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Things I Have Learned

Vini Reilly: Always The Bridesmaid, Never The Bride
Alex Ogg , April 14th, 2009 08:26

The Quietus tracks down the musician many still rate as the most expansive and creative of the post-punk era, The Durutti Column's Vini Reilly

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Perceptions can be hard to shake. Vini Reilly, while his accomplishment as a guitarist is universally acknowledged, is often short-handed as either misunderstood genius or vulnerable, indulged tax write-off – the emaciated wraith clutching a sick-note as flipside to the euphoria of happy hour Hacienda and the good ship Factory. Circumstances have occasionally conspired to see his orbit collide with great moments in pop history, but they have been the result of serendipity rather than ambition. While there's an element of 'always the bridesmaid' to Vini's story, there's an equal measure of 'right time, right place', or more particularly, 'right people'. He is definitively the worst self-publicist I have ever encountered, adding credibility to his frequent assertions that, were it not for the goodwill of those that surround him, he would never have come close to surviving as an artist for three decades.

Some rote conventions of the musician interview don't apply here (and while Reilly is clearly not a huge fan of the process, he's both a gracious and humorous conversationalist). Most notably, rather than beat the drum for his new 'product', he admits to tiring of his creations the moment he completes them. To the point where your interrogator has to sing him part of his new album to prompt him to recall the song in question (the opening track no less, his tribute to Tony Wilson, 'In Memory Of Anthony'). The album it introduces is Love In The Time Of Recession. It's a play on the title of one of Vini's favourite books, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In The Time Of Cholera and if you don't like it, well, Vini's not sure he does either.

Fitting in – it's over-rated

Vini's first recorded work was Ed Banger & The Nosebleeds' 'Ain't Bin To No Music School'. He features on the front cover photo, a classroom scene at Saint Gregory's Grammar. But he is wearing the girls' uniform...

Yeah! It was actually my sister's old school blazer, which I used to wear, along with pink slingback shoes, and Rupert the Bear trousers – anything that would fly in the face of convention. It got me into a lot of fights.

Saying Goodbye Is Hard

'In Memory Of Anthony' – It's just about how lucky I am that I knew him. He was quite something. He taught me an awful lot; he was a very educated guy. I didn't have a good education - I was expelled. So a lot of my education, if I've got any, came from other people. Tony was one of those people. He was very good at communicating information and ideas and concepts and stimulating your imagination. He was just a very, very close friend. I used to babysit his little son, and change his nappy. It was very family-orientated. We talked about anything, there were no no-go areas. You always got the truth and a bit of wisdom and a bit of philosophy thrown in with Tony. The two big male figures in my life have been Bruce [Mitchell; long-time Durutti percussionist] and Tony. Bruce gave me a home for six years living with him and his family. Tony and Bruce have always been my mentors. My own father died when I was 16, at exactly the time when you need a dad to look up to, I didn't have one. So Tony and Bruce have both given me focus and got me away from . . . unhealthy people? Just great friends.

Letting Tony Wilson give your band a Situationist name is a good idea

No disrespect to yourself, but I don't like doing interviews. You always feel like you're exposing something of yourself. The British ones aren't so bad, but when you go abroad, they're fanatical in places like Japan or Portugal. You feel like you want to save some privacy for yourself. And I dread personal questions. But as soon as someone asks about the origin of Durutti Column, I know I can waffle on for at least half an hour about Situationism and the French student riots in Paris and all that, and it leaves them with not much time to ask about anything else!

Letting Tony Wilson design Situationist sleeves for you isn't such a good idea

I didn't even know it [Martin Hannett produced legendary debut Return Of The Durutti Column] was going to be an album. It was just the case of jumping at the chance of being in the studio. I actually didn't get up in time, Martin had to physically get me out of bed to get me to the studio – that's how little I believed it would happen. I was still doing late night petrol station shifts. I was even more amazed when Tony presented me with a white label. I was completely baffled. 'What, this is really going to be an album? You must be insane! No-one's going to buy this!' And then Tony got the idea from the Situationists about the sandpaper book, and decided to do some with a sandpaper sleeve. It was Joy Division that stuck the sandpaper onto the card. I was mortified. I didn't really know them. I went to the Factory office, which was one room in Alan Erasmus's house, but I had to walk out. I couldn't bear to join in.

Stick with your Calling

Alongside Jez from A Certain Ratio and Johnny Marr, Vini is one of several Manchester post-punk guitarists to have been offered trials with Manchester City

I was asked to go for a trial. I didn't show up! I didn't go out of rebellion, I wanted to be a musician. I scored more goals for St Gregory's than anyone else. So I had loads of medals. I was very small and used to get injured a lot, broken collar bone and ribs. But I was a good player. I was fast and small. It's weird, one of my uncles, my mum's brother, after whom I'm named, he still gets frustrated that I wasted my talent! I keep saying I would have been too small. He keeps saying, they'd have built you up!

The best record company is a non-record company

I loved that facet of Factory, that it was so, if you like, unprofessional. You could call it incompetent. It was run in such a way that gave space for human beings to be themselves, and not geared up to some corporate idea or scheduled. I realised it was special. I didn't think of Factory as a record company. It didn't feel like a record company. I'd had talks with record companies, and found they were bloody awful and I hated them. So Factory wasn't a record company, it was just a group of people with some mad ideas, the imagination to have the mad ideas, and the balls to commit themselves to the things they'd dreamt up.

Never return to the scene of the crime

I really don't like my own music. I really enjoy doing it when I'm doing it, it gives me a great feeling of expression and fulfillment and pleasure – just the physicality of playing a guitar and putting a piece of music together. I just love all that. And for maybe half an hour after I've done it, it feels great. But it soon passes. And after that, I really don't want to hear it again. I want to do something else. I can't bear listening to my own records. I don't even listen to test pressings – the label don't bother sending me them any more cos I don't listen to them. They just put them out.

People WILL pigeonhole you

Yeah, being called fragile [both in terms of music, and also personally] does irritate me a bit. When we do gigs and stuff, a lot of it is verging on thrash metal – there are lots of tracks with screaming feedback and people holding their ears – it's anything but fragile. Because I had a lot of classical training when I was young, guitar and formal training, the scales I write with and the techniques I use are classical techniques and scales - a lot of minor melodic and minor harmonic scales, which generally aren't used in pop music. Usually it's pentatonic. Although post-punk opened up that a bit, and you were able to use different kinds of moods and textures. I think people find it hard to pigeonhole it, so they used to come up with ambient, which I was insulted by. Ambient is wallpaper music.

It's your art

I don't really enjoy writing with other people too much, unless it's very spontaneous. I'm too megalomaniacal in my approach to writing. On the new album, Poppy [Morgan], my girlfriend, is taking her grade eight piano exam in a month. She's got pretty good technique. But the most important thing is she writes her own pieces of music independently of me. Two or three pieces of music I heard her playing made me lift my head up and say, that's really good. So I kind of hijacked two or three pieces of her music and added pieces of guitar on them or a vocal. I suppose that is co-writing. But as far as I'm concerned, Poppy wrote those pieces of music. But I don't particularly like collaborations. I don't think they suit me and I get very impatient with people. My experiences of collaboration, apart from Morrissey [on his first solo album, Viva Hate], I have to say, have been that they've not understood what I was driving at, and they'd do something inappropriate, or just miss the point, or it's an ego thing.

Howard Devoto is an able sex double

I still, to this day, haven't seen 24 Hour Party People in its entirety. I've seen bits. I did go to see it with a friend when it was on at the cinema, and I got mobbed. It was ridiculous! I couldn't get into the cinema to watch it – which was really weird. That's never happened in Britain. Quite the opposite! Also my family and friends have always kept my feet on the ground, so I've got no illusions about my own importance! I was sent a shooting script. And I found a scene in it where I was having sex in a toilet with Tony's wife Lindsey [which the actor playing Devoto would reprise, while the man himself appeared as a janitor]. I've never had sex in a toilet with anybody! I've never had sex with Tony's wife! There were several things like that in the script I received, so I contacted Michael Winterbottom and said look, if you don't take those scenes out, I'll sue you. I'm not precious, but that's factually wrong. My family were going to see this film! Either take them out or I'll sue you. So they cut out loads of scenes I was going to be in.

Stay true to yourself

In the end, I don't know if it's good music or bad music or indifferent music. I have no idea. I don't really care too much, it's done with and over with. People would say, why do you release it anyway, if you don't really rate it? The answer is, whatever music it is, bad, good, indifferent, stupid, boring, whatever, - it's truthful. At the time, it's the truth, and it's honest. There's no attempt to portray an image or a career or anything. It's what it is. And truth can be painful. It's about losses close to me, and about my own depression, but it's cathartic. But you have to be truthful. If you're not true in what you do, if you're creative, then you should forget it. All I've ever tried to do is be truthful.