The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
Since the late-1970s, the Durutti Column has essentially served as the musical voice of Manchester, England’s Vini Reilly, a guitarist extraordinaire whose distinctive “avant-garde-jazz-classical” style also displays elements of rock, folk, pop, and electronica, all brought to life by his trademark chiming lightness of touch. “Vini seems to play guitar as if he’s never heard it played before,” asserted Donald Anderson in Space Age Bachelor of Reilly’s technique. “Through constant symbiosis with an ecoplex, he achieves a sound best described by a friend as ‘angels weeping.’” Reilly himself realizes that his tranquil and unassertive sound differs greatly from that of most rock performers. “One of the questions that I’m often asked is,” said Reilly, ‘“Who are your influences that are guitarists?’ And in my attempt to answer that question, I’ve realized that my influences are not guitarists at all. They’re actually pianists. People like Art Tatum and Fats Waller and people like that, or Oscar Peterson, and even Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, all the old black blues boogie-woogie. They’re all piano players, not guitarists.”
As a young child, too, Reilly was most interested in forms of music other than the popular tunes of the day. Born in Manchester, England, in 1953, he first took up the piano, drawing inspiration from greats like Tatum, Waller, and even classical composer Benjamin Britten, before learning to play guitar at the age of ten. “When I was younger my father [who died when Reilly was 17] wouldn’t allow us to watch television in the house, so listening to music and playing it was our way of entertaining ourselves,” recalled Reilly, as quoted in a biography accompanying 1996’s Fidelity album. “We listened to a wide range of music, but never really pop or rock. I suppose as a consequence of that I always seem to hear things in a classical kind of way.”
After a childhood saturated with folk, jazz, and classical music, Reilly in 1972 received an offer to play cabaret guitar on the QE2, but illness—a psychological disease rendering him unable to eat for extended periods of time accompanied by fits of debilitating depression that would persist throughout his career—forced him to decline. Remaining in Manchester, the young guitarist/pianist eventually developed a fascination with the punk movement in spite of his earlier affections, and in 1977 he joined the group Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, a semi-serious outfit that at one time counted solo artist/Smiths leader Morrissey among its members. The band recorded one single, “Ain’t Been To No Music School,” before a local broadcaster named Tony Wilson asked Reilly to join up with bassist Tony Bowers, vocalist Phil Rainford, guitarist Dave Rowbotham, and drummer Chris Joyce.
In January of 1978, the lineup settled in together as the Durutti Column, one of the first non-punk underground bands to emerge from the aftermath of the British punk explosion, as well as the first band signed to Wilson’s newly established Factory Records, a label that would later boast such acts as Joy Division, New Order, and Simply Red. Adopting their title after a 1930s liberation-anarchist named Buenoventuri Durutti, who led a brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and their political leanings from the anarchist group Situationists Internationale, known for its use of slogans suggesting that music and art is used by the media and business to create order, the Durutti Column started playing their psychedelic-tinged punk rock music around Manchester.
Following a handful of performances, Rainford was fired, and the remaining members went on to cut two tracks for the inaugural Factory Records sampler EP. Soon thereafter, Rowbotham, Joyce, and Bowers broke off to form the Mothmen, leaving the Durutti Column the sole province of chief songwriter Reilly. From that point on, he turned his back on punk’s angst-ridden formula in favor of melancholia and poignancy, making the Durutti Column one of the most influential voices on the Manchester avant-garde rock scene for years to come.
With the aid of a few session musicians, Reilly recorded in just two days the first full-length Durutti Column LP, The Return of the Durutti Column, released in 1979 and produced with Martin Hannett. A collection of atmospheric instrumentals, the album
For the Record…
Members include frequent collaborator Bruce Mitchell, drums; Vini Reilly (born in Manchester, England, in 1953), guitar, vocals.
Released debut The Return of the Durutti Column on Factory Records, 1979; experimented with classical instrumentation for Without Mercy, 1984; released live album Domo Arigato, the first CD-only release in the U.K., 1985; released Vini Reilly, featuring the stand-out track “Otis,” 1989; released Sex and Death on Factory Too, 1994; released Fidelity, 1996, and Time Was Gigantic, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Factory Too Records.
introduced the world to Reilly’s frail, filigree guitar style. Using a structured framework more closely resembling classical than rock or pop, Reilly had developed his own unique voice—one tinged with jazz and blues and deliberately hesitant—that would endure over the course of subsequent recordings. “Like certain blues guitarists (J.B. Lenoir for example), Reilly’s fingers seem to fall on the strings in a particular way, and the individual character of his music is also enhanced by his attractively decayed guitar tone, to which small amounts of reverberation and phasing are added,” according to the insert for Fidelity. “In fact, he is more concerned with the spirit of his guitar than the acrobatic speedy fingers can make it perform, his multi-tracked and treated percussive guitar creates spellbindingly romantic/tragic pop songs, the dance beat supplied by live or mechanical drums.”
The Return of the Durutti Column generated immediate interest in Reilly, and he landed several support dates with John Martyn, John Cooper Clarke, and Pauline Murray’s Invisible Girls. For the next album, 1980’s pastoral L.C., Reilly teamed with ex-Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias drummer Bruce Mitchell, who would remain a frequent collaborator. Reilly also expanded his palette to include his haunting, introspective vocals for a few tracks. Next, after the 1982 album Another Setting, Reilly began experimenting with more elaborate, classically inspired instrumentation—full string and horn sections—for the 1984 album Without Mercy, a suite based on the Keats poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” Meanwhile, Reilly incorporated electronic rhythms as the pivotal element for another album that year entitled Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say.
Reilly’s delicate and often minimalist approach brought him great success in Japan; the 1985 live album Domo Arigato, the first CD-only pop release in Great Britain, was recorded there. Along with Reilly and Mitchell, the band lineup was augmented for the performance by the trumpet of Tim Kellett, later of Simply Red, and the viola of John Metcalfe, later of the Duke Quartet and Kreisler Orchestra. The same four piece was also featured on the next Durutti Column project, 1986’s translucent, dreamlike Circuses and Bread album, which marked the return of Reilly’s densely constructed guitar textures.
Following the release of a 1986 compilation album, Valuable Passages, Reilly purchased new sampling equipment, which he used in the making of 1987’s eclectic The Guitar and Other Machines, ranked among the Durutti Column’s most ambitious works for its pioneering use of new technologies. It was also Europe’s first commercial DAT album. In 1988, Reilly tasted a bit of rare mainstream chart success backing Morrissey on his post-Smiths solo debut Viva Hate, which gave the guitarist the chance to mix several different styles, from heavy metal to his signature resonating echo. The following year, he returned to the Durutti Column to release an album simply titled Vini Reilly, another diverse outing and a favorite among Durutti Column fans, which incorporated vocal samples from Otis Redding, Annie Lennox, Tracy Chapman, and opera star Joan Sutherland. The standout track “Otis,” featuring the vocals of Redding and Chapman, was used in a television commercial for Pacific Bell that aired in California for more than two years.
Working with some of Manchester’s best dance music engineers, Reilly returned with Obey the Time in 1990, an album with a little too much of an aggressive edge to be dubbed “ambient.” A brief period of uncertainty followed as Factory Records announced its bankruptcy in 1992. Throughout Durutti Column’s recording history, Reilly rarely needed to worry about his lack of commercial success. Thus, many wondered whether he would be able to find a new label that would support his musical vision. However, in 1994 the Durutti Column found a new home at Factory’s successor label, Factory Too. That year saw the release of Sex and Death, a richly textured album despite the ominous title. Fidelity, an album which fused dance beats with Reilly’s guitar lines, surfaced in 1995, followed in 1997 by Time Was Gigantic… When We Were Kids and a live album called Night in New York in 1999.
Although Reilly never earned popular recognition, he nevertheless enjoyed a devoted cult following. “I’m just glad that even though it is a very small amount of people [who like the Durutti Column] that they like something,” he told Anderson. Additionally, he helped foster the careers of many of his past cohorts. Among Durutti Column alumni, Chris Joyce and Tony Bowers achieved the greatest success as members of Simply Red. Tragically, founding Durutti Column guitarist Dave Rowbotham was slain by an axe murderer in 1991, an event that inspired the Happy Mondays song “Cowboy Dave.”
A Factory Sample (EP), Factory, 1978.
The Return of the Durutti Column, Factory, 1979.
Lips that Would Kiss, Factory Benelux, 1980.
From Brussels with Love (compilation), CrÈpuscule, 1980.
A Factory Quartet (compilation), Factory, 1980.
Another Setting, Factory, 1982.
Without Mercy, Factory, 1984.
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, Factory, 1984.
Domo Arigato, Factory Japan, 1985.
Circuses and Bread, Factory Benelux, 1986.
Valuable Passages (compilation), Factory/Relativity, 1986.
Live at the Bottom Line, NYC, ROIR, 1986.
The Guitar and Other Machines, Factory, 1987.
The First Four Albums (compilation), Factory, 1988.
Vini Reilly, Factory, 1989.
Obey the Time, Factory, 1990.
Sex and Death, Factory Too, 1994.
Fidelity, CrÈpuscule, 1995.
Time Was Gigantic… When We Were Kids, Factory Too, 1997.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
City Life, Issue 119, March 8-23, 1989.
New Musical Express, February 2, 1980.
Option, January 2, 1987.
Space Age Bachelor, December 1999.
Wire, December 1995.
The Durutti Column Discography, http://www.ultranet.com/~rps/durutti-column/discog.html#releases (July 28, 2000).
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