Ian Penman, "All Fall Down"

NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS, January 5, 1980, pp. 6-7


JUST ABOVE my typewriter on the mantlepiece is an eye-catching tube of 10 orange flavoured effervescent tablets. Each tablet contains 1 g orange flavoured concentrated Vitamin C or, more exactly, '1 g ascorbic acid BP (Vitamin C) and flavouring'.

The trade mark is Redoxon: these tablets were Made in Switzerland for Roche Products Limited Welwyn Garden City England.

Earlier this year, Mark Smith added an "ouch!" to Roche and The Fall released a single, with one side celled 'Rowche Rumble'. The doctors need prescriptions / the wives need the pills / for Rowche Rumble. "

The Roche pharmaceutical company are also into the manufacture of 'anti-depressants', you see. I'm told they're the biggest in their field. And I'm not sniffling anymore. So it goes.

HERE WE are again with the problems of producing music, hearing music and writing about same. Here we are again with The Fall, and the problems of writing about their particular point of production. Here you are: not the definitive article.

"With print you substitute an ear for an extra useless eye."

Here we go round the rocky music business. Trying hard to distinguish between 'it' as an institution -- looming large and obviously in our day-to-days -- and it's events: when 'it' happens and what we think.

"Do all these musicians have a social conscience? / Only in their front rooms." Hear we the rock and rockier roles of the interview again? Time to quote Samuel Beckett, maybe: "Starting from a given theme their minds laboured in unison. They had no conversation properly speaking. "Throw in a bit of Burroughs, just for good measure? Well, it is The Fall we're listening to: "... grey and spectral and anonymous, they don't see him and think it is their own mind humming the tune."

Is this, in short, another branch on the tree of showbusiness?

Smith's voice of Fall answered. The weight of the dreary grey matter fell on his shoulders, fallen from on high, through a checkerwork of starry, showy leaves. And the Fall's voice, though distorted and begrudged, tidied and reviewed, began to make sense.

I sat down and I heard. The tape spools went around and around and we whistled in the dark, went off for an evening's drinking, smashed some mirrors and sped home to some Roche.

This white crap, this Fall, do indeed talk back. Up in their North, there is no shining EXIT sign; no chips in the wage packet. Another dusty Autumn, another loving Winter, another ... The Fall. Five times Fall. Times various signs. Signatures, in fact, of those things I am here hopefully to cross through if not out. Falling through a very short space of time, through times of haste. On. Over the printed furrows; our face in creases.

Quite an expressionless face. But at the same time such an arrogant one. Hard to ignore, very hard, in fact. But then, most People only know this face's publicity, not its endearing turns. Nor its vulnerability.

And here issues forth a description, though I must say I am continually quizzing myself and others do it for me, also -- as to the relative worth of (such) description. This has recently come close to putting me off altogether. Pressured into explaining, describing, listing, transcribing, putting oneself at the centre of, bemoaning, becoming, being. Bored. Oh, to rise above mortality, this scuzzy business of employment, or rather, of being employed in the busy business of enjoyment. Up, up and away into the urbane reality of the written and how it is 'actually' read.

Listen, you hear? On the one hand, a proposition such as The Fall, on the other such doleful music press hacks and cultural consumerist quacks as practice little more than daily breadwinning, more concerned with the width of a riff than the quality of language. Eat your peanut butter boogie. Go on, I don't care.

Ach, but I do! "But I push push push push / Roll the bones and the poison dice / No time for small moralists." Or smug, ex-Art minimalists. Or furry socialists. Or matching mods. For the rest .... let hear / see who will. Behind you, always, perhaps, some .... "The old golden savages / Killed their philosophers / Their thoughts brought the drought about / (Something followed me out)." In other words ....

The conversation at this party is always so choc full of Old Age Popsters: a conversation in cold storage, "still the spirit of '68" as sez PiL, same old anecdotes, dozey notes padding around and around and around and around. Same home movies, week after week, and they don't even move. That's the worst thing. Same scenes; same dialogue, same ways of seeing the world: interview meeting place, watering hotel, etc. Popster script writer meets Popmsr singer songer fax info gee you don't say....very much... do. . you ? 'I used to believe everything I read / But that's all changed / Now I'm stepping out. "

Maybe we'll actually get rid of the '60s in the '80s.

"Detective vs. Sector (possessed by Spectre) / Spectre blows him against the wall. Says:/'Die wretch this is your fall /I've waited / Since Caesar for this. Damn Latin my /hate is crisp I'll rip your fat body!"

There could be displaced themes in that. My interpretations could be along the lines of: the "Detective" stands for an investigative, empirical world view; i.e., a journalistic approach, wherein asking a question and that question answered is a process which automatically signifies the 'truth' about the proposition being dealt with: print and digest: don't digress.

The "Detective" / journalist has its place in contemporary mythology: hard bitten existential hero: independent, ethical, alone, cynical. But, obviously, it relies entirely upon other people's private life to make a 'living'. The fabled 'romance' of this occupation is a hollow one, especially when you work for multi-national corporations and not in Philip Marlowe's office.

"Rector possessed by Spectre" is musical space, potentially in the grasp of innovation. "Damn Latin" is journalese, a decrepit kind of linguistic communication only kept alive in certain inward-looking, backward-thinking, self-righteous establishments.

"Spectre vs. Rector start one. The Rector lived in Hampshire. A spectre was from Chorazina. Evil dust in the air. The Rector locked his door."

This is my Fall ....

NOT THE Fall located purely, obstinately within rockin' role's 'natural' ideological scheme of things, which is endlessly traditional -- a practice that works only within the limits of some loosely assembled "reality" -- not what 'ought to be', only 'what is'. The specific activity of most journalism being not an adjustment to a perceived equilibrium, but the maintenance of existing equilibrium within a set traditional framework. . .."Swedish singers / With D.L.T. / The energy vampires / More hands on the tranquilisers / Unholy alliance / Jokes about rape /Fog bound roads / South African heroes.". ...B static, immobile "reality"; rather than a relation of forces in continuous motion and shift.

Right. I've over used my words. Thus to pieces of conversation. Convention. Interests directed toward musical Production that necessarily include pertinent categories of knowledge.

Right. I've cluttered that up. Thus to people in the conversation. Five Falls and a manager: six, like dice. Some people have been 'in' The Fall longer than others, but only in an extremely formal sense is there a 'new lineup'.

Following the departure of Martin Bramah and Yvonne Pawlett, The Fall could be seen to consist of: Craig Scanlan (18 years old): electric guitars, left-handedly. Mere Riley (l7 years old): electric guitars from bass ones. Steve Hanley (18 years old): bass guitars, few words. Mark E Smith (22 years old): words, voices, shouting, taping, playing tapes, kazoo blowing, the dirtying of coats. Mike Leigh (23 years old): drumming from bouncing. Kay Carroll (age not known): keeps managing. Right. Start talk. Futures and pasts. Last band, to this. Last first, Smith.)

"It was too fussy, music and relationships. That Lyceum gig" -- the supposed 'Gig of the Century' with Fall, Human League, Gang of Four, Mekons, Stiff Little Fingers -- "I could see it going then, a definite split. Martin was on a different road. Mike was like the strength we needed, we always needed. When Karl (Burns, ex-drums) left and I wanted Mike in there was a lot of opposition, 'cos Mike doesn't play conventionally, he plays his drums, he doesn't knock shit out of them.

"Then we had the six piece (Pawlett still on keys) which didn't really work either, but it was a considerable improvement. The night it came together was at a recent Marquee gig -- tension pulls out the best in us -- like, we expected Yvonne to play that night but she didn't turn up. We just got on with it. 'Dragnet' was recorded -- in a few days -- a week after Yvonne left, and all but two of the 11 tracks were written after Martin had left: playing what someone else wrote can get so stale.

"The band was attracting a lot of elitists, a lot of Eno-orientated crapheads, but with Yvonne going that was the last of it." The servicing of fashion-adaptable mythology is preferred to the deconstruction of popular ideology. Myth-making constantly takes over and over takes ideas, which are vulgarised into a kind of hush puppy 'public philosophy': vistas of common sense argument.

A sediment: the metronome of trends setting sameness: the endless repetition of identical forms: a so called 'mass culture'. Criticism is usually aimed at fixing a meaning, finding a source: an ending, a closure. Such pop(ular) 'fun' lacks edge, open spaces. Knowledge is still considered out of bounds, the spotlight still works and you still have to work in its glare, do what you can.

Smith: "Lenny Bruce used to do it really well, just start chatting and--"

But didn't he have help ?

"Methedrine! Ha ha! No, you can't pin it all on that. He just kept on talking. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to be Lenny Bruce, but trying to get more things in like that, jokes ... like, lots of people can't always hear the Lyrics, and there's a lot of options on the stage and they're not used. That's what I thought was good about Bruce, the way he used to insult his audience almost. You get these 'New Wave' bands: This is our new single, singalong, you know, they build their own traps!"

What about larger audiences, less intimacy and suchlike?

"They vary like any other audience. Like the Lyceum was one big audience: that was like a ritual. There's nothing better than playing to 30 or 40 people. When we did Derby there was about 14 people, and that was great. Then we played Belle Vue with the Buzzcocks to 4,000."

How was the audience at that 'Science Fiction festival', Leeds, earlier this year?

"That was one tenth of an audience: the rest were watching Hawkwind's gear being set up ha ha! We were the only band who did something different with each song, the others were: brrr-stop-clap-thankyou. It was like that Lyceum gig, with all those bands .... I thought I felt some kind of kinship with them. It was such a turning point.

"The Fall sound was a bit different, it was fussy, it was sloppy, it was just starting to come together, people weren't liking it, which was okey dokey. But the other bands were not supporting us, they didn't go on after and say anything, it was, 'Nobody throw cans at us!' The Human League were the nearest, which surprised me, they had a whole lot of guts. The rest....

"The rest were just: HERE WE GO LADS 1-2-3-4!!!"

White crap ... ?

"The 'White crap that talks back' thing was due to people in London being told that people in the North are thick, or warm, friendly people. A lot of bands masquerade, pretend that they're the 'Northern thing'. They don't expect people like us to come out with what we do. We're a 'Manchester' band, but we're not The Smirks or Slaughter and The Dogs, spineless bands who just want to get up on that stage. It goes right back to The Hollies, Herman's Hermits. I mean, nobody takes people like Slaughter and The Dogs seriously: beergut and peroxide and "wock 'n' woll" and coming on all mean, ha ha! "Like Gary Bushell or whoever must have a really hard time interviewing all these bands who have nothing to say. "Wayne stared into space and said, 'The Fall is the sort of music you play to fridges.'.... " Ha ha!

"We've had white crap in this band: breadheads. I mean, like, everybody screaming "it's the record companies, it's the journalists, they're screwing us. But it's not, it's the fucking musicians! If they withdrew none of that could function. It's only 'cos they keep making compromises: they think they're worth it.

"We're neither white crap, nor like "We're talking about Art here, aren''t we?" Witch Trials' was like a statement of that."

"When I was at the Witch trials of the 20th Century they said: You are white crap. You are an aesthetic anaesthetic. Your repetition will never be accepted."

The Fall, by default or design, have always worked outside the prim and proper safety zones of "listenability", standard rock'!'roll transparency, unsettling the underpinnings of normal critical logic. Their 'difference' refuses to be tied down, typecast, exhaustively detailed. This is as should be.

All that can be expected of their practice, their presence, are persistent signs of distance, residence, abrasiveness. The protocall of entertainment ridiculed. Their unremarkableness is striking. Don't rely upon them. (What for?)

So good, so awful: so what? So the notion of a flat structure of beaty representations operated by or through starry transcendent consciousnesses is thereby replaced by one of productivity: everyone has their 'part to play'. And the 'subject' is.... you.

SMITH: "The Fall is an institution. It's my life, but I'm not The Fall. This band, now, threatens me, which is how it should have been all along. This is great, this is the first Fall where I can drop out and not feel embarrassed about it. That's the reason I've always stuck with it. I didn't want some other fucker to mess it all up, what I'd done or half done. Like the Sex Pistols name was dragged through the sewage -- and I wouldn't want that for The Fall.

The Fall defies logic. Our past defies logic. A threat: The Fall is a threat. Like, I write to all these bands, small bands, have done for about a year and a bit. I get to know these bands: their first record, so on, loads of them, Echo, Teardrop, they were all part of the Fall thing at one point. They get approached by A&R men and they're always chatted up very nicely which is like we used to get it, but I always frightened them off, they were all so scared off by our attitude which was obviously not very together -- and you get these young bands saying: We said we were into The Fall and they hated that. They really despise us, which is disgusting, that grasp of power they've got.

"We influenced a hell of a lot of bands. Everybody thought we were just a journalist's dream, but we're not. As long as you keep on going....

"I listen to The Residents, Kim Fowley, and they sell even less than us. It's a crazy set up. Sales figures are so ... I'm amazed by the difference between us and someone like The Police and Squeeze. We did 10,000 and Squeeze did 500,000. The Ruts do 100,000. I mean, 10,000 is a lot to me, it scares me! We don't take out ads though: who wants to be a flash in the pan for a couple of weeks?

"It's amazing the effect the press has. I've seen bands crying over reviews, like their whole life was destroyed. Some of my favourite reviews are bad ones!

"It's stupid that someone can say 'It's not rock 'n' roll' -- which is the only reason the medium exists, the reason I got into it: because there are allowances. It's beautifuI and that's why it's so sad that it's abused, that People start laying down lines about what is and isn't. It's like YOUR rag, like I said to you: you get the front cover .... SO WHAT? If it's The Fall, if it's a bigger thing, it'll still be behind QUEEN TO TOUR, because 'PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW AB0UT THAT' -- even though the NME slags those fuckers off left, right and centre."

There are alternatives, of course. Some less oblique than others.

"People like us," sez Smith. There's no room for people like us. Like at this point we make a sub standard living out of it. It's another system. All the money we make, we make ourselves, it's not record company advances. Kids say 'You're alright now, I saw your picture last week: you must be rolling in it. ..These kids who work for L80 a week in a bloody shop, y'know, they're saying 'You're a fucking sell out', and you're on like twenty notes a week!

"Big star now are you? We took the fucking chance. That's why we ditched that 'Free Tour' thing with Here & Now: playing to these kids and you haven't eaten for two days, these kids with brandies! Which comes back to what I was saying before about lyric sheets and so on: don 't try too hard. Which is why it's all going so bad. Even the 'New Wave just offers so much on a plate: quick chorus repeated 20 times? The old hands never done that -- and these are the shits who turn round and say Elvis is dead Hooray!, and slag off The Beatles. Elvis didn't put lyric sheets in with his albums, he used to mumble words ....

"It amazes me Ian that we're so revered, 'cos we're ...These new bands are a disgrace, and we're bone idle far that system's point of view. The fact that we do stand out frightens me. We do gigs where we just run through them 'cos we're too pissed, and people think it's the greatest thing to hit there for ages. We shouldn 't be special!

"People say why don't you have the success, and I think, well, you look at someone like Pursey -- he's really an unhappy person, he knows what he's doing is shit. You meet all these people who know what they're doing is shit, you know it in your heart, you know what's good and bad. I spit on people like that.. .."

"They stay with the masses / Don 't take any chances / End up emptying ashtrays ... ./ Where are you people going/ Is this a branch on the tree of showbusiness?"

There is advice of course.

"No, anything you need you've got to fight for, don't get given anything the punch that puts in a band. And someone like Virgin will wipe that out with white vinyl. They especially seem to epitomise that kind of cushy socialism -- and bands agree to that, no matter what they say afterwards: So long as it doesn't mess up the sound .... We didn't know it was going to happen. A lot of records you listen to these days are just effects, it must have taken days to smooth out.

"The Fall is a different news altogether from that."

Hi BRRR! Grrr -- The poor fellow covers his face with his hands and almost tears his eyes out with vicious rubbing. For even as he spoke a dust devil suddenly arose and struck him. His mouth is filled. He spits some out, but swallows more. His eyes are blinded. Poor wretch! In a day or two he will be in hospital, with that terrible ocular disease brought on by the glaring sun and the deadly dust.

-- from Cassell's Illustrated

History of the Beer War

That was the bit where we normally talk about 'influences', by the way.

DOCTOR SMITH is talking about his infamous theory of 'Underground Medicine.'

"My medicine is as good as anyone else's. I think Dean Martin and William Burroughs had the same viewpoint. Dean Martin said it: It must be really hard for a tee totaller to get up in the morning and know that's the best they're going to feel all day! Drug casualties and drink casualties are usually people who do it steadily, they get into a rut about it, it's like eating meals and they just go down the drain. I've got a big beer gut! You know, you can get into that same thing with drugs: using drugs as a Barclaycard."

Kay is getting a word in edgeways because she couldn't hit it sideways -- and talking about the song she wrote, when pissed, 'Muzorewi's Daughter'.

"I hated him. He was so white, but he was black: he was playing Uncle Tom. This was like a first impression, a naive viewpoint. If you're Muzorewi's Daughter life's a bit of a lie, isn't it? Everything she'll see is like, potentially a threat."

A similar song, as yet unrecorded, is called 'Cary Grant's Wedding'.

"Days of booze and roses / Shine on us free us all/ who is not irritable /He is no genius!"

"YOU GET kids asking for 'Repetition', and I say: Do you go to the same school as you did two years ago? Do you go to the same pub as you did two years ago? I know I don't... ."

Out one era and in the other. The sluggish, arrogant beat starts up: getting rid of the albatross...

(had eight hours sleep underneath my typewriter, and took another two Vitamin C tablets.)

A tangle of grey words ....The Fall.

The Fall ....


All quotes from Lyrics copyright: Mark E Smith, except where stated.