INTERVIEW: A Certain Ratio | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A Certain Ratio are, without question, one of the true pioneering bands of the last 40 years. Formed in Greater Manchester in 1977, they combined a DIY punk aesthetic with a passion for funk and disco to produce an angular and sonically unique sound that has been described as ‘James Brown on acid’. One of the first acts to sign for the now legendary Factory Records, they became key players on the much lauded Manchester music scene alongside label mates Joy Division. Now regarded as elder statesmen of punk funk, their influence can be heard in a plethora of musical heavyweights from James Murphy to Juan Atkins, Beastie Boys to Andrew Weatherall.

Ahead of their show at Stockton’s Georgian Theatre on Friday 6th December, I caught up with co-founder Martin Moscrop to discuss everything from NYC to how they found a home at Mute Records. “I was out with Andy Robinson [New Order’s co-manager] who asked me what ACR were doing about a label. He said Mute were the best label they’d ever worked with, after an email introduction to label founder Daniel Miller I met with the guy who now looks after us, I took along our complete back catalogue, it was like going for a job interview…but we’re so pleased, they really are the most lovely, laidback, approachable people.”

Never a band to dwell on the past and celebrate former glories, they surprisingly announced, ahead of a highly-anticipated new album in Autumn 2020, a full back catalogue reissue programme alongside a mighty eight-piece vinyl box-set entitled ACR:Box. “We already had the ACR:Set compilation out, and being a band that doesn’t like putting the same tracks out twice, we decided that ACR:Box had to have nothing that was already released [on Mute]. After going through our singles to see what wasn’t available, we got out all our old analogue master tapes and DATs, it was like going through an old camera film, we really didn’t know what was on them, my favourite is the 8-track demos of [1986 album] Force, it really captures the energy of those tunes.”

With four decades of resolutely unique music under their belts, A Certain Ratio’s musical DNA can be heard everywhere

A real highlight is their staggering interpretation of the Talking Heads track Houses In Motion, with Jez on vocals. Originally earmarked as a collaboration with Grace Jones, work commenced on the backing tracks at Strawberry Studios with fabled producer Martin Hannett. “She came to the studio to meet us and hear the tracks we’d recorded for her, one of which was ours, the other was Houses In Motion, she really liked us, Kevin Cummins took pictures for the NME, and then she went away. A little while later, Tony Wilson was talking to the A&R guy at Island Records  about next steps and Chris Blackwell [Island Records head honcho] found out about the whole thing and stopped it because there was no way he was having Hannett producing Grace Jones.” Whilst the thought of ACR, Jones and Hannett together on wax  feels like a significant opportunity missed, the queen of Studio 54 did get to sample nightlife in early 80’s Stockport. “She had two whipping boys with her who she was bossing about, close to midnight she told them ‘go and get me some wine’ – these are the days of everything closing at 10.30pm – and they explained that it couldn’t be done as everywhere was shut, she roared ‘GO AND GET ME SOME WINE!’, they both disappeared and returned about an hour later with a bottle of wine. Miraculously, they’d found a restaurant that was open and convinced the owner to sell it to them, she was bonkers and quite frightening actually.”

Their first trip to New York City, filmed by Michael Shamberg and released under the name TriBeCa, proved a significant moment in their musical development. “Tony Wilson had an idea that we go to New York and let the influencers rub off on us – we saw James Brown; we went to Central Park to see the Puerto Ricans playing congas, really great music; we went to jazz clubs; we bought our first bits of Latin percussion – but just being in New York in 1980, lapping up the edgy atmosphere, the whole trip was massively important.” These influencers can be experienced in full effect at one of their astonishing live shows. “We’re just sounding better and better, people who haven’t seen us in a while or even folk who have been to a few gigs in that year are just amazed at how good the gigs are, we now go out into the audience and play percussion, that really gets them going.”

With four decades of resolutely unique music under their belts, A Certain Ratio’s musical DNA can be heard everywhere, yet they’ve never truly received the acclaim or respect they undoubtedly deserve. “It doesn’t bother us, if we cared about it, we wouldn’t have been going for 40 years, the thing that drives us is not only the passion for finding new things – searching, discovering stuff, which is what music is all about – it’s also the fact that we might be accepted and respected at some point, and if we keep on going, it might happen.”

From post-punk scallies to avant funk godfathers, ACR have certainly learned a thing or two along the way. “Always make music for yourself, don’t change things to suit other peoples’ taste, be as different as possible, devote your whole life to what you’re trying to do…and find a partner with loads of money.”  Sterling advice indeed.

A Certain Ratio live are: Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop, Donald Johnson, Denise Johnson, Tony Quigley and Liam Mullan. They play Stockton’s Georgian Theatre on Friday 6th December. ACR:Box is out now on Mute Records



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