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The Durutti Column \ Biography

For Belgian Friends

Sibling labels Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux came into being at the beginning of 1980, founded by Brussels scenesters Michel Duval (an economist by training, and journalist for several arts magazines including En Attendant and Plein Soleil), and Annik Honore (then working in London, but also a booker for the seminal Plan K venue, as well as writing for En Attendant). A strong cultural link was forged between Brussels and the iconic Manchester label Factory Records after the two Joy Division concerts at Plan K on 16 October 1979 and 17 January 1980, and confirmed when A Certain Ratio and Section 25 performed at the same venue on 26 April 1980. Meanwhile Brussels band The Names had already joined the Factory roster, while the coincidental location of Plan K on the Rue de Manchester made an ongoing collaboration with Factory inevitable.

Although The Durutti Column did not perform at the first dedicated Factory Night at Plan K on 26 April 1980, Vini did cross the water to perform at the same venue on 27 June, as part of an eclectic bill which also featured Bill Nelson, Richard Jobson and Richard Strange, itself part of a larger event paying tribute to French artist Jean Cocteau. Reilly's solo performance was described in glowing terms by NME writer Paul Du Noyer: "Vini Reilly does not wear a new suit, nor does he dance; but he does just fine. A frail, unassuming performer, Reilly sits with his guitar and tapes, and constructs music that's so delicate and beautiful, and Brussels likes him best of all. From a nervous 'Can yer start the tape, John?' at the start, to a heartfelt 'ta, yer great, yer beautiful!' at the end, you sense his assurance growing. A good gig."

The Plan K debut in June marked Reilly's first trip outside the United Kingdom, a revelatory experience he later recalled for the Factory documentary Shadowplayers: "I found out to my dismay that breakfast was just a croissant with coffee. So it was like - where's breakfast? All these details. I was so ignorant, I knew nothing of the world. I really enjoyed playing in Europe, even though it was difficult for me physically. It was very civilized, people were more wealthy, less aggressive. Plan K was astonishing. It was taken very seriously. people were really listening very intently to every single note, and I felt like I was walking a tightrope, because every note had to be right."

Since several of the Factory bands werepolific creatively, it was agreed that 'spare' recordings could be released on the Continent via a new label, Factory Benelux. The first three releases were singles by A Certain Ratio (Shack Up), The Durutti Column (Lips That Would Kiss) and Section 25 (Haunted), which appeared in August, September and October respectively. All carried dual catalogue numbers (FACBN 1-004, 2-005 and 3-006), which in September 1980 lead to Factory directors Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson insisting that a clear distinction be established between Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule, the new label planned by Michel and Annik. Crepuscule, of course, translates as 'twilight', an evocative name suggested by Annik.

Lips That Would Kiss (Form Prayers to Broken Stone) by Durutti Column was backed with Madeleine, both produced by Martin Hannett in June 1980 at Cargo studio, and later mixed at Strawberry. An homage to Ian Curtis and Annik Honore, Lips That Would Kiss borrowed its title from T.S. Eliot's 1925 poem The Hollow Men. Boasting rhythms programmed by Eric Random (aka A Boy Alone), the record trembled with tenderness, and as the first Durutti vinyl since FACT 14 rightly drew praise from the press , hailed as "serenely beautiful" and "two tranquil segments of ambience that you can't dance to". The short 12" single was later reissued as a 7" with superior artwork by Jean-François Octave, but no extra tracks.

Shortly after this session, Vini informed Sounds: "I'm getting a four-track tape recorder, and on the new stuff I'll be playing bass and some piano, so it won't be so minimal. It'll be a lot more varied. To be honest, I don't really know what I'm doing. What I'm doing is totally instinctive."

Reilly also contributed two tracks to the first release proper on Les Disques du Crépuscule, the cosmopolitan cassette package From Brussels With Love (TWI 007), released in November. Piece for an Ideal was an instrumental demo, recently recorded in Brussels on 1 November, while Sleep Will Come was a collaboration with A Certain Ratio bassist Jeremy Kerr, credited to 'Jez & Vini', and recorded at Cargo in June as a tribute to Ian Curtis.

In October and early November 1980 Vini was due to take part in a week-long Factory package tour of Holland and Belgium together with Section 25 and A Certain Ratio, although the guitarist fell ill and was unable to perform on all the scheduled dates. Indeed Vini's frail health at this time made touring and promoting albums somewhat problematic.

In December 1980 Factory released an uneven double album sampler, A Factory Quartet, featuring three new Durutti tracks produced by Martin Hannett, on which Vini was joined by ACR drummer Donald Johnson. One of these, For Belgian Friends, confirmed his affection for Duval, Honoré and Les Disques du Crépuscule, yet although relations between Manchester and Brussels always remained cordial, tensions over Durutti Column releases would arise on more than one occasion, as we shall see.

Indeed at this time Factory Benelux/Crepuscule was only one of several foreign outlets for Factory, and in the summer of 1981 the Durutti Column followed in the footsteps of Joy Division a year earlier by releasing a limited edition 7" single package on French label Sordide Sentimental. One of the first DC recordings made without Hannett, both Danny and Enigma were recorded at Graveyard Studio in March with Stuart Pickering and marked Vini's first recordings with seasoned drummer Bruce Mitchell. The pair went on to record the second Durutti Column album, LC, released by Factory in November 1981, and Mitchell has remained in post as Vini's drummer and manager ever since. An expanded 2xCD version of LC was would be issued by Factory Benelux in 2013.

In the meantime the Durutti Column returned to Brussels in August 1981 to play two live shows, the first an open-air concert on the Place de la Monnaie (Muntplein) on the 13th. This short set was recorded for radio broadcast, as was a lengthy interview with Vini after the show, also included on a later CD release by LTM. Durutti also performed another show in the city on 15 August, at a venue named Papaye Exotique. Most of the set comprised new 1981 material, including a rare outing for confessional vocal number Stains (Useless Body).

While in Brussels, Vini made several new studio recordings for Benelux/Crépuscule, the release of which would prove a protracted affair. Originally announced as a 7" (FBN 10) by Factory Benelux in late 1981, the tracks cited were Stains, Tears & Madness and Solitude of the Hour. In fact the EP would not appear until October 1982, as Deux Triangles, by which time the format had changed to a 12", and the tracks (or titles) altered to become Zinni, Favourite Painting and Piece for Out of Tune Grandepano. A very few copies of the 12" came with a free 7" single (FBN 100) featuring For Patti and Weakness and Fever. In all probability the delay was due to Vini being dissatisfied with the tracks recorded, and preferring to concentrate on the superior material on LC.

Crépuscule did however release a clutch of Durutti tracks late in 1981, albeit as part of compilation albums. The Fruit of the Original Sin (TWI 035) appeared in October 1981 and featured three DC tracks: The Eye and the Hand, Party and Experiment in Fifth. It was followed in December by Ghosts of Christmas Past (TWI 058), featuring festive ditty One Christmas For Your Thoughts. Yet another track from this period, Hommage to Martinu, went unreleased at the time, but was later included on the Factory Benelux compilation CD Lips That Would Kiss.

In February 1982 Vini returned to Europe to takeprt in an ambitious Crépuscule package tour, Dialogue North-South. Although Vini's health still limited touring, Durutti Column did perform in Amsterdam and Brussels, as well as performing their own headline show (with Alain Lefevre on drums) at Les Bains-Douches in Paris on 12 February. Crepuscule's multi-media jamboree also featured Paul Haig, Marine, The Names, Richard Jobson, Tuxedomoon, Antena and Isolation Ward, and was covered by writer Johnny Waller for British music weekly Sounds. Of Vini he observed: "Backstage all theprformers mill about casually, alternately unwinding after being onstage of preparing for the performance ahead, a can of beer or a comb in hand, a cigarette or a nervous joke on their lips. Vini Reilly looks in a permanent daze, even as you talk to him directly. As the Durutti Column he enjoys a degree of success, but all too often his mellow guitar exercises set to tape loops become overly soporific - especially in the Melkweg, where the smell of marijuana is literally stifling. But remembering his past illnesses it's a relief to hear him say "I'm well again" (even if the physical evidence doesn't corroborate that), "so I'm playing as much as I can now."

"As I wandered off he was discussing the possibility of playing guitar accompaniment to Richard's poems, since Jobson's regular pianist, the classically-trained Cecile Bruynoghe, was unavailable. Such is the strength of this revue that the performers seem more willing to take chances."

The 12" EP Deux Triangles eventually emerged on Factory Benelux in October 1982. The following year was - and remains - a confusing one for Durutti discographers, with secondary albums recorded and released in several different countries, as well as the third studio album, Another Setting, released by Factory proper in August 1983. Factory also released a wry single, a cover of an old Hoagy Carmichael song (I Get Along Without You Very Well), sung by Lindsay Reade, the estranged wife of label chief and band manager Tony Wilson.

Easily the most important composition by Vini in 1983 was A Little Mercy (aka Duet aka La Douleur aka Without Mercy), eventually epnded to form the basis of an entire album (Without Mercy) the following year. A superlative instrumental for piano and violin, A Little Mercy seems first to have been recorded as Duet at Daylight Studio in Brussels, when Reilly recorded an entire album for release through Factory Benelux titled Short Stories for Pauline. On this version Vini was accompanied by Tuxedomoon violinist Blaine L. Reininger, who also guested on several other tracks, as did drummer Alain Lefebvre (ex-Digital Dance, Marine), harp player Anne Van Den Troost, and various horns. Other stand-out tracks included Snowflakes (aka A Room in Southport) and The Sea Wall (aka College). The sessions were engineered by Marc Francois.

Despite being allocated a catalogue number (FBN 36), Short Stories for Pauline remained unreleased. While the quality of the material was not in doubt, it seems that Tony Wilson quickly recognised the potential of A Little Mercy and wanted to expand the piece into an entire 'orchestral' album, Without Mercy, eventually released as the fourth Durutti Column album by Factory in June 1984. Thus Short Stories for Pauline remained on the shelf in Brussels, although tracks were extracted for various compilations, notably a tribute to writer Marguerite Duras released only in Japan. Reininger would reprise his violin parts when Without Mercy was recorded in Manchester, and guested with the enlarged Durutti ensemble when the album was premiered in London at Hammersmith Riverside Studios in August 1984. Short Stories would finally emerge as an archive vinyl and CD release on Factory Benelux in 2012.

In the meantime, two lesser Durutti Column albums appeared in 1983. Live at the Venue was an official bootleg, released in June, and Amigos En Portugal a patchy collection of studio offcuts released by Fundacao Atlantica in November. The latter found space for yet another version of A Little Mercy, this time titled Nighttime Estoril. Thankfully the relationship between Crépuscule and Durutti Column survived the complications around Short Stories for Pauline, with the band returning to play at the Beursschouwburg in Brussels in November 1983, and taking part in a Musique Epave tour of Japan in April 1984 along with Mikado and Winston Tong. The next visit to Japan by Durutti Column, in April 1985, would result in a live CD album and laserdisc, Domo Arigato.

Fortunately subsequent collaborations between Crépuscule and the Durutti Column ran more smoothly. In 1985 the band recorded a new album, Circuses and Bread, released by Factory Benelux on vinyl (FBN 36) in April 1986, and on CD by Factory in June. The album was preceeded in March by a single (FBN 51), which coupled Tomorrow with a superior non-album instrumental, All That Love and Maths Can Do, featuring viola player John Metcalfe. A later CD reissue of Circuses and Bread in 1993 on Crépuscule (TWI 988) somehow reversed the title and replaced the original 8vo artwork with a lesser design based on a 1930 poster by Herbert Beyer.

The final collaboration between the Durutti Column and Crépuscule came exactly ten years later, when the label released another new studio album, Fidelity. Released as TWI 976 in April 1996, the set was recorded in Manchester and featured only Vini Reilly, together with guest vocalist Elli Rudge. An atypical album, showcasing programmed beats and electronics over Vini's signature guitar playing, Fidelity was compared unfavourably with the albums which came before and after - Sex & Death (1994) and Time Was Gigantic (1998) - but nevertheless remains a favourite for many Durutti aficionados.

James Nice

Vini Reilly / The Durutti Column - photo by Annik Honoré
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column