Mute 4.0: A Certain Ratio – The Graveyard And The Ballroom (Factory album, 1980)

As part of Mute‘s fortieth ‘anti-versary’, the label is making available very special limited edition vinyl versions of selected releases from their four decades of releasing and curating incredible music. Full details on the releases can be found here.

“All the energy of Joy Division but better clothes,” is how Steve Coogan, playing Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, described A Certain Ratio in the 24 Hour Party People movie. Whether Wilson said it or not is obviously debatable – though it sounds like the kind of thing he would say – but it rather did the band something of a disservice. Joy Division may have been poster boys for Wilson’s experiment in running a label (badly), but aside from both hailing from around Manchester, arising out of punk, sharing producer Martin Hannett and being signed to Factory, there’s very little that ACR and Joy Division had in common; but then again, Wilson was never one to let the facts get in the way of a decent quote.

ACR were formed in either Flixton or Wythenshawe in 1977, taking their name from a Brian Eno song. The Graveyard And The Ballroom was rush-released by Factory on cassette in January 1980, and consists of a side’s worth of Hannett-recorded demos from Graveyard Studios in Prestwich and a handful of live tracks recorded at Camden’s Electric Ballroom when ACR were supporting Ian Curtis and crew. As was the case with most Factory releases, Peter Saville designed the sleeve, though on this occasion he wasn’t credited. As a debut LP release, hitching together demos – presumably of tracks ACR had been gigging for a while – with live tracks is a curious one, and the band would only record their first album proper – To Each… – in 1981. The curiosity of its release aside, it nevertheless perfectly captured that energy that Wilson may or may not have spoken about.

In 1979, ACR were a five-piece group of Martin Moscrop (guitar / trumpet), Jez Kerr (bass / vocals), Donald Johnson (drums), Simon Topping (keyboards) and Peter Terrell (guitar). As evidenced on the seven live tracks that made up the B-side of the tape, ACR might have come out of punk, but their music was much more honed than might have been expected. Together, as heard on tracks like ‘Oceans’, they made a tight, very precise sound, genuinely worthy of the often-used punk-funk tag. During that track’s extended instrumental sections you can hear a sense of refined musicianship coming through, each player fluidly interacting with one another in a manner best observed among jazz groups. In Jez Kerr the band had a singer who eschewed the nasal, I’m-not-really-a-singer traits of most post-punk vocalists, possessing a soulful streak on the looser, more open-ended, jazzier tracks like ‘The Fox’ as opposed to a period snarl. The side opens with the sinewy ‘All Night Party’, ACR’s first single, with its manic, intensely irrepressible rhythm section, being all the more remarkable as a live track for originally not having a drummer on it at all when Factory issued it earlier in 1979.

The Electric Ballroom tracks were recorded from the mixing desk by Tony Wilson in October 1979, just over a month after Hannett oversaw the Graveyard sessions. If it’s possible for a band to develop and grow into their sound in a mere month, A Certain Ratio did that, and some. The demos are raw and sludgy, bereft of Hannett’s mystic prowess behind the mixing desk.

What they have though is a latent quality, something itching to get out, as exemplified by the controlled sound of ‘Flight’ compared to its longer, more flexible live rendition. It’s the only track from the studio sessions to make it to the Ballroom set, suggesting that either ACR had jettisoned most of these tracks in favour of an entirely fresh new batch of much better material, most of which would end up on To Each… Nevertheless, amid the seven studio tracks are some real gems, such as the edgy, wistful ‘Crippled Child’ or opener ‘Do The Du (Casse)’ and ‘Choir’, both of which seem to owe as much of a debt to Stax soul or Motown as they do the Sex Pistols.

In the years after Factory’s sloppy collapse, several labels – chiefly Creation and Soul Jazz – have had a crack at reissuing The Graveyard And The Ballroom. Mute began working with ACR in 2017, becoming custodians of the band’s entire catalogue across the several labels they’d found themselves on over the years, as well as presenting brand new material. It found the label doing precisely what they’d done for the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire before, drawing a band’s entire body of work together under the careful jurisdiction of a genuinely artist-first imprint. For this album, Mute created a vinyl edition that linked back to the 1979 release, lovingly packaging the LP in a green PVC sleeve reminiscent of one of the versions of the the pouch that held the original cassette.

For Mute 4.0, The Graveyard And The Ballroom is being reissued as an orange LP edition in an orange PVC pouch, just like the original Factory cassette.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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EnglandNewOrder – World In Motion (Factory Records single, 1990)

Irrespective of whether England win against Croatia this evening, ‘World In Motion’ will still be a fantastic song.

That’s because, unlike ‘Three Lions’, with its raucous insistence on football ‘coming home’, ‘World In Motion’ doesn’t presuppose that we will win. Even in the (dodgy) rap by the then-England squad, it’s just talking about tactics, not some sort of incessant over-confidence in those tactics guaranteeing us success. Without that Keith Allen-penned rap, ‘World In Motion’ isn’t really even a football song; it’s just a great pop song about people uniting together through love.

In 1990, I still followed football. I still played Subbuteo, I still played football at lunchtime at school and I still collected Panini sticker albums. I bought ‘World In Motion’ (on cassette) primarily because it was a good song during a period of heightened euphoria, but it also signalled the end of my interest in football completely. In place of Panini stickers I began collecting records. I haven’t looked back, though I did find myself buying the reissued ‘World In Motion’ t-shirt and I will be wearing it tonight.

Sacrilegious though this may be, I sort of always wished that New Order had recorded a version without the rap. I think it would stand up well as one of the best of New Order’s singles without it, even though it would never have given them their only number one.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

New Order- Beyond The Hits (Clash feature, 2015)

  
I wrote this feature for Clash which seeks to look beyond New Order‘s most celebrated tracks and showcase some of the more interesting moments in the band’s back catalogue.

You can read the piece here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Clash