The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, February 20, 2003

One of the few touching moments in the otherwise unsatisfactory film Twenty-Four Hour Party People shows Tony Wilson visiting the Haçienda on a bleak Tuesday evening, sometime in the mid-‘80s before Acid House temporarily bankrolled the business. The place is almost entirely deserted; on stage, Vini Reilly plays his intelligent ambient guitar pieces, abstracted into himself. Never to pull a crowd or make anyone any money, but Wilson doesn’t care; he looks at him with admiration and listens rapturously to what Reilly’s playing. I will support this genius because no one else will. That’s why I’m not EMI.

I was extremely reluctant to talk about the Durutti Column (who is Vini Reilly) on The Church Of Me because their music falls into the category of “our music”: music I do not feel ready to write about yet – if ever – because of what it meant to us as a couple. After all, his first two albums for Factory, Return Of The Durutti Column (1980) and L.C. (1981), were partially responsible for Laura and I coming together. Why and how that happened isn’t for public consumption; not yet. I also have to say that after the mid-‘80s, the Durutti Column more or less drifted off our radar; we knew he continued somehow, somewhere, but didn’t feel obliged to examine his music close-up – the fact that he still existed was, in its own strange way, sufficient.

What I can’t ignore, however, is that he’s now come back with what is his best and most focused album since 1981 in Someone Else’s Party. Finally on a major label (Artful Records, via Universal) but still determinedly lo-fi (Reilly plays and does everything here except for occasional drum programming by one Laurie Laptop, who is obviously the natural successor to Eric Random; Bruce Mitchell, once a fine adversary when on drums, has retreated to managing Reilly), this record demands my attention because of the circumstances which led to its creation – the illness (unstated, but presumably cancer) and eventual death of his mother. Yes, it’s another record about death and bereavement; it’s how I feel, it’s what I need to talk about, one way or another. But here Reilly sounds rejuvenated in a way that he hasn’t, perhaps since his work on Morrissey’s 1988 debut solo album Viva Hate (and Morrissey is still paying for having got rid of Reilly’s services after that neglected record). Hear for instance the opener “Love Is A Friend” which sounds like a typical Durutti reverie, except here it’s boosted by a (still fairly primitive) breakbeat and a deliberately ludicrous “Top 40!” sample for a hook. Reilly’s voice remains back in the mix, shrouded in echo; a strange halfway house between Genesis P-Orridge and Ian Brown (on which latter Reilly surely must have been an unspoken influence).

The voice you hear on the next track, “Spanish Lament,” however, is that of Rebekah Del Rio, taken from the extraordinary climactic sequence in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in the nocturnal theatre of ghosts, wherein she appears on stage to sing a beyond-passionate Spanish language acappella version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” (the second great deployment/subversion of Orbison’s music in Lynch’s films) which eventually proves to be too much passion for her fragility; at the point of her climactic high note, she collapses, dies and fades from the picture. I gasped and wanted to scream when I saw that sequence in the cinema, scream and sob; but here, Reilly offers a more compassionate accompaniment, even though the pain of the voice cannot be erased or negated. It’s a magical moment of alchemy; inspired.

There are hushed, reluctant ballads like “Somewhere,” where Reilly resolves to get on a ‘plane to be with his desired Other; but set that against an unusually bitter Reilly on the fantastic post-post-Madchester groove of “No More Hurt” (again and again on this album, one is compelled to think that this is the sort of thing which the Stone Roses should have gone on to do) with its payoff “Like room service, sex will be over in two hours.”

And even that must be set against “Requiem For My Mother” – so delicately played and sung, an imagined old folk tune, simple, heartfelt, and I can’t listen to it without crying, and I’m not even crying for Vini’s mother like Vini is barely holding himself back from doing in this song. He follows it with the equally intense (but still restrained) “Remember” where he pleads “Remember me, that’s all I ask of you” – again, down to earth, without any of the melodrama of Dido’s lament, and again heartbreaking.

“American View” is rooted in an unchanging bass synth sustenato and an unclear but clearly cynical lyric (so he is in fact “relevant”), while his use of a children’s choir on “Vigil” sounds anything but cosmetic. On “Woman” he comfortably outdoes Moby in his astute deployment of samples from a naggingly familiar JA pre-release rhythm/riff and also from a 1920s gospel field recording. It never sounds gratuitous. And on the closing “Goodbye” a bucolic acoustic lullaby plays against birdsong and, finally, an answering machine message from Reilly’s mother; now the only way in which her voice can be heard.

This record attaches itself to me, because of the history for which the Durutti Column are partly, if indirectly, responsible, and because of what he’s chosen to sing about at this precise time. And I would like every one of you to go and listen to it (it is released in the UK on 24 March).

How to come to terms with music in your life when you thought that you would never be able to listen to any of it again without breaking down irretrievably? The only way is to try to find ways of listening to it differently. But music, art in general, can only ever help partially. It cannot sustain you alone. If you use it as a barrier to protect yourself from the world, then it’s not helping at all.

I don’t know. Something changed in me after Saturday; something which initially felt slight but which may in truth be major. It underlined to me the absolute life-sustaining necessity of reconnecting with the world, with humanity – the realisation that, pretend as you might, you can’t do it alone, that there are people in this world who want to ensure that you’re not alone, even if they’re a thousand miles away. When you are able to open up entirely, emotionally – as I was able to do on Tuesday evening in the company of a great and wonderful human being – the world suddenly opens itself up to you again. It wanted you back all the time, only you were too blinded by grief to realise it.

So, I am coming back. And I will stay – I’ll stay for you Nathalie, and for you Ruth, and for you Gail, and for you Jessica, for you Mark, for you Mum, for the dozens, maybe hundreds more, of you that there are – and above all for you Laura – I stay because you want me to. And I’m happy to stay.

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