1978, Manchester. A Certain Ratio – along with another bunch of newcomers, ‘Warsaw’ – had come up with something musically unique: what’s now known as post-punk. Warsaw were renamed Joy Division, both bands signed for Factory Records, and the rest – as they say – is history. A Certain Ratio is still going strong today, with European tours, the unforgettable ‘Madchester’ scene and gigs with Madonna as support all behind them. Franz Ferdinand, Radio 4 and LCD Soundsystem are amongst the reams of modern day artists that list them as a major influence. March the 28th sees A Certain Ratio return to Dublin for only the 3rd time, for a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the now iconic Factory Records. State caught up with guitarist Martin Moscrop to talk it all over.
Factory Records were tiny when you started out. How did you end up with them?
We started as part of the Manchester musicians collective, with Warsaw and the Fall, and we used to play at ‘band on the wall’ every fortnight. Warsaw’s manager thought we sounded like a Manchester version of the Velvet Underground, and he asked us to make a record. Our first single was the second – or maybe the third – record on Factory in 1979. We did a lot of Factory Gigs around the UK with Joy Division. We were like a touring show. It was just a line up, sometimes we’d play to 70 people.
You’ve influenced a lot of people yourselves, but who influenced you?
In the early days were very into the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk. Punk had died a death, and we just didn’t want to listen to anything like that. Very quickly after that we got into James Brown, Miles Davis, George Clinton, stuff like that. We started trying to play funk, but because we couldn’t play our instruments very well it came out the other end sounding quite unique, especially with the moodiness on top of it. It was all we could play. It was just how it turned out. In those days bands strived not to sound like anyone else, especially in Manchester. If you sounded similar to someone else it was time to give up.
When did it feel like ‘Madchester’ was going to take off?
It never really felt like that to us. The music press were always very interested, and all the gigs we did used to get pretty good reviews, and so did the records. Joy Division releasing ‘Unknown Pleasures’ sort of catapulted Factory into the bigger league. A Certain Ratio’s first album did well sales wise, too. We had no problem selling 35,000 albums, which for an Indie label is a hell of a lot of records.
How important were Factory Records in getting you out there?
They were important, but we were also very original, and anybody who’s playing something original and believes in what they’re doing is going to make it in some way or other. A lot of people would say A Certain Ratio didn’t really make it, but we were professional and made a living out of it from 1980 to 1995, so that’s 15 years of making a living out of our music. That’s not bad. We’ve released 12 albums and 60 singles. For me, success is making the best music you can and getting it out there.
People often say you were before your time…
We knew we were before our time. Tony Wilson (Factory records) always used to tell us we were too ahead of our time. Our first single ‘All Night Party’ is a gothic, moody tune, and then a year later ‘Shack Ups’ was released. The change in the band in the space of twelve months was enormous. We were always striving to do things differently. The press slated our first two albums. They said ‘what are they playing this crap for?’ and when the records were re-released twenty, thirty years later the press were saying ‘this is amazing, how did they do this so far back then, they were the first band to fuse this kind of music’. The original press hated it. It would have been nice at the time to be recognised, but we only did it for ourselves. We didn’t give a sh*t what anyone else thought, you know?
When was it that you felt like A Certain Ratio were coming back?
It was when I DJ’d in New York in 2001 or 2002. Some of Radio 4 was there; a lot of the people who were involved in the early punk funk movement were at that gig, because someone from A Certain Ratio was DJing. That’s when I realised that sort of post punk thing was getting popular in New York with all the young trendy things.
It’s been 30 years now, how much longer will you keep going?
Until we can’t gain access to venues without zimmer frames. We’ll get those electric cars and drive round on them. We really enjoy playing, and the resurgence of interest in us. We only do gigs that we know are going to be good, ones that are put on properly.
How do you feel about the changes in the record industry over the past 30 years?
I think anything that beats record companies stubbornness in ignoring the Internet and holding onto the physical sales, just because they’ve been screwing people for years with the amount of profit they make on them, is a good thing. They were so stubborn that any act or artist that comes up with good ideas that messes with greedy record companies is good to me. You don’t have to rely on a label now like you used to.
Why should people come out and see you?
Well we don’t do many gigs. We do perhaps eight a year, and when people do come down to see us they’re always very impressed. It’s a show that’s different – don’t expect to just see old A Certain Ratio tracks – you’ll be seeing something that’s quite unique for now.
A Certain Ratio play the Button Factory, Dublin on March 28th
As published in State Magazine, March 2009.