I don’t know if you know it, but it was a quite rough, but very alive place. Rob used to come with me when I was attempting to get into the jazz scene. I would go to these clubs to play with this crowd who were basically session musicians. I would turn up with my guitar and they would make me wait. I kept going and they never heard me play. So, Rob started coming with me. I remember him getting very angry at these jazz musicians, saying how narrow-minded and immature they were. He always supported me – he was a good friend and a good man. He had firm, strong ideals and principles. When BLUE MONDAY came out, Top Of The Tops approached Rob and asked if New Order would go on. He insisted that they play live and was told they couldn’t. He told them to forget it and they kept asking for three more weeks. Eventually, they agreed and allowed New Order to play live, and they sounded appalling! The next day people were saying, “Did you see New Order on Top Of The Pops, weren’t they awful?” But that wasn’t the point – Rob didn’t care if they sounded terrible – they kept their integrity. He was a great bloke.
I heard that Mick Hucknall poached half your band. Do you still keep in touch with them?
[Laughs] At the start, there was a basic core of musicians that was the Durutti Column. I went through a deep depression and wrote a letter to the band and Tony Wilson saying that I no longer wanted to be in the band. I thought they were musos and they were taking the band in completely the wrong direction. Tony and his then business partner, Alan [Erasmus] kept coming round to see me and saying “You are Durutti Column”, so the others left and they convinced me to stay on. What I was trying to do was nothing to do with commerciality. I am still friendly with the drummer Chris and Tim, who came afterwards. I still like them as people.
You also worked with Morrissey on his first album, VIVA HATE…
He was great! I actually wasn’t that much of a Smiths fan until I heard HOW SOON IS NOW?… Morrissey was incredibly kind to me, my whole experience of working with him was one of great joy – he was a very funny guy. I had a fantastic time on that album – it was a special, funny, crazy time. But when he asked me to do a second solo album, I declined – I just didn’t want to go over old ground. I sent him a copy of Patti Smith’s RADIO ETHIOPIA with a note saying it was an example of something radical he could do for the second album, but he didn’t go for it. In fact, he’s never spoken to me since!
You have some live shows coming up, as well as the 12 Stars theatre project, “The Treatise On The Steppenwolf”. What other plans do you have?
I don’t really make plans. I’m going to carry on working a tune I started a couple of nights ago. Like I said before, that’s what keeps me going…there’s always a new tune. I hope there will always be a new tune!