A Certain Ratio – Factory Records – 1979

All Night Party

The Thin Boys

Manchester, 1978. In the beginning there were four: Jeremy Kerr (bass), Martin Moscrop (guitar/trumpet), Peter Terrel (guitar/effects) and Simon Topping (vocals/trumpet). Four thin boys with a name borrowed from a Brian Eno record, the intense, drummerless quartet initially drew influence from Wire, Eno, the Velvets and Kraftwerk, and gained a manager in Anthony Wilson of Factory Records.May 1979 saw the release of their first ACR single, the dark and atmospheric 7″ All Night Party (FAC5 – A Certain Ratio, the second record released by Factory Records, the first being FAC2 ‘Factory Sample’ a two 7″ package featuring Joy Division, Duritti Column, John Dowie and Cabaret Voltaire. All the other releases prior were posters or handouts of some sort or another. The sound and musicianship of the band would soon be transformed by the arrival of funky drummer Donald Johnson (DoJo) in August. Over the next few months the band gigged widely, often with Joy Division as part of Factory packages, and recorded demos with producer Martin Hannett as well as a Peel session. Their support slot with Talking Heads on their UK tour in December 1979 set David Byrne on a new course, and provided the compelling live half of their chic cassette package The Graveyard and the Ballroom. Post-punk, ACR now reflected the influence of Funkadelic, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, The Bar Kays and James Brown.

The next proper ACR record was the epochal Shack Up, released by Factory Benelux in July 1980. Recorded for £50, the single still managed to dent the Billboard disco chart in the USA. Antilles/Island expressed interest in signing ACR, and they were invited to record with Grace Jones, but the band elected to remain with Factory and Wilson. In September ACR completed a short American tour supporting New Order, and collected an extra vocalist in Martha ‘Tilly’ Tilson. The debut album To Each… was recorded in East Orange, New Jersey, where an engineer accidently cleared the final mix settings. As a result the mix had to be completed by Martin Hannett in the UK, and suffered as a result.

ACR’s third single was the astonishing 12″ Flight, released in October 1980. Hypnotic, transcendental funk produced by Martin Hannett, and all three tracks marking ACR as the artistic equals of Joy Division.

Live 1980 captures ACR at a key point in their development, performing a tight yet atypical set before a sparse audience at the tiny Vera venue at Groningen, in the north of Holland, on the night of 26 October. The show was part of a short Factory package tour of Holland, Belgium and Germany shared with Section 25, as well as The Names and Durutti Column on select dates. It’s worth putting the Ratios in proper context here, with just three singles and a cassette album to their name, and a niggling dissatisfaction with playing the same set night after night. Indeed in August ACR had confessed to Paul Morley in the NME:

“We’re not as enthusiastic about what we do as we were at the start. We still like what we’re playing, but we play it all the time. We’ve been on the road for two years now… It doesn’t make a difference when you’re playing the same old things over and over again. We’re in a dilemma at the moment.”

Hence this unusual but brilliant set performed two months later, based largely on tracks from the just-recorded debut album, and ignoring all three singles. Tilson had not yet arrived in Europe. The extended, spacier numbers such as Oceans, Loss and Winter Hill sound particularly fine, and the interplay between the dual guitars and trumpets is nothing short of a revelation. Indeed it’s almost like listening to a crack jazz combo. That this tape exists, and sounds so good, is due largely to live engineer Jon Hurst, whose skill at the mixing desk was consummate. For further examples of his talent, check out the live albums by Section 25 (Live in Europe and America 1982) and Crispy Ambulance (Fin).

The European tour in October 1980 would be the last Factory package that ACR agreed to take part in, the group having already decided to withdraw their labour from the collective live label effort before the American trip. Elsewhere in this booklet you can read an illuminating account of the tour by Larry Cassidy of Section 25, including the shock theft of an ACR trumpet in Amsterdam.

The debut album To Each… surprised some on its eventual release in April 1981, in part due to the flawed production, and also because many of the best tracks from this period appeared only on singles and eps. However, the band regained lost ground with the next album, the self-produced Sextet, and companion single Waterline. Released in January 1982, Sextet attracted rave reviews, and with Tilly as their new live focal point the band took their place in the avant-funk vanguard alongside 23 Skidoo and The Pop Group.


  1. Farmer Glitch
    Farmer Glitch
    January 22, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I caught them at the Rock Garden in London 1979 when they had just released the cassette LP ‘Graveyard and the Ballroom’ – bloody excellent show – spent the whole next day sourcing a copy of the tape – got it here in all its red-plastic sleeve glory – and essential release…

    Still play Flight to this day – an absolutely stunning release ..

  2. juan rodriguez
    juan rodriguez
    June 8, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    very interesting

  3. jock
    February 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    never really like acr but knew the brother of guitarist Pete Terrel, think they all ended up doing to many drugs to keep it together, well pete did according to his bro.
    i liked the bit in 24 hour party people where wilson has them dressing in schoolboy uniforms and even applys fake tan on their skinny legs himself, summat not quite right with old tony sometimes, maybe thats what public schooling does to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *