Their hair may be thinner, the group less name-dropped than before, but back
in 1978, A Certain Ratio were probably the first bunch of post-punk amateurs
to recognise the potential of the dancefloor. While white trash Londoners
looked to reggae for some cultural diversity, ACR took the natural rhythms of
the erstwhile Manchester club scene and sparked a hybrid so powerful that its
repercussions would be felt throughout the coming decade.
They dug Chick Corea, `Innervisions', shitloads of obscure Latin. Trouble is, like all true pioneers, they never got the accolades. While their sound was liberally ripped off by legions of po-faced experimentalists, and even taken Top 40 by early Heaven 17 and Talking Heads (David Byrne was an early convert), ACR were left out on a limb; oblique, underrated, dignified.
True, they spent most of the '80s on the monumentally hip Factory records, vying with Joy Division and then New Order as the biggest sound in Manchester. They also took their sound onwards and outwards; a huge Italian following christened them Una Certa Proporzione and took to their itching rhythms and latin playfulness... and New York loved them. They sold out the (large) Ritz on early tours, and returned to tell expectant NME journalists strange tales of murals on trains and kids spinning on their heads. This was 1980... so ACR discovered breakdancing, too. And that's official.
Mostly, it's about records. Banberra's `Shack Up' was transformed into ACR's signature tune, thumping and deadly. `Flight' remains their most transcendent slice of grooviness, though these days the Idjut Boys are having a good old stab at capturing the same atmosphere. Around '84, ACR mutated into full blown party people with sun'n'fun anthems like `Life's A Scream' and the hard urban electro of `Wild Party' - perfectly utilised as the party scene music in `Letter To Brezhnev'.
They also fitted well into the '80s remit of Image over everything. You know what those old Factory record sleeves were like. No band photos, no song titles, just a diagram, or a Cubist puzzle, or a grainy photo of 1940s mountaineers. It was all so remote, so icy, so Manc. It was also a fucking huge wind-up.
Even the music press caught on. I recall a Melody Maker live review from, hmm, 1985? Beneath a glowing account of ACR's show - which mentioned the thousand or so shaven-headed, whistle-blowing Casuals who followed the group everywhere - they printed a photo of Jez Kerr's legs. Just his legs. He was wearing neatly pressed Nike shorts and low top trainers. Doesn't sound like much now, but in 1985 it was the perfect tonic for photos of silly-arsed geezers wearing eyeliner.
The biggest irony of this strange little story is that when Manchester became the music capital of the world, the forefathers of Madchester were nowhere to be seen. 808 State paid homage to them; old mucker Shaun Ryder even guested on their records. But to no avail - ignored again.
Incidentally, they're still around and I still love them. Creation have re- issued their old LPs - and believe me, they sound nothing like `Wonderwall'. These days, ACR record for Robs Records, run by the friendliest and most energetic man in show business, ex-New Order manager Rob Gretton.
Just don't hang up your whistle.
ACR Top 10