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Though formed in Manchester's late-'70s punk scene, A Certain Ratio used an increasing amount of electronics throughout the '80s to become more of a dancefloor-oriented band, much like Factory labelmates New Order. The group (whose name is a pointer to a Brian Eno song) was formed in 1977 by vocalists Simon Topping and Martha Tilson, bassist Jeremy Kerr, guitarist Peter Terrell, and guitarist/trumpeter Martin Moscrop — drummer Donald Johnson later joined as the drummer. New Order manager Rob Gretton was impressed by early live shows, and spread the word to Tony Wilson, who signed A Certain Ratio to his fledgling Factory label and became their first manager. In 1979, ACR released the drummerless "All Night Party"/"The Thin Boys," their debut single, and recorded the studio and live sides that were released the following January as The Graveyard and the Ballroom.
The punk and industrial grind of ACR's early live shows soon became more danceable and funk-inspired — second single "Shack Up," a Banbarra cover, even reached the American R&B Top 50. The proper debut album, To Each..., appeared in 1981 and was produced by the band and Martin Hannett. The following two albums, Sextet and I'd Like to See You Again (both 1982), expanded A Certain Ratio's sound further, encompassing Latin and jazz elements. But Tilson left the band in 1982, and Topping opted out a year later, leaving vocal duties to Kerr and Johnson. Also, Andy Connell joined the group as keyboardist, replacing Peter Terrell, yet he left within three years to form Swing Out Sister.
Frustrated with its lack of commercial success, the group recorded just one more album for Factory, 1986's Force, though the company released a singles compilation (The Old and the New) around the same time. The next year brought Live in America (on the independent label Dojo) and a major-label contract with A&M, where they fared no better; the full-length Good Together was released in 1989, while ACR:MCR followed one year later, and neither release left much of a commercial impression. The band moved to old friend Rob Gretton's label, Robs Records, which issued Up in Downsville in 1992. Creation Records later acquired the rights to ACR's back catalog and released a remix album, 1994's Looking for A Certain Ratio, with help from Manchester alums Graham Massey, Electronic, the Other Two, and Sub Sub, among others.
After a five-year hiatus, A Certain Ratio returned in 1996 with Change the Station. Although the band did not release another studio album for over a decade, much of its discography was reissued throughout the early 2000s on the Soul Jazz and LTM labels. Mind Made Up, technically the band's ninth studio release (counting The Graveyard and the Ballroom), was released in 2008 on the French label Le Maquis. As funky as any of their prior releases, it featured the vocals of longtime collaborator Denise Johnson on three songs. The band took a similarly funk-infused approach — again featuring Johnson on some tracks — with 2010's Mind Made Up. ~ John Bush & Andy Kellman, Rovi
1977 in Manchester, England
'70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s