Oliver Lowenstein, "A New Career In A New Town"

MELODY MAKER, ca. November or December 1978?

Somewhere between Tom Robinson and Henry Cow - "the best underground band in the country".


PEOPLE use common words -- 'apathy', 'dead', and the like -- to describe the current state of play in Manchester. It is said by those who should know, and by those who maybe do, that Manchester's spark and revered vitality has all but burnt itself out. By others it is suggested that whatever apparent scene existed was the fabrication of a few fertile but strategically placed imaginations.

Certainly the motivation, the short era of concerted action, a random pitch into experimentation, and a search, however ill-equipped, for alternatives, has been thrown out with the garbage. Left only for the past to pick up on with a certain untidy disenchantment.

As usual what once ran you up has let you down.

Those who have succeeded, the Buzzcocks, a pop group, and Magazine, another pop group, remain in town, but only physically, No longer are they (wildly) interested in furthering that initial fervour now that commerce has both courted and caught them.

And those who haven't, pass into the past tense with hardly a ripple even, for memory's sake.

The Worst, for example, whose motto, so they say, was "we will never sign to a record company. Neither did they. Or, alternately they have passed along that routine route from interest in the possibilities, to interest in the straight and narrow of a...er...rock career.

The only band, though out of Manchester's vaguely bordered first wave who haven't passed up on their initial ideals, reasons for forming, and on compromise is the Fall - out there with their hopes and intentions intact.

The medium-sized room you enter has no dominant features to capture your immediate attention. Books are an the floor, and records too. Much played, and ill-kept.

On the mantelpiece a postcard is noticed, a portrait of D. H. Lawrence. When, as he returns into the room, you look at the Fall's Mark Smith, the similarity strikes you as more than just possibility.

They, the Fall as a Manchester group, as a name, have been around some time, picking up a shoal of affirmative press clippings along the way. These in turn have conjured up ill-fitting images: far left of Clash-talk, political in subject matter. Countless benefits, as in grim photo stares - something more, no compromise, playing it close, the bare essentials, minimalist, bleak, nightmare-type doodlings.

Initially, in the summer of 77, there was a group of people with roughly similar aspiration to the above. From there on, fired by the new wave, and brought together by shared tastes - the Velvets: Doors, Beefheart, again it was only a matter of time before conception was overtaken by practise, and a band was borne. It was also only a matter of time before The Outsiders, a temporary moniker at most, was ousted in favour of erstwhile bassist Tony Friel's persuasive suggestion of a more evocative title, the Fall, from Camus.

Apart from Mark, the singer and main lyricist, and Friel, that first group consisted of Una Baines, another words person and keyboards player -- of whom much has been written about her feminist intentions; Martin Bramah on guitar (into Richard Hell and his surrounding vibe -- if not the musical results); and a late addition in the form of the drummer, Karl Burns.

Too many arguments, too many divergent thoughts, split this band. Friel, bored with the ensuing direction, left to start another band, the Passage (gathering momentum) whilst Una retrod her steps after experiencing, in sharp focus, the already encroaching music 'scene'.

Despite the various internal difficulties, this version managed, before breaking apart, to make it onto vinyl. Aided by Richard Boon, Buzzcocks manager, both financially and spiritually (belief, care) -- they recorded the until recently dormant single, "Bingo Masters Breakouts".

Since then, and since the split, up until recently, there has been a period of fluctuation, with a merry-go-round of players coming and going, staying a week or maybe two.

Mark says the period was one of re-adjusting thoughts and focuses. A period to pull in the nets, beach boats, until the moment had been weathered, and until a longer-term line up came into place. Until, in fact, Marc -- a former friend, roadie was slotted in on bass, and Yvonne -- a diminutive Nico confidante now on scratchy elemental keyboards -- arrived from the deadends of Doncaster. Both are young -- 16 and feeling their way.

Their second single, "The New Thing", a sly testament to things on the hipper side of the tracks, is also the first vinyl of the new band.

LIVE too, while the group retain the aura of the ramshackle, the spectre of the anarchic, they are beginning to move out of the somewhat limiting variations on a purely minimalist theme. Whether totally successful or not, most of the material is effective and powerful -- though on occasion the sound drops fathoms, into dirgeful mundanity.

Martin apart, the other focal point on stage is, of course, Mark. His movements and expression give his thoughts away; the sham of the spectacle, a disillusion that people can still believe in the shamanism the stage provides.

That he continues to mock -- and so obviously so, rather than resign himself to some particular school of readymade rock poses -- shows of course that he does care. Passionately.

Offstage this latter case is more obvious. Drab, anti-image, a body that fits its clothes better than it suggests, long hair these days (which gets him a lot of hassle from hardcore punks), eyes that light up often, words likewise.

What always sparked his writing in his old songs "Industrial Estate", "Bingo Masters Breakout'', "Steppin' Out", though culled from the drudgery of average life -- was his complete inability to effect change, within that very drudgery.

THINGS have changed though. The Fall have become a fair to middling pop attraction, which lets Mark dabble in new environments resulting in new songs -- "Envy Of The Music Scene", "The New Things", "Mess Of My".

"I am still in a real situation, in a music situation, so I'm not going to write about oppression, stuff like "Steppin' Out", that I used to write about work, and how I resented it. When you get in different situations you should write about them.

"The music scene is just stimulating as any other average working environment. The possibilities are endless, I thought I'd it difficult, but..."

COMPROMISE is the other theme in Mark's mind. He worries a lot about it -- that if he is going to get things through, is going to communicate, then a certain level of compromise will ensue.

"I'm pulled two ways. I don't agree with Tom Robinson singing anti-sexist songs against stale old Chuck Berry riffs. That's farcical. But I also don't agree with Henry Cow singing political tracts in front of quasi-classical avant-garde music, even though I enjoy it. It's very obscurist.

"ATV get into that a bit too far and it's one of the problems with Henry Cow who says we won't have big publicity, we'll only play in Town Halls and colleges."

They don't remind one of any of those though. Don't remind one of Tom Robinson or Henry Cow, and only slightly of Perry's quartet. The 'ill-fated' Derelicts, perhaps, but the best description I stumbled across was in some Fanzine, "dedicated to the Fall, the best underground band in the country.'' They concur "because the overground won't accept us" -- strangely, unwittingly a Siouxsie reference.