A Certain Ratio (the name is a pointer to a Brian Eno song) formed in Manchester in 1977.
The band’s original members were Simon Topping, Martha Tilson, Jeremy Kerr, Martin Moscrop, Donald Johnson and Pete Terrell, though the band often had a flexible line-up for live performances.
In 1979 they released the cassette-only album The Graveyard And The Ballroom (including one side each of studio and live material) and a debut single, All Night Party.
They used an increasing amount of electronics throughout the 1980s to become more of a dance floor oriented band, much like Factory labelmates New Order.
The punk and industrial grind of their early live shows soon became more danceable and funky. Their second single – a mournful cover of Banbarra’s feisty northern soul classic Shack Up – even reached the American R&B Top 50, although the band were initially criticised for their ‘style over substance’, as great attention was paid to the band’s stage clothing and album artwork, all carefully orchestrated by Tony Wilson.
The proper debut album To Each . . . appeared in 1981 and was produced by the band and the legendary Martin Hannett. Mixing funk, Dub, percussion and electronics to create a truly unique sound, the album was instantly hailed a classic. Dense and claustrophobic, it was also ACR’s darkest album.
It was released shortly after the suicide of Ian Curtis, and the band were immediately pounced upon for allegedly trying to step into Joy Division‘s shoes (and take their sizable audience with them).
Joy Division seem to be an inescapable reference point when describing the music of A Certain Ratio. Both bands were from Manchester, both were signed to Factory Records and both played dark post-punk music. The similarities between Simon Topping’s and Ian Curtis’ singing voices are also unavoidable.
Some accused the band of affecting fascist overtones, but 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. Andy Connell joined the group as keyboardist, replacing Peter Terrell.
Frustrated with their 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. The group fared no better with A&M, however.
The full-length Good Together was released in 1989 and the mini-LP MCR followed one year later, but the band moved to old friend Rob Gretton’s label (Robs Records) by 1991.
The final album, Up in Downsville, appeared in 1992. Creation Records later acquired the rights to ACR’s back catalogue and released a remix album with help from Manchester alums Graham Massey, Electronic, the Other Two and Sub Sub, among others.
Jeremy ‘Jez’ Kerr