Sunlight to Blue …

A Burning Shed recommendation this week: Sunlight to Blue … Blue to Blackness, a 2008 album by The Durutti Column.

The band’s name has always puzzled me. It turns out to come from an anti-fascist military unit in the Spanish Civil War under the leadership of one Buenaventura Durruti. (Although the commander’s name is spelt with two ‘r’s and one ‘t’, the names of the column and the band have one ‘r’ and two ‘t’s.)

Durruti’s men marched from Barcelona, intending to take Zaragoza from General Franco’s Nationalist rebels. A force of 2500 left Barcelona, gathering supporters as they marched. By the time the column reached the outskirts of Zaragoza, their number had increased to 6000. There they paused, uncertain of their tactics. Historians note that Durruti’s Republican forces were stronger, but lacked weapons and supplies. In time, however, General Franco was able to bolster his forces and plans to reclaim the city for the Republicans had to be abandoned.

The Durutti Column suffered huge casualties in a later battle for Madrid and was eventually absorbed into the regular army’s 26th Infantry Division, fading from history as a separate unit.

Quite why this military band inspired the name of a musical group remains unclear to me. Nevertheless, in 1978 two former members of the punk band Fast Breeder, Chris Joyce (drums) and Dave Rowbotham (guitar), became The Durutti Column. They were soon joined by Vini Reilly (guitar), Phil Rainford (vocals) and Tony Bowers (bass). Rainford was replaced by Colin Sharp after only a few months.

The new band played some gigs and recorded two tracks for the first release on the Factory Records label, a double 7″ vinyl compilation of songs by four separate artists. The day before they were due to record their first full album, Rowbotham, Bowers and Joyce left the band and formed The Mothmen. Sharp also left, leaving Reilly the only member of the group; and, to this day, The Durutti Column remains a solo project by Vini Reilly.

Vini Reilly

So, The Durutti Column is Vini Reilly. But who is this guy? He’s a classically trained pianist and virtuoso guitarist. He writes instrumentals and songs that are variously described as post-punk, indie and alternative, but there are clear influences from classical, folk, rock and jazz in his compositions. The research material at Crotchety Mansions is extremely thin, amounting to just the Sunlight to Blue … Blue to Blackness album featured here and a few half-remembered fragments. Reports from other writers suggest that there is a considerable variety of styles in the Reilly catalogue, so this blog post probably doesn’t do him justice.

Let’s get the ears tuned up with a song that first appeared on The Durutti Column‘s second album, LC. (‘LC’ stands for Lotta Continua, a far-left paramilitary organisation in Italy formed in 1969.) This YouTube video of Never Known provides the original version from 1981. Sunlight to Blue … has a slightly stripped-down version, which doesn’t quite have the same allure, but it’s still a rather pleasant pop song.

There are two other tracks on the Sunlight … album that I would describe as pop songs (So Many Crumbs and Monkeys! and Head Glue). Six of the eight remaining tracks are solo guitar instrumentals. There is also one piano instrumental (Ananda) and one piano-led band instrumental (Grief).

Here’s Messages, one of the guitar instrumentals (augmented by chimes and harmonica), to illustrate Vini Reilly’s relaxed compositional style:

And, to complete the picture, this is the piano instrumental, which takes us firmly into classical and film score territory:

For a project born in the days of raw punk, these are exceptionally refined and melodic pieces. Vini Reilly has never been afraid to plough his own furrow, drawing on his classical training and finding inspiration from all aspects of life to create an art form all of his own. Emotionally, he may have travelled from sunlight to blue and, perhaps, even from blue to blackness, but he has given us plenty of music to savour.

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