Andy Peart, "Badmouth Strikes Again"
Sounds, December 8, 1990, pp. 10-11
THE MANCHESTER music scene has been spewing its guts out over all and sundry for the past year, mixing the good and bad together with relish. But veteran antagonist Mark E Smith, with his merry band The Fall, is intent on taking a brush and pan to the debris of the city.
The Ramada Hotel in central Manchester is as unfitting a meeting place as any. Plush, posh and pompous, it's everything The Fall aren't and when Mark E Smith swaggers through the door, he appears in total contrast to the surroundings.
Cheery drummer Simon Wolstencroft and bassist Steve Hanley arrive for the photo session only to disappear soon afterwards while Smith presides over proceedings with the eye of a wary father.
He hates having his picture taken and therefore acts like a spoilt kid--sometimes funny, sometimes annoying, but always in control. When he talks, it's hard to untangle his renowned sarcasm from the deadly seriousness behind it. But there's no doubt that 1990 has been a good year for The Fall.
"Yeah, it's been very good actually," says Smith, sinking deeper into the flash armchair.
"What's shocked me about this year is how competitive it's been, which means that people like me have had to slow down and almost stop to work out what kind of music we want. It gets harder and harder to go back to basics--which might be an old fashioned view, but that's what I've been working towards and I think I've got it."
NOW DOWN to a four-piece since the departure of keyboard player Marcia Schofield and guitarist Martin Bramah, the new Fall--with the sound Smith is referring to--makes it's first real appearance on the band's new single, called 'High Tension Line'. It's a raw, rough thunderbolt built on hypnotic repetition, deadpan aggression and melancholy.
"In my perfect world, The Fall would bring out a single every month," he says. "And I wanted to experiment quickly with the four-piece getting back to that bass and drums sound again. But it was a fight with the record company to have it released before Christmas. Records should still reflect what people think at the time and it's very tense in England at the moment. Everyone's worried about their mortgages and stuff. You know me, I'm a man of the suburbs."
The B-side, the hilarious 'Xmas With Simon', again dispels images of Smith as the archetypal dour Mancunian, showcasing a deeply sarcastic view of the festive season laced with some cheeky cheap keyboards. But The Fall writing a Christmas song? Surely not.
"Most people record their Christmas singles in January and I thought, If we're going to force the record company to bring out a single before Christmas, we might as well write a festive song. It features Simon on keyboards, which is quite shocking in itself but I like things like that. It is a cynical song. Atrocious lyrics!
"The outside opinion of The Fall is that we have no sense of humour but someone who's into The Fall understands the humour within the songs. That's the secret of our accessibility. I find extreme sarcasm very funny indeed.
"I must admit I don't like Christmas in England because everywhere closes down for three weeks. It's disgusting. You can't get any bread or milk and that's what the song's about. Christmas is more of a family time... where families can beat each other up."
MANCHESTER... so much to slander for. To mention that Mark E Smith despises the new Manchester scene would be a bit like saying that Tony Benn and Michael Heseltine have a few differences over foreign policy. It's a hatred which borders on paranoia.
"I'm very glad now that I stated at the beginning of the year that The Fall want no part of the Manchester scene. You wouldn't believe it up here. I go out to a club, and people look at what shirt I've got on and write it down so the Happy Mondays and The Charlatans can wear one. They look at my jacket, they look at my shoes. It's horrible and I just can't cope with it. "Mind you, I'm glad to see people like that in the top ten because it means they'll get the dough and piss off. I always wished The Mission would make it for the same reason, and then they'd get out of everyone's face.
"There's too many groups and too many people making records. If you haven't got anything to say, shut up--that's my attitude. I seriously object to boxers and footballers releasing records because it's too easy."
The Mondays and their ilk are selling their product by the bucketload--but what riles Smith more is that they represent an accurate reflection of '90s culture, with a joint in one hand and a lobotomy voucher in the other.
"The Happy Mondays upset me very much," he remarks. "They practise their north Manchester accents, Tony Wilson comes up to me and asks where I buy my clothes, and it's very squalid.
"But don't worry yourself, because it'll wear itself out. For a start, if you take drugs you don't broadcast the fact--if you're smart. But we're talking about hippy children here, that's the tragedy.
"They're the first generation in the history of England who are absolute replicas of their parents. What I hate most is that they'd sell their grandmothers and I'm not like that. I don't give a flying fuck if they're more successful than me, I just don't like their attitude. It's cheap Manchester white crap which I've been talking about in my songs for nine years. Haven't they got any shame?"
SMITH'S ATTACKS on the Manchester Scene pale into insignificance when compared to his view of European unity, describing it as "a sell-out" and "a load of bollocks". But even England has no place any more in Mark E's heart.
"I'm just developing this extreme hatred for English people in general. They're all full of shit and they're all phonies. It hurts me very deeply to say that because I'm very much the Englishman, but we sell more records in Germany than we do in England and that's terrible.
"If you appear too smart in England, like we do, you get punished for it. That's the English way. You've got to appear vaudeville, like The Charlatans, or have Bez in your group. If you're an idiot, if you're Gazza, you're alright. The English are fools who always shoot themselves in the foot.
The Fall could never be described as foolish. Smith is painfully aware of the pitfalls in the music industry and, while there's so much rubbish flying around, The Fall will remain alive and valid to clear up the mess. Their new album is half- recorded and set to come out next April with a promise of no keyboards and an even sparser sound than 'High Tension Line'. It all adds up to what should be the best Fall album in years.
"Creativity has never been my problem," Smith continues, knocking his pint of beer all over the nice clean carpet. "I don't care about the Top 40 but I have to pretend I do. Anybody who goes on Top Of The Pops is a ponce.
"People in groups are idiots and musicians are idiots, except for my people. My band's great, you know, and they don't get any credit for it because this is a crap business. But it's not nice to say that, because you don't make many friends."
And again he chuckles loudly to himself at the absurdity of it all. The joker has returned.
LATER ON, Smith and I somehow get lost in the maze of hotel corridors in the hotel and end up at the entrance to a small conference room. It's the ideal setting for a secret Fall gig but Mark has other ideas.
"This is it!" he shouts, rushing through the door, leaping on to the platform and grabbing the microphone. "This is the future. The Mark E Smith lecture tour starts here. Ladies and gentleman...."
Remember where you read it first.