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Vini Reilly and the widespread influence of his work

Vini Reilly is a genuine anomaly when it comes to the world of music. This is because he is both revered by those in the know, and overlooked by those who aren’t fully aware of his band, The Durutti Column, and just how significant their position in contemporary music remains. 

It is one of music’s greatest mysteries how Reilly can be lauded by some of the best in the game – such as Johnny Marr, John Cooper Clarke and many others outside of the orbit of Manchester’s music – but is so often overlooked by everyone else. 

In many ways, he is a best-kept secret, and normally musos would be happy about this position, with the normies keeping their grubby mitts off such a treasured musician. However, given The Durutti Column’s cult following, Reilly’s life headed in a direction he does not deserve. In short, this status has been a blessing and a curse. 

Reilly suffered three life-altering strokes in 2010, before which he had been living almost broke for an extended period, and this left his nephew to lodge an appeal on the internet for donations as he had debts for unpaid rent from the time between the strokes, and finally receiving disability benefits after a protracted fight to get them. Ironically, it was only when a worker at the Job Centre realised he was Vini Reilly from The Durutti Column that he was able to secure them, as he pointed out in a candid interview with The Quietus in February 2013.

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If he wasn’t Vini Reilly in that chance encounter, he’d have continued to be just another disabled person not getting the money they need to live with even the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a damning indictment of this country and a stark reflector of the paradoxical world of The Durutti Column frontman. 

Fans sent £3,000 within a day of the appeal, and Reilly was able to pay off his debts, reportedly saying that whilst he was “embarrassed” about the help from fans, he felt their generosity had “lifted the weight of the world off his shoulders.”

Hearing of such a master musician existing in such a state, with the strokes leaving him not being able to play the guitar in the way he had before, can only truthfully be described as a tragedy. He is one of the finest guitarists of his generation, ranking at the very top of the pile alongside John McGeoch and Johnny Marr. The unmistakable tone he configured on the six-string incorporated jazz, folk, and classical to make a minimalistic sound that made him stand out from the crowd and establish The Durutti Column as real innovators.

His guitar playing style is like nothing else out there, and it remains as refreshing as it was when the band first broke through with the 1980 debut The Return of the Durutti Column. In addition to the brilliance he delivered within the confines of the band, with cuts such as ‘Sketch for a Summer’ and ‘My Country’ displaying his genius as a guitarist and composer, his status has also been confirmed by his work with other artists such as Morrissey, John Cooper Clarke, and Pauline Murray. 

Famously, Reilly arranged the music and played the lead guitar on Morrissey’s first post-Smiths album, 1988’s critically acclaimed Viva Hate appearing on classics such as ‘Suedehead’, ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ and ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’. Even more notably, Reilly and the band were the first signings onto Tony Wilson’s game-changing Factory Records label in 1979, before the likes of Joy Division and A Certain Ratio. His skill as a guitarist and composer was there for all to see, so of course, Tony Wilson came knocking. 

It is reflective of Reilly’s self-effacing Mancunian way that he describes much of his work as “shit”, which could not be further from the truth. It is a testament to his work that aside from being drafted into work with some of his most prominent contemporaries, such as the former Smiths frontman, two of music’s most lauded figures who hail from outside of Manchester have showered tremendous praise on his work.

Brian Eno, the most cerebral man in music, who is partially accountable for the greatest periods of Roxy Music, Talking Heads, U2, and many others, once named The Durutti Column’s second album, 1981’s LC, as his favourite of all time. Following this, and augmenting this status, is that esteemed composer and master of the clean tones of the Fender Stratocaster, John Frusciante regards Reilly as “the best guitarist in the world.”

The Durutti Column’s music has found a special place in the hearts of Millennials and Gen X as of late, helped by his brief cameo and mention in films such as 24 Hour Party People and the hazy yet minimalist essence of his work, which fits in perfectly with the current zeitgeist. Adding to this resurgence is that culture also has one eye on only the most interesting moments of the post-punk movement, of which his are the highlights.

From Black Country, New Road to the likes of Khruangbin and Tom Misch, either directly or by proxy, Reilly’s work is as alive as it’s ever been, and rightly so. He deserves as much of the limelight as possible, as he’s worked long and hard enough for it. 

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