Sharoma Section 25

Section 25

Hello Robin,
Your article makes interesting reading and is extremely flattering. A new album is due for release in June.
-Stuart Hill (bassist, Section 25)

Section 25


I feel the need to write this article just to make more people aware of what a great band Section 25 were (or indeed 'are', if they ever release any new material). Yes, I know, you've never heard of them, and that in itself is criminal. I'll assume you share a similar taste in music to me, because you're reading this article. Section 25 produced four albums in the 1980s, all on the infamous Factory label. This was all very good for bands like New Order and the Happy Mondays, but a lot of Factory bands were just as good and yet struggled to even make a living wage. Since Factory rarely bothered with promotion, and when it did it often excelled at making a mess of things, Section 25 are just one in a whole catalogue of bands that never really got the recognition they deserved.

I shall run through their career highlights, but before I do please check out the LTM label's website for a full biography on the band and the chance to buy their CDs. Many thanks to LTM for releasing such wonderful remastered CDs of Section 25's music.


In the shadows

It's quite easy to split Section 25's music into two distinct halves. From their formation in 1977, through to 1982, they were very much a 'guitar drone' punk act, and with producer Martin Hannett were sometimes written off as mere Joy Division sound-a-likes. This claim is perhaps somewhat justified by a few of their tracks, but most of their early work doesn't sound much like Joy Division's. Incidentally, the same people claimed that A Certain Ratio were just another Joy Division. This may be true if you heard 'All Night Party', or even 'Flight', but the rest? Utter nonsense really. And what's wrong with sounding like Joy Division anyway...

"Oh happiness, you always make me laugh."

Always Now

Ian Curtis was perhaps Section 25's biggest fan, and he co-produced their first release, Girls Don't Count, with Rob Gretton. It's a shame he wasn't around to hear the debut album. Always Now is excellent. Tracks like Dirty Disco, Be Brave and Melt Close are stand outs. The whole album is bathed in the same dark and depressing magnificence that JD's Unknown Pleasures is, and the last track New Horizon is simply stunning. Maybe I'm cheating by falling back on Unknown Pleasures for a comparison, but it's a comparison more of greatness than of musical similarity. (The reissue contains even more wonderfully dark and in some cases, frantic music. Haunted in particular is very energetic and reminds me a bit of JD's Ice Age.)

The Key Of Dreams didn't receive a Factory Records release. It was released on Factory Benelux in 1982. It's similar to Always Now, although in its own right is excellent. Some very dark, minimalist and ambient music. Continues slight Public Image Limited similarities that started with Always Now (I am not accusing either band of copying). My favourite tracks are probably Sakura, Hold Me and of course The Beast, which at over eight minutes long is a very dark musical journey that evokes similarities with JD's I Remember Nothing.

Prepare To Live

Although I am very keen on Always Now and The Key Of Dreams, Section 25's latter two albums are by far and away my favourites. Deciding they were tired with the music and related image of the first incarnation, they radically changed style. 1984 saw the release of From The Hip, an album way ahead of its time. Produced by the band and BeMusic (that's essentially any of the members of New Order) it's a wonderful piece of music. From start to finish, eight different tracks, some acoustic, some just electronic, all link up to form a perfect album. The female vocals, added by Jenny Ross and Angela 'Flowers', complement the music perfectly. It's joyous. The Process is a wonderful opener, slow and gentle, and it fades cleverly into the ground-breaking Looking From A Hilltop, which was way ahead of its time, a remix of which (by Barney from New Order and Dojo from ACR) did very well in the American dance charts. Reflection, as I recall reading on the TrouserPress guide, should have been a UK hit single. It's catchy, and once again given so much beauty by the vocals. A personal favourite of mine has always been Prepare To Live, which just seems a very upbeat and catchy song to me. Program For Light is the album's most electronic offering, and is harsh and unforgiving. There's a bit of experimentation for the next songs, before the last in a trio of epic end songs: Inspiration. Very moving.

"A time to taste the fruit... the jewels twinkle in your hand."

That this album didn't chart very highly is in my opinion the biggest crime of Factory records. It was ahead of its time, very influential (whether those being influenced realised it or not) and in its own right, simply a brilliant album. That's before you even take into account the very clever Peter Saville artwork.

Love & Hate

It took me about a year after buying From The Hip before I bought Love & Hate (In The English Countryside), the band's swan-song. I knew I'd like it, but I never realised that I'd like it as much as From The Hip. This time it was just Larry and Jenny; the other members having departed to make a living wage. The sound is a natural progression from From The Hip. Not as cold, not as sharp. Much more warmer, and outside of any Factory influence, it sounds totally unique.

"Don't drag your feet, don't cry for more, just carry me to the other shore."

At the moment of writing I've been listening to it almost every day for the last couple of weeks. A lot of the appeal for me is the wistful melodies and the female vocals. Like the previous album, there's a few different styles on here. The opener - Sweet Forgiveness - I find hard to explain. It's a simple drum track, with instruments layered simply all around, and the focal point being Jenny Ross's heavenly voice; similar to the equally divine Elizabeth Fraser. This comparison can apply to this album as a whole. Certainly both have a folk aspect to their sound. Bad News Week (the subject of Factory-induced controversy) is much better in its album form than Bernard Sumner's remix. It's fast paced and the effect of making Larry's vocal robotic, as though he's listing off bad news from faraway places - "Africa is burning up, water is a precious drop" - adds to the effect. That's as near to the wider issues as the albums gets, perhaps with the exception of Warhead. The album's genius is reinforced by Crazy Wisdom, which was alone on the album in being produced by BeMusic and Dojo and in the words of one reviewer "...wipes the floor with what New Order were doing at the time." Since this was the Brotherhood album I have to agree. Not that I dislike Brotherhood, I just think that Crazy Wisdom is a contender for Section 25's best song.

"Looking for something is a find in itself. Such crazy wisdom destroys my health."

The opening reminds of a certain live rendition of New Order's Procession, and in their pensive nature the two songs are very similiar. Crazy Wisdom continues the ever so slightly oriental styled electronic effects that graced Inspiration. The duet by Larry and Jenny, the warm synth sound, the masterful production. It's a wonderful song.

"As time flies by never to return, that's the hardest lesson to learn."

The instrumental Shit Creek No Paddle, is perhaps a bit ponderous, but it's crafted very well. Another favourite of mine, and another flawless outing for Jenny Ross, is Conquer Me. Again, this album is much more acoustically inclided than From The Hip. Sprinkling Petals Into Hell and The Last Man In Europe are also worth mentioning, both being, like the rest, catchy, excellently sung, with some great lyrics. I read on Section 25's official website that Jenny Ross said she'd like to rework or forget Last Man In Europe. I can understand why. The production may to some ears leave a lot to be desired (as it may for the whole album), but in my opinion it works. This is an album for fans to find themselves, without media guidance, and simply enjoy. I also wonder if the song is about the charater Winston Smith from Orwell's 1984, since 'Last Man in Europe' was the book's working title.

"Stand in the wind, and the rain, let it splash again. Your ecstatic expression, nothing but compassion."

Love & Hate is a superb album, though I suggest any newcomers listen to From The Hip to begin with, as it's more accessible. Not surprisingly, Love & Hate was virtually ignored when it was finally released in 1988 (it was actually finished in 1986). We could blame Factory, but then again, it says a lot about the British public that the only number one Factory managed was a song about football.

Back To Wonder

The remastered CDs of all Section 25 albums contain lots of extras that merely reinforce the original albums. These are in the form of deleted singles, demos, remixed versions and rarites. There's also full liner notes. What more could you want?

"The hills look so far away, oils painted recklessly. The trees they all paisley try, we change gear and drive on bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye..."

2007 Update: Part-Primitiv

Well, they're back. One of my favourite bands reunited this year to tour and release a new album, entitled, fittingly, Part-Primitiv. I'd go as far as saying it's their best work yet. It's damn good. It combines elements of all their previous output wrapped in a wonderfully mastered modern sound. It's crisp, clear, angry and aggressive, yet it maintains those precise electronic elements and fractured vocals that are the band's trademarks. It even features artwork in the vein of From The Hip, down to those minimalist coloured dots. Jenny Ross tragically died in 2004, but luckily two of the songs on the album feature her voice. Annoyingly, the music world seems to be ignoring Section 25 once again. I waited two months before ordering it and was surprised when I still received one of the first 100 signed copies. C'mon people, it's probably the best album of the year. Go and buy it!

2010 Update: Retrofit

SXXV have released two albums since I wrote this page. See my review of the latest!