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Looking From a Hilltop
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Section 25 is an English post-punk band, best known for its single "Looking from a Hilltop" and its association with the Manchester record-label, Factory Records.
Photo by [unknown]
RECORD LABELS ASSOCIATED WITH
LOOKING FROM A HILLTOP
Between 1974 and 1977 vocalist and bassist Larry Cassidy studied law and sculpture in the south of England. Inspired by visits to London punk venues, on returning to Blackpool he coerced his younger brother Vin, a budding drummer, into teaming up with a guitar-playing civil servant named Phil Denton. At this early stage, rehearsals and occasional live sets combined basic (and bass-heavy) original material with idiosyncratic covers such as Jeepster and Ticket to Ride, although the Cassidys' penchant for improvisation caused Denton to quit that summer.
After a succession of guitar players came and went, a former schoolfriend of Larry's, Paul Wiggin, signed on in November. Section 25 subsequently played their first gig at Lancaster City Football Club on June 1st 1978. Over the next year local Blackpool audiences were privy to a wealth of material almost forgotten today, including Metro Punk, Wichtig, Easy Jar Behind Every Dream, Car Crash Wreck, Fast Parts, Blinkered Paradise, Movie Star, Never Lose Your Nerve, Just to See Your Face (aka Dirty Disco) and Wide Awake in Anarchy. Much of this, it must be said, was undistinguished thrash.
2. NEW NOISE
Section 25 also dabbled in booking, and in July 1979 organised a charity concert at the Blackpool Imperial Hotel on behalf of the International Year of the Child. Having already played a short set at the Factory Club in April, the Cassidy brothers persuaded fledgling Factory artists Joy Division and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to appear on the bill. By this time SXXV's regular set included Knew Noise, Dirty Disco and Girl's Don't Count, and despite an ill-judged cover of Sex Pistols' nadir Belsen Was a Gas, Ian Curtis and JD manager Rob Gretton were sufficiently impressed to encourage them to cut a record. The result was a self-financed session at Cargo Studios in Rochdale in September. Vin Cassidy would later recall:
Ian and Rob gave us a lot of encouragement. The first time I met any of Joy Division was at a gig we did with them in Blackpool, and they liked the stuff we did. Paul and Larry had been going off to Manchester, which is about 70 miles away, and knew Rob through talking to him at gigs. So Rob heard us and said, why don't you go into a studio and do some tracks? Ian and Rob set it up. I didn't even know what a producer was until then. They said they would come down and help us out with it, which they did. Ian just sort of sat there - 'Sounds alright'. Rob picked the songs he thought we should do.
In her book Touching From a Distance (1995), Deborah Curtis also records a fracas at a New Years Eve Party thrown by Factory in 1979. During a live set by Section 25, Ian Curtis began throwing punches at a heckler, an incident which quickly escalated into Curtis being knocked down and kicked for his efforts: assassins all grouped in four lines dancing on the floor, indeed.
3. HICKS FROM THE STICKS
From the Cargo session Curtis and Gretton selected three strident, minimal cuts - Girls Don't Count, Knew Noise and It's Up to You - for release on Factory, although the single would not be released until July 1980. As a result, a new track recorded some months later became the first Section 25 song to appear on vinyl. After Image was recorded with producer Martin Hannett for a compilation on the Rockburgh label, Hicks from the Sticks. Released in April, the album showcased early cuts by other Northern groups such as Clock DVA, Wah! Heat, Modern Eon and Music for Pleasure - to little effect, according to Kevin Fitzgerald in the NME: With the exception of Section 25, virtually none of the bands on this album actually appear to want to move out of indie chart obscurity... After Image boasts the loudest rhythm section on the album, which overshadows the glum bawlings of the vocals, and for once the bassline isn't straight off the robotic rhythms production line... Section 25 appear to have some idea of what they're doing, and more to the point, why they're doing it.
Sadly, this initial burst of enthusiasm from the fourth estate would prove short-lived.
4. CHEAP - BUT CHEERFUL?
Although Section 25 had yet to release a record on the label, Factory's limitless critical kudos and close relationship with London booking agency Final Solution ensured that the band received a healthy degree of live exposure during late 1979 and early 1980. As well as supporting Joy Division at several of their later British dates, the eager trio also travelled to London to open for acts as diverse as Talking Heads, Toyah, Classix Nouveaux and the Cure.
Together with Joy Division and a cast of thousands, the group also played with the Stranglers at the Rainbow in November 1979, at the second of two gigs which marked the incarceration of Hugh Cornwall in Pentonville Prison. Other dates with Joy Division included a combined encore jam at Malvern Winter Gardens, and a role in the infamous Bury Derby Hall riot, both in April. A Manchester date with Joy Division and A Certain Ratio at the New Osbourne Club in February saw 'Section 27" draw qualified praise from Mick Middles in Sounds:
Section 27 prove to be yet another stab at the new Northern Psychedelic fad, complete with a variation on Floyd's old tried and tested Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun'. Although the music is rolling, the vocals are harsh and packed with false anger. The overall effect is unattractive and abrasive, although given time Section 27 should smooth out their rough edges and begin to sound clean and powerful. They do show a considerable strength of character which should be channelled directly into the song themes, and not wasted by their present over-zealous vocal stance.
5. FAC 18
The long-delayed three track single produced by Curtis and Gretton finally emerged in July on 7" only, with Girls Don't Count as the lead track. The 7" was housed in a novel tracing paper sleeve designed by Peter Saville. The sleeves were assembled first in a workshop for the deaf, and the vinyl then sleeved by hand by the group themselves. Curiously this powerful single was not well received, attracting negative and inaccurate reviews:
Girls don't count, money doesn't count, Section 25's irony doesn't work. Count me out. (NME) The title is more provocative than the music, which ceased its relationship with my deck around the time someone on it shouted/ordered 'It doesn't count'. Quite. Manchester lads, they make that wonderfully old-fashioned sound which relies on synths for synths sake. They probably watched too much Tomorrow's World as kids and sincerely wanted to be Raymond Baxter. Most points for the sleeve - an intriguing concoction of architect's drawing paper and bright coloured ink. Maybe they should sell it without the contents. (Sounds) Here come more depressed, depressing men from the industrial wastelands of the north, a-plodding their earnest way into your hearts with relentless, electric noises. Stark reality, and buzzes and blips with Tony Wilson and other things to turn you off. (New Music News)Since comparisons with Public Image Limited had already become commonplace, it was perhaps fortunate that the strongest track (Knew Noise) was not chosen as the a-side. Nevertheless, one can only wonder how different things might have been had Dirty Disco been chosen as the first single (and released with greater speed by Factory), since the group had been playing a superb version of this driving dance track as early as July 1979.
On the vexed PiL question, Factory were commendably quick to jump to the defence of Section 25 in March 1980, after the editors of Manchester fanzine City Fun declared that SXXV, ACR and Joy Division all sounded the same: Section 25, for starters, are nothing like ACR or the JD's. If they have any similarity problems it is with Public Image and Public Image alone. The b-side of their new single is unfortunately reminiscent of certain aspects of Metal Box; unfortunate for them since it was recorded at Cargo Rochdale in September '79, and Metal Box was done at the Manor, Oxford in November '79. A more melodic vocal pattern, and a different approach to the guitar drone overdubs between Levine and Section 25 nevertheless allow Section 25 ample creativity space in which to work. They remain more original than 99% of other bands (100% of other London bands), and certainly they don't sound anything like the two to which they are belied by false compare.
Only in December 1980 was FAC 18 sensibly re-pressed in 12" format, thus ensuring superior sound quality. The new edition appeared in a trio of different (and in the opinion of the label 'horrendous') sleeves, each graced with a photograph of three different girls: Angela Cassidy, Jenny Ross and Julie Waddington. This trio most definitely counted, being sister and girlfriends to Larry and Paul respectively.
6. FACTORY ALL-NIGHT PARTIES
In addition to gigging with Joy Division elsewhere, Section 25 also appeared at the Moonlight Club on the first of three Factory nights in April 1980. Condemned to share a bill with Crawling Chaos and the Royal Family and the Poor (and following an unannounced appearance by Joy Division), the band stood little chance of winning over their audience. According to the NME's Adam Sweeting:
Finally Section 25, a drab three-piece. The small, austere bass player orated doomed and distant vocals over angular riffs and thrashing guitar chords. My ears politely refused to accept any more and I wasn't alone in heading for the tube.
The press reception proved little better when the band played at the Scala Cinema later that month, on this occasion with A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, Blurt and Kevin Hewick. In the opinion of Chris Bohn:
Section 25 are the sort of band that work well in theory but are less interesting to actually listen to. Their austerely wrought rhythms are minimally embellished by a guitarist more interested in sound than conventional technique, and their bass-playing singer intones monotonous mainly one-line songs with only slight variations. DAF do this sort of thing far more exotically, but given their self-imposed limitations Section 25 can be surprisingly effective, as on one song that works up from a 'I want your body/I want your mind' chant to an awesomely frightening intensity.
The song in question was of course Dirty Disco, later a single and a highlight of their debut album. The band again shared a London bill with ACR and Blurt in August 1980, this time at the Music Machine. Still the press remained hostile. For Sounds, Nick Tester wrote:
Whatever happened to serious fun? The stint of closet austerity was opened by Section 25, whose droning rhythms are obsessively relentless. A bassist faces the drummer while a guitarist, standing sideways, defaces both with occasionally reckless stabs of rusty treble. It's no comforting mixture, but neither is it as confrontational as they think. They suffer from a massive overdose of PiL and are drily uninspiring. The chances they take are limited.
In truth, these static early live performances were sometimes less than inspiring, and with few records available to counteract a generally negative press Section 25's relatively high profile in 1980 was less a blessing than a curse. Furthermore the late Ian Curtis was no longer around to set about hapless critics with his fists. Nevertheless, the turnaround began that summer with two new tracks which marked their first substantial collaboration with producer Martin Hannett.
7. FACTORY BE-NE-LUX
Again recorded at Cargo, Charnel Ground and Haunted remain two of the finest tracks in the early Section 25 repertoire, and thanks largely to Hannett marked a significant forward progression from FAC 18. Charnel Ground` (aka The Field is Empty) a supremely eerie, disembodied piece, is still capable of raising hairs, while Haunted, a careering, flanged charge written in memory of Ian Curtis, remains genuinely evocative of headlong flight from inner demons.
Wiser counsel might well have advised that this double a-side should have been issued on Factory, or the tracks held back for the first album. Instead the single appeared in October as the third release on Factory Benelux. The same fate was shared by equally fine singles from A Certain Ratio (Shack Up) and Durutti Column (Lips That Would Kiss), and therefore can hardly have been a reflection on the quality of the music on offer.
Nevertheless, the Brussels office would later become a convenient graveyard for recordings which failed to gain unanimous boardroom approval in Manchester, and even in 1980 ensured that Section 25's superb second single missed out on the recognition it richly deserved.
Incidently, sharp-eyed observers have noted that the sand dunes on the Hennebert-designed FACBN 3 sleeve resemble an armpit when viewed upside down. Despite such intrigues, the reviews remained largely negative, the NME damning:
More horror flick soundtracks. Remember those toys with a green luminous skeletal hand reaching from a tin coffin to grab your money? I'm sure Martin Hannett doesn't know what 'holiday' means. There's a good package tour to Transylvania, Martin.
8. AMONG THE TRUMPET THIEVES
In October and November 1980 a short Factory package tour by A Certain Ratio and Section 25 traversed mainland Europe. The trip included dates in Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Dan Haag, Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin - but skipped Transylvania. ACR and SXXV were joined by Vini Reilly for three of the eight dates, and by the Names in Brussels. On his return to Blackpool Larry Cassidy wrote a fascinating report on the trip.
Following this outing Jon Hurst quit as soundman for ACR and took over behind the board for Section 25 full-time. Hurst moved his own eight-track recording equipment into the band's Blackpool warehouse area SSRU (aka Singleton Street Rehearsal Unit), and would play a decisive role in sculpting their sound over the next two years. An improvised SSRU track, Red Voice, had already been donated to the Blackpool Rox ep, a local project organised by fellow Blackpool band the Membranes and released in August 1980. With Hurst's assistance the band now demoed their first album.
9. ALWAYS NOW
In February 1981 Section 25 cut their debut album Always Now at Britannia Row studio in London, with Hannett again producing. While tracks such as Dirty Disco, Friendly Fires (original title: Cambodia) and Be Brave continued to mine a driving, rhythmic vein, looser compositions such as Babies in the Bardo and Melt Close offered spacey, acid-psych atmospherics which, while out of time in 1981, must have seemed perfectly at home in a studio constructed and owned by the Pink Floyd. According to a later review by Joost Niemöller in Dutch magazine Vinyl:
I always thought that Always Now was made especially attractive thanks to its producer, Martin Hannett. He managed to drape exactly the right little wrapping of echoes around the few unsteady, doubtful notes which the group produced. Section 25 always had something paper-thin about it - a sound, or rather an absence of sound, giving the impression that the slightest breeze would blow it away.
While this may be true of certain weaker improvised tracks (for example, c. p. ), Always Now was nevertheless a striking and original album, the absence of Charnel Ground and Haunted alone denying it classic status. Sadly, the release date of FACT 45 was much delayed by the lavish Peter Saville packaging. Constructed in the manner of a deluxe matchbook and printed on waxed card, and with a marbled interior printed under special licence from a French book printer in Rouen, FACT 45 boasted one of the finest (and costly) sleeves in industry history. As if such extravagance were not enough, photographic prints were also mooted, and triple-fold poster inserts actually produced, only to be abandoned.
The record eventually appeared in August 1981 and sold in its initial run of 10, 000 within a fortnight, despite a dearth of reviews. However, the cost of the packaging meant that what was actually a strong-selling independent album took a long time to recoup its costs. According to Larry and Vin:
VIN: We were inexperienced about how much covers can actually cost a band, and how much you get cooked down the road. Factory adds it on to the expense of the album, and you don't get any money until you've gone past that mark.
LARRY: At the start every Factory band had to produced by Martin Hannett and have their artwork down by Pete Saville. It was like a package, a system.
VIN: You could tell it was a Factory record just by glancing at it from across a room... Don't get us wrong, we enjoyed working with Martin at the time. It was a great, big studio in London and that. But if the producer is finally not on the same level as yourself, it won't work as it should... For a lot of other groups the Joy Division formula just won't do anything.
VIN: The last track on the album was called New Horizon and it was, very obviously, about new hope for the future. I don't think the people who reviewed that record could even have noticed that track was there. I think their associations took control of them and they said: 'oh - gloomy, JD- like' etc.
In September 1982 a somewhat stilted clip for the closing track, New Horizon, was included on the first Factory video collection, A Factory Video (FACT 56).
10. DIRTY DISCO
While at Britannia Row, SXXV took time off to record a John Peel session for the BBC, broadcast in February and featuring versions of Babies in the Bardo, Hit and One True Path. The latter piece, an extended percussive mantra which would remain a staple of the live set until the following year, was also cut at Britannia Row, but left unused. Another album out-take, Human Puppets, remains unissued.
In July 1981, one month before Always Now finally reached the stores, a French language version of Dirty Disco was issued on Factory Benelux (FACBN 5), retitled Je Veux Ton Amour after Larry re-recorded his vocals in French. A 7" only, the curious floral sleeve was lifted direct from a garden seed packet by Larry in best Marcel Duchamp 'readymade' tradition. The Britannia Row recording of One True Path appeared on the flipside, and for this release was translated into Hawaiian, becoming Oyo Achel Ada.
11. YOU LEAVE ME NO CHOICE
Throughout 1981 the group also laid down recordings that would form their second album, The Key Of Dreams, being spontaneous SSRU jams reflecting the improvised element of their live shows. Indeed guitarist Paul Wiggin was by now keen to jam every show from beginning to end, although his eventual departure in September 1981 was triggered by an altogether different problem with live performance. With the group booked to open for New Order in Helsinki, Wiggin refused to fly to the gig and instead swallowed up their modest fee by travelling overland.
His dismissal followed soon after, and SXXV subsequently entered a second musical phase. Abandoning much of the existing live set (much of which they were unable to play without Wiggin), the Cassidy brothers prepared to tour Europe with backing tapes and an extra percussionist, John Grice. This new set typically comprised: Inside Out, Babies in the Bardo, One True Path, Trident, Dirty Disco, Consequencer (aka Sakura) and The Beast, together with two unrecorded pieces, God's Playground and You Leave Me No Choice.
Following a warm-up date at the Boulevard Theatre in London on 16 December, the group completed the European tour in January 1982 in tandem with Crispy Ambulance (as documented on their seminal live album Fin). With dates booked in Belgium, Holland and Germany. Section 25 ran into problems after just two shows when Grice, a relative newcomer to the rigours of touring, suffered a panic attack and was flown home. Fortunately, the Cassidy brothers were able to complete the rest of the tour after Crispies drummer Gary Madeley stepped in on drums and keyboards, albeit with sometimes unpredictable musical results. Indeed the show at Bochum Zeche saw the two bands jam together on five numbers, including distinctly ragged versions of Girls Don't Count, Haunted, The Beast and God's Playground, while the audience at Groningen were also treated to a further combined encore.
12. THE KEY OF DREAMS
The Key of Dreams was finally released by Factory Benelux in June 1982. Edited down from over five hours of SSRU tapes, the nine slices of narcotic psychedelia moderne were relatively loose and unstructured, with titles such as The Wheel and Sutra reflecting an enduring interest in Buddhism. Sutra provided a clear centrepiece, being a fifteen minute jam that evoked Pink Floyd's expanded live excursions on Ummagumma, or Can at their most hypnotic. As the brothers explained to Sounds:
You can get into problems jamming, it can be a long ramble, but there's a lot to be said for it. It's got a bad name. It's just possible that these songs will give comfort to someone who's having a bad time. Whether or not it's got to do with drugs we don't know. We just see that in them.
The album was awarded a five-star review by Sounds, while Mark Robinson from cult Washington DC band Unrest would later offer the supreme tribute by covering There Was a Time (as Lost Innocence) on his Sammy Supreme My Man! solo 7" on the Teenbeat label in 1989. The album also drew somewhat skewed praise from Dutch magazine Vinyl:
The strength of these very ordinary gloomy songs lies in their ability to convey subtleties of feeling with as few means as possible... The only apparent structure in the music is effected by frugal but syncopated drumbeats. Bass guitar and guitar provide mainly atmospheric smears of sound around this (the same applies to the isolated appearance of saxophone and piano) and the vocalist mouths his lyrics with every appearance of disgust. Provided that you are absolutely knackered or smashed this record will make an oppressive but lasting impression on you.
Since free hallucinogenics were not distributed with the album, purchasers had to make do with the unused triple-fold posters left over from Always Now. In point of fact, due to the delay in releasing FACT 45 the previous year Factory had at some point given serious consideration to releasing it with The Key of Dreams as a double set.
1982 also saw the first in a series of cassette-only releases on Relevant Music, the groups' own publishing company. Illuminus Illuminae offered an hour of SSRU improvisations in similar vein to The Key of Dreams, the bulk of which had been recorded by the original three-piece between 1980 and 1981. The second, Live in the Milky Way, was a straightforward desk recording of a strong performance by the original three-piece at Amsterdam Melkweg in November 1980, which included one previous unheard composition, You're On Your Own. Two SSRU jams from this period, In the Garden of Eden and Cry, were also released on a Third Mind compilation cassette, Rising From the Red Sand, although both can be found on Illuminus Illuminae.
13. FIRST AMERICAN TOUR
In February 1982 the new look Section 25 undertook a short seven- date tour of the American East Coast, this time with long-stay percussionist Lee Shallcross. The itinerary comprised shows in New York, Trenton, Washington, Hoboken, Boston and Philadelphia, together with several free days. Since no corresponding album emerged it is worth noting the material which made up a typical set, namely: Babies In The Bardo, Inside Out, Floating, One True Path, Trident, Sakura (aka Consequencer), The Beast, Dirty Disco, and You Leave Me No Choice. A review of the Washington DC 9:30 Club date on February 13th by Jerome Wilson, published by The Offense Newsletter, provides an eyewitness account:
Section 25 are on Factory, of course, and seeing them made me reconsider what that label has done lately. In the past year or so Factory has gravitated towards bands with a grey, synth-laden sound on records like New Order, Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio, and away from being a label that could accommodate the lighter sounds of the Distractions or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as well... Judging from Section 25's performance here and ACR's new album, you only hear that when Martin Hannett doesn't get in the way. Section 25 is a new kind of power trio: a bassist, two drummers, and pre-recorded tapes which I think carried the guitar parts. The silly 'doom rock' tag they carry is really irrelevant. No, they don't wear zoot suits and grin like idiots, but they are more serious than depressing. Occasionally their music has an epic sweep that is really uplifting, like the punch the best Magazine songs carry. The lyrics may tell a different story. I can't say because I couldn't make out a word the bassist sang - but since when has that mattered, Joe Strummer fans? This radical restructuring of the usual rock riddims was too much for some people, like the bozo who yelled 'Play "Whipping Post"' after their first number, but most of us were won over by the time they finished. And despite what some jerks claim, you can dance to this music.
Sadly, plans for a live album culled from the dates for Factory US (FACTUS 9) subsequently foundered, although a CD based on this project would eventually surface in 1997. While undeniably strong, the new set suffered in some respects due to the rigidity imposed by its reliance on backing tapes, and the tour lost the group £ 800. Interviewed in 1985, again by The Offense Newsletter, they had this to say:
LEE: After doing the first American tour it felt like we had hammered those numbers. Larry and Vin had been playing them longer than me, and felt like they had had enough of that.
VIN: When we came back after that tour we did a few gigs in England, but we just were really pissed off at the way things were, and we took a year off to re-think things. Didn't do anything for a year but write songs... The fact that Paul, the old guitarist, was such a big part of the band when he left - well, it seemed a farce to try and continue doing some of those songs.
14. THE THIRD BEST SKULL IN SPORTS
In truth the band were far from idle. In March 1982, the wistful keyboard-based track Hold Me was recorded at SSRU, and donated to a compilation titled Hours released on Dutch label Plurex in May. In April a new maxi ep was recorded for Factory, the lead track for which was The Beast, described by Larry as 'a song about the part of every human which is very ugly... the ability of people to be thoroughly evil, utterly and mindlessly spiritless'. While hardly prime single material, The Beast was complemented by two impressive mixes of Sakura, together with a powerful, tense instrumental, Trident, recorded in New York on the American tour.
Crucially, Sakura marked the groups' first tentative venture into electro territory, the chattering sequencer line having been concocted by Jon Hurst and New Order mainman Bernard Sumner during an all-night brainstorming session at SSRU late in 1981 Sakura is, incidently, both a Japanese rice cake brand and a floppy disc manufacturer. Another strong track written and rehearsed during this transitional period was Warhead (aka In Warhead), the latter unreleased until 1988.
May 1982 saw Section 25 play a prestige London show at The Venue, although a somewhat indifferent set betrayed the fact that a degree of disillusion had set in. The restrictions imposed by performing live as a three-piece reliant on backing tapes, coupled with Larry's discomfort with his fragile singing style on the new material, forced the group to re-evaluate their future direction. These problems were compounded by the departure of Jon Hurst - and his recording equipment - later in the year.
The Beast emerged as a 12" ep (FAC 66) in July 1982. Bizarrely, a caustic review in the NME acted as a suitable epitaph for the band's first and second phases:
After Eno and Howard Devoto, Section 25's bassist has the third best skull in pop. Judging by the way they've been banging their heads against the wall without anyone noticing, I should imagine it's all knocked out of shape by now. It's a pity, but then their dogged following in Joy Division's footsteps was hardly likely to guarantee them much recognition. At least they immersed themselves in the darkness as if it were a life and death mission.
15. PASSION CONCIOUS
Whereas bands such as the Names and Crispy Ambulance elected to split towards the end of 1982, Section 25 chose to ring changes and entered a third bold phase. Having concluded correctly that they could no longer remain 'punks', but rejecting a change of name, the brothers recruited Larry's wife Jenny Ross to play keyboards and sing. Further synth-based material was hastily composed, and aired at several dates in the north of England, as well as on a short Italian tour in December 1982.
VIN: We didn't enjoy playing all that heavy moody stuff any more, and we just got fed up.
LARRY: It got boring after three years with the same guys in raincoats coming to your gigs.
LARRY: We decided to withdraw and concentrate on writing some new stuff which we could be happy with. Jenny has taken over some of the writing, which has helped change things - made them lighter. You're not as likely to feel suicidal when you hear us now.
LARRY: I think we have become more passion-conscious. Largely it's due to an expansion of instruments, and a growing interest in those instruments on our part. We constantly have a go at playing different instruments because it maintains a challenge and keeps us on our toes.
This new, lighter material would prove a logical progression in the direction heralded by Sakura and Hold Me, and unveiled a spiked synthetic pop outfit of considerable sophistication. With the group still guessing the way, a number of new tracks (including Days Pass By, Slice and Just to be With You) were ultimately discarded, although the best, Beating Heart and Back to Wonder, the latter sung by Jenny Ross, were recorded for single release.
The new-look Section 25 premiered an embryonic electro set at the Hacienda in February 1983, performing Beating Heart, Loving No-One, Days Pass By, Warhead, Trident, Firefly and Sakura. While by no means disastrous, the date was poorly attended, and although Warhead was deemed fit for inclusion on the Factory Outing video (FACT 71), the quartet promptly cancelled further live work to concentrate on further refining their new musical direction.
Beating Heart and Back to Wonder marked a clear shift toward accessible pure pop, and to some extent took their cue from New Order, being co-produced by Bernard Sumner (aka Be Music), who also added some characteristic guitar. Housed in a superb gold sleeve designed by Mark Farrow, this pairing was released as FAC 68 in June on 7" only, a 12" version being cancelled at the behest of the group themselves after test pressings (12 FAC 68) were made. On any reckoning this move was ill-judged, since the remix version of Beating Heart made extensive use of a novel 'squiggle' effect produced by Vin Cassidy on a Roland TR303, the significance of which is discussed in more detail below. Certainly the group's belief that a 7" only would secure greater radio-play, and a chart hit, was ill-founded: it didn't, and it wasn't.
16. FROM THE HIP
Between February and August 1983 the core quartet of Larry, Vin, Lee and Jenny worked tirelessly on new material for their make- or-break third album. The first track to be written was almost certainly The Process, the origins of which lay in Loving No-One. Other work in progress from this period can be heard on a third cassette release issued by Relevant Music, titled Studio Master. A companion volume, Live Master, featured material taped on the first American tour in 1982.
In August, the band recorded From the Hip at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Again produced by Bernard Sumner, the eight-track album was subsequently mixed in Manchester and released in March 1984. FACT 90 marked a bold foray into the commercial zone, and, as hard-edged electro cuts like Program For Light, Reflection and Looking From A Hilltop clearly demonstrated, Section 25 were now chasing mainstream success with a vengeance. Commenting at the time, Vin Cassidy said:
It's contemporary dance music. Soul music. What I mean is that we play it from the soul. The music is more accessible, but that doesn't mean we have gone middle of the road, or sold out. We have always had a small cult following and now we want to break through that and reach more people.
Indeed From the Hip was nothing less than a sophisticated, melodic band producing magic, the gently wandering vocals of Ross casting as a gossamer veil across the rhythmic explorations, and complementing perfectly the new age ambience of The Process and Desert. True, the album was lighter in sound than previous material, but not in substance, and retained the trance-like quality which was already a trademark. Thematically, FACT 90 was nothing less than a concept album, tracing a journey from confusion to enlightenment, although (probably wisely) this aspect was never made overt.
So strong was interest in From the Hip that the album was licensed in no less that eight territories worldwide, including Japan, Canada and the United States. A BBC radio session was also recorded for the David Jensen show in June, featuring Warhead, Looking From a Hilltop and Reflection. In Britain, press reviews were few and far between, although the NME found space to comment:
Romancing the drone? Hey, only kidding! Section 25, who could once lay claim to being the dreariest group on the planet, have lifted their noses from the stone long enough to sniff the air and discover a joy in life. They've converted it into a contagious chatterfunk blessed with a forlornly pretty melody - a mark usefully retained from their previous experience - and a new girl vocalist, whose vague dreamy voice seems chosen so as not to detract from the whole.
Yet in some respects the band had raced ahead of their time, and although Cabaret Voltaire had been showered with praise for blazing a comparable trail the previous year, not all were readily converted. Writing in Sounds, Dave Henderson asserted that: From the Hip never remotely hints of pulling itself together. It's tortuously programmed, predictable and pretentious. Some of you out there will love it.
From the Hip came housed in a sublime Peter Saville sleeve (with typography by Trevor Key), which was originally to have been rubberised. The genesis of the design was explained to the Offense Newsletter:
VIN: The album was a lot of acoustic instruments against very hard electronics. The idea that Saville had to reflect that didn't really grab me - to have a lot of high-tech climbing equipment, such as big plastic boots, on a ledge halfway up a mountain. High-tech gear in a low-tech surrounding.
LEE: But it looked like an advert for climbing equipment.
VIN: So he took a lot of these surveying poles and laid them out going up the mountain. And he's into this computer coding, so the colours actually spell out 'from the hip'.
17. LOOKING FROM A HILLTOP
From the Hip had been performed as a complete live set for the first time in Blackpool and Manchester in December 1983, with Jenny Ross now forming a focal point onstage. From May 1984 onwards the band performed a series of scattered one-off British dates, performing as a five piece following the addition of sister Angela Cassidy, who took the pseudonym Angela Flowers to avoid Partridge Family-styled jibes.
In August the group played at Riverside Studios in London, as part of a prestige Factory season which also included dates by Durutti Column, Quando Quango, 52nd Street and Kalima. Section 25 shared a bill with the Stockholm Monsters on the 15th, choosing to screen Luis Bunuel's surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou as a backdrop, and unveiling a 'boogie beat' electro jam destined later to become Bad News Week. Chris Bohn, who had found the band so vexing at the Scala Cinema four years earlier, now sang their praises in the NME:
Section 25 have miraculously reversed a long and inexorable slide into oblivion... Once a tight, joyless trio they've since brought in a couple of girls with whom they share five synth consoles, rhythm machines, drums and bass. And since undergoing this drastic overhaul they've learnt how to manhandle machines with a compositional wit and skill hitherto unheard this side of Kraftwerk's Rhineland Klingklang Fabrik.
Theirs is a music of remarkable sensual combinations, arrived at through an exploration of the synthesiser's manifold textural possibilities. Whether applying it as sylph-wrap or cutting up rough with bruising electro disco, they will invariably raise a prickle of sweat.
Meanwhile, Bernard Sumner and ACR drummer Donald Johnson (aka DoJo) had reworked Looking From a Hilltop as a single, FAC 108. On release in June these much extended 'Restructure' and 'Megamix' versions met with considerable success, particularly on import in the States, where Hilltop broke as a club hit in New York. The single also received extensive airplay, and succeeded in crossing over to black stations in the Chicago area. Repeated listening more than a decade later serves only to reinforce the Michigan Daily's impression of 'pure sonic capability', as does latterday sampling of the track by the Shamen (1992) and Orbital (1993).
18. SECOND U.S. TOUR: TECHNO IN THE HOUSE
The surge of interest triggered by both single and album enabled the band to undertake another short Italian tour in December 1984. In January and February 1985 a second North American tour was completed, comprising sixteen dates including Boston, Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Washington DC and Trenton, before winding up at the Ritz in New York. The superlative set on offer comprised From the Hip in its entirety (less Desert) together with a re-tooled electro version of Dirty Disco and (on occasion) the prototype Bad News Week. Crucially, the keyboard, sequencer and drum machine parts were extensively reworked in live performance, with the result that Beneath the Blade, Program for Light and (in particular) Looking From a Hilltop featured hard sequencer patterns and the piercing Roland TR303 sound later typical of acid house. Vin Cassidy had stumbled across the remarkable effect by accident early in 1983, employing it to good effect on the unreleased 12" remix of Beating Heart, and in live performance the following year.
While it might seem unlikely that audience members in Chicago or Detroit were inspired by Section 25 to further refine house and techno, the fact remains that a full year before these sounds reached Europe, a band from Blackpool had toured it across most of the major cities in the United States. Had Section 25 released the 12" remix of Beating Heart, and applied the sound sparingly to From The Hip and the Looking From a Hilltop single remixes, history might have been a little different.
A professional video shot at the Minneapolis date was released in 1989 via French outlet Structure Moderne. This followed a Relevant Music video made available in 1984, So Far, comprising live and Ikon FCL-shot material. As well as promoting the album and single, the American tour was also intended to spur interest from major labels:
VIN: The campaign [in America] for From the Hip wasn't really organised properly, and the 12" should have come out domestically instead of being an import. It had the potential to do a lot better than it did... I've dealt with Factory for the past five years, and it's a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing now. There's just no communication. It's like any sort of business - you've got to plan things and work together, but there's not much of that going on. The people below Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton, the two bosses, get nothing. They get left to their own devices, and are not checked up on, so things get left undone.
LARRY: We've never had someone directly pushing us and shouting for us like the other big Factory bands have. New Order have got Rob, A Certain Ratio have got Tony, but we're out on a limb.
19. CRAZY WISDOM
On their return from the States, in March the group played a one- off date in Paris (their sole French performance), and another at Glasgow Maestros in May. The set had by now expanded to include Crazy Wisdom, a wistful pulse-scape already recorded in April for single release, and again produced by the Be Music/DoJo team. Also cut was a punishing electro remake of Dirty Disco (again produced by Be Music/DoJo) and Guitar Waltz, the latter courageously described in the press release as 'post holocaust techno folk'.
The single finally appeared on 12" only through Factory Benelux (FACBN 45) in September 1985, having originally been pencilled as a Factory 12" (FAC 132T) with a 7" version on Benelux. The release was supported by a handful of UK dates, including a support slot with New Order at Preston Guildhall on 22 October, and a headline performance at London Hammersmith Clarendon on 3 November. Already the live set had changed beyond recognition from that toured in North America, and now included an accomplished cover of The Model by Kraftwerk, together with a superb instrumental titled Slinky, best heard on bootlegs of the Preston show, and Sweet Forgiveness, later reworked for FACT 160.
Had Section 25 recorded a fourth album in late 1985, it might have comprised (at very least) Slinky, Crazy Wisdom, Guitar Waltz, Bad News Week, Sprinkling Petals Into Hell, Sweet Forgiveness and The Model. Rough sketches for further material from this period was also included on a fifth and final Relevant Music cassette, Deus Ex Machina. While such an album might have lacked the single killer punch of Looking From a Hilltop, there can be little doubt that, if produced by Sumner or (better still) Martin Rushent, it would have been the equal of From the Hip, despite lacking its predecessor's edge.
Although the band had been actively pursuing a major deal for almost a year, interest from Island, Elektra and Polygram Canada came to nothing. Sadly, in November 1985 Vin Cassidy elected to quit the group, unable to support his family on the scant rewards offered by a full-time career in Section 25. Lee Shallcross also gave notice hours later, followed by Angela Cassidy the following February. Speaking about the split to Tim Difford for the Facfacts booklet in 1986, Larry explained:
Vin wanted to go into business with his wife, and Lee wanted to get a job. He's gone to America now. He was working in a warehouse in Preston; I don't exactly know what he did there, and then he started selling sheepskin coats all over the place. He wanted to make money - he was fed up of having no money... Section 25 was making a bit, but it wasn't a living wage or anything like that.
That Section 25 failed to land a major deal in 1985, failed to tour the genuinely cutting edge American 'acid' set in Europe, and failed to release any new material for more than a year after hitting their stride was due more to bad luck than bad judgement. It hardly helped that the band lacked proper management, and had, quite by chance, leapt ahead of their time. With Looking From a Hilltop they had reached a pinnacle, but perhaps paused too long to enjoy the view. Crazy wisdom indeed.
20. LOVE AND HATE
Although shaken by the fragmentation of the group, Larry and Jenny Cassidy elected to carry on alone, and quickly set about working on several new songs. In the spring of 1986 these were recorded at Park Lane studio, a local sixteen track facility, with Phil Ault engineering and local musicians supplying extra drums and guitar. Despite promising material such as Sweet Forgiveness and Sprinkling Petals Into Hell, the finished album betrayed its shoestring budget and hurried ten day schedule. Given the circumstances of the recording, it was perhaps understandable that after the tapes were submitted to Factory in May, the label found itself 'confused by the bizarre production values' and mistook the tracks for a demo. As a result the release would be delayed for more than a year.
Thankfully, the ever helpful Bernard Sumner was on hand to remix Bad News Week as a high BPM single. According to the press release, 'mistakes' and 'accidents' were deliberately programmed into to 'Cough Mix' to give the cut a 'dynamic and fresh' feel, although in truth both single mixes are inferior to the original Park Lane version on the album.
The release of Bad News Week (as FAC 157) in May 1987 saw events take a bizarre turn. Factory's publicists, priming a joke that misfired badly, informed trade paper Music Week that the new SXXV single was a cover of an older novelty hit - Good News Week - by industry pundit Jonathan King. King's publishers wasted no time in claiming that the Section 25 composition was a pastiche of their song, and although Larry Cassidy had appropriated only a few lines from the original lyrics, writing and publishing co- credits had to be surrendered. Curiously, New Order slipped in similar fashion a couple of years later, having borrowed chunks of Leaving On A Jet Plane by the late John Denver for their own song Run... Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction.
A live performance by Section 25, a date with poet John Cooper Clarke at a modest Blackpool venue named The Tache, had taken place in August 1986, a curious set which pitched Sprinkling Petals into Hell against Dirty Disco and Friendly Fires. The ill-starred album eventually slipped out almost unnoticed in March 1988 as Love and Hate (FACT 160), having retained the working title Sprinkling Petals Into Hell until the eleventh hour, and the actual title reduced down from Love and Hate in the English Countryside.
With the band reduced to just two core members (with family commitments), promotion was limited to an incomprehensible album review by Jonh Wilde in Melody Maker. Although no formal decision was taken to abandon music, it seemed, at the time unlikely that Section 25 would record again.
In 1991 Les Temps Modernes issued the bulk of the Section 25 back catalogue on compact disc, with Always Now, Key of Dreams and From the Hip appearing in September of that year. A proposed fourth disc, based loosely on the shelved Live in America project from 1982, was not followed through to completion, although a limited pressing of 500 copies eventually appeared on LTM in September 1997 as Live in America and Europe 1982.
From the Hip sold particularly well, due chiefly to the enduring transatlantic appeal of the remixed version of Looking From a Hilltop. In Brazil both the original 12" and subsequently the album were bootlegged, with the result that the CD was licensed to the territory in 1996. The remix version also proved a clear influence on Orbital for their BBC Peel session version of Walk About, recorded in September 1993, and was also sampled by the Shamen on the Progress 1 Vox remix of their chart hit Make It Mine. Although Orbital stopped short of a full cover of the track, it seems only a matter of time before somebody somewhere re-tools this electro classic and storms the charts.
Although in 1991 all three silver discs had been remastered and extended to include single and compilation tracks, the project was in part marred by the fact that several mastertapes had been damaged and lost. Following the collapse of Factory in November 1992, a deal was struck by the administrative receiver which purported to sell a number of Section 25 master recordings to London Records. In 1998 the group re-asserted their copyrights, however, and swiftly re-released From the Hip and Love and Hate on CD, together with a second archive CD, Deus Ex Machina, comprising live and studio material recorded between 1983 and 1985.
22. BAD NEWS WEEK
In the autumn of 2000 Larry proposed that he and Vin start playing again. For personal reasons, Jenny, Larrys' wife, was not involved at first, but he asked an old factory label mate and Tunnel Vision friend Ian Butterworth to help out on guitar. On the first night of rehearsals at Larry's mansion Ian accidentally fell full length down the stairs and suffered serious head injuries. During the following months of Ian's convalescence he gamely continued to rehearse. Eventually Jenny also joined the band in their jamming sessions.
By April 2001 Section 25 were ready to start recording what would be their fifth studio album and first recording for over 15 years. It was at this point unfortunately that personal problems between Larry and Jenny came to such a point that playing music together was the last thing on their minds. So by the summer of 2001 with just a few demo tracks recorded at Roger ("not likely") Wikely's "Hardhorn Studios", the whole project was put on ice. One track from these sessions did however see light of day. "Part Primitiv" on the LTM Compilation "Black Music" (LTM 2347) released 2003.
23. In Memoriam
After a long and brave fight against cancer Jenny Cassidy died on the 20th of November 2004 aged 42. The LTM DVD Section 25 So Far described as an audio-visual history of the band released January 2005 is rightly dedicated to her memory.
It is difficult to imagine the task of picking oneself up after a blow such as losing ones partner. Larry did this and also resolved to once again make music under the battle scarred banner of Section 25. So it was that in Jan 2006 he asked his brother Vin to pick up his sticks and start playing drums in accompaniment to his rumblings. Its what they'd always done. Ian Butterworth once again answered the call with strict instructions to stay away from all steep steps. Roger Wikeley stepped in on bass and keyboards.
This unit completed a succesfull campaign of concerts starting in summer 06 through to Jan 07, the first live shows the band had undertaken in 19 years. The concerts took in Paris, Brussells, Naples, Athens, Dublin, London and importantly Poulton-le-Fylde(the bands spiritual birthplace)It is from these shows that the live LTM DVD Communicants has been assembled. This lineup has recorded the bands 5th studio album, the first since 1988 re-leased by LTM spring 2007. Part Primitiv also includes two songs originally recorded with Jenny. The collection of songs on Part Primitiv is a reflection of all the periods of S25 sonic development up till now.
25. TWENTY-FIVE IS THIRTY
Summer and Autumn 2007 sees the band continuing with live shows at home in the UK, further afield most notably Rome and headlining the Plan K Factory Night(Once Again)in Brussels. LTM filmed the entire show to put out a live concert DVD later in 2008. Time for a retrospective ?After 30 years, yes we think so. 2008 is the 30th Anniversary for Section 25 and so LTM release "Dirty Disco (Best Of)" containing key tracks from all stages.
26. ONE WAY OR ANOTHER
Now recognised as a leading genre band three Section 25 tracks were included in the Warners box set, Factory Records: Communications 1978-1992. 'From the Hip' was lauded as one of the '1000 albums to hear before you die' by the guardian newspaper. Nature + Degree, their sixth studio album is released in May 2009, featuring new members Stuart Hill and Steve Stringer after the sudden but not unexpected departure of Roger Wikely and Ian Butterworth. Larry and Vin were also joined on 4 tracks by Bethany Cassidy, Whose vocal paleur recalls that of her late mother Jenny on From the Hip and Love and Hate.
On February 27th 2010 Larry Cassidy died aged 56.
28. LIGHT SHINES ON AND ON
Spring sees Vin and Beth Cassidy and Stuart Hill and Steve Stringer faced with a difficult choice - is the race run, or do we carry on? the answer waqs to pick up the baton and continue. Through the summer the band finish the album of re-made and re-imagined material that is Retrofit. Some of these tracks contain the last material Larry Cassidy worked on. Main vocal duties fall to Bethany on this release, out September 2010, and for vocals on future live work.
with additions by V. Cassidy