Section 25 \ Biography
Section 25 were formed in Blackpool, Lancashire, in April 1978 by brothers Lawrence and Vincent Cassidy, taking their name from a clause in the Mental Health Act allowing for compulsory detention. Unlike many of their post-punk peers the group survived and even prospered beyond 1982, and in 1984 scored an influential dance hit as well as synthesizing acid house avant la lettre. After a hiatus lasting almost two decades, the band returned to the fray in 2006 and, despite the tragic loss of Larry Cassidy four years later, continue to record and tour.
Between 1973 and 1977 Larry Cassidy studied first law and then art in London, eventually obtaining a first class degree in sculpture from Maidstone College of Art. Returning home after visits to several London punk haunts - and now equipped with a bass guitar - Larry persuaded 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, bass-heavy original material with idiosyncratic covers including Jeepster and Ticket to Ride.
As the Cassidy brothers developed a taste for improvisation, Denton gave notice and was eventually replaced by Paul Wiggin, an old schoolfriend of Larry's. Section 25 subsequently played their first gig at Lancaster City Football Club on 1 June 1978. Over the next year local audiences in Blackpool were exposed to a wealth of now-forgotten songs, including Metro Punk, Wichtig, Easy Jar, Behind Every Dream, Car Crash Wreck, Fast Parts, Blinkered Paradise, Movie Star, Never Lose Your Nerve and Wide Awake in Anarchy. In truth much of this material was formless punk thrash, although in April 1979 the group obtained an all-important booking at the Factory Club in Manchester, by which time the set included superior numbers such as Knew Noise, Just to See Your Face (aka Dirty Disco) and Girls Don't Count.
The Cassidy brothers also dabbled in gig promotion, and in July 1979 organised an ambitious charity show at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool to mark International Year of the Child. With the Factory connection already established, the band persuaded fledgling Factory artists Joy Division and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to join the bill, and on the night Ian Curtis and JD manager Rob Gretton were sufficiently impressed to encourage Section 25 to make a record. The result was a self-financed session at Cargo Studios in Rochdale in September. "Ian and Rob gave us a lot of encouragement," recalled Vin Cassidy. "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 hepus out with it, which they did. Ian just sort of sat there - 'Sounds alright'. Rob picked the songs he thought we should do." (1)
From the Cargo session Curtis and Gretton selected three strident, astringent tracks - Girls Don't Count, Knew Noise and Up to You - for release on Factory, although financial pressures at the label meant that the single would be delayed until July 1980. As a result, a new track recorded some months later became the first Section 25 song to appear on record. 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 several other Northern groups such as Clock DVA, Wah! Heat, Modern Eon and Music for Pleasure. Ironically, one of Section 25's weakest recorded tracks earned them a favourable notice from Kevin Fitzgerald in 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." (2)
Sadly, this initial burst of enthusiasm from the fourth estate would prove short-lived. Although Section 25 had yet to release a record on the label, Factory's limitless critical kudos (and close relationship with London booking agencies such as 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 many of their later British dates, the eager trio also travelled back and forth to London to open for acts as diverse as Toyah, Classix Nouveaux and The Cure, as well as playing two dates in Scotland with Talking Heads on their Fear of Music tour in November 1979.
Together with Joy Division and a cast of thousands, the group also performed 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. Further dates with Joy Division at the beginning of 1980 included a Lyceum show (also featuring A Certain Ratio and Killing Joke), a combined encore jam at Malvern Winter Gardens in April, and a role in the infamous riot at Bury Derby Hall. However a benefit for Manchester fanzine City Fun 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."
Section 25 also appeared at the Moonlight Club in London on the first of three Factory nights in April 1980, which were in effect media showcases for the national music press. Sharing a first-night 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 NME scribe 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."
At the end of April Section played their first overseas show, performing at the Plan K venue in Brussels with A Certain Ratio. Back home, the press were scarcely kinder when the band played at the Scala Cinema later that month, in company with Ratio, Durutti Column, Blurt and Kevin Hewick. For 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 long-delayed single produced by Curtis and Gretton (credited as 'A Fractured Production') finally emerged in July 1980 as FAC 18 on 7" only, with Girls Don't Count as the lead track. The record was housed in a novel tracing paper sleeve designed by Peter Saville and Ben Kelly, and assembled in a workshop for the deaf. 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)
Others drew unfavourable comparisons with Public Image Limited. 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 this driving, Krautrock-y dance track as early as July 1979. On the vexed PiL question, Factory director Tony Wilson was quick to jump to the defence of Section 25 in March 1980, after the editors of City Fun declared that SXXV, Ratio and Joy Division all sounded alike. "Section 25, for starters, are nothing like ACR or the JDs. 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 [released] 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 per cent of other bands (100 per cent 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, with improved sound quality. The new edition appeared in a trio of different sleeves (all 'horrendous' in the opinion of Wilson), each graced with a photograph of three different girls: Angela Cassidy, Jenny Ross and Julie Waddington. Angela (later to join the band herself) was the brothers' sister, while Jenny and Julie were girlfriends to Larry and Paul respectively.
Even with their single finally available, the London press remained largely hostile to Section 25. The band again shared a London bill with ACR and Blurt in August 1980, this time at the Music Machine. For Sounds, Nick Tester complained: "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 dryly uninspiring. The chances they take are limited."
In truth, early live performances by Section 25 tended to be static and austere, and with few records available to counteract a generally negative press, Section 25's relative ubiquity in 1980 was perhaps both a blessing and a curse. Furthermore the late Ian Curtis was no longer around to set about hecklers and critics with his fists, as at a Factory New Year party in 1979. Nevertheless, the turnaround began that summer with two new tracks which marked the group's first substantial collaboration with producer Martin Hannett.
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 progression from FAC 18. Rather than appearing on Factory proper, or holding the tracks back for the first album, the single appeared in October as the third release on a new venture, Factory Benelux. Equally fine singles by A Certain Ratio (Shack Up) and The Durutti Column (Lips That Would Kiss) were also donated to Factory's Continental cousin, although this was hardly a reflection on the quality of the music on offer. Besides which, in 1980 a foreign release on a label based in Brussels afforded a certain aspirational cachet.
Sharp-eyed observers noted that the sand dunes on the Benoît Hennebert-designed FACBN 3 sleeve resemble an armpit when viewed upside down. Despite such intrigues, reviews still tended to be negative, with NME again 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."
In October and November of 1980 a Factory package tour featuring A Certain Ratio and Section 25 traversed mainland Europe. The trip included dates in Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Dan Haag, Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin. ACR and SXXV were joined by Vini Reilly for three of the eight dates, and by The Names in Brussels. An insightful essay by Larry Cassidy written on his return to Blackpool is included in the sleevenotes to the CD release of Always Now.
Following this continental outing Jon Hurst quit as soundman for ACR and took over behind the board for Section 25. Hurst moved his eight-track recording equipment into the band's Blackpool warehouse facility SSRU (aka Singleton Street Rehearsal Unit), and would play a decisive role in shaping their sound over the next two years. An improvised SSRU track, Red Voice, had already been donated to the Blackpool Rox EP, a project organised by fellow Blackpool band The Membranes and released in August 1980. Now the band set about perfecting material for their first album.
In February 1981 Section 25 cut their debut album Always Now at Britannia Row Studio in London, with Martin Hannett once more producing. While tracks such as Dirty Disco, Friendly Fires (originally titled 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, although out of step with the prevailing musical climate of 1981, were perfectly at home in the studio constructed and owned by Pink Floyd. According to Joost Niemoller 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 slender, improvised tracks such as Inside Out and c.p., Always Now was a bold and highly original album, only the absence of Charnel Ground and Haunted denying it truly classic status. It's worth remembering, too, that Larry was a first class sculptor, and that as released FACT 45 was as much an art installation as an album. The release of Always Now was delayed by the lavish Peter Saville packaging. Constructed in the form of a waxed card pochette, and with a marbled interior printed under licence from a French supplier in Rouen, the album 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 and quickly sold its initial run of 10,000, despite a dearth of reviews in the UK. However, the high cost of the packaging meant that what was actually a strong-selling independent album took some 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 be produced by Martin Hannett and have their artwork done 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."
A clip for New Horizon was later included on pioneering Factory video compilation, A Factory Video. While at Britannia Row, Section 25 took time out 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 that would remain a staple of their live set until the following year, was also cut at Britannia Row, but left off Always Now. Another album outtake, Human Puppets, remained unissued for two decades.
In July 1981, one month before Always Now finally reached the stores, a Euro-friendly version of Dirty Disco was issued on Factory Benelux (FACBN 5), re-named Je Veux Ton Amour after Larry dubbed 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 flip, the title now translated into Hawaiian, becoming Oyo Achel Ada.
During the first half of 1981 Section 25 also recorded a large number of semi-improvised tracks at SSRU, which would form the basis of their second album, The Key of Dreams. Recorded between gigs throughout 1981, these jams reflected the improvised element of their live shows. Indeed guitarist Paul Wiggin would suggest that Section 25 improvise every gig from beginning to end, although prudently this idea was vetoed.
Wiggin's 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, and instead swallowed up most of their fee by travelling overland. With a North American tour already being planned, this fear of flying made his departure from the group inevitable. Tony Wilson failed to recruit then-unknown teenage guitarist Johnny Marr as a replacement, leaving the Cassidy brothers in musical limbo.
Abandoning much of the existing live set, Vin and Larry prepared for a European tour with Crispy Ambulance backed by tapes and an extra percussionist, John Grice. Following a date at the Boulevard Theatre in London on 16 December, the group visited Belgium, Holland and Germany in January 1982, the set now including new songs including Trident, Consequencer (aka Sakura), The Beast, God's Playground and You Leave Me No Choice. However the embattled band ran into problems after just two shows when Grice, a newcomer to the rigours of touring, suffered a panic attack and was flown home. Fortunately, Crispy Ambulance drummer Gary Madeley stepped in on drums and keyboards, and the show at Bochum Zeche saw both bands jam together on five numbers, including spirited versions of Girls Don't Count, Haunted, The Beast and God's Playground. Performances by both groups from this memorable tour are documented on the albums Fin (LTMCD 2302) and Live In Europe and America 1982 (LTMCD 2312).
The Key of Dreams was eventually released by Factory Benelux (FBN 14) in June 1982. Edited down from over five hours of SSRU material, the nine slices of narcotic, modern psychedelia were mostly loose and unstructured, with titles such as The Wheel and Sutra hinting at an interest in Buddhism. Sutra provided a clear centrepiece, being a 15 minute jam that evoked Pink Floyd's extended live excursions on Ummagumma, or Can and Neu! at their most hypnotic. As the Cassidy 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." (5)
The album earned a 5 star review in Sounds, and cult Washington DC band Unrest later offered the supreme tribute by covering There Was a Time (as Lost Innocence) 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."
In February 1982 Section 25 undertook a short seven-date tour of the American East Coast, still using backing tapes but now joined by percussionist Lee Shallcross. The itinerary comprised shows in New York, Trenton, Washington, Hoboken, Boston and Philadepia. A review of the Washington DC 9:30 Club date on February 13th by Jerome Wilson, published by The Offense Newsletter, records: "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 swepthat 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 somepople, 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."
Plans for a live album culled from these dates for Factory US (FACTUS 9) petered out, although a CD based on this project eventually surfaced in 1997 (LTMCD 2312). Although strong, and imaginatively mixed by Jon Hurst, the new set suffered due to the rigidity imposed by its reliance on backing tapes, and the tour cost the group £800. Interviewed in 1985, again by The Offense, the band 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."
In fact the band were far from idle. In March 1982, the reflective Hold Me was recorded at SSRU, and donated to Hours, a compilation on Dutch label Plurex in May. In April a new EP was recorded for Factory, lead by 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 obvious single material, The Beast was complemented by two impressive mixes of Sakura, together with a tense, bass-lead instrumental, Trident, recorded in New York on the American tour.
Crucially, Hold Me and Sakura marked the groups' first tentative forays into electro territory, the latter's chattering sequencer line having been concocted by Jon Hurst and Bernard Sumner of New Order during an all-night session at SSRU. Another strong track written during this transitional period later emerged as Warhead. May 1982 saw Section 25 play a headline London show at The Venue, while The Beast emerged as a 12" EP (FAC 66) in July. However a degree of ennui had set in. The restrictions imposed by performing live as a three piece with 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 several problems were compounded by the departure of Jon Hurst (and his recording equipment) later in the year.
A caustic review of FAC 66 in NME served 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."
Whereas other Factory cold wave bands such as The Names and Crispy Ambulance elected to split towards the end of 1982, Section 25 chose instead to revolt into style. Concluding that they could no longer remain 'punks', but rejecting a change of name, the brothers invested in new Roland technology and recruited Larry's wife Jenny Ross to play keyboards and sing. The new kit was funded with profits from a highly successful New Order show in Blackpool in August, booked and promoted by the band. Taking their lead from Sakura and Hold Me, further synth-based material was composed and aired at several dates in the north-west of England, as well as 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 material unveiled a spiked synth-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 in December at Amazon Studio in Liverpool, with Bernard Sumner producing. Still a trio onstage, Section 25 premiered an embryonic electro set at The Haçienda club in February 1983, performing Beating Heart, Loving No-One, Days Pass By, Warhead, Trident, Firefly and Sakura. Despite the promising new music the date was poorly attended, and although Warhead was deemed fit for inclusion on the Factory Outing video (FACT 71), the group promptly cancelled further live work to concentrate on further refining their new musical direction. Tracks from the gig are included on the archive CD Deus Ex Machina (LTMCD 2316).
Beating Heart and Back to Wonder took giants step toward accessible pop, and were released as FAC 68 in June on 7" only, a 12" version being cancelled only after test pressings were produced. On any reckoning this was a poor call, since the longer version of Beating Heart made extensive use of a novel 'squiggle' effect discovered by Vin Cassidy on a Roland TB303, the significance of which will be discussed in more detail later. Certainly the group's belief that the 7" format would secure more radio-play, and perhaps even a hit, was ill-founded: it didn't, and it wasn't. Quite probably, Factory could ill afford to release more than one format, since The Haçienda was still swallowing up vast sums of money.
During the first half of 1983 the core quartet of Larry, Vin, Lee and Jenny worked up new material for a make-or-break third album. After demoing six tracks at local studio Park Lane, Factory sent the band to record From the Hip at residential studio Rockfield in August. Again produced by Bernard Sumner, the eight-track album was subsequently mixed at Revolution in October, and released in May 1984. FACT 90 marked a bold foray into the commercial zone, and as tracks such as Reflection and Looking From a Hilltop clearly demonstrated, Section 25 were now chasing mainstream success with a vengeance. Explained Vin: "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."
While lighter in tone than their previous recordings with Martin Hannett, Jenny's fragile vocals casting a gossamer veil across the new ambient synthpop textures and techno-trance, From the Hip also found room for harder-edged electronic excursions, notably Beneath the Blade and Program For Light. Indeed FACT 90 was a bona fide concept album, tracing a journey from confusion to enlightenment (at least according to Larry), although wisely this aspect remained obscure. For Sumner, however, a prolific in-house producer for Factory at this time, From the Hip was a different sort of watershed. "It's OK doing it because although all the groups are skint, you learn a lot and you're helping somebody. But the Section 25 album made me realize just how much time and energy it takes to work on someone else's record. If I was going to put so much time and so many ideas into something, it was going to be my own songs."
So strong was interest in From the Hip that the album was licensed in eight different territories worldwide, including Japan, Canada and the United States. Oddly, in Brussels the album would appear not on Factory Benelux but Crepuscule sublabel Another Side. A BBC radio session was also recorded for the David Jensen show in June, featuring Warhead, Looking From a Hilltop and Reflection, but in Britain press reviews were few and far between. Only NME found space to praise the new direction: "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."
In updating their sound and image the band had moved with the times, and scaled mountains. Yet where Cabaret Voltaire had been showered with praise for blazing a similar trail the previous year, not everyone was readily converted. Neither NME or Melody Maker troubled to review the album, while in Sounds, Dave Henderson sniped: "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 arrived housed in a sublime, colour-coded sleeve designed by Peter Saville, with typography by Trevor Key. The front cover consisted of coloured poles arrayed on a bleak hillside in the Snowdonia National Park. The genesis of this striking 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'."
From the Hip was performed live for the first time in Blackpool and Manchester in December 1983, with Jenny Ross now the focal point of the band onstage. From May 1984 onwards Section 25 performed as a five piece, following the addition of sister Angela Cassidy, who adopted the pseudonym Angela Flowers.
In August the group played at Riverside Studios in London, as part of a prestigious Factory season which also included dates by The Durutti Column, Quando Quango, 52nd Street and Kalima. Section 25 shared a bill with Stockholm Monsters on the 15th, screening 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 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) remodelled Looking From a Hilltop as a proto-techno single, FAC 108. On release in June these much extended 'Restructure' and 'Megamix' versions met with considerable success, particularly on import in North America, where Hilltop broke as a club hit in New York. The single also received radio airplay, and succeeded in crossing over to black stations in Chicago. Repeated listening more than a decade later serves only to reinforce the Michigan Daily's impression of 'pure sonic capability', as would later sampling of the track by The Shamen (1992) and Orbital (1993).
The surge of interest triggered by both the single and album enabled Section 25 to visit Italy again in December 1984. In January and February 1985 a second American tour was undertaken, comprising 16 dates including Boston, Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Minneplis, 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 comprised From the Hip in its entirety (less Desert) together with an electro re-boot of Dirty Disco and (on occasion) the prototype Bad News Week. Highlights from sets at Baton Rouge and Los Angeles appear on the archive CD From the Hip/In the Flesh (LTMCD 2325), while the Minneapolis show is preserved on the DVD So Far (LTMDVD 2429).
Crucially, the keyboard, sequencer and drum machine parts were extensively developed for live performance, with the result that Beneath the Blade, Program for Light and Looking From a Hilltop now featured hard sequencer patterns and the piercing Roland TB303 sound later typical of acid house. Vin Cassidy had stumbled across the remarkable effect by accident early in 1983, deploying 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 toured it across most of the major cities in the United States.
Undoubtedly some in the audience took note, as New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones recalls of the show at Danceteria. "I went there to see The Treacherous Three, missed them and instead saw Section 25 playing to fledgling B-boys in the downstairs space. I'd never heard drum machines through a PA and had no idea how punishing they could be. I couldn't hear a single word but I couldn't get their weird sound out of my head. The next day I brought the only Section 25 12-inch I could find, Looking From A Hilltop (Megamix). Backwards drum machines flew out like sparks, but crazy funky, like someone here had programmed them, not some... some foreigner. The whole thing floated in the fjord between the icy Factory scene in England and uptempo NYC edit tracks by Big Apple Productions and The Latin Rascals. Charging and droning, Hilltop blowing my tiny mind."
By the time the taxing tour reached New York, Section 25 had become mired in trauma and familial crisis. "We had a near-death experience in Chicago," Vin Cassidy recalls, "after we lost control of a hire car on an ice-covered freeway. It just spun round and around and around. Then Larry ran out of clean laundry and had to turn his trousers inside out. Unfortunately the lining was light pink and the brand name, Hardcore, was stamped all over the legs. I'm not certain if this enhanced his credibility with punters or not."
Had Section 25 released the 12" remix of Beating Heart in 1983, and applied this revolutionary new sound sparingly to From The Hip and the Hilltop single the following year, history might have been different. As it was, the group were left feeling frustrated for different reasons. "The campaign [in America] for From the Hip wasn't really organised properly," offered Vin. "he 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."
On their return from the States, the group played a one-off date in Paris in March (their sole French performance), and another at Glasgow Maestros in May. The set now included Crazy Wisdom, a wistful pulse-scape already recorded in April for single release, and again produced by the Sumner/Johnson production team. Also cut was a punishing electro remake of Dirty Disco and the pastoral Guitar Waltz, written by Jenny with Lee Shallcross, and puzzlingly described in the press release as 'post-holocaust techno folk'.
This slightly over-produced single finally appeared on 12" only through Factory Benelux (FBN 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 troubled support slot with New Order at Preston Guildhall on 22 October, and a headline performance at London Hammersmith Clarendon on 3 November, with Stockholm Monsters and new Factory band Happy Mondays. Already the live set was much changed from that toured in North America, and now included an accomplished cover of The Model by Kraftwerk, tight instrumental Slinky and the poppy Sweet Forgiveness. In the wake of the American tour, Section 25 had hoped to land a dfeal with a major label. Indeed had the group recorded a fourth album in late 1985, it might have comprised Slinky, Crazy Wisdom, The Guitar Waltz, Bad News Week, Sprinkling Petals Into Hell, Sweet Forgiveness and The Model. The this might have lacked the killer single punch of Looking From a Hilltop, if produced by Martin Rushent or Zeus B. Held it could have been the equal of From the Hip. But it was not to be, and interest from Island, Elektra and Polygram Canada ultimately came to nothing.
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, opted not to tour the cutting edge American 'acid' set in Europe, and released no new material for more than a year after hitting their stride was due as much to bad luck than poor judgement. It hardly helped that the band lacked proper management, and had leapt ahead of their time quite by accident. With Looking From A Hilltop Section 25 had reached a pinnacle, but found view the view obscured by clouds. Crazy wisdom indeed.
Although knocked sideways by the fragmentation of the group, Larry and Jenny Cassidy elected to carry on alone, and 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. Larry told facfacts at the time: "Me and the engineer, Phil Ault, arepoducing. He's been doing it for years... Some of it we recorded in December 1984 - four backing tracks, I think. We're going to record another four tracks. We've got ten numbers together."
The four instrumental tracks previously recorded in demo form by the five piece line-up became Bad News Week, Car Crash, Last Man in Europe and Sprinkling Petals Into Hell. Only two numbers - Conquer Me, and Shit Creek/No Paddle - on the resulting album were wholly new compositions by Larry and Jenny, the latter succinctly summing up the predicament faced by the pair following the split. Of the others, Sweet Forgiveness was another track composed by the quintet, and Warhead an even older recording from a radio session. The album was completed by a reading of Erik Satie's Gymnopedies, a favourite of Jenny.
On completion in May 1986 the Park Lane tapes were passed to Factory. The lacquers appear to have been cut at London studio Townhouse in October or November, but then - nothing. According to Larry, the label claimed that it had mistaken the tracks for demos, although this seems unlikely given that it was promptly dispatched for mastering. In truth, the finished album betrayed its shoestring budget and hurried ten day schedule, and Factory were reluctant to release it. As a result Love & Hate would be delayed for more than a year.
Thankfully, obliging Bernard Sumner was on hand to remix Bad News Week as a high BPM single. Just ahead of the appearance of New Order's fourth album Brotherhood, two mixes were completed at Yellow 2 in September, although these stripped away much of the melody and drive of the album original in favour of a harder rhythm track and treated guitar powerchords. September 28 saw Section 25 perform a final, one-off gig with poet John Cooper Clarke at a small Blackpool venue, the Tache. Comprising Dirty Disco, Gymnopedies, Friendly Fires and Sprinkling Petals Into Hell, this live swansong could scarcely have been more obscure.
Bad News Week (FAC 157) did not appear until May 1987, and was marred by disaster. Priming a joke that misfired badly, Factory's publicists informed trade paper Music Week that the new Section 25 single was a cover of a 1965 hit - (Good News Week) by industry pundit Jonathan King. King's publishers Jonjo wasted no time in claiming that the Section 25 composition was an unauthorised pastiche of the earlier song, and that the first five lines of the lyrics infringed their copyright. The dispute was mediated by the MCPS, though not before all copies of FAC 157 had been recalled by the distributor, and Section 25 obliged to sign over 100 per cent of the publishing to Jonjo Music and Mr King.
As a result, Love & Hate (with labels suitably amended) would not be released by Factory until March 1988. Quite apart from appearing two years late, almost in secret, in a below-par sleeve, the long delay meant that the quality of the pressing also suffered. Moreover with little or no promotion, the world had forgotten about Section 25, and publicity for FACT 160 was limited to a single, incomprehensible review in Melody Maker by Jonh Wilde. Despite its mixed pedigree, however, there is much to like about the album, and in Bad News Week, Sweet Forgiveness and Sprinkling Petals Into Hell the record contains three bona fide gems. Nonetheless, Love & Hate stood as an obscure and uneven epitaph, full of lumps and holes.
In 1991 LTM Recordings issued the bulk of the Section 25 back catalogue on compact disc, with Always Now, The Key of Dreams and From the Hip appearing in September of that year. Factory collapsed with debts of £3 million shortly after. A proposed fourth disc, based on the shelved Factory US live project from 1982, was not followed through to completion, eventually appearing in 1997 as Live in America and Europe 1982. Other archive sets including DVD So Far and an improved Love & Hate followed, and in time brought about a long-overdue critical re-assessment of the band's place in post-punk culture.
Spurred by this renewed interest, core members Larry, Vin and Jenny regrouped in 2001, joined by guitarist Ian Butterworth (formerly with Factory band Tunnelvision) and multi-instrumentalist and engineer Roger Wikeley. Although work on the new album was set back by the untimely death of Jenny Cassidy from cancer in November 2004, the group began gigging again in May 2006 and have since visited France, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Dublin, London and Poulton-le-Fylde. A new studio album, Part-Primitiv, was released in 2007, together with a live DVD, Communicants, filmed at various shows, including their triumphant homecoming gig with New Order at Blackpool Winter Gardens on 16 October 2006. The band saw out 2007 with a packed 'Factory Night' at Plan K in Brussels on 15 December (together with Crispy Ambulance, The Names, Kevin Hewick and Peter Hook), and a placing for From The Hip in the Guardian list of 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die.
On 20 June 2008 the group performed a 30th anniversary show in their Blackpool hometown, supported by Tunnelvision, and gifted an exclusive CD to the first 50 punters in attendance. This event was followed in November by a short European tour with Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order, performing in Paris, Brussels, Oss and Krefeld. As well as playing a set of Section 25 songs (with new bassist Steve Stringer), the group were joined by Hook for a set of early Joy Division/New Order songs including Ceremony, Warsaw, Love Will Tear Us Apart, No Love Lost, Dreams Never End, Shadowplay, Ultraviolence, Interzone, She's Lost Control, Doubts Even Here and Temptation. Later, Hook would expand and improve on this project with his own band, The Light. Section 25 finished 2008 with a Christmas show in Blackpool on 19 December, with Hook again guesting, and three tracks of the deluxe Factory: Communications 1978-92 box set released through Rhino/Warners.
In June 2009 Section 25 released their sixth studio album, Nature + Degree, featuring new bassist Stuart Hill and with guest vocals on four tracks by Bethany Cassidy, daughter of Larry and Jenny. Steve Stringer now moved on to guitar. Self-produced, this well-received set again combined electro, postpunk and post-rock styles, and was launched with an appearance at the WGT festival in Leipzig. In October the group performed at the Part-Time Punks festival in San Francisco and Los Angeles along with The Raincoats and Savage Republic, as well as Milan, and on 12 December another acclaimed Factory Night at Plan K in Brussels with A Certain Ratio, The Wake, Biting Tongues and The Names.
Tragedy struck Section 25 on 27 February 2010 when Larry Cassidy was found dead at his home in Blackpool, aged just 56, having suffered heart failure brought on by a blood clot. His crowded funeral at St John the Evangelist RC Church in Poulton-le-Fylde was deeply moving, and attended by several Factory workers including Alan Erasmus and members of New Order, A Certain Ratio and Tunnelvision. Touching obituaries also appeared in the national and music press, a deserved degree of attention which Larry would have greatly enjoyed. At the time of his death work was almost complete on a new Section 25 album, Retrofit, featuring updates and re-imaginings of ten classic SXXV tracks with Larry and Beth sharing vocals. Retrofit was finished in June, just as detailed Factory history Shadowplayers was published, with a dedication to Larry, along with a handsome vinyl edition of Always Now via American company Drastic Plastic.
Retrofit was released in September 2010, with a sleeve designed by Beth Cassidy and featuring vintage collage work by Larry in the booklet. As well as fresh versions of nine SXXV classics, the album featured new track Uberhymn and an excellent nine minute remix of Looking From A Hilltop by Stephen Morris of Joy Division/New Order. Like the album, live shows by the new group showcased a more electronic direction, commencing in Leicester on 16 September and also visiting Blackburn, Manchester and Vienna before the end of the year. 'Retrofit is born from their invigorating live set,' Mick Middles noted in The Quietus. 'Compelling use of technology to lift them (almost) free from the familiar shards of 80s underground. Shockingly, this new attack works. It's impossible not to hone in on the sharp remix of Looking from a Hilltop, twice featured here although the it is the closing number, re-touched by Steve Morris, that truly sets the tone for a Euro-tinged future. There is more. Dirty Disco is a near perfect evocation of the darkness of English small-town hedonism while Garageland, again, is carved from northern existential wandering. All this tightening appears to have tugged the band into a sense of Now, even if their sometimes clunky musicality remains gloriously at odds with the contemporary norm. If that sounds rather confused, so be it. But, as ever, it is a rare and workable confusion'
In 2011 the band released a download-only EP, Invicta, through Haçienda Records, and closed the year with dates at Salford Lowry (with Peter Hook & The Light) and BIM Festival in Antwerp along with Front 242, Severed Heads and Clock DVA. Recording of a new studio album commenced in March 2012, with a deluxe double vinyl edition of From the Hip emerging on a fleeting new iteration of Factory (once again as FACT 90) in May. Early 2013 saw the release of eighth studio album Dark Light on Factory benelux (FBN 145). Produced by the band with Outernationale, and featuring new member Jo Cassidy, the mood was one of bouyant pop. A limited 7", My Outrage, was issued for Record Store Day in April, and like the parent album was sleeved by Peter Saville.
June 2013 brought remix album Eigengrau on Austrian imprint Klanggalerie, featuring radical new versions of tracks old and new by luminaries such as 23 Skidoo, Renaldo and the Loaf, Stephen Mallinder, Samy Morpheus, zoviet france and Portion Control. 'We think that Section 25 are not only known and loved in the postpunk scene, but also in the avantgarde and Industrial genres, so we asked some great bands from those scenes to remix classic SXXV tracks,' the label explained. 'The result is an incredible variety of styles and approaches. The postpunk roots are still present and correct, but the collaborators have taken their songs to a new level where avantgarde meets rock and electro.' Eigengrau, incidently, is a German term for dark light.
Official SXXV website www.section25.com.