Friday, August 30, 2013

The Durutti Column: Circuses and Bread

This fifth album by the fantastically underappreciated Vini Reilly and his cohorts Bruce Mitchell on drums, trumpeter Tim Kellet and violist John Metcalfe appeared in 1985 and this listener's first experience hearing The Durutti Column came with an EP highlighting one of the best pieces in all the group's long history, the wonderful "Tomorrow," which is the second track on this great album.

As mentioned before, the reason for buying that shorter vinyl release in summer 1986 was because, in buying tickets for a New Order show at what was then the Irvine Amphitheater, it was learned that the two opening acts were the almost-unknown The Fall and The Durutti Column.  Having the latter walk quietly on stage, with Mitchell's extraordinarily basic kit and Kellet and Metcalfe's unassuming instruments and then, finally, Reilly perched on the floor for much of the performance, the show was totally out of proportion to the environment and would have been far better suited to a small club, as, presumably, was the usual type of venue for this sublime band.  The Fall and New Order were good, but TDC was a revelation, even in the freakishly wrong setting.

In any case, this is a very strong album from start to finish with the gorgeous "Pauline" opening the proceedings beautifully, followed by the aforementioned "Tomorrow."   Even the drum machines are programmed nicely in "Dance II," which highlights Reilly's ability to play rapid, delicate lines overdubbed with another rhythm guitar line. 

"Hilary" is another wrenching ballad, its simplicity highlighted by the deeply echoed trumpet of Kellet.  "Street Fight" is an intriguing context of Reilly's searching piano theme performed along the viola and the sounds of gunfire, perhaps reflecting the violence then ravaging Northern Ireland--this being a rare instance of politics (even, if vaguely and subtly expressed) on a TDC record. 

Reilly seems to easily create memorable and delicate melodies and "Royal Infirmary" has a fine one with excellent guitar and piano playing by the leader.  For those turned off by Reilly's rather tuneless (and, yet, for this leader beguiling and artlessly compelling) vocals, "Black Horses" might be a stumbling block and it does last nearly 9 minutes, but it has more of the finely layered, carefully crafted subtle dynamics that makes this band such a strong one.

"Dance I" has synthesizers, drum programming, and a marimba-like percussion element that almost seems to prefigure the largely-electronic sound highlighted in Obey The Time, which came out about five years later.  Then comes the strong closer, "Blind Elevator Girl—Osaka," which starts with plucked viola, a repeating and light melodic line from the keyboard and Mitchell's rhythmic cymbal work before it moves into a punchier (well, for this band) section that worked well in live settings, including an abbreviated form in the Live at the Bottom Line, New York record and the Domo Arigato album recorded in Japan, and which highlights Kellet's soaring trumpet.

Circuses and Bread is a highlight in a stellar catalog by a performer and a band whose work was so far under the mainstream radar it was a bit surprising.  The Durutti Column and Vini Reilly definitely have operated their own narrowly confined worlds, but that might be part of the attraction for those fortunate few who have been devoted fans--enjoying their music seems like an experience only you and a select number of others can enjoy, though it would be nice to see Reilly get more credit and financial reward for his thirty-five years of consistently excellent music.

Why, though, this is the only TDC album to not get the deluxe remixing and extra tracks reworking in the later 1990s under the Factory Too imprint is a bit of a mystery!

The Durutti Column:  Circuses and Bread (Factory, 1985)

1.  Pauline
2.  Tomorrow
3.  Dance II
4.  Hilary
5.  Street Fight
6.  Royal Infirmary
7.  Black Horses
8.  Dance I
9.  Blind Elevator Girl—Osaka

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