Somewhere, you suspect, Tony is nodding along, approvingly.
David Sheppard 2010
According to the brochures, the gregarious, provocative and visionary spirit of Anthony H Wilson and his maverick label, Factory Records, was a catalyst in the transformation of grimly Victorian Cottonopolis into the gleaming repository of smart, contemporary living that is modern Manchester.
Whatever his municipal legacy, Tony Wilson was always a far-sighted dreamer. When he launched Factory, in January 1978, he did so not with music of then-fashionable boisterousness, but with a pallid solo artiste essaying delicately beguiling guitar instrumentals that owed more to flamenco, jazz and the soundtrack music of Popol Vuh, than to the Sex Pistols – anticipating post-rock and chill-out music by a good decade-and-a-half. The wan guitarist was Didsbury’s own Vini Reilly; his records would be released under the designation The Durutti Column (after an anarchist faction from the Spanish Civil War – Wilson’s idea, naturally).
Paean to Wilson is the 26th Durutti Column studio album, and the first to be recorded since its subject’s passing. It’s also the best thing Reilly has delivered for 20 years. His music has always had an elegiac quality, expressed through virtuosic fretboard cadences, delayed and filtered into fractals of emotion. It’s a crystalline, empyrean, yet inexorably human sound that proves a perfect, poignant medium with which to salute a dead friend.
There are voices aplenty here, too, including Wilson’s own dulcet tones on the opening Or Are You Just a Technician. Here, a line from an early Durutti Column interview is chopped and looped against itself – a la Steve Reich’s phase pieces – before receding beneath Chant: a sultry, minor chord requiem for jewel-like guitars and haunting female ululations. Wilson appears again at the album’s conclusion, this time ranting about the widening poverty gap and New Labour’s abject failings. It’s curiously affecting.
Elsewhere, we get pretty, Penguin Cafe Orchestra-like whimsy (Quatro), Phil Manzanera-esque guitar exoticism (Requiem), cheery World Music samples (Stuki), exquisite nylon string guitar etudes (Catos Revisited) and even some dextrously filleted passages from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (Brother, The Truth). It’s messy, uplifting, confounding, beautiful and just a little bit bonkers. Somewhere, you suspect, Tony Wilson is nodding along, approvingly.