Founded by the Cassidy brothers Larry and Vin, SECTION 25 first came to wider attention with the acclaimed album ‘Always Now’, which was released on Factory Records in 1981 and produced by Martin Hannett.
However, the band became best known for their seminal electro classic ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ in 1984, when Larry Cassidy’s wife Jenny Ross joined the band and featured on lead vocals.
Sadly the husband and wife team passed away in 2010 and 2004 respectively. In a fitting gesture, Vin Cassidy recruited his niece Bethany, daughter of the departed SECTION 25 couple to join the band full-time alongside regular guitarist Steve Stringer and bassist / porgrammer Stuart Hill.
Bethany had already featured on SECTION 25’s 2009 album ‘Nature + Degree’ and possessed a vocal style that was eerily reminiscent of her mother. ‘Retrofit’, a 21st Century reworkings album released after Larry’s passing included a new updated version of ‘Looking From A Hilltop’, produced by Stephen Morris from NEW ORDER.
But the new SECTION 25 era was heralded in 2011 with the release of the ‘Invicta’ EP via Fac51 The Hacienda, an imprint started by estranged NEW ORDER bassist Peter Hook.
It featured ‘Colour Movement Sex & Violence’, a danceable synth led ditty which captured that classic hedonistic Manchester vibe and recalled THE OTHER TWO’s ‘Tasty Fish’. Also featuring on the EP was a slightly more aggressive number entitled ‘Inner Chaos’; both songs were a sign of things to come.
Using a title and photo given to them by Factory graphic designer Peter Saville, the band had always intended to have the word ‘Light’ in the title to reflect the poppy nature of the record. But SECTION 25 had a wider reputation for darker, heavier music, so the title was an indicator of their change in direction. ‘Dark Light’ was also a technical term for the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness, so it matched Saville’s Polaroid image which was used on the artwork.
Largely co-produced with Alan Gregson and Derek Miller aka OUTERNATIONALE, ‘Dark Light’ was a ten track set that signalled a spiritual return to the technopop flavours and pastoral textures of ‘From The Hip’. With the addition of another Cassidy in Joanna on backing vocals and keyboards, SECTION 25 transformed themselves into something almost as glossy as MARSHEAUX or MARNIE, certainly when compared to the raincoat demeanour of ‘Always Now’ or even the more optimistic Bernard Sumner steered opus ‘From The Hip’ from which ‘Looking from A Hilltop’ spawned.
On the opening song ‘World’s End’, the gentle sequencers and soothing synths recalled the more ambient elements of ‘From The Hip’, and introduced Bethany’s sweet vocals as a more raspy version of Lauren Mayberry from CHVRCHES.
Following the sedate start, a dynamic punch in the face came courtesy of the feisty ‘My Outrage’. Crossing supreme pop with a post-punk sensibility, this was a prime girl power anthem signalling that 35 years after their formation, SECTION 25 now had the potential to appeal to a multi-generational audience.
The excellent ‘Pitch Black Box’ was a cool and bouncy dance track in the vein of NEW ORDER, with sax lines making the overall sound unusual yet familiar. Seductive Blackpool accented spoken vocals provided another enigmatic counterpoint, coming over like how LITTLE BOOTS should have sounded with her more club-focussed direction, post-‘Hands’. The lyrics certainly expressed some flirty assertiveness, with a call to “be abusive, intrusive, corruptive…”
‘Love Cuts’ took a rumbling machine bass and solid beat to provide a stern groove while with a less intense and looser rhythm construction, ‘Colour Movement Sex & Violence’ worked well in its new format, although its appeal was not quite as immediate as the original radio friendly single take. However, the propulsive female/ male vocal duel of ‘Inner Drive’ became more accomplished its dreamier ‘Dark Light’ version and realised its potential.
Like a North-by-North West REPUBLICA, ‘78’ took on a rockier stance coupled with a Eurodance flavour, while held together by a percussive mantra, ‘Letter to America’ was more sinister, with Steven Stringer’s deadpan male voice providing opposition to the more innocent female vocals. Curling with rhythm guitar syncopating over a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Memento’ kept the album’s consistent club friendly vibe going before the final song ‘Early Exit’.
A melancholic number featuring great live drums from Vin and coloured by a mood of reflection possibly in reference to Bethany’s parents, this was undoubtedly another of the album’s highlights. Full of hope despite the sadness, ‘Early Exit’ was a fitting album closer in the euphoric vein of NEW ORDER’s ‘Dream Attack’ or listening today as a more recent reference, ‘Superheated’!
Utilising live and computerised instrumentation coupled to a vibrant freshness thanks to the new blood, SECTION 25 evolved while literally retaining its core DNA. A fine addition to the Cassidy Family tradition, with its defiant sense of optimism and willingness to move on, ‘Dark Light’ certainly merits investigation by anyone remotely interested in quality synthpop.
‘Dark Light’ was released by Factory Benelux and is available direct from http://www.factorybenelux.com/dark_light_fbn145cd.html
SECTION 25 play at The Islington in London on Saturday 30th April 2016
Text by Chi Ming Lai
23rd February 2016