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The Durutti Column

Essentially the modus operandi for electric guitar virtuoso Vini Reilly, The DURUTTI COLUMN have become synonymous with lilting soundscapes and percussive, picturesque pop of the indie and alternative variety. A calming group to recharge the batteries of one’s heart and soul, Factory staples the DC – once managed by the late, great Tony Wilson – were not so much “all the rage”, more “state-of-the-art”… with the emphasis on the word Art.
Vini Reilly was born Vincent Gerrard Reilly, 4 August 1953, Heaton Park, Higher Blackley, Manchester (but raised in nearby Withington, Wythenshaw and Didsbury), and at an early age he took up the piano before trying his hand at the guitar. He also kicked a mean football and allegedly spurned a trial at Manchester City. A child prodigy with an ear for jazz greats Fats Waller and Art Tatum, while folk-blues purveyors BERT JANSCH and JOHN RENBOURN must’ve been inspirations, Reilly opted to find his feet in other directions. Manchester’s punk-rock scene was burgeoning since SLAUGHTER & THE DOGS, The FALL, Bolton’s BUZZCOCKS et al had cropped up, so without much ado…
The NOSEBLEEDS were one such act. Initially spearheaded by croaky singer Ed Banger, Vincent Reilly, bassist Pete Crookes and drummer Toby featured in the extracurricular playground punk 45, `Ain’t Bin To No Music School’. A seminal song of its time, the quartet were hit with a massive blow when Ed B took off for an intermittent solo career (and to the aforementioned SLAUGHTER & THE DOGS), although its “other” claim-to-fame was bolstered in the introduction of both Steven MORRISSEY and guitarist Billy Duffy, before they joined respective class indie acts The SMITHS and THEATRE OF HATE/The CULT.
The formation of The DURUTTI COLUMN was in fact down to aforementioned entrepreneur/manager Tony Wilson and future Factory Records cohort Alan Erasmus, who both had a large say in the band’s initial recruitment in early 1978. Taking their slightly misspelled moniker from an anarchist movement in Spanish Civil War times (Buenaventura Durruti was its ringleader), the pair picked out guitarist Dave Rowbotham and drummer Chris Joyce (both from punks Fast Breeder), before calling on the initially reluctant Vini to take charge. Vocalist Phil Rainford and ALBERTO Y LOST TRIOS PARANOIS bassist Tony Bowers arrived forthwith, although the former was thought surplus to requirements after The DURUTTI COLUMN laid down tracks for a “Factory” sampler; he would later find solace as producer for both NICO and SUNS OF ARQA; actor Colin Sharp would spend a brief time writing for the group.
However, the DURUTTI COLUMN were down to just skinny Vini when their Factory Records bosses chose Martin Hannett to oversee fresh production; Rowbotham, Bowers and Joyce would almost immediately splinter as The MOTHMEN (SIMPLY RED later borrowing the latter two). With things a little awry and with studio time booked for August ‘79, Vini called upon “old mucker” rhythm section Pete Crookes and Toby (aka Philip Tomanov) to fill the void on The DURUTTI COLUMN’s debut LP, THE RETURN OF THE DURUTTI COLUMN (1980) {*9} – the title inspired by a Situationiste Internationale poster and phrase from 1967.
This was a brilliant introduction to Reilly’s minimalist yet picturesque guitar improvisations, although its gimmick-y sandpaper sleeve – FACT 14 designed by Tony Wilson! – was not exactly the toast of the record retailers or buyers, who had to protect the rest of their vinyl stock from its glassy debris. As subsequent editions substituted the Guy Debord-styled book of “Memoires” for a proper Raoul Duffy artwork, the fragility of finely sculptured pieces like opener `Sketch For Summer’, `Conduct’, `Collette’ and `Sketch For Winter’, matched the suave and sophisticated vignette, `Jazz’.
Licensed out to their Factory Benelux depot, Wilson asked solo auteur Vini to come up with a couple of instrumentals led by `Lips That Would Kiss (From Prayers To Broken Stone)’ (b/w `Madeleine’). Augmented by drum programmer Eric Random (in for Crookes and the V2/LUDUS-bound Toby), it was a prelude to another appearance by way of three exclusive pieces (`For Mimi’, `For Belgian Friends’ and `Self Portrait’) on the “A Factory Quartet” Various Artists double-album. The subsequent acquisition of pernickety percussionist Bruce Mitchell (another from the parody-driven ALBERTO Y LOST… amalgam) was an inspired choice, having been introduced on a relatively rare Italian-only 45, `Enigma’ / `Danny’, prior to recording follow-up full-set, LC (1981) {*9}. In keeping with the Italian slogan theme (“LC” meaning la “Lotta Continua” – the struggle continues), this was indeed another masterpiece that fused light jazz into barren but dreamy landscapes. Premiering several of the tracks – including vocal pieces, `Sketch For Dawn (1)’ and `Sketch For Dawn (2)’ – in support on tour of fellow Mancunians JOHN COOPER CLARKE, PAULINE MURRAY and Scot JOHN MARTYN, evocative excursions like `Jacqueline’, `Never Known’ and `The Missing Boy’ (a Vini vocal in homage to JOY DIVISION’s Ian Curtis), captured, and identified perfectly, with the incumbent post-new wave scene.
1982 was a year that The DURUTTI COLUMN had no album, though a pair of Factory Benelux-branded singles appeared in the autumn: the 12-inch `Deux Triangles’ (featuring `Favourite Painting’, `Zinni’ and a near-13 minute `Piece For Out Of Tune Grande Piano’) and the unintentionally sold-separately 7-inch sides: `Weakness & Fever’ and `Piano’.
Previewing a third set was the twinning of bona fide double-A’s, `I Get Along Without You Very Well’ (a cover of a Hoagy Carmichael gem sung delicately by manager Tony’s wife Lindsay Wilson) and meditative album opener, `Prayer’ (Cor Anglais courtesy of other guest Maunagh Fleming). The aforesaid ANOTHER SETTING (1983) {*7} – with only A CERTAIN RATIO refugee Simon Topping on board to complement Vini and Bruce – had the usual peppering of upbeat or autumnal passages. At times far too derivative of previous works, stand-out subtleties came through `Bordeaux’, `For A Western’, `The Beggar’ and the oboe-addled `Smile In The Crowd’.
For the two-part compositional WITHOUT MERCY (1984) {*7}, the classically-minded Vini (and retainer Bruce) surrounded themselves with a strong contingent of players that comprised saxophonist Mervyn Fletcher, trumpeter Tim Kellett, trombonist Richard Henry, violinist/violist Blaine Reininger (of TUXEDOMOON), cellist Caroline Lavelle and the returning Maunagh. Only two OLDFIELD-esque pieces echoing that of avant-gardist Erik Satie and, based on Keats’ poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci, many fans would recognise segments that appeared.
Almost immediately complemented by a 6-track 12-inch EP, `Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say’, the balance and equilibrium was restored forthwith. Bookended by vignettes `Goodbye’ and `Hello’, the mini concept was stretched by the heavenly `The Room’ (one to hear before you pop your clogs!), the exotically sunny-day `Silence’ and the buoyant `E.E.’; note that these segments were thankfully added to the 1990s CD re-issue copies of its “parent” set.
However, not for the first time, ill-health was again to dog Vini.
Strictly ballroom and the bees knees for DURUTTI fly-by-nights, the live in concert (on 25th April 1985 at Gotanda Kanihoken Hall, Tokyo, in Japan, to be exact), DOMO ARIGATO {*8} was a fine introduction for any ambient-indie fan yet to taste the twists and tales of Reilly and Co: `Sketch For Summer’, `Sketch For Dawn’ and the melancholy “Mercy” themes, were all present and correct; Reilly, Mitchell, Kellett and violist John Metcalfe were still the stable line-up for the foreseeable future.
Several months on, Vini took a trip to California, where he invited punkette Debi Diamond to sing on a unique take of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE’s `White Rabbit’. Sadly not a feature on 1986’s CIRCUSES AND BREAD {*7}, although studio takes of “Domo” dirges `Tomorrow’ and a 10-minute `Blind Elevator Girl (Osaka)’ made their second appearances, there was the usual shimmering touches within `Pauline’, `Hillary’, `Dance II’ and the ear-massaging `Royal Infirmary’.
On the back of releases that fitted not into the Factory Records canon (`Greetings Three’ and the US-sanctioned LIVE AT THE BOTTOM LINE NEW YORK (1987) {*6} cassette), the Stephen Street-produced THE GUITAR AND OTHER MACHINES (1987) {*7} tried to fill the Xmas stocking market. Without recent single, `Our Lady Of The Angels’, but showcasing a B-side, `When The World’ (DC’s swansong for Metcalfe and SIMPLY RED free-signing Kellett), vocal duties were strictly down to Stanton Miranda (ex-THICK PIGEON) and the mysterious Pol (`Red Shoes’ glorious in all its simplistic, eclectic beauty). Trying hard not to emulate and repeat the prescriptions of their past glories, the percussive-led rhythms of `English Landscape Tradition’, `Miss Haymes’ and feisty opening salvo, `Arpeggiator’, punched their weight in full.
Experiencing quality time away from the gruelling DC, Reilly took up an invitation by old fellow NOSEBLEEDS chum, MORRISSEY, to play guitar pieces on his the ex-SMITHS man’s solo debut, `Viva Hate’. Steven Patrick (Morrissey) would return the favour forthwith on a freebie 7-inch (`I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong’), for The DURUTTI COLUMN’s next outing, the un-eponymous VINI REILLY (1989) {*7}. Yes, a group and sample-tastic affair tying in the ever-stalwart Mitchell, plus SWING OUT SISTER’s Andy Connell (keyboards), and vocal spots for LITTLE BIG BAND’s Rob Grey (`The Work Every Day’), Pol (`Otis’) and Liu Sola (for the funky `People’s Pleasure Park’ and `Finding The Sea’), the effervescent guitarist played out the 80s as true and honest as his “Return…” kick-started it.
For 1990’s OBEY THE TIME {*6}, Mitchell was only available on one solitary track (`Art And Freight’), his berth filled by the computerised drum machine technology of engineer Paul Miller. Hypnotic and holiday-esque (as if basking on a beach in ear-shot of an acid-house disco), its cold, synthetic NEW ORDER-styled rpm’s lacked any cohesion or formula. Stuttering staccatos and nightmarish neon noodles shimmered and set the pace on `Contra-indications’, `Hotel Of The Lake 1990’, the flamenco-fried `Fridays’ and subtle show-piece, `Spanish Reggae’, but it all-but drew a close to the Factory cartel, as the label went bankrupt in ‘92.
Sadder beyond comprehension, was the horrific death of original member Dave Rowbotham, who was murdered by an unknown assailant with a lathe hammer; his body was found in his Burnage flat on 8 November 1991, possibly weeks after the incident. He inspired HAPPY MONDAYS to write `Cowboy Dave’ as a tribute.
With time to contemplate life away from the limelight, Vini and Bruce were probably happy to get back to the grind on “comeback” set, SEX AND DEATH (1994) {*6}. Again under the wing (and now a prayer) of Tony Wilson, who’d found a way to merge an all-new Factory Too label with the corporate Polygram imprint, the textured trials and tribulations unfolded on notable material `The Rest Of My Life’, `For Colette’ and the Portuguese-styled `Fado’. Augmented by NEW ORDER’s Peter Hook (bass) and SWING OUT SISTER’s Martin Jackson (keyboards), the co-production of Stephen Street did little to re-capture some old ground.
FIDELITY (1996) {*6} was DC’s first set to feature young vocalist Elli R. Rudge, but licensed out to Belgium’s Les Disques Du Crepuscule, British fans not in tune with press releases missed out on the delightful and delicate title track and `Future Perfect’. Lengthier pieces all-round, the Laurie Lexicon noodling programmes gave the record it’s own post-ART OF NOISE flavouring (examples `For Suzanne’ and the bubbly `Sanko’).
Reilly and Rudge resumed their intermittent recording schedule with Factory Too’s low-key set, TIME WAS GIGANTIC… WHEN WE WERE KIDS (1998) {*7}. Okay, not one of the greatest titles ever; the production by long-time collaborator Keir Stewart was crystal clear, as wunderkid Elli was given a free reign on tracks `Organ Donor’, `I B Yours’, `Drinking Song’, `Sing To Me’, `My Last Kiss’ etc. (all very SUNDAYS or SAINT ETIENNE), whilst the worldly DC and Reilly’s fragile forays were catered for in respect of `Twenty Trees’ and `Abuse’ .
For 2001’s REBELLION {*7} – his first for Artful Records – the seasoned guitar picker crafted a markedly more accessible long player with an unprecedented ceding of leeway to the basic tenets of song structure. Thus one of the record’s standouts was an inspired rendition of Celtic-folk standard, `The Fields Of Athenry’ (powered by singer Vick A. Wood), while a willingness to augment his work with contemporary elements served to showcase the man’s still burning talent. Augmented once again with Mitchell’s astute percussive back-drops, each piece was meticulously crafted; notable displays coming in the dreamy `4 Sophia’, the exotic `Longsight Romance’ and the entrancing `Ceh Cak Af En Yam’. Turning to ragga for `Overlord, Pt.1’, Vini vented his versatility vehemently, but it was in his delicate and delightful fret master-classes, like the two distinguishable parts of `Mello’ and the metallic melange of `Meschugana’ that set his DURUTTI COLUMN in a cosmos of their own.
2003’s return, SOMEONE ELSE’S PARTY {*7}, was reflective and sombre (`Requiem For My Mother’, etc.) due to the death of Vini’s mum, although it did reprise the Spanish guitar style of his early days. Reintroducing “Laptop Laurie” to proceedings, writing the set was not so much a chore; even the tracks seemed a little laborious by its very nature of subject matter. Equally searching and anguished, Reilly sampled the voice of Rebekah del Rio (here under `Spanish Lament’; a cover of ORBISON’s `Crying’) as from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but overall, `Vigil’, `Somewhere’, `Spasmic Fairy’ and `Goodbye’, painted a picture of the man’s mournful time.
Manchester’s quiet man kept up his prolific post-millennial work rate with TEMPUS FUGIT (2004) {*7}, a stark bulletin from the soul, couched in largely acoustic language with soporific contributions (including `Lullaby 4 Nina’ and `Guitar-Woman’) from singer Jill Taylor.
The DURUTTI COLUMN’s umpteenth set, KEEP BREATHING {*6}, followed in early 2006, boasting an upgraded production, although with no less emphasis on Reilly’s 6-string mastery. Unaffected by any stripped-down effects this time around, the record was back in full technicolour on the likes of `Gun’, `Maggie’, `Helen’ and `Let Me Tell You Something’.
IDIOT SAVANTS (2007) {*7} for Artful, and SUNLIGHT TO BLUE… BLUE TO BLACKNESS (2008) {*7} for Kooky Records, were indeed Tony Wilson affiliated. The man’s illness and death of cancer on 10 August 2007 greatly adhered to on each respective set. Recruiting Poppy Roberts to sing on both sets was integral in order to match the mood, while `Interleukin 2’ (named after the drug Tony took) and `Please Let Me Sleep’, occupied a sedate space running up the second of these records. The darker “Sunlight…” was his tribute to his mentor, and continued the run of complementary albums with a recurring retro theme; check out `Never Known Version’, `Glimpse’ and `Head Glue’.
Guaranteeing rightful homage to his former manager, the austere LOVE IN THE TIME OF RECESSION (2009) {*7} and, even more so, A PAEAN TO WILSON (2010) {*8}, had a subtle, sobering effect on the listener; Colin Sharp had also passed away in the interim. While the first of these was a full-blown band affair that roped in the likes of girlfriend Poppy Morgan (Keir Stewart, Tim Thomas and, of course, Bruce, were also part of the relaxed set up), the DURUTTI template embraced highlights `In Memory Of Anthony’, `For Bruce’, `Wild Beast Tamed’, `More Rainbows’ and `Painting’. As the “Paean” full-set suggested, the quality reined throughout on continental-styled instrumentals and generous samples (some utilising the voice of Tony). Hard to pigeonhole, the scales straddled a different beat, which linked the concept via melancholy melody and neo-classical types, into a richer and rawer introspective that hit the mark. Lengthier in scope and composition, bookends `Chant’ and `How Unbelievable’ had that slow-burning effect, whilst the tearful `Along Came Poppy’ and `Quatro’ exercised something to resonate faster.
That September, virtuoso Vini suffered the first of three strokes (two in quick succession), consequently losing some feeling in his left hand which prevented him from playing intricate finger-picking. Slowing him down somewhat as he attempted a full recovery, friends and fans chose to rally round to generate money on the internet to pay lagging rent and bills that had accrued in his assessment for disability benefits. A tidy sum of over £3,000 was reported to have been forthcoming in the first day of appeal in January 2013, helping the man in his plight with nasty officials in government.
There had been the usual re-commencement of post-Pauline releases (they’d split earlier): the April 2011 live-in-concert CHRONICLE (2011) {*7} and its Kooky Records-endorsed boxed-set supplement CHRONICLE XL (2014) {*7}, were squeezed either side of a long-lost effort from 1983: SHORT STORIES FOR PAULINE (2012) {*7}.
Hopefully, Vini’s recuperation will continue upwards and onwards (e.g. he co-wrote and performed on `Glorious’ from HOLLY JOHNSON’s `Europa’ set of 2014) – yes, we indeed need Vini back.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2016

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