The Durutti Column: Stories for Pauline (1983/2012)

Post-punk band finally release ‘long-lost’ album recorded in-between LP#3 and #4.


Manchester’s The Durutti Column were one of the key bands in Factory Records’ initial late seventies/early eighties artistic flourish, although as time went on, the ‘band’ became more a vehicle for one man – Vini Reilly, the supremely gifted guitarist who still makes and releases music under the Durutti Column title. For me, the DC’s latter-day music is still undeniably strong, if a bit samey – Reilly’ style of playing is unmistakable, and what began as utterly unique has now become a bit overly familiar. I think Reilly’s peak was his first five or so years as the Durutti Column – more specifically, the run of albums and accompanying singles/EP releases beginning with the wryly titled 1980 debut The Return of the Durutti Column to the epic contemporary classical experimentation of 1984’s Without Mercy. That first album was a beautifully spare, delicate series of instrumentals, wonderfully produced by Martin Hannett who provided ethereal, ghostly atmospherics to Reilly’s light but evocative, bittersweet playing. Hannett wasn’t around for follow-up album LC, but amazingly it was even stronger, with fuller, richer production, even stronger tunes and the welcome addition of longtime percussive collaborator Bruce Mitchell, who added strength to Reilly’s sweetness. The band’s palette became more colourful on the lovely Another Setting, which brought in a wider range of emotional textures, not to mention more of Reilly’s singing voice. Entirely absent from the debut but there in patches on LC, Reilly’s vocals are a contentious issue with some. Simply put, he’s not got an incredibly versatile or strong voice, and you wouldn’t imagine him belting out pop tunes or rocking out in any measure. However, they do work very nicely within the sound of his own music, and the vocals on these early albums are tenderly fragile, melancholic and, thanks to his noticeably soft, yet dry Manchester accent, down-to-earth and free of pretence.

Now, after Another Setting, Reilly made a not-quite fourth full-length release made up of two EP length collections – Amigos em Portugal and Dedications for Jacqueline, which were released under the title of the former, and were focusing on piano to a greater degree than ever before. Notably, two pieces – ‘Favourite Descending Intervals’ and ‘Estoril a Noite’ – would, in different forms, become part of Reilly’s Without Mercy project, a classically-inspired LP that comprised of two full-length pieces and was his most ambitious and at times, most heartbreakingly gorgeous work ever. This was the Durutti’s fourth album proper, and Reilly and Co. were back on Factory, but there’s more to that album’ genesis than two earlier pieces released on an obscure label, for there was an alternative fourth album proper that was pretty much completed before being scrapped in favour of Without Mercy. That album was Short Stories for Pauline, and it was Factory maestro Tony Wilson’s admiration for second track ‘Duet’ that made him suggest to Reilly that said piece could benefit from expanding into something even bigger. So Without Mercy was born, using ‘Duet’, the afore-mentioned Amigos pieces and various other Pauline pieces as a starting point, whilst the Pauline album itself vanished, becoming a ‘lost’ album in the process, of which there are many in rock and pop music.


Now, the shrewd and canny will have already been able to create their own version of Pauline thanks to all of the songs being made available over various compilations/re-releases across the years, but it’s nice to have it all here in one straightforward package. Speaking of packaging, this release of Pauline has some pretty uninspired artwork. The photography, consisting of pictures of Reilly and his band, is all decent enough, but considering the era it was recorded in, when Durutti albums and singles were awash with gorgeous, inspired imagery, this final result is somewhat drab and unoriginal and not in-keeping with the times. There’s no inner artwork or additional liner note information (we get band member details on the reverse cover), just a functional white sleeve. It would have been nice to have some history on the complex history of the album, or maybe Reilly’s thoughts on the album (which I’ll bet would have been negative, given his penchant for self-criticism).


But what about the music? Well, it’s a mostly great album. Fans of early Durutti will love it – especially fans of Another Setting, Amigos em Portugal and Without Mercy, the latter in particular, since many of these pieces would be reworked to fit in with that album’s framework. You can, however, almost see how it wasn’t released, given how a couple of pieces would form part of Without Mercy, these being ‘Duet’ and ‘Invitations’. If Pauline had been released, Without Mercy’s impact would have been blunted as the fans would have already heard some of it in other versions. Well, I say impact – the Durutti Column were far from a big-selling band, but they did have their audience and their fans, and impact is impact, whether you’re one of many millions of fans, or if you’re the only one in your circle of friends who even knows this music, let alone loves it. Now, confusingly, the titles of some of these pieces have are different from the identical versions found on earlier compilations. One cursory glance at the track listing from a halfway-dedicated fan might think that this Pauline album has far more unknown tracks than it really does. The fact is that everything here has already been released, so Pauline is only a ‘lost’ album in regards to structure. I’m not sure if these alternate titles are the true original names or new ones devised for this release, but on a superficial level, I don’t really rate ‘College’ and ‘A Room in Southport’ over the far more evocative ‘The Sea Wall’ and ‘Snowflakes’ respectively.

Sorry, I’ve digressed from the actual music again. No more side-tracks, here we go! This album exudes wintry landscapes, bracing sea air under grey skies, but also exquisitely melancholic chamber music from centuries ago, but then again, we’re not too lost in the past as we’ve got some of-the-time electronics and drum beats to bring it back in the present. There’s nothing as initially jarring as the lapse into electronic-funk that came out of nowhere on Without Mercy’s second side, but you can tell at times that this was made in the 1980s. I must add, this is not a bad thing. The most immediately beautiful thing here is ‘Duet’ (formerly ‘La Doleur’), which is the piece that ultimately led to this album being buried. God, this is so gorgeous, a windswept, achingly pretty and exquisitely romantic retro-classical piece that trembles with emotion, reaching a mighty peak at around 1:10, when Blaine L. Reininger’s viola and (I can only assume Reilly) on piano form some kind of quiet ecstasy together. The result is spellbinding. No wonder Tony Wilson was so taken with this piece.

You also get the ripples and rushes of ‘College’ (‘formerly ‘The Sea Wall’) and ‘Journeys by Vespa’, which are both in line with the gently hair-raising thrills of earlier tracks like ‘Madeleine’ and ‘Danny’, where Reilly’s guitar weaves complex, dazzling textures, the down-tempo, desolate spaces of opener ‘At First Sight’, which does sound a lot like Without Mercy, although not identically so. ‘Destroy, She Said’ is one of a few pieces which ties the album to the year it was made, but like I said, not in a negative way. You know, in that a sitar in a pop song is most likely going to be a mid-1960’s song….just because a song is immediately recognisable from a particular era, doesn’t mean it has dated. Anyway, despite all of what I just said, ‘Destroy, She Said’ is not one of my favourite pieces here, erring closer to the jazzier spectrum of Durutti that I’m not so keen on. ‘Model’ (formerly ‘Little Horses of Tarquina’) is a brief and gorgeously spectral guitar solo. ‘Take Some Time Out’ and ‘A Silence’ both have vocals – the former is a lighter than average creation, though Reilly’s singing can’t help but conjure an air of downtrodden misery! The latter is not as good, a bit Durutti-by-numbers. ‘Mirror A’ and ‘Mirror B’ are quite different pieces, ‘A’ being a decent if lightweight, fully electronic piece with vocals by ‘Pauline’, and ‘B’ a piano-led dirge, punctuated by Eric Sleichim’s saxophone, not one of my favourite elements of the Durutti sound circa this time, I have to say.  In-between those two pieces we get ‘Cocktail’, which is lighter than ‘Mirror B’ but has the same saxophone problems, and ‘Telephone Call’ which has saxophone too, but used to much better effect. This piece is quite jazzy actually, but the more melancholic, late-night, drowsy side of jazz. It’s good! The album concludes with ‘A Room in Southport‘ (formerly ‘Snowflakes’), a very gentle, shuffling thing of beauty, with some lovely harp playing from Anne Van Den Troost.

It’s a shame the album isn’t on CD, as the more exposure the better as far as I’m concerned, but at least you can download it separately on plenty of online shops. It’s not perfect – the second side is definitely patchier than the first, and fans of Durutti may unwittingly already have the whole thing spread over various CDs, but it’s great to see this music together again, as it always should have been.

So…how would you have compiled Short Stories for Pauline in the past… well, you would have needed was 1991’s compilation Lips That Would Kiss, the very rare 1998 edition of Without Mercy and the 2007 edition of Durutti’s fifth album Circuses and Bread. I must say that Lips That Would Kiss is an absolutely fantastic release, gathering arguably the best of the Pauline tracks, as well as all three pieces from the Deux Triangles EP of 1981, as well as the various single-only releases.

  1. ‘At First Sight’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  2. ‘Duet’ Released as ‘La Doleur’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  3. ‘College’ Released as ‘The Sea Wall’, featured on Lips That Would Kiss, bonus track on 1998 issue of Without Mercy.
  4. ‘Invitations’ Released as ‘The Square’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  5. ‘Destroy, She Said’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  6. ‘Model’ Released as ‘Little Horses of Tarquina’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  7. ‘Journeys by Vespa’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  8. ‘Take Some Time Out’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  9. ‘A Silence’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  10. ‘Mirror A’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  11. ‘Cocktail’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  12. 12.   ‘The Telephone Call’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  13. ‘Mirror B’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  14. ‘A Room in Southport’ Released as ‘Snowflakes’ on Lips That Would Kiss

‘Duet’ (‘The Sea Wall’), ‘Destroy, She Said’ and ‘Take Some Time Out’ were also made available on Richard Jobson’s compilation Un Hommage A Marguerite Dumas, but that’s not easy to come by as far as I’m aware.


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