In the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, Factory Records founder Tony Wilson (played brilliantly by Steve Coogan), refers to A Certain Ratio as “Joy Division with better clothes.” Whether those words were actually ever said in real life, it still perfectly summed up the band’s position in the post-punk hierarchy.
Though over the years their dark, brooding Anglo-disco/funk earned them essentially permanent cult status (the title of their debut album, The Graveyard and The Ballroom, perfectly summed up their aesthetic), it was an extremely loyal cult—whose devotion apparently remains undiminished to this day. And ACR will always have one of the most tellable stories: on the occasion of their first US gig, at NYC’s legendary Danceteria, Madonna opened for them.
After an 11 year recording hiatus, the band that the Guardian‘s Dave Simpson once called “James Brown on acid,” returned in 2008 with Mind Made Up. They eventually signed to Mute in 2016, and released a 40th anniversary box set in 2019—which was followed this June by the new single “Always in Love,” their first in 12 years. And on September 25 will at last arrive their anxiously awaited new album, this one amusingly titled ACR Loco. A raft of guest musicians includes Gabe Gurnsey of Factory Floor and Mike Joyce of The Smiths, and the record also notably features some of the last vocal work by exalted Primal Scream singer Denise Johnson, who passed away suddenly in July.
And to fete the release of their 11th album, on the 25th ACR will play it in its entirety at Manchester’s Hope Mill Recording Studios, for a virtual event pithily titled An Evening with A Certain Ratio. An ACR Soundsystem DJ set + Q&A will accompany. Tickets can be purchased here.
But looping back around to the celluloid Wilson’s comment about the quality of the band’s sartorial acumen, ACR have indeed been both venerated for, and rightly questioned about their fashion choices over the years. So we asked them to pick six particularly natty moments, and to (mostly) also remember who actually snapped the notorious photo. It was worth it for the image of them in full Brazilian football getups alone.
A Certain Ratio’s Six Greatest Fashion Moments
Demob Suits (pictured above)
Photo by Kevin Cummins, 1979
We used to buy all our clothes from second hand or charity shops back then, and for years we never bought any new items of clothing. Most of the stuff then was post WWII, and just before this photo was taken, we used to buy demob suits, which were double breasted suits with baggy trousers issued to soldiers after [leaving active duty]. This photo was taken shortly after our full demob look, and slightly later it developed into more of a military look. Donald was more into the lumberjack style at the time and looked more like Billy Cobham than Billy did. This photo was taken at our old rehearsal room we used to share with Joy Division behind the Rialto in Salford.
Khaki Shorts + Shirts
Unknown Photographer and Gig (Possibly the Electric Ballroom), 1979
This is Simon in our khaki shorts and shirt outfits that we were famous for at the time. Contrary to popular belief, Tony Wilson did not choose the outfits for us, he just let us loose in Laurence Corner in London before a gig at the Electric Ballroom; we went on a shopping spree, and did the gig in these outfits. Tony also didn’t apply Tan-fastic to us, it was actually a couple of girls we met in the ladies’ toilets who did that. The venue wasn’t open, and the reason we were in the ladies’ toilets was because the mens’ toilets did not have mirrors back then. Little did we know that the venue had just opened and these girls walked in while we were applying fake tan and saw us struggling. They asked, “would you like us to help you?,” to which we replied, “of course.”
Manchester’s First Boy Band?
‘The Flight’ Photo Sessions, Photo by Daniel Meadows, 1980
This is the photo of Donald that was taken as a series of single shots for the sleeve of the “Flight” 12” single. We all had to go to Tony Wilson’s hairdresser to have our hair done, which was a real uncomfortable experience, because we usually had our short back and sides at a barbers for about 50p I think. The hairdresser blow dried our hair, which we really didn’t like, and we spent ages trying to undo his styling. Then to top it off, it was tops off for the photos in true Salford style. Tony thought Donald should remain clothed and loaned him his scarf, camo jacket and some sunglasses. He ended up looking like a really cool freedom fighter from the ‘70s, and we all ended up looking like Manchester’s first boy band.
Brazilian Football Club?
ICA London, Photographer Unknown, 1985
Did you get the yellow tee and shorts memo? We were into Brazilian music and liked the Brazilian football team’s colours, as you can see. Andrew Connell, who went on to form Swing Out Sister, always wore a Brazil shirt during this period.
Photo Shoot by Paul Husband, 2018
We had our photos taken at a friend’s workshop, he collects old Cold War military equipment. We found these welding masks and signs, and this is our Daft Funk look.
Also Starring Barry Adamson
London Islington Assembly Hall 2019, Photo by Richard Stickley
How do you make ACR look super cool? Simple: invite Barry Adamson on stage with you. This is him joining us for his song “I Got Clothes,” which we reworked for him—this is the only time ACR and Barry have played this version live. Barry and Martin must have spoken beforehand about which hats to wear. The photo also includes our beautiful Denise with her classic tambourine pose and in all black with her Adidas Gazelles.