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Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Jez Kerr, A Certain Ratio

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Jez Kerr from atmospheric Manchester experimentalists A Certain Ratio

1: What Factory number is your debut album ‘The Graveyard and the Ballroom’?

“I think it’s FACT 16-C.”

CORRECT.

“It’s only because I’ve just been posting about each track and giving a brief description – I wouldn’t have known otherwise!”

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No need for excuses! What are your craziest memories of Factory?

“Probably making the first vinyl release which was ‘A Factory Sample’. They employed the bands to make them. I made about 1,000, and we used to write little notes in them saying ‘Joy Division are shit’ are ‘ACR are great’. (Laughs).”

You shared a rehearsal space with Joy Division who were apparently big practical jokers. What was the best prank they pulled on you?

“When they found a bigger rehearsal room, they left a pig’s head on my amp. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything but I knew something was afoot and saw this gooey pig’s head on top of my amp. I was looking for the light, but they’d taken the fuse out of the lights and sockets, so I was wondering where it might be (Laughs). Then I figured out it was right down the pig’s throat! Another time we visited them in London in a flat they stayed in while recording ‘Closer’. As we were leaving, they’d smeared honey and jam on the door handles of our car, and they were on the first floor and egged us on the street (Laughs). How childish, eh?”

“Joy Division left a pig’s head on my amp for a prank”

For a bonus half-point, the poster for which festival you played at is FAC 15?

“That was the ‘Zoo Meets Factory Halfway’ Leigh Festival.”

CORRECT.

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“That was a chaotic gig – everyone got busted on the way in! There were more police than audience members! (Laughs).”

a certain ratio
Credit: Kevin Cummins

2: Which actor did you upset when you filmed the video to Tribeca?

“Well I know that too. Harvey Keitel.”

CORRECT. He was staying in Robert De Niro’s loft upstairs and the noise was interrupting his romantic dinner with his inamorata.

“People have sworn to me it’s true, but I can’t remember whether I dreamt it or not! I was very polite to him. If I got into a sticky situation, I’d put on a posh accent like the old actor Terry Thomas – it usually got you out of trouble if you just pretended to be a dickhead Tory type person!”

 Any other good encounters with actors?

“I remember blagging a trip to New York and stayed at Morgans Hotel on Madison in the room next to Julia Roberts. She was in the next room with Kiefer Sutherland – who’s a rude fucking dick. I’d heard a story that in LA, she’d gone up to Bez at a party chasing him and he didn’t know who she was, so I started playing Happy Mondays quite loudly in the bathroom! (Laughs) The next morning, they were rowing at breakfast and I just smiled to myself thinking: ‘’What a dick! What are you doing with him?’.”

Talking of the Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder once said of A Certain Ratio: ‘I would go across and write with them and say, ‘What you need is a big pop hit so you can carry on with what you are doing’. And we would come up with something and then I would be out of the room for 15 minutes. I would come back and they had put all the weird stuff on it, which was too much for a pop song…’

“I can’t remember that! If we’d taken his advice, who knows what would have happened! Would you buy a used car from Shaun? (Laughs) A lot of people say ‘You don’t get the credit you deserve’, but fuck off! I’m ancient and still playing gigs and we’re shit-hot – the rest of it is just a load of bollocks.”

 3: Who once said: ‘I didn’t want to be assimilated into the Factory aesthetic. Before we knew it, we would have had side-partings and khaki shorts, with bongos round our necks… No disrespect to A Certain Ratio.”

“(Laughs) I’m guessing that might be James?”

WRONG. It was Johnny Marr.

The Smiths wouldn’t have suited Factory – they were too good! (Laughs) We recorded a version of ‘Shack Up’ in his studio at [Marr’s] old house in Boden [which is on their new ‘ACR:BOX’ compilation]. He’s got so much great gear.”

Ever have any run-ins with Morrissey?

“He used to come to all the early ACR gigs – we all felt sorry for him because he was always on his own. I only met him once – on the stairs of the Haçienda after he’d just moved to London. He was looking really shit (Laughs). I asked him what success was like and he looked pissed off and said: ‘It’s always something else. You’ve got to make up a story every day. (Laughs) He looked very tired.”

“People thought we were a religious sect”

Your style is something that’s mocked a lot in the Tony Wilson biopic ‘24 Hour Party People’..

“Tony had the idea of getting us all khaki – he bought us some shorts before the Moonlight [Club, London] gigs. But we already had camouflage jackets as we’d buy our clothes from army stores because it was cheap. We wanted to look different from punks. But with the weird short haircuts, people thought: what the fuck is this?! Coming home through JFK Airport after we recorded ‘To Each…’, at least three separate security people asked if we were a religious sect! There was no real planning. All the best things happen by accident and Factory was a massive accident – or should I say disaster! (Laughs)”

a certain ratio
Credit: Kevin Cummins

4: What near-impossible request did Grace Jones make when she visited you to work on a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Houses In Motion’ in 1981?

“(Laughs) She wanted to get a bottle of wine in Stockport at midnight on a Sunday night.”

CORRECT.

“She was under a lot of stress at the time. She was doing loads of press and loads of drugs. I’m amazed she kept a lid on it as much as she did – obviously she’d faced a lot of shit over her life being a six-foot black lady with attitude. She’s a great artist – I remember she really liked my haircut (Laughs). We spent Sunday afternoon in Strawberry Studios working with Martin Hannett, and the version that appears in our box-set has my guide vocal on – because our [original] vocalist Simon [Topping] wasn’t there, which Grace Jones was going to re-record over. It’s unfortunate that music industry politics meant it didn’t come off.”

5: Madonna once supported you at the Danceteria in New York in 1982. What type of flowers does she notoriously hate?

“Flowers?! I’ve no idea!”

WRONG. She loathes hydrangeas.

“Fucking hell, who’d bring somebody hydrangeas as a flower? I’m with her on that one (Laughs). You can see her performance at that gig on YouTube – you can’t catch ours though! She blew me away. It was the first time I’d seen a pop act without a band – just her, a few dancers and a backing tape. Everything about it – the vocal, tunes, dance routine – felt modern. I thought: wow, this will be massive. (Laughs) And it was!”

Did she have any diva moments?

“(Laughs) Yeah, a massive diva moment. She wanted us to move all our gear and our roadie – who was quite aggressive and from [south Manchester area] Wythenshawe – said: ‘Fuck off you plank’. His timing was perfect – she shut the fuck up and looked like nobody had said no to her before. (Laughs). Tony Wilson once asked her at a restaurant in LA if she remembered playing the Haçienda and she coldly said: ‘No, I’ve erased it from my memory,’ and turned away. (Laughs) That’ll teach him.”

6: What is the headline on A Certain Ratio’s 1980 NME cover?

“Ahhh, OK, shit! I know the cover – it’s Simon looking at the camera – because it’s in our flat in Hulme. Is it something to do with school exams or O-Levels?”

Clue: it’s a pun on a film title.

“Mean Streets?”

WRONG. It’s ‘The Mancunian Candidate’ (Underneath, it says: ‘A Certain Ratio take the Soul Test – Exam Results Special’).

(Groans) How pathetic! (Laughs) God, you didn’t have good writers in those days! You’ll never work for The Sun!”

7: Which politician’s son started an online petition to make ‘Si Firmi O Grido’ the BBC World Cup Rio 2014 theme tune?

“John Prescott’s son David.”

CORRECT.

“I’ve done a few World Cup songs myself. In the early 2000s, I was doing TV commercials for a company called The Gate in Salford, and Simon Lewis – the company’s partner – had done a little song, so I was writing lyrics for him, including changing [Dexys Midnight Runners’] ‘Come On Eileen’ to ‘Come On England’. I always wanted to be a footballer – my uncle played for Everton for 11 years – and [Manchester] United picked me up when I was 11 and I played ‘til I was 17, when I broke my ankle.”

8: Which Britpop-affiliated band covered ‘Shack Up’ for a Factory themed EP in 2002?

“God, I’ve got no idea! Gay Dad?”

WRONG. It was Bis for their EP ‘Fact 2002’.

“Denise [Johnson, vocalist] is nodding in recognition but I’ve never heard it. But in 2002, I had young kids at the time so my head was up my arse (Laughs). There’s a Korean cover version of ‘Lucinda’ which I quite like.”

 9: What is the name of the actor who plays you in 24 Hour Party People?

“I met him but I can’t remember his name. Obviously he was much better looking than I was! (Laughs)”

WRONG. It was Duncan Whitworth. How accurate is the portrayal of the band in the film?

“I don’t think any of it is totally accurate but it had the spirit. The details are half-truths or mythical, but the vibe of it was right. When they shot the Haçienda scenes, it was eerily like being there. It was so convincing I tried to go to the toilet where the toilet used to be – and it was just a door stuck to a brick wall (Laughs). I appear for 0.5 of a second playing a journalist. Walking up the red carpet at the Cannes film festival premiere with Denise Johnson was an experience. There were all these top-tier movie people sitting next to us – Sharon Stone, Martin Scorsese – and I fell asleep and was snoring throughout the film! (Laughs). We did a gig at the after-party which was all French mafia who wanted us to get off after one song.”

10: You supported Talking Heads in the late ‘70s. Which band were you a replacement for?

The Human League.”

CORRECT.

“They didn’t want to appear onstage. They wanted to do this special artistic show and Talking Heads just wanted a band so that’s how we got that gig. And I’m so pleased we did. We learnt a lot from them. Like buy a tuner! (Laughs) Their sound engineer said of ACR: ‘They had more hang-ups than Tate Britain and they sounded like a fire in a pet shop!’.

David Byrne watched you every night and apparently you influenced Talking Heads’ musical direction…

“Yeah they were really into what we were doing which was funky, clattering and aggressive drums – and we did influence their next album ‘Remain In Light’, which had a lot of similar funky percussion.”

The verdict: 5.5/10

“Brain cells are still intact then! Not a bad score.”

‘ACR:BOX’ is out now and the band continue their 40th Anniversary Tour this winter.

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