Anywhere’s a valid place to find good music recommendations, but a tip from Steve Coogan portraying the Lord Almighty is not an especially common one. Said scene came towards the end of 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom’s brilliant 2002 biopic on Factory Records’ Tony Wilson:
“Vini Reilly, by the way, is way overdue a revival. You might think about a greatest hits…. It’s good music to chill out to”.– God, 24 Hour Party People
And you know what? That compilation – The Best of The Durutti Column – came out in 2004, some seven years after the scene in question was set. So…
In any case, The Durutti Column, and Vini Reilly. A cult artists’ cult artist, he’s not necessarily unknown. Acting as sideman for Morrissey on his solo debut Viva Hate certainly put him on peoples’ radars, and he has the distinction of being Wilson’s first signing to Factory Records, though not really a bellwether of the kind of music they’d be known for. Indeed, one Durutti Column record wasn’t necessarily a bellwether for any subsequent Durutti Column record.
While Reilly’s distinctive fingerstyle electric guitar and his modulated, echo-laden Stratocaster tones (how he got those sounds live out of a Les Paul, I’ve no idea) would be be the chiming heart of their records, the accoutrements could vary widely from one record to the next. He utilized a range of singers, from his own gravelly shadow of a voice to Chinese opera singer Liu Sola, and explored a range of styles from neo-classical to flamenco to electronica. Indeed, picking a Durutti Column record at random is truly a crapshoot – some forays worked better than others, and some records are bewildering to a casual listener, but they’re usually at least interesting.
With this in mind, in 2018 Clash assembled a very helpful Durutti primer, listing off their five essential albums. There’s not much debate that the first two – The Return Of The Durutti Column and LC are the place to begin, but after that it’s less clear. I’ll sometimes just play an album at random when I just need to “chill out,” but will probably add a physical copy of their third record Another Setting to my collection soon.
Reilly’s story sadly took a dark turn in recent years. He was debilitated by a pair of strokes in 2010, and a third in 2013 left him unable to play guitar. A public plea for assistance by his nephew – amplified by a piece in The Guardian – rallied his fanbase to provide him assistance to get back on his feet. He talked to The Quietus shortly afterwards about that very low point in his life:
His last official release in 2014 was Chronicle XL, an expanded version of the limited edition 2011 record Chronicle, which featured music created after his strokes. Since then, there’s been nothing new but a reasonably steady stream of archival releases – both live sets and repackagings and reissues of past issues. Obviously the hope is that Reilly is eventually well enough to make new music but until that day, there is a veritable treasure trove of material out there to discover.
If there’s a signature Durutti Column song, it’d quite possibly be the very first one – the opening track of the first album, which somehow in less than three minutes lays out the blueprint for the next thirty years. Gorgeous.
And if it’s your jam, you can now learn to play it yourself courtesy of Anyone Can Play Guitar. I’m actually one of those who requested Adrian put together a lesson on this tune via his Patreon and am legit delighted that he acquiesced. He didn’t tab out the solo, sure, but just the A and B sections are keeping me plenty busy.