A Certain Ratio


The whistles chirrup, as though there are unseen urban disco crickets stalking the dancefloor of the Pink Room at Yes, rubbing their legs in celebration at the home-coming of Manchester’s A Certain Ratio. Old ravers have oiled their joints well enough to groove at the front; even older Factory heads have their arms in the air… it’s that kind of night: Part gig, part digital social media, brought to organic life. MySpace. OurSpace.

I won’t build up to a crescendo of opinion in this review, as though it were some kind of music journalism equivalent of Line of Duty. So here comes the plot spoiler: I already love it. We all love it. They had me at “hello”. I posted on Facebook earlier that I was going to the gig and old friends, neighbours and Manc muso contacts appeared from the cracks and crannies of our great city – people from Kiss Radio, Factory designers Craig Johnson, and his brother Trevor. For those who love Manchester – and the music that runs like electricity beneath its streets – it all feels a little giddy, like a Christmas Day for grown-ups. ACR aren’t on stage until 9.15pm. The drinking starts at six.

Yes is like an architectural layer cake: so we start out with pizza slices and Lagunitas on the ground floor, with tunes from venerable Manc music character (now Berlin-based) Mark Reeder, and a DJ set from The Orielles. Soon after, we take it to the roof terrace for chit-chat and Shindigger, then venture into the middle floor for support act ShadowParty – bits of New Order bolted together with bits of Devo – as part of the whole, three floor experience.

I was lucky enough to interview drummer Donald Johnson earlier in the week for Silent Radio and he was keen to point out that this whole weekend is a mini-festival to celebrate 40 years of the band, and their 40th Anniversary box set album ACR:BOX. Johnson hinted there would be surprises and indeed there are. The band’s first single on Factory was ‘All Night Party’, which emigrated out of the set without the band really knowing why. But it’s the first track tonight as the band take to the stage, Johnson at the back (apart from when he heads stage front, to add slap bass), Martin Moscrop on guitar and trumpet and Jez Kerr on bass and vocals, complimented by a variety of guests, notably Denise Johnson on vocals, and a smorgasbord of music interlopers who swap and change through the set.

It’s a tight space but we’re all friends so that’s cool – the crowd a rather split shift between student age punters and people that could possibly be their parents. Tracks follow that celebrate a rich career that took the band from Factory to A&M to Rob’s Records to Mute, the label where they now reside. Tracks like ‘Wild Party’ and ‘Forced Laugh’ compliment cuts from the albums that are more my period ACR – ’Micky Way’ from the 1986 album Force and ‘Wonder Y’ from 1992’s Up in Downsville when the spacier, dubbier sound of their early albums loosened up a little with the baggy groove and electronic energy of Manchester at that time. I moved to Manchester in 1989, around the time band were recording their most significant album for me – ACR:MCR – and maybe because of that, the set really takes off towards the back end, with tracks from that album like ‘Good Together’ and the still heart-bustingly beautiful ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’. The last time I saw them live was at the Haçienda in 1992 – 27 years ago – so it seems only right that ’27 Forever’ is also part of the set.

The band seem to love the informality and familiarity of the evening. Jez loses his jacket, revealing a pristine short-sleeved shirt (remember the line from 24 Hour Party People? “all the energy of Joy Division but better clothes”). They play a Talking Heads cover – ‘Houses in Motion’, and also the Banbarra’s cover that really defined them – ‘Shack Up’ – alongside new tracks like ‘Dirty Boy’. The encore is formed of ‘Knife Slits Water’ and then the Latino fiesta party anthem ‘Si Fermir O Grido’ from Force. The whistles are indeed back out in force…

With the closing beats, we’re back up to the roof for some fresh Mancunian air. Meanwhile ACR have to get themselves ready to do it all over again tomorrow… new guests, and more friends (some particularly older, significant friends) still coming out of the cracks of the city. A fresh album is shaping up for Mute, because this ratio is not all about looking back, but forwards as well…

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Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…