I’ve been trying to convince myself that this Durutti Column classic qualifies as a B side, having written it for Backed with thinking that it was, but on checking the discographies, I’ve been forced to admit that it cannot be, for the A Factory quartet from which it comes is not in fact FAC 24 but FACT 24; the extra ‘T’ was given to LPs. Fackin’ hell. But hey, this means I can publish it here and still have the pick of other bona fide Durutti B sides – ‘All that love and maths can do’ perhaps, or ‘Gatos con guantes’, or maybe even ‘Danny’…
Durutti Column – For Belgian friends
From A Factory quartet, Factory, 1980
If I had a radio show, and if that radio show were allowed the luxury of a signature tune à la Peel and ‘Pickin’ the blues’ by Grinderswitch, then ‘For Belgian friends’ would be one of three contenders (the others being ‘Christopher’, an instrumental by the Claim from their Boomy Tella LP, and ‘Jamaican rum rhumba’ by the Clientele). But I would probably disqualify it from the race early. Not so long ago I read that Aidan Moffat formerly of Arab Strap played a favourite piece of instrumental music – ‘Sleep walk’ by Santo & Johnny – only rarely, for fear of getting bored with it. That’s how I feel about ‘Belgian friends’. I can scroll it through my head anytime, picking out the melody on the, er, piano of my mind. To play it regularly at the head of a radio show would turn it into an ordinary every day thing; what is special about it would leach away. So I take it out of its box only occasionally.
Music poured out of Vini – still does – so how it came to be decided that a completed piece was A, B, LP or compilation track, offcut or farmed out to the Benelux imprint or Les Disques du Crépuscule always seemed random to me. Most likely it was simply what was recorded together was released together. It’s all essentially Vini and a guitar or a keyboard, irregularly his voice or the voices of others, and it all flows from the same source regardless. You could sit and listen to Vini improvise and recollect all day and not get bored, for all that he has modestly admitted that he thinks that you would. An atypical Mancunian in that respect.
Recorded between The return of the Durutti Column and LC (on which it now appears as a related work), ‘For Belgian friends’ is atypical Durutti Column because it features Donald Johnson on drums rather than a machine or Bruce Mitchell. It’s not Donald Johnson as we came to know and love him in A Certain Ratio, although there is a suggestion of funky choppiness as the music heads into what with a proper and willing singer on board might well have been a chorus. He contains himself, provides the necessary rhythm for Vini’s trills and frills, but the very act of containment proved that a long-term relationship between the two was not possible. The studio wasn’t big enough for both of them.
The piece is also unusual for being more formally arranged than most early Durutti Column, when Vini had a tendency to start and stop for no apparent reason. This flows, builds, and drains away. I cannot overstate its loveliness. It has a Christmas feel – all the festive season’s extra electric light contrasting with the crispness of December nights – but because it’s also languid, fluid, essentially at one with the world, it survives an outing in August. Whether the rain falls or the sun shines, it works, sounding like both, adapting to its surroundings like a chameleon, and as oddly unique and magical as that lizard.
- Listen to ‘For Belgian friends’ over at Backed with
- No, I drift. Mostly I drift. (On Vini Reilly and the Durutti Column, Tangents, 2001)