The Durutti Column are an English post-punk band formed in 1978 in Manchester, England. The band is an ongoing project of guitarist (and occasional pianist) Vini Reilly who is often accompanied by drummer Bruce Mitchell.
The band played at the Factory club (organised by their managers), and recorded two pieces for the first Factory Records release, the compilation A Factory Sample (a double 7" also featuring Joy Division, John Dowie and Cabaret Voltaire). Just prior to recording a debut album, the group broke up after a dispute about Wilson and Erasmus's choice of producer, Martin Hannett. Most of the other members apart from Reilly went on to form The Mothmen, and Joyce and Bowers later became members of Simply Red.
The Durutti Column effectively became Reilly's solo project from then on; drummer Bruce Mitchell and other musicians have occasionally contributed to recordings and live performances, and Mitchell and Wilson managed the group throughout their career on Factory and for many years afterwards.
The band's name is derived from a misspelling of the name Buenaventura Durruti, who led a column of anarchists during the Spanish Civil War (the Durruti Column). A 1967 Situationist International poster included the phrase "The Return of the Durutti Column", which eventually became the title of the group's first album.
The first album, The Return of the Durutti Column (1980), was a collaboration between Reilly and producer Martin Hannett. Initial copies featured a sleeve made of sandpaper (assembled by various Factory associates, including — according to Wilson — Joy Division ). This, like the title of the record, was inspired by a Situationist joke, a book — Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle — with a sandpaper cover to destroy other books on the shelf. The music was unlike anything else being recorded by post-punk acts at the time; although Reilly identified himself as a "new wave" artist, the record contained nine gentle guitar instrumentals (later releases occasionally feature Reilly's soft and hesitant vocals). The music included elements from jazz, folk, classical music and rock. Hannett's production included the addition of electronic rhythm and other effects, including birdsong on "Sketch for Summer". The album was accompanied by a flexidisc with two tracks by Hannett alone.
LC ("Lotta Continua", Italian for "continuous struggle") was released in 1981. It was recorded without Hannett, but introduced percussionist Bruce Mitchell, Reilly's most frequent musical partner and occasional manager. The EP Deux Triangles, released in 1982, contained three piano instrumentals with minimal backing and no guitars. Another Setting (1983) was also just Reilly and Mitchell, but in 1984 the band was expanded with the addition of Richard Henry on trombone, Maunagh Fleming on cor anglais and oboe, Blaine Reininger (of Tuxedomoon) on violin and viola, Mervyn Fletcher on saxophone, Caroline Lavelle on cello and Tim Kellett on trumpet. The album Without Mercy, arranged by John Metcalfe, was intended as an instrumental evocation of the poem La Belle Dame sans Merci by John Keats.
Kellett and Metcalfe remained as members of the band (Metcalfe playing viola); they appear alongside Reilly and Mitchell on Circuses and Bread (released by Factory Benelux in 1985) and Domo Arigato, a live album that was recorded in Tokyo and was the first pop album to be released in the UK solely on the relatively new compact disc format.
Kellett left to join Simply Red, but has a guest appearance on The Guitar and Other Machines (1987), the first UK album to be released on the unsuccessful Digital Audio Tape format (as well as the more usual LP, audio cassette and CD). The Guitar and Other Machines has a far more direct sound than earlier records, with guest vocals from Stanton Miranda and Reilly's then partner, Pol, and the use of a sequencer and drum machine in addition to Mitchell's drumming. The album was produced by Stephen Street, who also produced Morrissey's solo album, Viva Hate (1988), on which Reilly played guitar.
Vini Reilly (1989), also produced by Reilly and Street, features extensive use of sampling, with looped samples of vocalists (including Otis Redding, Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox and Joan Sutherland) used as the basis for several tracks. Initial copies came with a 7" or CD single, "I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong", credited to "Vincent Gerard and Steven Patrick", in which a take of the Morrissey B-side "I Know Very Well How I Got My Name" dissolves into laughter after Reilly hits a wrong note.
On Obey the Time (1990) Mitchell played on only one track, the album being otherwise a solo recording by Reilly, heavily influenced by contemporary dance music. An accompanying single, "The Together Mix", featured two reworkings of album tracks by Jonathon Donaghy and Suddi Raval (Donaghy was killed in a car crash in Ibiza before the single was released). This was to be the last Durutti Column record released by Factory, in early 1991.
For the first few years after the demise of Factory, the only Durutti Column album releases were Lips That Would Kiss (a 1991 collection of early singles, compilation contributions and unreleased material on the separate label Factory Benelux), and Dry (1991) and Red Shoes (1992), Italian collections of alternate versions and unreleased outtakes.
In 1993 Tony Wilson attempted to revive Factory Records, and Sex and Death was the first release on Factory Too (a subdivision of London Records). The album was once again produced by Stephen Street, with Mitchell and Metcalfe, and it included, on the track "The Next Time", Peter Hook of New Order. Time Was Gigantic ... When We Were Kids, which followed in 1998, was produced by Keir Stewart, who also played on the album and has frequently worked with Reilly since. Fidelity was released between these albums in 1996 by Les Disques du Crepuscule and was produced by Laurie Laptop.
The eight albums recorded for Factory (The Return of the Durutti Column, LC, Another Setting, Without Mercy, Domo Arigato, The Guitar and Other Machines, Vini Reilly and Obey the Time) were re-released with additional material by Factory Too/London, under the banner Factory Once, between 1996 and 1998.
Factory Too effectively ended in 1998, and subsequent Durutti Column albums have been on independent labels Artful Records (Rebellion , Someone Else's Party , Keep Breathing , Idiot Savants ) or Kookydisc (Tempus Fugit , Sunlight to Blue . . . Blue to Blackness ). Kookydisc has also released two further volumes of The Sporadic Recordings (along with a slightly edited re-release of the first volume from 1989), remastered versions of two very scarce LPs from the early 1980s (Live At The Venue  and Amigos Em Portugal ), and two subscription-club discs of rare and unreleased material. A download-only release, Heaven Sent (It Was Called Digital, It Was Heaven Sent), first appeared in 2005 via Wilson's project F4, which was marketed as the fourth version of Factory Records.
In the movie 24 Hour Party People Vini Reilly is show playing to an empty Haçienda (58:30 on the DVD). But on the commentary track Tony Wilson makes it clear that this is a "bit unfair" of a joke because Vini had a "real audience": "you can take him to Portugal and you get two thousand people, you can take him to Paris and you get eight hundred people, and in Manchester you get five or six hundred".