It really has been a long old journey.
Ambling on stage is a five-piece band: first up is the boy-girl-boy bass player who sports short-cropped hair in a style that kd lang would ultimately confiscate as her own.
The lanky, shaggy-haired, drummer steps up to his mark: he wears an un-ironed Hawaiian shirt that could well have begun life by being drenched in the rabid colour scheme much-admired by Axminster carpet designers in the Fifties. The shirt has clearly lived a life of its own and looks as if it was lifted from a Salvation Army thrift store; impatiently, he raps out paradiddles on his snare-drum, waiting for the twin-guitarists to tune up.
The rangy axe-meister stage right – the one wearing the pencil thin tie, stands motionless; staring darkly into the middle distance, clutching the neck of his guitar so firmly that the veins on his stick-thin arms stand out.
The other tremolo-bender is raw-boned and facially angular as if chipped from the same block that carved Ian Curtis; un-smiling, he stares down at the assembled as if sizing up the length of a dole queue on Giro-collection day.
The singer who fronts this beat-combo is last to take his place.
Be-spectacled, possessed of thinning hair, he is anything but angular and more resembles a genial bookmaker or someone from accounts that you only see at Christmas parties – being violently sick into a potted palm in the corner after three too many Babychams.
It would not be unreasonable to say he looks entirely out of place in this place – he is sporting a slightly grubby, known-better-days, tartan dinner jacket above highly polished brogues and a quizzical grin.
Dateline: May 17th, 1980. Outside the University of Newcastle, the moon waxed in a perfect crescent.
If any of the History students attending to the bottom of their pints of Lager-top were thinking about it, they could well have been contemplating the 459th anniversary of the 3rd Duke Of Buckingham losing his head via a well-sharpened blow on Tower Hill. If that seemed unlikely, one couldn’t help but wonder if they were transfixed to the side of the Students Union bar by discussion of that very day being the 180th anniversary of the Relief Of Mafeking.
Maybe, however, their minds were further afield – contemplating the fact that martial law had, that very day, been imposed by General Chun Doo-hwan in South Korea in order to quell the student demonstrations that had broken out on the far side of their world. Maybe not.
In any event, the atmosphere that night was as sterile as a vasectomy, the room as welcoming as an under warmed oven; the only sound being the shuffling of feet wrapped up in a puzzled collective gaze at this bunch of misfits taking the stage.
The lights go down and the group’s first tune chugs into motion as the singer begins to sing songs drawn deep from the well of pure pop; collectively, they've reached deep down into the urn of angst where the shimmering light of soul meets the touch-point of dance. Collective heads, as one, turn…
Looking back, it was hardly a shock that uber-critics of the day (such as the NME’s David Quantick, Paul Morley and Sounds’ Dave McCullough) lauded this band from high in their marbled-towers as they did. The real bolt from the blue was that the great British public almost unanimously refused to catch on. The group were unceremoniously booted out by their record label and, after a period of time in the outer limits, fizzled out like a beautiful shooting star dropping over the far horizon.
Fast-forward thirty years and a little bit.
In the postbox are two card-sleeved CDs which, to be totally honest, I’d entirely forgotten were being sent. Yes, I’d been told that they were being mailed but, in this digital day and age, one is more used to ‘I’ll send them in the post’ meaning having one’s email in-box clogged with file-attachments that nestle up to solicitations suggesting I’d benefit from penis-enlargement than actually getting hold of the actual, physical… real thing… itself.
So… here they were, these two CDs – staring up at me from inside their dirt-brown Jiffy bag – that represented this group’s first new recordings in… twenty-five years or so. I gazed at the two sleeves – perfect little works of art in themselves – suddenly realising that I’d become just a little nervous for the music they contained.
Yes, the seed of doubt had taken hold – would these match up?
It’s all very well to hope, to hark back to those original recordings that remain as fresh today as when first laid down. But… would this just be a case of the two key components of a band giving it one last forlorn shot when really, they shouldn’t have bothered with booking the studio time? Only one way to find out…
That first moment of jangling guitar should have told me… the first moment of that voice certainly did. It has matured – and is now a subtle mix of summer sunshine honeydew melon infused with rich molasses; perhaps (quite possibly) a smattering of Smokey Robinson by way of Darryl Hall in there too… embracing yet not overtaking the space within the chord progressions. Here it was: three chords and the truth – alchemy within a melody pool.
But, above all… it’s all about the songs; and there are tunes here that are absolute, stone-ground, classics.
Yes, I know very well that that is a ridiculously over-used adjective, especially when used in a descriptive manner, nestled up alongside songs. But… you’ll have to trust me here. Really... you will.
Still unsure? OK… for the hard of accepting, lets put it this way: IF Jarvis Cocker had penned either Lost or Nicole, then the world of critics (swiftly followed by the public) would be all over ‘em like a cheap suit, claiming they were two of the great – lost – British pop songs.
Let us celebrate then: the globe’s most unlikely pop stars are back and… within the all-pervasive X-Tractor climate, my iPod is thankful that Father Christmas has dropped down the chimney a little bit early. So… why don’t you make yours a happy digital-download-device… put aside the mince pies for just a few moments and do the right thing… OK?
Because… my Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and other readers of this little Voltaire out on its windswept grassy knoll on the world-wide-Prairie … please charge your glasses and welcome back… The Distractions.