On Saturday, Section 25, one of the last original ensembles from the legendary Factory Records, an important driving force of the "Madchester" music scene in Manchester, England, will perform at Sveta bar in Tallinn. Vin Cassidy, one of the members of the duo, spoke to Estonian DJ Sander Varusk about memories of Factory's glory days and legacy, collaboration with the one and only Ian Curtis, changes to their sound and getting sampled by Kanye West.
Section 25 are the first Factory band ever to visit Estonia and we are excited to have you over. How do you feel about coming up here to Tallinn? Did you have any prior knowledge about our country?
We are really excited to be playing and visiting Estonia. We have a little knowledge of your country, but are really looking forward to seeing for ourselves.
You played in Finland about 40 years ago. Do you remember anything about that trip? Was that your then guitarist Paul's last gig?
We played at the Hall Of Culture in Helsinki ... we opened for New Order, and I think it went down OK ... a lot of whooping anyway ... and yes, it was the last show that Paul played for us. He had, and still has, a fear of flying — he travelled overland and by sea to get there, and it took him days to make it. We had a US tour coming up so my brother basically fired him. Since my brother's death, I have recorded on an album with Paul, and all is cool now.
Section 25 is from Blackpool (or nearby Poulton, to be more precise); how did a seaside band first become connected to Manchester and the Factory Records scene?
We put on a charity gig at The Imperial Hotel in Blackpool and asked Joy Division and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to play. We played as well, and when Ian Curtis and Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton saw us, they wanted us to record a demo and said they would produce it. Rob gave the demo to [Factory co-founder] Tony Wilson, and he agreed to sign us and put a single out.
Could you shed some light on the early recordings. How was working with Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett, the latter often being remembered as a bit of a crazy genius.
Well, when Ian and Rob first offered to "produce" us we were really thrilled ... but to be honest we didn't have any idea what that involved ... in the end they were really great; they sorted the drum sound out and gave good advice on what to play. On the second day Ian brought the synth drum in for me to use, one that Stephen Morris had just bought. It's in the mix, if you listen.
Working with Martin was always good for us. I have heard a lot of negative stuff that people had bad experiences in the studio with Martin, but to be fair that's probably just their ego. We thought if we are having Martin to produce us, why don't we just let him produce. We loved what he did with the drums and we jammed with him on a few of the songs.
What was it like touring with other early Factory bands like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Crispy Ambulance? If you have a gig that you remember as being a standout?
I remember playing the Derby Hall in Bury, Lancashire... it was Joy Division, with Section 25 supporting, Ian was quite unwell and only did a couple of songs. Tony Wilson's "great idea" was to have Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio and Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance doing "guest vocals," to make up for Ian's absence. He should have just cancelled the gig, because there was literally a riot.
Bands you supported apart from Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and New Order include Talking Heads and The Stranglers. These were obviously big gigs — any recollections? How did you go down with fans of those more typical song based bands?
When we supported Talking Heads in Aberdeen, the audience hated us and slow hand clapped ... but that was OK, because we just used the handclap to start a drum beat and then jammed over the top!
Looking back now, after over four decades, when Factory is seen as one of the singular and most important labels of the 80s — Did it ever occur back then that you were part of something really significant in music history?
It was pretty cool at the time, but no way did any of us think that this stuff would go down in history, many aspects of Factory could be quite frustrating, but I suppose these things fade in time and we are left with the important cultural/artistic stuff ... an amazing legacy.
There was a bit of a split after 1982's Key Of Dreams, after which Paul the guitarist left and you added the two girls: Jenny and your sister Angie, plus a percussionist and reconvened to go on to make the very influential From The Hip album, what influenced you to add the drum machines and synths? This was around the time of Blue Monday and the first synth driven movement of the Human League, Depeche Mode et al. Was the reconfiguration of the band necessary to clear heads and set yourselves on a new path?
My brother Larry and I got to the point where we wanted a total change of direction. We bought the best gear we could afford and just wrote for four months or so. I was more into Herbie Hancock than Depeche Mode or Human League. Luckily Bernard [Sumner] was into our new stuff, so when we went into Rockfield Studios with him it just totally happened for us.
The Key Of Dreams' influence can be heard in the late 80's dance-rock, rave and Madchester era, but you folded just as the Second Summer Of Love was about to begin. Any feelings of missing out on the huge scene that developed?
I am glad that there are influences out there, but I don't regret leaving the band when I did — I had a young family to support and needed to do the best by them.
In 2016 Kanye West sampled a Section 25 track Hit from the Always Now album, on his own album The Life of Pablo. How did this unlikely collaboration come about?
Apparently Kanye had a copy of our album in his collection and I was totally, pleasantly surprised. Our label said Kanye wants to use a sample — I envisaged this to be a snippet of snare or guitar. When we received the finished track for us to approve I could not believe they had used about two minutes of the full band playing along to Kanye ... admittedly they had sped up my brother's vocal so he sounded like a bleeding chipmunk ... but he still would have been chuffed.
Section 25's second period has been even more varied while the albums feel more cohesive, from Part-Primitiv's angular post-punk to bright tech-pop on Dark Light, it has been very interesting to see a band evolving after reuniting, as more often than not reunited groups tend to repeat themselves. And all that through the tragedy of losing Jenny and then Larry. What has driven Section 25 through the 21st century?
I suppose my brother and I, and more lately myself, have always been driven to play. It's like we didn't have much choice in the matter ... that may sound weird but ever since we were kids we loved playing. We didn't care if people liked it or not, it was great if they did, but not a requirement. It's still like that for me now.
Does it put a smile on your face seeing young bands take names from your songs, such as Friendly Fires and Primitive Parts (in calling their album Parts Primitive)?
I think that's all fine and dandy. I just think when people do, it's polite to acknowledge it.
2018's Elektra was a very strong effort, after which there has been a live album. Any plans for new music in the near future and what could the (hopefully post-Covid) near-future hold for Section 25?
Steve and I plan recording in the studio in the new year, to hopefully release in the spring/summer, and we will carry on for as long as it feel right!
Section 25 will perform at Sveta Bar in Tallinn on Saturday, December 3. Support by The Lunacy Of Flowers.
Editor: Merit Maarits, Andrew Whyte