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Section 25
Retrofit Mick Middles , September 30th, 2010 12:00

Music from the edge of nowhere or, to be specific... Blackpool, which has its fair share of 'edge'. Never had a home town seemed as indelibly mapped into a band's music as this. Back in their early-80s days, the rain-coated Section 25 appeared as a unit brimming with fractured noise; daubed in primary colours and crass squeals and yelps.

You could think of place where the legacy of northern soul (Blackpool Mecca, one of the truly legendary venues) might meet the most ferocious punk intelligence. Add to thi, a Germanic pulsebeat and an unquenchable thirst for lo-fi experimentation, and you are edging near. You could also think of a town where women on hen nights might stagger across the tram-lines and downbeat B&B's would proudly advertise: 'Try our 4am curries'. Tie everything together with a restless high intelligence an there you have something approaching. Section 25. A band rather more worthy of cracked mirror ball symbolism than New Order (as depicted in the Savillian cover of New Order's box set). By contrast, Section 25 seemed ever-so-slightly deranged. A band spinning all over the place.

Up here in the north, where they at least made some kind of sense, they were regarded as a steely alternative to the pouty Camden funksters of 'The Face' generation. They were always something of an anomaly. From the'pool, indeed, but formed in the wry mind of Larry Cassidy who, after punky forays in London, returned home clutching a degree and a desire to kick-start something.

After tempting his brother Vin on to a drum seat, Section 25 began as a raw downbeat adventure, soon to attract the attention of Factory's Rob Gretton. Seven albums, a good deal of angst and fun – and tragedy – links that embryonic idea with the forsome we find today.

To some extent, it remains a pity that they would become forever linked with the often rather pointless cacophony that nestled at the avant-gard edge of Factory. That male-dominated and largely artless vacuum never seemed to suit a band blessed with so many genuinely off-kilter ideas. Listening through their Earl catalogue is rather like glancing as a parallel 80s. A strange place where the familiar, the clichéd even, scream from weird angles. Even in 1984, as New Order were situated in a rock/dance fusion, Section 25 were never less than strange. But given today's musical template, they are pushing deeper into an endearing weirdness.

The enduring nature of Section 25 surprised many. Even their 1984 mini classic album, the Bernard Sumner produced 'From The Hip', which tugged on a little known rough underside of electronica, didn't hint of a band with a quietly evolving intensity. (A lovely, evocative video of that album's sublime moment, 'Looking from a Hill Top', can be glimpsed on YouTube, and features a heart-stopping beautiful Lindsay Reade complete with distinctive automobile).

Four years ago, catching them live in their home town in support of an admittedly exhausted and fractious New Order, this writer was astonished at the sheer power and resilience. That night, to lapse into rock-speak, they blew their esteemed peers clean away. Two great unexpected outings – Past Primitiv in 2007 and Nature and Degree in 2009 – sealed this positive movement. A late flourish indeed. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer to that question now seems to carry a dreadful poignancy. Indeed, when the when the tragic news of Larry Cassidy's untimely death filtered through in February this year, visions of this distinctive Blackpool band immediately changed colour. Most expected a gentle fade into memory.

However, something remarkable happened. Born from the depths of that awful news, a new spirit appeared to fire their fluctuating muse. It was a courageous decision but... somehow... somehow the band would continue. More than that, a determination drawn from Larry's memory has seemingly given them a new clarity; a new sense of urgency.

Section 25 2010 is a different beast. Comprising of Vin Cassidy, Bethany Cassidy, Stuart Hill and Steve Stringer, they are neat, clipped unit readying themselves for Autumnal outings.

This initial album, Retrofit – clever-clever title indeed – can be viewed as an interim collection which spans the divide. It is pre and post Larry. It is a bridge and a way forward.

The idea is admittedly an odd one although in this instance, and perhaps ONLY in this instance, it seems wholly appropriate. Gathered here is a selection of nine Section 25 and re-thought. The idea is born from their live set and the invigorating realisation that they are not the same band .not QUITE the same band. A new vision or just compelling use of technology to lift them (almost) free from the familiar shards of 80s underground. Quite shockingly, this new attack works. It's impossible not to hone in on the sharp remix of 'Looking from a Hilltop', twice featured here although the it is the closing number, re-touched by Steven Morris, that truly sets the tone for a Euro-tinged future. Supporting this is the gleaming newie, 'Uberhymm'...self explanatory, really and moving firmly away from Britain's west coast...moving eastwards into the dense surrealistic dreams of Europe. There is more. 'Dirty Disco' is a near perfect evocation of the darkness of English small-town hedonism while 'Garageland', again, is carved from northern existential wandering.

All this 'tightening' appears to have tugged the band into a sense of 'now', even if their sometimes clunky musicality remains gloriously at odds with the contemporary norm. If that sounds rather confused, so be it. But, as ever, it is a rare and workable confusion.

Whether this new warped vision will carry them successfully through to an entirely new stream of albums, time will tell. But I like the lightness of touch and the refreshing foretaste of frenetic gigs to come.

A remodelling then...and a new vision that builds on the fiery intensity they stumbled across in Larry Cassidy's latter years. The most perfect evocation to date of a strange, strange town, though The Membranes might disagree.