Section 25 ‘Always Now’ album reappraised
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There is one thing that is a dead cert in music and that is that there is no direct linear narrative – just a received story that becomes the âtruthâ after much repitition. This is a shame because too many bands have been edited out of the story and their music needs to get heard.
The nailed on story of post punk has famously ignored so many of the great releases of the period, relegating them to footnotes in their own story. There are countless victims of this vicious editing that we are now forced to try and reappraise this and other eras.
Section 25 are one of the many bands whose output has been pushed aside in an over simplification of story. They are just added in as an appendage to the Joy Division narrative as bit part players when they were equally innovative as the Manchester band and with their debut album left a record as striking and timeless as their Mancunian label mates. Listen to their debut âAlways Nowâ album now and itâs pretty clear that this a work that is really one of the key releases of the time along with the Joy Divs and Public Image.
I grew up alongside the band in Blackpool and it was pretty obvious, even at that young age, that any attempt to make any serious music surrounded by the twinkle of illuminations and the smashing of holiday makers beer glasses in drunken rampages would not only be creatively difficult but hard to be taken seriously by a narrow indie media trading in clichÃ©s like Manchester = serious, Blackpool = silly.
Section 25 were cursed by this and were often looked on as one of the runts in the Factory litter when, in fact, along with many of the smaller acts they were releasing some real gems. The Blackpool trio went further than this though and their debut album is one of the key innovative releases of the period- easily up there with groundbreaking bands like Joy Division, Public Image, Killing Joke and Bauhaus.
They were formed when the 2 7’s clashed in 1977 when bassist and vocalist Larry Cassidy returned from a stint in art college in London. Cassidy had chosen a great time to go to the capital city. It was right at the start of the punk rock wars and Larry was at the 100 Club festival headlined by the Sex Pistols when punk went overground. Inspired by the energy of the music and twisting it with an art college aesthetic and a touch or early Pink Floyd, kraut rock and the tripped out end of prog, Larry returned to Blackpool and put together his own take on punk with his younger brother, Vin, on drums.
The Cassidyâs were a big Blackpool family, of Irish descent they had made money making toys on the sixties with Casdon soccer being a pretty big Xmas toy in the period. They had a house on the edge of Blackpool with space to rehearse in and the band started to formulate its bass driven sound there.
They played a series of local gigs out of sync with the mewling and puking teenage punk scene in the town. To us Larry seemed like a really old man who was already in his, wow!, mid twenties and his patience must have been stretched by the gaggle of mid teens that made up the surprisingly vibrant local scene.
Whilst the young bands were trying to come to grips with punk Section 25 already had their own sound and their bass driven songs locked with the robotic death disco drums and new guitar player, the charismatic Paul Wiggin adding a noise guitar on top was brutal and surprisingly effective. The band were already onto post punk whilst playing local gigs when most people were still arguing over what colour of socks you had to wear to be punk itself.
Named after an incident which saw local eccentric and friend of your author, the late Fes Parker, get sent to a mental home under the Section 25 of the mental health act, the band were dealing with the dark matter- heavy stuff like dark trips, spirituality and the outer limits of the human psyche in parallel with Throbbing Gristle and Joy Division.
Their debut release had been a noise collage called Red Voice on an EP of local bands I had put together called Blackpool Rox EP after my fanzine of the time. The EP also featured the Membranesâ debut recording Ice Age and a track from Syntax -who had risen from the ashes of Zyklon B- the best local punk band as well as the more pub rock shakes of the Ken Turner Set. The sleeve had been hand drawn by the Fes Parker that the band got their name from.
Section 25 got signed to Factory Records after they put on a Joy Division gig in Blackpool on July 27th 1979 supported by Section 25 themselves and with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark playing their first ever gig, Final Solution and a band called Glass Torpedoes From Southport. The gig was a legend in Blackpool and the 100 or so people who turned up there recall making alternative music aquantancies that night that would last a lifetime.
The gig saw Section 25 become part of the Factory camp and the Manchester based label released their first single, the Ian Curtis and Rob Gretton produced Girls Donât Count in July 1980 and then in 1981 they released their debut album Always Now.
The album made a big impact -even with its brilliant Peter Saville designed artwork which saw the record delayed by several crucial months missing its slot in the history of things. Arguably it was worth the wait with the sleeve being one of the great pieces of artwork from the time with a striking yellow outer sleeve with the credits written out across the front in a bold font, the sucker punch, though, was the inner sleeve which was a blue tinged marble effect psychedelic swirl. The artwork captured the music that was the stark and bold bass led new world sound with one of Martin Hannett’s great productions that made it sound timeless and with a tripped out, the real undertow.
The album stood up in the punk and post punk period. It had a toughness with the rhythm section being one of most driving in the period easily standing up with the emergent bands like Killing Joke and Joy Division in its darkness and primal power. It was also tinged with a very northern melancholy, with Larry’s vocal drones adding a detached world weary sadness to the songs or ‘happiness, you make me laugh’ as Larry sang.
The album was missed by the press but has really stood the test of time. You listen to it now and it sounds like a modern record. Hannett’s production is timeless and it could be argued that this is one of his finest production jobs with all his trickery and expertise of delays and triggers really creating a brilliant sonic soundscape for the drums.
Vin’s drumming was already distinctive, taking the pulse of disco and the toughness of punk and mashing the two together creating a perfect platform for Larry’s bass repetition and sombre vocals.
From the opening Friendly Fires (yes, the big indie band took their name from this track) the band set their agenda- there is that strident bass and the hypnotic Neu/kraut rock flavoured drums and the wash of guitar in the background and an utterly mournful vocal from Larry intoning the dark lyric about planes carpet bombing in the sin of modern warfare. The mood is dark and intense but Hannett’s production provides plenty of light and dynamics and, like his work with Joy Division, makes sure that the music has never dated.
Dirty Disco was a dark funk, riding on a bass line that would not have sounded out of place on Metal Box but was written before its release, this is a song of flickering lights and dark lust, C.P. is a strange feedback drenched instrumental that has Â a pure New Order bass line- a couple of years before New Order- Peter Hook has always credited Section 25 and bigged them up when he could and even played on a couple of tours with them a few years ago and Ian Curtis was a big fan- sharing the limelight was never a problem for Joy Division.
New Horizon was the masterpiece- a droning, swirling, atmospheric dark piece that sounds like it was written by a hipster band in Brooklyn a week ago except it remains a genuine work of dark matter and not hipster fluff. With its long intro and that great bass line it really captures the dark heart of the post punk despair. Girls Donât Count is as close to a pop record as the band got at the time and is almost manic with its up tempo strident bass and military drums with Larry intoning the song title with an increasing desperation to the end of the song. Itâs sister song, Up To You, has a similar kind of shivering energy to its impassioned shakes.
The album is full of these kinds of moments, for old heads itâs an instant portal to a different time but a record that really stands up brilliantly after decades and sounds shiny and modern after all this time. For young bands it’s another one of those semi lost gems that would make a great template to use for a band looking for a way out of the clichÃ© of what indie music has become.
Section 25 would go onto have a long and strange carrier- they nearly had a hit with the sublime Looking From A Hill Top- when they combined the new electronic music with their dark magus workouts and Larry’s wife Jenny joined the band on keyboards and vocals adding a feminine light. Both her and Larry are now sadly dead but the band continue with Vin at the helm, still playing those distinctive drums and with Larryâs daughter, Bethany on vocals- with her glacial voice and ice cool pin up looks– turning the band into an unlikely new millennium pop band continuing this tale of one family and their determination to make the music despite the odds and currently making this fantastic glacial pop and still somehow getting mostly ignored by the so called alternative radio and media and still living in Blackpool.
There is a new album called Dark Light out this February, maybe, finally, this long and fascinating journey will get resolved and the band that are a fiercely supported cult will get some sort of breakthrough and recognition from more than people like Tim Burgess, Andrew Weatherall and the other music heads who KNOW.