Richard Cook, "The Art of Markness"
New Musical Express, June 29, 1985, pp. 6-7
"THE WORST thing that ever happened to my place was when the police did it over when I was in Australia. Disgusting, I've never seen such a mess. Worse than any vandals. I had about four cats and they kicked over all the cat trays."
Yeah, well, y'know Mark, I really wanted to talk about The Fall. I suppose we can start with that anecdote, though. Like some scrap out of one of Mark Smith's songs.
It's like, this band of yours (and it is yours, isn't it? We don't have any of this democracy crap with The Fall). As long as the old rock noise has been battling around my head, I've always, finally, gone back to The Fall (well, since The Fall started, anyway).
And I can't help it with the stuff about when-will-The-Fall-break-up and what-can-The-Fall-do-next and all that. It's just something that we do.
Same as Fall records getting consumed alongside all the everyday pop-stock you've always had needling in your ears, something rotten. We just keep poking away at what The Fall is, and why the ramshackle old machine keeps going when all the punk junk it grew out of is dead and gone and all the bright new dullards either get on with their ignorance or say - yeah, really like The Fall. Great, The Fall. Great how they've kept going.
I've been through all that. All the deciphering of words and mystery theories about The Fall synthesising all the elements of base rock with improvised forms, the weird hashes of genius, the one true mirror on pop's perversities and the final... aw, you know. The Fall in their God-box. Now it's just a high, thickening, mad noise in my head. All the bits of those ideas scatter around, but I want to play them all at once along with this music - like the rebellious jukebox you dreamed up.
Good though. Still good. But it's got so bloody hard, this sound, when you play it somewhere. Last time I saw you play it was like the most vicious heavy metal I'd ever had tattooed into me.
"The Hammersmith one. Yeah, we were lucky to get out of that alive, really. Leckie's mixing! He bust all the sound meters on the PA, everything full up like in a studio. A lot of people liked it, a lot thought it was the worst gig they'd seen. Leckie did us once in Essex and we were deaf for days.
"We finally lost our piano, our Snoopy electric piano ... Simon's got a synthesiser but I keep clear of that. There's too much choice on one of them things. I was getting worse and worse on guitar - the more you know the less you know, really. At one time I could pick it up and write riffs on it dead easy, but the more chords you get to know ..."
Anyway, you must be getting radical. One of the songs on this new single is a cover, for Chrissakes.
"We've never done a cover before, no. But the situation you're in - we've always done singles, they've always been throw-offs, they're not particularly The Fall. You've got to treat it like a novelty, really."
But that begs the question, again, that old poser - what is 'particularly' The Fall? And it's always Fall singles that people remember, not LPs. You're known, then, as a novelty band?
Well, at least that made you laugh, Mark. You don't look particularly well, either, though you never exactly seem a picture of health. There's alwavs been something a bit tubercular about you. It's not the 'wasted' look that used to be rock 'n' roll fashionable, more like one of those Dickensian shadows across the face. The eyes look a bit gummy.
And there's your hair - Christ, Mark. Don't you ever comb that ragtag bit of straw?
Yeah, personal, nothing to do with The Fall. But there's times when you're like a ghost. Your voice is one of the strangest things I've ever heard. Out of this boyish face comes the sound of an ancient man, a fantastically tired croak. Except what you're saying isn't tired at all, usually. There's even a bit of muso in you.
I mean - tell me about how you make an LP.
"It's different every time. For 'Wonderful And Frightening' half the material was really honed from playing it live and the other half was made up on the spot. Good balance. My head's like a big filing cabinet.
"For 'Slang King' I tried to get Karl to play drums like The Moments, d'you remember their records? And I had this organ tune and this ongoing fable about this historical character. Worked dead well, didn't it?"
Karl - Karl is with us -- Karl, do you all do everything that Mark says?
"It usually makes sense. If it doesn't you pretend it does and he doesn't notice."
Karl looks a bit shirty, Mark. You must he a bit tough on them.
"I think people appreciate that a lot more. A group where somebody takes care of that, and you're not having democratic discussions before you go onstage all the time. That's why a lot of groups break up.
"I put a lot of pressure on them. I don't get argumentative, but I do it so everyone's wound up. You hear LPs by groups who've fought all the way through and they're the weakest things in the world. All that's going to happen is that the producer and the engineer step in."
Have you ever stopped an LP halfway through?
"Nah. Couldn't afford to do that! I was unhappy about making the single because it was one in a live-in studio. Too comfy. You'd be getting ready to do a take and somebody'd have a cup of tea on in the kitchen. You'd have to sleep in a bed which some scruffy horrible guitarist had been in two weeks before."
Well, why not ask for more money to make the record with?
"I'd rather spend it on something else. All that farting around, going in one day and doing the bass part ..."
It's funny how people always gobble up received ideas about The Fall. The prole art jest, the 'humour'; and now this thing about The Fall's records suddenly being well-produced. They sound a little tougher, but as productions go they're about as clean as Salford mud flats.
"It's like mind suggestion. You tell someone you've got a good producer, they go aah! It's amazing how many people hear that The Fall are accessible and then print it as gospel. I agree, all John Leckie's done is bring out what's there. In the past they just bleeded it out of us. I remember we had to do 'Eat Y'Self Fitter' seven times because the engineer didn't have his shit together, and by the sixth time we were just fed up with it. Lost, completely."
Not some petty thief lout reaction to the minions of Beggars Banquet, then.
"We must be the only ones on the label who get good reviews. I like it because they're straights. The other labels we've been on, you get the bleedin' teaboy interfering in the cover design. Everybody thinks they've got the right to say something to yer, but Beggars just want to have hit singles.
"I always wanted The Fall to be on a label like this. It's like we're the only ones on the Label. I never liked Rough Trade because they'd have ten groups like The Fall, pinching your ideas and all the rest of it."
That's the kind of talk that gets you in trouble, Mark. Since most people don't have any idea what you're about, how could they set out to steal your ideas?
"Not set out to do it. I used to be a bit paranoid about that, over-reacted a bit. A lot of the groups coming up now are acting like The Fall as the press portray The Fall - ramming things out, arguing with everybody all the time. Quite good, really. That's worked quite well for us. People don't hang us about anything. Nobody's making suggestions because they think we'll get argumentative about it.
"I find I have to ask people if I want any advice. That's why Brix is good. She'll make a suggestion I wouldn't have thought of in a million years. The lads love 'er."
Should've thought people liked to pick fights with The Fall. There's something icy about The Fall that can get you a bit mad. You expect them to be all angry and stormtroopin' but Fall stuff is rather detached and private. Implosive, like, instead of Desperate Dan aggressive.
"I know some people get really uptight about it. I picked up The Face the other day and it had an interview with Jesus And Mary Chain in it - I refuse to get The Face because they've refused to cover us since 1981 but they mention us all the time in digs - and halfway down this Jesus And Mary Chain they're talking to this guy from WEA and he goes, The Fall are boring.
"I'm thinking, what the fuck 'ave I ever done to that bastard? Dunno who he is, and there he is having a dig. I think that's good, y'know. Well, it's interesting. And this unwritten law that no A&R man will sign a band that want to be like The Fall.
"When we brought 'C.R.E.E.P.' out it went on this compilation LP that went round America, to clubs, colleges, record shops and A&R men, and they had to rate the tracks in points. We got these big reports back .. and 'C.R.E.E.P.' came out on top, seven out of ten, and everybody put it at the top except the A&R men who put it bottom. With the most spiteful comments I've ever heard about anybody. Their views were inverse to what everybody who buys and plays records thinks.
"Most of the music's aimed at ten to 15-year-olds, anyway. This is why singles now are a different proposition to when we did them in '82, almost a waste of time. Fits in fine and dandy with me, 'cause I can just do the topical stuff on them."
Brings out the cult of The Fall, though. I mean, people are paying well over the odds for that stuff on Step Forward.
"Can you send some of them my way? I've got heaps of them under my bed. That's why I keep bringing them out on compilations, to kill this kind of nonsense. In my town you still can't buy a Fall record in the bloody shops."
ARE YOU making much money out of this game?
"Much? Fuck all, to be honest. We're bare-arse skint, we always have been. Most bands sign on, but I won't have it in this group."
"There's one lad I 'ad a drink with last week. He used to work in an office when I had nothing and was starting the hand ... I'd borrow a fiver or tenner off him. Then he was put on a three-day week and now he's unemployed, and I'm dropping him a fiver. Me three sisters are out of work. Two or three years ago they had great jobs, in the civil service and shops, earning good money. They used to treat me, now I treat them. We've always been on subsistence, so you notice if people are up or below you.
"They're pretty used to it up here. You can still get pissed for four quid. You can't in London. I always feel a bit sorry for Londoners. You must have to keep earning money just to keep up. You go to a pub in King's Cross and a pint of Boddingtons is 97 pence. Up 'ere it's 60 pence. And it doesn't even taste as good. Blatant profiteering. If I stay down there, I'm skint. You don't get much for your money."
There must have been times you've smelled money, Mark. Enough people bought 'C.R.E.E.P. for you to be nearly a chart act.
"Not really. There's a lot of competition with groups nowadays. Go for your throat, y'know? That's why we're not playing as much. We refuse to play in the provinces and break even. Groups in the Top Ten are going out and cutting The Fall's price in half to play. They'll play for a hundred pounds, which they can do because they've got record companies.
"It's obvious, isn't it? All their record buyers are under 15! They're not gonna go and see somebody in a club. They can't get in. So you'll get people in the Top Ten playing to 70 people in the Hacienda. It's always the ones who go on about the oppression of Thatcher's Britain who are the biggest price cutters."
Sometimes I think they're there to soothe the consciences of crusading journalists. We can whistle up The Faith Brothers and all that rubbish because half of us are guilty that we let The Jam split up.
"Funny how interviewers always take on the accents of the bands they like this guy from Sweden - you think, why's he talking like Joe Strummer, y'know! And Mat Snow's talking in fuckin' Australian!
"Actually, I find the NME more readable than its's been for years. It's like all the shits have gone over to doing the other stuff. The rest of them are what British music's all about, playing to under-16s.
"Yesterday we were getting mithered by all these little kids, all about seven or eight. They were saying, why didn't you do 'Pat-Trip Dispenser' and stuff. Wanted autographs. So I said to Craig get those little kids away from me. It's bloody perverse. And he said, they know all our names, y'know that's what Smash Hits does for you. I said, Craig - there's all swear words in our songs! They shouldn't be hearing that fucking stuff!
"British papers still have a bit of principle. You go to Australia and see a good review from somebody who manages the band. We played Sydney and this guy reviews it and goes - I don't like The Fall, why go and see British rubbish when we've got bands like Midnight Oil, lists of Australian bands. And somebody tells me he's starting a record label and they're on his roster! You wouldn't get five yards like that here!"
You know, Mark, looking at you, you're one of these geezers who look about 12 one minute and 80 the next. How do you like getting old(er)?
"Think it's great. Doesn't bother me, getting old. I rememher a bloke telling me, wait till you're 27! But he looked alright to me."
We forget about time, anyway, with The Fall. That's what all the miseryguts writers do when they want to have a go-ah, The Fall have become institutionalised. They've been doing the same thing all this time. Well, I think it's dead good. It's like the Fall keep finding fresh ways to get up people's noses.
And all that pro-Fall stuff about the humour and the satire and that. Rubbish. The Fall are completely serious to me. All these jokers just use 'humour' and 'irony' as buzzwords to cover up incompetent work.
"Yeah, I'm dead down on that. Wyndham Lewis said that was the greatest disease of the British, the quack sense of humour. Excuse anything for a laff. Like - why did you go on Terry Wogan? It's a laff.
"Our singles aren't humorous. 'Kicker Conspiracy', it's still, like, valid. That Brussels thing. When people were talking about it, Jimmy Hill and that ... the first line of 'Kicker Conspiracy' is 'Jimmy Hill's satanic reign'. It was all coming true.
"You know we had a tour of Italy that week? I cancelled the tour on the Saturday before the Cup Final because the guy didn't send us the return air tickets. And we were due to play in Turin the day after the match. I felt really bad at the time, everyone was looking forward to it - and then we watched the final. Best thing that ever happened to us. Can you believe it! So close! Imagine being in a Turin hotel, in dorms, with no locks on the doors, and they're burning flags on the fuckin' street!"
Alright, Mark. I've done enough writing about your group, these past years. So these are the last words I've got about it all: either you listen to The Fall, or you don't.