Last month, Jez Kerr, the lead singer and bass player of A Certain Ratio, released a new album “Numb Mouth Eat Waste” under his own name; I went to the Manchester launch gig on September 10th 2011 at Night & Day on Oldham Street.
The event was quite sparsely attended, in spite of Jez Kerr’s numerous long-standing connections with the Manchester music scene.
The sound quality was very good; in particular Jez’s voice was clear and warm-toned, sounding better than it sounds on his new album.
I saw A Certain Ratio perform quite a few times from the mid ’80s through to the early ’90s. They used batucada/samba style ensemble percussion for several numbers back then, and there were usually woodwind and brass players on stage. Jez’s new band consists of just himself, Keo Martin (guitar/keyboard), Gareth Smith (keyboard) and Simon Wolstencroft (drums).
Jez Kerr – Rip You Right Back (Track 1)
There is a notable lack of Jez’s jazz-funk bass riffs in the new material, which were a hallmark of the ACR sound which I remember. However, many of his new songs contain simple phrases and signature arrangements which are very reminiscent of ACR’s sound.
In particular, Track 8 “And Gone” recalls previous ACR compositions, with its horn/woodwind melody playing alongside the main vocal, followed by a haunting, ethereal female voice singing a simple melodic theme.
ACR signature vocal phrasing and arrangements can also be heard on the album’s elegaic last track ‘Into Sunlight’.
Curious about some of the similarities between Jez Kerr’s new work and ACR’s material, I dug out my ACR vinyl to find out which band members wrote which songs but drew a blank… because the entire band is credited for all ACR’s song-writing.
So in this respect Jez’s relationship with his new band is fundamentally different from his relationship with ACR, because he is individually credited for almost all the writing on his new album.
Jez Kerr’s band played all new songs for the first two thirds of the gig, followed by a few ACR numbers at the end, finishing with “Won’t Stop Loving You” which was never a favourite of mine. I always acknowledged its “perfect-pop-song-ness” but found it just a bit too sweet.
But on September 10th, I enjoyed hearing the song; it’s overt poignancy seemed fitting for once, given that I was hearing it for the first time in such a long time, and it was being performed live, next-door to Dry Bar, where I heard the record played over and over again, circa 1990.
There is a more beautiful song on the new album: Reason I Feel Like An Alien.
After the gig I contacted Jez, via the magic of the internet, and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions:
How does your new project differ from your work with A Certain Ratio? Is it purely a different group of people with whom to collaborate; is there a different creative process; is there a different set of aims in mind?
The new project, is just that – new. ACR play on average 7 times a year, and I really needed to play more, so I put together an album and found myself some musicians, and now we have a band. No aims, except to make happening music. Creative process is always changing.
Does the fact that your new band is performing under your own name mean that your relationship with the other band members is very different from your relationship with ACR band members?
My relationship is different because I’ve known ACR for 30 years. My new project is in early stages but will find its own place. I write lyrics and vocal melodies and use whatever groove is best. The reason it’s under my own name is because I couldn’t come up with a band name; that may change.
Your album is called ‘Numb Mouth Eat Waste’ – a stark bleak title, even by ACR/Factory standards… what does it mean?
It’s a play on North South East West. It’s a line from an ACR song ‘My Spirit’ on To Each.
The music on your new album (and the art work) remind me of ACR output during the 80s, the time when I was most familiar with your work. Are you consciously revisiting the style and aesthetic of that period with your latest work?
Where music is concerned I try not to do anything conciously. A friend put the artwork together; my only input was the title and cover, with the help of Grace Collins. Too much conscious effort tends to produce tired and overworked music. Much better the flawed masterpiece created by an error or irregularity.
During the mid-late 80s, without analysing it, I considered New Order and ACR to be most representative of the Factory image (of the bands on the record label.) My idea of Factory’s image at that time was very cool, austere, above the fray; clever – but also a bit cold.
Perceptions of Factory are often misguided. I have seen and heard so many crazy theories about the meaning of this, the significance of that. One maybe, right one maybe wrong but actually, who cares. Is it a good song? Are the band worth watching? Do I like this?
Did ACR go along with the Factory in-house style because it was there and it was obviously interesting, or did ACR feel completely in tune with the Factory in-house style, or did ACR dictate their own image very consciously?
Nobody knew what they were doing,
I suppose what I’m asking is, do you think ACR might have had a very different image if the band had been on a different record label?
Maybe, but I don’t think the band would have lasted long. The image might have changed but I don’t think the band could’ve changed to suit it. We may have made wrong decisions over the years (many) but they are our mistakes.
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I presume Jez’s last statement is a reference to A Certain Ratio’s lack of major chart success, in spite of their longevity, creativity and productivity.
We definitely took ACR for granted in Manchester in the ’80s and ’90s. I think we thought of them as New Order’s poor cousins; they didn’t have the cash for big budget videos – but they were accomplished musicians and played much better live gigs, and with such regularity that we forgot to savour the experience… expecially as clubbing took over from going to see live bands as the main pre-occupation within the city.
ACR were over-exposed locally… and probably under-exposed everywhere else. They became part of the scenery… and we forgot how good they were because they were always here.
And then everyone became obsessed with who and what would be ‘the next big thing’… as if Manchester had become some enormous catapult for launching people into the stratosphere, with everyone feeling that something must have gone wrong if this didn’t occur on a regular basis…
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ACR are playing Band On The Wall on 11/11/2011 and 12/11/2011 and the Friday night concert is already sold out!
There’s a very interesting Jez Kerr/ACR interview here at www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk.