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A Quietus Interview

State Of The Nation: Vini Reilly Interviewed
The Quietus , February 26th, 2013 06:13

John Mullen visits one of the greatest guitarists of his generation at home where he is recuperating after a series of strokes. His inspiration is the kindness of strangers, just don't mention Margaret Thatcher...

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STOP PRESS: Check the Quietus news section later today (WEDS) for another, slightly more positive update on Vini's situation.

Over 30 years, the Durutti Column have created close to 40 albums and countless hundreds of songs. But there is just one composition that you could call explicitly, unambiguously political. It’s a song I’ve been playing obsessively for months. 'My Country', the final track on 1989’s Vini Reilly, has the potency of a Munch-esque scream, the bald, almost gauche lyrics a pre-emptive attempt to write Thatcher’s epitaph. “Old people/ No health care/ Young people/ Cut education… My country/ Will you ever recover?"

But, of course, it’s the music that truly conveys the song’s sense of despair – as Bruce Mitchell’s skittery drumming gradually intersects with Reilly’s plaintive, squalling guitar, you can almost picture the nails being hammered down into the coffin of the welfare state.

And the same way that guitar explodes in 'My Country', so reality has violently intruded itself into the life of Vini Reilly. For decades, Reilly has lived the life of a pure aesthete, a very Mancunian flâneur. He would occasionally rub shoulders with the mainstream through his association with Simply Red, Morrissey or the Mondays. But really he was happy to create music that spoke just to him and his close circle, his song titles populated by acquaintances and lovers (and how DC fans would love to know Pol, Catherine, Sophia or those Belgian friends!)

But all this changed when Reilly’s health (always fragile) collapsed. In the last couple of years, Vini has had had a series of strokes. The albums and sporadic tours that maintained his frugal existence ceased.

As a fan, you always think your musical idols are basically doing okay. But DC followers were shocked by an appeal from Vini’s nephew at the beginning of 2013. Vini was “currently struggling to cover basic outgoings such as rent, food, electricity, etc”. In a matter of days, the appeal was closed after an outpouring of generosity from, amongst others, Quietus readers.

I meet Vini in his house in Withington. Roused from sleep by his manager/DC drummer Bruce, one’s first impressions are, well, fucking hell.

Stumbling towards a bed on the floor of the living room, Vini looks like a fractured Giacometti sculpture, attempting to correct his posture while some invisible force is shoving him sideways. Because he’s just woken up, his language is slurred and pretty much indecipherable. It’s also evident that all his teeth have fallen out (a side effect of the strokes).

A cup of tea and a few roll-ups later (and joshed along by the ever-avuncular Bruce), it thankfully becomes evident that Vini’s mind remains crystal clear. He usually stares into space while talking, but when his beautiful blue eyes fix you during conversation, you can see why Tony Wilson sincerely thought Vini could be moulded into some kind of teen idol.

Vini has a reputation for disliking interviews, but today he seems keen to talk. Perhaps because he has no other way of expressing himself – as he explains, Manchester’s greatest ever musician can no longer play the guitar.

“I’ve had three strokes – the first two were within an hour of each other. They were treating me as I got the second stroke – but I could still play. But I got a third stroke a year ago, and that is the one that did the damage. It means I can’t play – my right hand side, my balance has gone.”

As a Vini fan, you’re drawn to looking at his hands, the centre of his genius. He still has freakishly long nails on the right hand (and a tattoo of a musical clef) – Vini famously never used a plectrum as the sound was too harsh. But now, the hand is as useless as a broken tool.

“I can’t feel the strings, and I can’t control the movement of them – so I’ve got all these pieces of music in my head, they’re complete pieces of music – and I can’t play them. They’ve got nowhere to go. So it’s driving me a little insane to be honest with you.”

So Vini has now set himself the task of relearning the guitar. “I spend two hours every day trying to play, trying to create new, fresh neural pathways. I don’t plug the guitar in as it’s harder to play, it makes you work harder.

“It’s very frustrating, because I know what I want to do, but I can’t get my fingers to play the way they need to be played. It’s hard to cope with. Sometimes I feel like smashing the guitar up”.

Alongside the musical tragedy, Vini has also been dealing with the day-to-day reality of becoming a disabled person. And now, his tone turns from mournful to positively homicidal.

Vini’s run-in with the benefits office have been long and torturous, but the upshot is that because of a series of lost forms and red tape, Vini couldn’t get access to the disability fund that he needed to survive.

“Bruce gave me money, a whole host of people practically helped me - otherwise I would’ve gone under. I would’ve lost my home. What was I supposed to do? Sleep rough? Eat no food? I want somebody to admit the responsibility of putting my life in danger. I’ve paid so much tax over the years, I’ve never had a penny from the state and this is the first time I’ve asked for money because I was disabled.”

After 18 months of agony, Vini finally turned up at the benefits office and refused to leave. “I said ‘I want my money, you’ve got my money, I’m 59, I’ve worked for this since I was a kid’”.

Thankfully, working at the office that day was a DC fan. “He said, ‘let Mr Reilly through, he’s a client of mine’. If he hadn’t known my music, nothing would’ve changed.”

The whole saga almost sounds like a postscript to the state of affairs described in 'My Country'. And, unsurprisingly, Reilly has nothing but contempt for the present Coalition. “These are all Thatcher’s children, this is the legacy she has left. She has spoiled this country and is still spoiling it, increment by tiny increment. There has been a gradual decline since Thatcher, whose grave I will dance on when she dies. She should’ve been tried for crimes against humanity, like a war criminal.”

Reilly coldly states that the situation has taken him to the edge of endurance. But that was before the incredible response to his nephew’s appeal. “I’ve been suicidal about three times now, over the last six months, but this thing my nephew did has made me think again.

“I owe it to these people who’ve unselfishly just given… You’ve helped in ways that are beyond the initial problem of paying the debt. It’s reaffirmed my belief in the decency of people, that they do want to look after each other.

“I didn’t know that so many people knew my music. It’s caused a real change in my attitude. Until then I’d been waiting for the fourth stroke to finish me off… It’s made me realise that people are concerned about injustices, and people will help people who’re struggling.”.

There’s a romantic cliché that great art can come through incredible suffering (Reilly’s favourite piece of music is Tchaikovsky’s sublime 6th Symphony, Pathétique, which was completed shortly before the composer apparently killed himself, and provoked not cheers but sobs when it was first performed). Perhaps all this pain can be channelled into the Durutti Column?

“That’s what Tony Wilson used to say – if I was in a relationship with a girl and it ended, and I was miserable or traumatised, Wilson’s response was always – ‘I’ll wait for the album then’.”

It’s time to go. Various friends and family members have been trying to call, and Vini wants to start practising the guitar. As Bruce escorts me out, he asks Vini if there’s anything he can get him. “Just one thing – a girlfriend”.

“Oh Vini - you’d only fuck it up”.

And for the first time today, Vini Reilly guffaws with laughter.

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Feb 26, 2013 12:10pm

Thank you guys for this, I've been waiting for his interview here for a long time.

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Feb 26, 2013 12:16pm

And gee, this is one of the saddest readings I've came across this year so far.
God help him.

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Feb 26, 2013 12:33pm

Really sad interview. Perhaps he can try to express all those musical ideas with software? His genius is in his head, not his hands. We love Viny and hope he gains his health and happiness back.

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Feb 26, 2013 1:23pm

Yeah, thanks for this. It's heartbreaking - Vini needs to realise more how many people have loved the living shit out of his music and appreciate everything he's done.

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Jim Pope
Feb 26, 2013 2:08pm

end neoliberalism. now.

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Feb 27, 2013 3:10am

The Summer of '85 while finishing my miserable Clinical Rotation in Pharmacy School I had DC's song 'Party' on endless repeat in my car's tapedeck......that song singularly helped me get through that Summer in Des Moines, IA. I was one of maybe a handful of people in the entire State that even knew about or owned a DC album.....thank you Vini for being on this planet.

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Feb 27, 2013 3:27am

God, this is devastating. Vini is... well, you all know this already, but unappreciated and absolutely wonderful.

It makes me angry, it really does, to see what this governmnent with no mandate is doing to us, turning the working class against each other, telling us that the villians are the poor mentally ill sods who won't stack supermarket shelves, not the cunts on the take who're dodging millions in tax.

Once again: they have no mandate.

Let's sharpen our fucking pitchforks and get rid of these etonian idiots before they fuck us for three generations.

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Feb 27, 2013 3:28am

Oh, and all my love to Vini, obviously.

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Steve Inch
Feb 27, 2013 8:51am

Really feel for Vin. He's brought so much pleasure to so many over the years. Let's hope he gets enough health back to allow him to do what we all want - play and record. If Edwin Collins can do it so csn Vin. And keep buying the back catalogue!

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Feb 27, 2013 1:57pm

Been a fan since A Guitar & Other Machines and the sublime Vini Reilly. So very sad tohear of his plight but wonderful to feel his anger at Thatcher as well. Get well soon Vini.

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Feb 27, 2013 10:31pm

"Manchester’s greatest ever musician can no longer play the guitar."

I'm very, very lucky. I saw Vini perform live (my first time) in Manchester a couple of years ago, shortly after his first 2 strokes. It was an awkward evening at times, & a bit of struggle for both audience & artist(s) but, ultimately, an absolute triumph. There was SO MUCH LOVE in the room that night - & I say that in full appreciation of how corny it sounds... :)

All the very best to you Vini, & - please - keep grappling with that guitar! x

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Feb 28, 2013 1:31am

John, thanks so much for this interview and the insight into Vini's plight. Please let Vini know that are many fans out there that really care about him and treasure his music. The DC is one of the very few bands that I have followed for decades and am always excited to purchase his latest offering. Hoping for a recovery so we can hear more wonderful music!

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Kevin Shepherd
Feb 28, 2013 8:04pm

Cannot some of the Factory Bands get together and do a benefit gig for Vini this is such sad news his albums have given me so much pleasure over the years

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Monkey Woods
Mar 2, 2013 12:18pm

Don't know the gory details about the fight for benefits, but good to know things worked out in the end.

I've spent so many hours playing DC material, that I feel like I should say so now, and thank VR for the enjoyment he's provided me with over the last 30-odd years.

Let's hope he finds a way to play again.

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Tom Morton
Mar 4, 2013 3:11am

Please can we have contact details for donating to Vini?

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Cynthia Mask
Mar 20, 2013 1:24pm

In reply to Kevin Shepherd :

They're all dead or/& in litigation.

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Mar 29, 2013 9:07am

After reading this interview, you want to do something to help the man. Not just charity, something more permanent. I want a website where I can download all of his back catalogue at £1 a song, knowing that Vini would be getting all or most of the money. Would that possible?
This man should be supported by his own, wonderful, body of work!

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flann o'brienn
Apr 9, 2013 1:43pm

AT least Thatcher died first. I hope Vinni gets some consolation
from that. Surely there is some computer software that could help transcribe his musical thoughts?

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Apr 10, 2013 8:05am

Mr. Reilly: MCR, Legend, Honourable, Owed, Loved the world over.


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Michael E
Apr 12, 2013 6:13pm

Tonight I will play his music on air, see playlist (live stream:

Klanghorizonte – Radionacht – DLF – 13. April 2013, 4.05 Uhr bis 5.00 Uhr – mit Michael Engelbrecht:
1) The Durutti Column: Sketch for Dawn (1), aus LC 2) The Durutti Column: The Act Comitted, aus LC 3) Iron and Wine: Caught in the Briars, aus GHOST ON GHOST 4) Iron and Wine: Singers and the Endless Song, aus GHOST ON GHOST 5) JackDeJohnette: The Gri Gri Man, aus TIN CAN ALLEY (SPECIAL EDITION 4-CD-BOX) 6) Dr. John: Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya, aus GRIS-GRIS 7) Duke Ellington: Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies, aus NEW ORLEANS SUITE 8) Iron and Wine: Winter Prayers, aus: GHOST ON GHOST 9) Iron and Wine: Grass Widows, aus GHOST ON GHOST 10) Eleni Karaindrou: Tom’s Theme, aus CONCERT IN ATHENS 11) Eleni Karaindrou: Laura’s Waltz, aus CONCERT IN ATHENS 12) Eleni Karaindrou: Adagio, aus CONCERT IN ATHENS

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Michael E
Apr 13, 2013 11:14am

It was a great pleasure for me to rediscover Vini's second album LC. Before doing my radio show in Cologne last night, I read a lot about this "bedroom record" from the early 80's. Even if the music of tonight was a kind of trippy road movie (time travel included) between Manchester, New Orleans and Athens, it was all somehow linked by "home stories": Vini playing the music after midnight at home, and Eleni Karaindrou discovering her love for films when improvising on piano at home looking at the screen of the local open air cinema outside.

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Paul Hughes
Jan 26, 2014 8:51pm

Dearest Vini ... You will always inspire genuine mancunian people ... And genuine musicians to ... My heart aches for your loss of musicality and you must know that many many many people would grieve both the loss of you ... And your music .... Your fingers, your brain and your soul will all find new pathways to make music !!! You have done it before and can certainly do it again ... You and your fret board mastery have inspired so many many people ... And will again ... Repair & replenish x

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mick park
Mar 30, 2014 10:29pm

I heard of Durutti Column as a a youth but recently listened to Messidor and understood the significance of the band. Always been a Morrissey faithful so listened to Viva Hate with a new focus and now grasp the power of Vinnie. My teenage children also appreciate the quality and melody of Durutti Column.
Hope tis finds Vinnie well, and appreciated.

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john t
Oct 13, 2015 2:38pm

Vini is a master musician...PERIOD Vini's talented music is like no other...the man cant be followed.

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