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Durutti Column / Crispy Ambulance
Factory Benelux Reissues Mick Middles , April 4th, 2013 08:48

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The Durutti Column - Short Stories For Pauline

The Durutti Column - LC

Crispy Ambulance - The Plateau Phase

The link between Factory Records, Manchester and Brussels was forged by Joy Division's legendary performances at Plan K, in October 1979 and January 1980. Those fully accustomed to the Joy Division tale – please, we do not need to retread such choppy waters here – will be fully aware of the significance of the performances.

In short, a powerful link was established between Factory and two lovely fledgling labels, Les Disque Crepuscule and Benelux. Both were products of the journalistic endeavours of the legendary Annik Honore – still very much an eager attendee of the city's lively gig circuit – and Michel Duval. Much has been made of the fact that Plan K was situated on Rue de Manchester, although might cast that aside as coincidence. More important was the similarities in the mindset of the gig goers, bands and scenesters of the two cities. Something clicked.

Both labels attained a warm reflected glory by becoming a home for some of the more eclectic and (until James Nice' Factory reissue labe, LTM served to illuminate these areas) often ignored Manchester acts. In addition, Belgian band The Names appeared on Factory, alongside intriguing Dutch combo, Minny Pops.

Durutti Column's Short Stories For Pauline – completely with evocative if somewhat sleepy photographs taken by Honore at Factory's Didsbury office – is a cultish affair recorded at Daylight Studios, Brussels in 1983 and never released, at least until LTM stepped in two years ago. That the album remained lost for so long serves to highlight the postulating relationship between Vini Reilly and Factory label boss, Tony Wilson, whose A&R interferences could sometimes seem cumbersome. (Well, it was his label…partly). It was Wilson who seized upon Reilly's lovely wilting song, 'Duet', from the Pauline sessions and decided to expand it into a full album complete with ostentatious orchestration. The result was 'Without Mercy'' which duly replaced the ailing 'Pauline'.

Wilson's honourable intention was to keep Reilly in a single studio for more than three days, thereby stretching the recording possibilities of the simplistic Durutti Column. Quite why the anti-punk aspects of this exercise didn't dawn on him remains an intriguing question. Needless to say, Reilly later rallied against 'Without Mercy', telling this startled writer that it was “Without merit". Well maybe but, as James Nice notes in these sleeve notes, “'Duet' says everything it needs to say in two and a half minutes. Stretched across the entire Without Mercy album, more became less". Oh how the ironies begin to stack up!

Well 'Duet' is here in its perfect, short simplistic form and survives – eventually – as one of Reilly's most evocative compositions. It is accompanied by the level beauties of 'A Room In Southport' – great title - evoking memories of traumatic boyhood holidays in the 60s and the sweet, intoxicating 'Cocktail'. It is the album the Durutti's always wanted to make and, as it happened, had!

No such issues clouded the 1981 release of LC though, which immediately built upon the foundations of debut album, Return Of The Durutti Column. It was arguably the album that most effectively sealed Vini Reilly with his cult status capsule, thereby allowing him free reign to follow his drifting mischievous muse. It was the result of Reilly's purchase of a TEAC four-track (From Bill Nelson, then moving on with ideas for Red Noise).

Creating demos on the TEAC allow Reilly space and time away from expensive constraints of the and his use of Graveyard Studios was restricted to attaining the subsequent quality. It is notable also because it marked the Durutti debut of ex Alberto Y Los Trios drummer, Bruce Mitchell, who has retained the drum seat ever since, himself building a cult reputation as a percussionist capable of allowing Reilly space to meander - no easy feat. As such, LC might be said to be the first true Durutti Column album; the instigation of a famous, often thrilling and undoubtedly unique dynamic. Classic moments here spit and pop from the swirling brew and include the opening 'Sketch For Dawn', the Ian Curtis tribute song, 'Missing Boy' and the lovely comment that remains the reason for these reissues, 'For Belgian Friends'. On this expanded edition – which flows fully into a second disc – can be found 23 bonus tracks including items from the lost Sordide Sentimentale EP Deux Triangles ('Piece For Out Of Tune Grand Piano'). Collected for the first time also are a complex variety of recordings that have scampered onto Benelux and Crepuscule compilations. Of particular note here is the full length version of 'Detail for Paul'.

I fondly recall the emergence of Crispy Ambulance within the myriad low key venues of Manchester in the early 80s. Suddenly they were among us, pushing their awkward angular noise in our faces at the Band on the Wall, Manchester Poly's Cavendish House and the university halls. At that point, and including the arrival of their debt album, The Plateau Phase, they seemed almost defiantly at odds with the times. Within the broad confines of the print media and the all-conquering promo video format, a mass-sweetening had taken place which gave unwarranted gravitas to the likes of Dollar, courtesy of Paul Morley's outrageous championing of producer Trevor Horn etc. All of which served only to turn many notable heads away from the urgency of post-modernist psychedelia from Levenshulme… or thereabouts.

But hidden within what now seems an unbalanced overview of the 80s lay an important moment when lo-fi electronic and post punk outfits finally started to find their true musicality. Such was the case with Crispy Ambulance which is why this Benelux reissue of that first album now sounds fresher and more ironically vibrant than it ever did first time around. Unlike the Durruti releases which, in all honest, are lavish bulging packs guaranteed to further preach to the gratefully converted, Crispy Ambulance may still have a point to prove. Recent live outings only seem to confirm this thought process.

The Plateau Phase throws up a number of unexpected oddities. The twist from driving and occasionally ferocious rock to stubby funk would later reflect with the more obtuse work by, say, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream. This new set does not offer vast new angles or outtakes – just the extended 12" versions of the Hannett produced 'Presence'/'Concorde Suite' single and the band's cultish swansong, 'Sexus'. Worthy additions indeed, but it is the general return to a lost sound that makes this, arguably, the most rewarding of these three lavish looking mid-priced reissues. Time travel indeed.

BenM
Apr 4, 2013 2:11pm

I think Vini is too harsh on Without Mercy. The first side is excellent, it is only the second that begins to feel a bit like filler. I'd rank Without Mercy 1, Duet and Without Mercy 2 in that order.

Thoughts and best wishes as ever with Vini for his recovery.

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Rooksby
Apr 6, 2013 12:05pm

I always found Without Mercy a tad worthy & Radio 3-ish, to be honest - though that was Wilson's intention, I'm sure? In retrospect, he was probably trying to secure Vini a gig soundtracking The Late Show, or whatever post-watershed arts programme the BBC were broadcasting at that point - not a bad idea at all really! Ultimately though, I'll side with Vini - Without Mercy is a bit of a clunker. Short Stories For Pauline is a lovely record though, I've played it a lot since LTM first reissued it a couple of years ago.

I bought a used copy of The Plateau Phase in the late '80s, purely on the inarguable greatness/awfulness of Crispy Ambulance's stupendous monicker. My reasoning - that a band with the guts to call themselves something so brilliantly stupid must be worth £2 of my giro - has paid off in spades, it's a terrific LP, one of the very best released by any of Factory's "second tier" acts.

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