The year is 1984. I am trying to expand my musical tastes after casting off the cloak of teenage pop obsession and, to do this, I am fervently listening to John Peel, buying the NME and basically trying to educate myself on all things punk and post-punk as I had been born a little too late to experience it first-hand.
Part of this catching up involved having to try and actually purchase records that had come out in the relevant period and the way I did this was to frequent the Record and Tape Exchange in London’s Notting Hill Gate. The shop was a fantastic source of what was, to me, ‘new’ music. It could throw up unexpected delights if you persevered at rifling through its racks of mainly second-hand records.
I had to become familiar with the major post-punk indie labels and 4AD had already become a bit of an obsession. Factory I had had a bit of a start with because of Joy Division and New Order, but the rest of the label was still uncharted territory and I was determined to know more.
One day when I was in the shop, I picked out a black sleeve with what looked like three early 20th century European paintings on (this was the repress rather than the one with the infamous sandpaper sleeve). The album was called The Return Of The The Durutti Column and it had been released in 1980, catalogue number FACT 14. I had heard the name but didn’t know much about this ‘band’. It looked interesting: the black was kind of punk-rock, but the paintings looked out of place. They were by Raoul Dufy – Dufy on a record on Factory? This alone appealed to my love of 20th century art, so I bought it. When I got home, I put it on the turntable and wasn’t disappointed.
Punk especially was all about anti-musicianship, but coming out of the speakers was not really a band but one man, Vini Reilly, a virtuoso guitarist playing delicate arpeggios over the nine tracks and the style veered toward, dare I say it, jazz (and the fact he called a track ‘Jazz’ was showed it was a genre he wasn’t shirking away from). Maybe I shouldn’t have liked it, but I did. What probably anchored it to the post-punk world and perhaps away from it being too muso-ish was Martin Hannett’s production, which added a kind of industrial, crystalline feel. I loved the juxtaposition of the intricate guitar playing with the almost clunky drum machine sounds on ‘Sketch For Summer’ and ‘Requiem For A Father’, some of which sound actually out of time, but that almost makes the guitar sound more fragile. If that had been Hannett’s aim, it worked.
I fell in love with this record. In my room was a big armchair and I would sit in it and listen in the sunlight, sometimes even falling asleep. It was hypnotic, immersive and, probably thanks to the sleeve artwork, transported me to European beaches drenched in blazing sun – although the album was recorded and mixed in rainy Stockport.
Everything about the mood and sound of this record just struck a note back then and it does now. I would also say that, even though there is no way I would compare my guitar-playing ability to that of Vini Reilly, he probably did influence me more than others that might seem more likely. The use of delay and reverb on the guitar lines I think I found more compelling than swathes of background ambience favoured by some a few years later.
I should also add that this is probably the first instrumental record I ever got into. I had liked individual instrumental tracks on albums, but as a whole record this was the start of something new for me, probably introducing me to jazz for the first time (not forgetting that there was a lot of ‘indie jazz’ in the ’80s – honorary nods go to various artists on Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule and the post-Young Marble Giants band Weekend).
My favourite track is probably ‘Sketch For Winter’ and its uplifting melancholy, but the album should be listened to in its entirety. It’s wonderful to listen to alone. In fact, you should listen to it alone. There is no other way, and right now if you can’t literally go to a sunny European beach and fall asleep, well…