James Brown, "Rebellious Jukebox"
New Musical Express, July 29, 1989, p. 15
As always with Mark Smith there's a conspiracy to be wary of.
"These CD juke-boxes are everywhere, they were all installed In just two weeks and no one even noticed. I only did because I saw the whole of the 'Kurious Oranj' LP on one in town and thought 'who wants to listen to that?' I watched a heavy metal fan put nine Anthrax tracks on. Look at them, suss them out."
They're wierd, dead wierd. And there's the pub clientele that need watching.
"It's a weird pub this. Look at his shoes - only child perverts wear those blue pumps with white lines round deck shoes. Pseudo gym shoes like guys who pretend they're teachers and take kids down back alleys," he observes. I look at the landlord's feet and see the same pair of pumps Morrissey had on when I interviewed him in February. Which is even funnier because earlier Smith was claiming The Last of The Famous International Playboys nicked fashion tips from him.
It's a well-lit pub behind Victoria Station full of bus drivers getting tanked up for the evening shift, and far enough away from the tourists to be pleasant. The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, The Police and mixed '60s Hits' are on the CD juke-box. Tomorrow Mark Smith flies to Brazil to play gigs and relax in the land of the great Brazilian short story of which he has long been an admirer. Tonight he is ebullient good humoured, drunk, and prepared to spend 15 minutes answering questions about the future of The Fall. On fine form, he peppers every answer with a suitable quota of insults, and laughs his earthquake cackle when I insist we stick to The Fall and try to get a serious news interview done.
Is Brix's departure going to make a difference to The Fall?
"Well we all respect Brix's decision. Brix was one-sixth of The Fall and we're really going to miss her. All the recording we've done this year, including half of 'Seminal Live' was done without her anyway. Martin Bramah is sitting in at the moment. I don't know how long he'll be there. I'll have to ask him.
"As for me and Brix, I don't think anyone wants to know about our private life and I wouldn't be arrogant enough to impose it upon people. Two months ago Martin Bramah got in touch with me. Martin said to me he was fed up. He wasn't going to be in any more bands, he'd retired from that, he was just going to write songs for himself and would I be interested in writing one or two songs with him. The way he put it impressed me because the first thing I thought when he rings me is that he's going to ask for royalties. We wrote about two songs together just for fun which were great. I hadn't seen him for five years."
Would you like to work with Coldcut again?
"Yeah. I'd love to. I love shit like that. We are going to work with Coldcut in August, they're going to do a third of the album Adrian Sherwood (Tackhead) is doing three tracks and Craig Leon (Blondie) is doing two or three and the rest of it we're going to do with Matt (Black) and Jonathan (Moore).
In a lot of ways, James, I don't think people should know our business because so many people rip us off. Did you see that Darling Buds video. It's like Kurious Oranj, it's pathetic. The band's trying to be Kurious Oranj and she's trying to be Blondie as usual, third rate bastards."
Do you have creative highs and slumps?
"Personally I've had a bad year, my dad going, and a car crash. It was unbelievable, and my face swelled up. It was like one thing after another. Apart from that, creatively it's been a brilliant period, recording and writing. There's the stuff I did with Martin. The stuff we've done for Phonogram, I think it's brilliant. I've played it to people I trust and they're in tears and they're moved. The songs are more vocal not cleaner but more straightforward, you can hear the lyrics which I've always been opposed to."
What was it like working on a song like The Beatles' 'Day In The Life' that you did for the NME's Sgt Pepper LP?
"What? Apart from the spastics producing it, I really enjoyed it. I've never been a big fan of theirs (The Beatles) but I do like that song."
There've been accusations that you did cover versions to get in the charts and then Beggars Banquet didn't have the sales force to keep you there.
"It wasn't like Bananarama just doing a Supremes cover version. Let's get this right. You can't buy the original of Mr Pharmacist anywhere in the world. Ghost In My House - you don't see a lot of them about -- I have never seen a single of 'Victoria' by The Kinks anywhere. That's all I can say really.
"When you're starving to death on a label like Beggars Banquet...ha ha. They weren't deliberate choices. 'Ghost In My House' was our old press officer, Karen Ehlers', idea. She sent us a tape and suggested maybe us or Brix should do it, and I thought 'Fucking hell! Because when I was at youth clubs when I was 13 that was the record I was getting beaten up to, and I thought we should do it.
"And with 'Victoria' I thought there's all the football hooliganism - let's get up everyone's back with something nationalistic. In Melody Maker the review said the yobbish 'Victoria'. The guy is so perceptive, have you ever seen his girlfriend? I've never seen him but the guy is obviously a twat. His girlfriend's a lesbian dwarf..."
What do you now think of the last three Fall studio LPs for Beggars? At the end of last year you told me you couldn't listen to 'Frenz' and for me 'Bend Sinister' is still the best.
"It's good of you to say so and people rave about it critically now but at the time Bend Sinister wasn't that hot to the same journalists who now say it is. I think a combination of the best of Frenz Experiment and Kurious Oranj would be a cracker album. I stand by Seminal Live. I think side one is good. I'm proud of it to knock out all this stuff in a week. You can't fail with the live stuff. Also, I wasn't going to break my balls for a record company that is only going put me in a studio for two weeks to come up with half an album. I insisted that it came out at budget price, at L3.99."
What about the first Phonogram LP? You were living and writing in Edinburgh for a while, did that help you?
"We're about 3/4 of the way through it. Edinburgh really did do me good. There's a load of groups getting L100,000 a year and then they have trouble writing two songs. Material-wise you know what my group's like. They're brilliant. I say to people in the business 'Oh I've got loads of lyrics like that and they go 'you make it sound like a job' and what's the problem? It always has been. Writings the only pleasure I get. That's the best bit of it all!"
Have you ever wanted to just read your stuff on stage?
"No. I wouldn't expect people to put up with that, it'd be like Laurie Anderson."
Who are you most important personal critics?
"The group basically. It's amusing. David Bowie had a go at me. I pissed meself. He said I write sixth form poetry. I couldn't believe it. And there he is now trying to do 'Kurious Oranj' with a white shirt and black trousers. He's a fucking old bastard and I hope you print that. He's redundant. He put British music back five years, him and his stupid imitators. He's third-rate and always has been. ha ha har."
You don't really have a musical mentor, which a lot of people need. Why is that?
"I think there's too many mentors about at the moment and I think that's part of what's wrong with the music scene, too many buggers sticking their noses in. The agent's got a say, the A&R man has, the A&R man's bleeding assistant has, the guy who goes on the road - none of these fuckers sell records but they're all very ready with the advice.
"But I can't really attack people for that because I always say it's the musicians who are full of shit. If they had anything about them they wouldn't imitate Blondie, they wouldn't imitate whoever they do. There's no guts about them, they all turn round in five years and blame it on the record companies, it isn't anybody's fault but their own.
"Van Morrison, I don't like his work but you don't ever hear him turn around and say 'This didn't happen because of so and so'. I don't like anything that he's ever done but I respect what he says. I've never held any affinity for Lydon though, I think his lyrics are shit and I think he's a phony. His vocals were good, vocally he was excellent, but what he was saying wasn't relevant to me, but that's his business."
Tell me about The Fall book that's coming out. The publishers are notorious for just putting out cut-and-paste jobs with all the material taken from the music papers.
"I was surprised how good it was. I haven't read it that thoroughly but I was shocked, the guy knows his stuff backwards. We were in there like a shot when I heard about it but it's alright.
"We're going to do a second Cog Sinister Times. The layout is hilarious. I've got the Jewish Telegraph in Manchester to do it. They're into it. All these rabbis are going, "this is quite interesting, Spectre Versus Rector?"
John Fred And The Playboys 'Judy In Disguise' comes on the CD juke-box. Smith mockingly asks me to dance and then his face lights up as he remembers, "I voted for this in my class. When we were learning graphs at school you had to vote for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Monkies, right, and I hated music when I was six, we didn't ever have a record player so I voted for this one. The school graph was like a stack of votes for the The Beatles, Stones and Monkees and then Fred And The Playboys which was me. They said who do you like, Beatles or The Stones? and I said I like the mad one and they're going 'what about The Monkees, Smith?' and I'm going I don't know them we don't have a record player in our house and my dad doesn't allow the radio on and they were going 'must be mad'. They started calling me a freak. It was like Lord Of The Flies. It's a Northern Soul record. There's no bourgeois content, that's why it's good."
Mark Smith might be half Viz character/ half genius. "That bastard from Fairground Attraction, Mark E Nevin, he stole my middle initial!" And he's probably mad but he's definitely happy being the singer in The Fall.
He finishes his pint and we pull out of the bar. Walking to Victoria we open a paper at the TV guide and disbelievingly choke on our own laughter. Whilst ranting earlier Smith had insisted all faggots are plagiarists. Tonight's film on television? New Face in Hell!