Matt Snow, "Before and after the Fall"
New Musical Express, November 3, 1984, pp. 6, 54
"I THINK the difference is in the mechanical sounds of our time.
"Like the sound of the airplane in the '40s was a rmoooooaaaahhhhhhhh sound and Sinatra and those people sang with those sort of overtones.
"Now we've got the krrriiiiisssssssshhhhhhh jet sound ... It's the mechanical sounds of the era: the sounds are different and so the music is different. I trust everything will turn out all right...
It didn't, though back around '65 Roger McGuinn of The Byrds might have been forgiven his optimism. Now is the year of the movie of the book: 1984 and, as that prince of Parnassian prose Richard Cook recently observed, "Wonder and fright are sensations ruined by the humdrum march of technology, atomic fission, everyday violence, citizen hatred. We are immunised by statistics and comfortable homes ...
He was, of course, referring to The Fall's new LP 'The Wonderful And Frightening World Of ...' which he correctly identified as being of awesome brilliance.
Yes, awesome and brilliant are the very words to describe the '84 Fall. Where once they nagged with that crabbed indie sound, now they glare overwhelmingly with the full force of a John Leckie production.
The Fall chose him not for the roster of bands he'd produced - which by and large they hated - but rather for his ability to get a full and punchy sound first take, to capture the noises hitherto missed by more slapdash studio men.
And if you're not flattened and amazed by Leckie ound Fall songs like 'Elves', 'Pat-Trip Dispenser' and 'Draygo's Guilt', then you're probably the sort of niggardly soul who carped when The Beatles signed to Parlophone.
Leckie seems to be the latest stage in The Fall's revolution since '81's 'Slates' EP: the search for a sound that has come to supercede the smithery of words as The Fall's raison d'etre. Nowadays, discovering what a Fall song is about - like, say, that 'Rowche Rumble' was about the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffman La Roche overpricing drugs like Valium to the NHS - adds to but is no longer central to getting into The Fall thing.
More than ever, Fall songs work tangentially, allusively, associatively - buzz-words and trigger-phrases bowled out with varying degrees of spin applied by the curl of Mark Smith's lip. Beneath and above all, there wells a roaring musical current of disgust and loathing, a sociopathic revelling in today's crappy world of back-biting, snarl-ups, deadlock, doubletalk, paranoia and recrimination. Such intensity of weltschmerz abstracted into music I find headily compelling, even invigorating in a ruthless way.
After a Fall record, just about any other piece of music sounds trite and sentimental.
IN HIS quest for the perfect expression of The Fall thing, Mark E Smith has not only made fans and enemies, but also carved himself a niche. Where once Smith the para-straight could spit into the face of post-punk orthodoxy with all the authentic venom of a true maverick outsider, in 1984 he is an Establishment Figure in British rock. Set yourself up as a hip-priest slang-king, however ironically, and sooner or later you'll find you're this week's boring old fart.
Today Mark Smith seems closer to Lou Reed than the uncompromisingly scabrous anti-hero of old. Slaggings and windups ring out routinely and, one feels, defensively. It must irk him to know how careerist his longevity as Britrock's professional irritant must look to the sort of person he once was.
He has never sought acceptance in the wonderful and frightening world of pop, but now the next worse fate has befallen him: people have got used to The Fall, they are now just another act. A cult success is still a success, and success seems to tarnish its owner's authenticity. Mark E Smith, despite success, just can't win, and naturally he's bitter. I think he'd like to rise above the game altogether, but can't help having a go when he feels slighted.
My impression is of a critic who hates being criticised, of a railer against complacency who isn't used to contradiction.
The scene was tea and sandwiches at a West London hotel one sunny Friday afternoon, the sort of setting whence spring most of Britrock's recorded utterances. Cigs smoked here ...
SLATES, SLAGS ETC
"YOU'RE NOT going to get me to knock any bands in the interview, Matt. I started it off and it's routine now. Bands are starting to come across as little bitches. It's sick. The Fall have a lot more dignity than that, y'know.
"I remember three years ago it was only us and Public Image who used to bitch. Everybody else was all trying to be pally. Musicians are like that, always trying to be pally with you. Take the Bunnymen, they were always trying to pally up to us by going, Oh, we like The Fall. And I go, I'm sorry but I don't like them.
Do you feel greater affinity with such as Foetus, Three Johns, Membranes, California's Minutemen, New Zealand's Clean ... ?
"These are all people who pander our attention, they always send me their records 'n' stuff. What am I supposed to say? I love them and they love me. In fact, I'm deadly suspicious. I think they want to be where I am, y'know.
"I've always liked The Cramps and The Gun Club. As far as British stuff goes, Felt. Felt are better than all those other Lou Reed imitators.
"I always despised The Mekons - Leeds Polytechnic and they're stuck with it. The Membranes, they're OK, very inventive. They've taken a lot of leaves out of our book.
"On that circuit there's so much cut-throat competition. The independent scene is well out of hand, that's why we had to get out of it. We had concerts arranged and some berk'd come in and cut your price to a quarter. This is the last person I'm going to slag, right but Billy Bragg... It's the funniest thing, but he's the biggest fucking blackleg on the circuit. He'll jump in a concert you've got, cut your price right down.
"Musicians'll sell you out any time of the day. Musicians are a different breed. Their brotherhood is easy come, easy go. I don't relate to it. I'm a lyric-writer, not a jester-guitarist in the English tradition of Southem bleedin' idiots. It's not the way I'm built."
'C.R.E.E.P.' was a good song cos it got us played on the radio. It was all quite deliberate. But then 'C.R.E.E.P.' was a lovely song, a Fall song, y'know? I don't see it as anything different at all. "John Leckie's taken the sounds that have always been there and polished them so it's easier for the ear, " adds Mrs Brix Elise Smith, guitarist. "We haven't sold out or softened in any way, just polished."
"It's not even that, y'know," intejects Mark. "The Fall have always changed, and there's people who can never bleedin" 'andle it. It's the story of The Fall."
The story of Marc Riley?
"Yeah, he's just repeating '80-'81. I have a song about Marc Riley where it goes 'See Marc Riley by the window-sill/ Listen to your words /A new lace in hell. 'Riley makes out he had a big part in The Fall and I was just imitating what he did. But in fact when he was in the group most of the music was me and Craig (Scanlon). And now he's even trying to write lyrics like me. Embarrassing. Cos I always hoped Marc would do something really constructive for himself, like join a Jam type of group which he would have been better suited to."
Think he'll find his own style, then?
"I bleedin' hope he does soon - he's fuckin' had enough shots at it, hasn't he? There's a lot of groups making careers out of sounding like The Fall, and they turn around callin' us, know what I mean?! It's all right for them to say, Oh look at The Fall, they're different now. Those boys don't know - wait till they get the bleedin' tax bills in five years. They haven't uncompromised for five years like I have. It's all right for them on the bleedin' part-time basis. None of their songs have the imagination or scope of what we did years ago when we were fuckin' hungry. And we're still hungry now.
"The thing about the new sound, especially 'C.R.E.E.P.' was that it kept us alive. Do or die. The beauty of 'C.R.E.E.P.' was I would have brought it out anyway.
"Fall imitators? A bleedin' disgrace to the youth. They come onstage and start insulting the audience. The audience hasn't even bleedin' said anything to them. It's off pat, like bleedin' 'Totals's Turns' revisited, man. When we were doing that sort of stuff there was a definite reason for it: we were being screwed around because everybody else had short, spiky hair. It makes me ashamed I was even a catalyst to that sort of thing. Give me Buck's Fizz any day.
How would you start a new group today?
"I wouldn't start a group now, it's too bloody easy, too bloody encouraged; too bloody like something you do because you're unemployed. You get on a YTS scheme if you want to for a band - they give you fuckin' 40 quid a week. Bloody pathetic. You go play to the council and they give you a bleedin' cheque for it. Fuckin' joke.
"It's not sour grapes, it concerns me. We're desperately in need of some good writers in this fuckin' country for a start, book writers. We desperately need loads of things.
"To form a group is the most ridiculous idea ever, I've always said this. When we started out people said, isn't this great about people setting up their own labels? You mean a rich kid has got 500 quid off his dad and brought his own record out. I was asked why don't I start our own label. And I said cos I haven't got a bleedin' middle-class patroniser. I don't want to be a bleedin' shopkeeper, man. I'm halfway there now, controlling the group. I enjoy that."
LAY OF THE LAND
IF THERE was a snap general election, what would you vote?
"What choice is there? I would try and vote. I always make a point of voting. The last time I voted was for a woman called Alice Madders, who was a Tory councillor for the village I live in. The Labour bloke wanted to legalise cannabis, a well-known character round the village. I used to call him Jesus Christ in reverse cos some fascist pinned him up and crucified him and he had marks in his hands which he used to show everybody. He used to follow Tony Benn round the country. At Labour meetings he used to stand up and take out this rotting fish and say, What about the Grimsby fishermen? A complete charlatan.
"I voted Tory for a while, last year, y'know. Budget changed my mind about the Tories a lot. It was a middle class budget; I thought it was horrific the way they put VAT on takeaway food. It's the little things like that make everything, y'know. Bringing the price of wine down was just not on. Obscene. That's what's wrong with the SDP - people don't realise this - but this Owen guy is nuts. He wants to treat whiskey like heroin.
Was the budget your first realisation that the Tories represent a strong sectional interest?
'Doesn't the Labour Party?"
Perhaps, but aren't they trying to rectify sectional injustices whereas the Tories are striving to accentuate them?
"Rubbish. No way. I just think the Labour Party sucks. It doesn't need any encouragement at the moment. I don't care how bad it is. It's like the old Communist adage - always vote for the party in power if you want to get anything done.
'That's what I said about the gypos at the GLC thing: the gypos don't vote. That's the bleedin' Labour Party for you. The GLC'll chuck them out cos they don't live in a council house and don't bleedin' vote. So therefore they are useless.
So it's the Tories' barefacedness that appeals?
'Yeah, I definitely think that. There's a sort of strangeness about the Tories which I think is fascinating. Like, do you remember that bloke who was on about the video nasties bill?"
Graham Bright, MP.
"He was a complete pervert, man! He was really screwed up!"
"Like Hitler had Jewish blood, you know what I mean?" adds Brix.
"I was always pro the Liberal Party," picks up Mark. "I like David Steel a lot, y'know. But the Alliance with the SDP - I don't know what the fuck's going on there. Very sad. The Liberal Party was a good option if you were ever in doubt. Spoke a lot of sense."
What about small 'I' liberalism?
"I don't like knee-jerk liberalism. This is what I call things like groups going on for the GLC - McCarthyism in reverse. It's like the whole anti-Bomb thing, miners' thing too.
"I've always been pro-Bomb, on anti-conscription grounds. Cos where I live you see all the villages that were decapitated by the first World War. You get rid of the Bomb and you bring back conscription. There's no two ways about it, don't you think?"
No. Conscription is not a tradition in the British Army. It only arrived in 1916, halfway through World War One. Besides, isn't conscription better than being wiped out by a bunch of geriatrics with computers?
"You'd rather be fighting with a bayonet?"
More like whitewashing army camps for three years.
"Yeah, like the Second World War where all the British guys had a great time, yeah. Get away from the wife for a couple of years. Lovely. Away from all your responsibilities.
Better than being nuked.
"But you're not going to get nuked. What's the point of nuking anybody?"
"Well, that's something to be sorted out, yeah."
You make it sound like a minor problem with the clutch.
"Well, that's all it is. Overpaid professionals, they should do the job better. This is the problem - bureaucracy, nothing to do with military aggression. I know Russia is never going to nuke anybody cos the only reason they'd declare war on the West is cos they'd want the land and the money and the goods. And I don't think the Yanks are either, they'd lose everything if they did that.
"But there again, nuking Russia might not be a bad idea as far as the bleedin' world's concerned. They've plunged a lot of people into miserable lives, y'know. You've got to go to East Germany to see it - it's horrible, horrible way to live. It's like Middlesbrough.
Yet you're hardly an ardent supporter of material capitalism.
"No, I'm not. This is why I'm a bit sad about Britain. I see it all going that way, fuckin' cheap materialism where the working-class is now being taught to get a computer, shit like this. It's not the striving that I like in life, it's not build yourself, strengthen yourself through your own actions. It's more, like, be more of a rip-off artist than the next bloke, which was never very English, y'know. Greed, and a sort of whining.
"I have this conspiracy theory that all those people like your hallowed editor are now in positions of authority, teachers in universities and polytechnics. Their whole philosophy is based round a gripe about oppression. And these people come from Leicester (This one doesn't- Ed), which is a rich city, good parents. A gripe about how everybody didn't give them fair deals. It's like a negativism that's being taught, which is like the downfall of the Greeks, stuff like that.
"I worry about the pride and dignity. I don't like it that people who are obviously decent having to go into selling computers when they would have formerly gone into a trade. It's not their fault, it's bad middle-class management, whether Tory or Labour, that's my political theory. I get very sad about England. English people are very crabby nowadays, and mean-minded which they never were, even five years ago.
"I've moved now, back to where I was brought up, next street to my mum and dad. It's a tight community (Prestwich), people remember me from when I was 12, talk to me in the street and things. I don't have to sort out anybody else's problems, got rid of all the hangers-on. Where I live is a very strong Jewish-Irish area. S'good.
"I believe you should always be very decent and reasonable with everybody, no matter who they are. The important thing about me, if I have any task within the band, is to improve the quality of life. I don't see it as anything else.
"I've figured out why I don't dress weird. I don't dress weird cos people don't talk to you when you dress weird. I have this strong suspicion that only people who are very, very straight dress weird. I've always tried not to brag and not alienate people. I think it's wrong, y'know. Dead wrong.
"I've always been the sort of person who could blend anywhere; it's an art-form. Being a Smith is a great advantage.
"I think it's important to state my case, cos I know that the NME is always fingering me as some sort of bleedin' right-wing nutcase, and it's important I shouldn't cower to it. I've read a lot of NME interviews and I can see all the groups just pandering to some kind of left-wing philosophy. I don't like it. I don't give a shit. It doesn't bother me. I don't care if NME readers don't vote me bleedin' top of the poll. I don't give a shit.
"I don't put on a show. If someone's a decent person, I treat him as such. If he's a prick, I treat him as such."
Mark Edward Smith cocks back his head and looks down his nose at me. I reckon I'm being treated as such ... or such.
Back to the studio, Brian.