Andrew Collins, "The Boy With The Scorn On His Side"
New Musical Express, September 28, 1991, pp. 26-27
"Check the record/Check the record/Check the guy's track record/Check the guy's ROCK record."
(The Fall, 'New Big Prinz')
"I don't like the person singing on this LP. That said, I marvel at his guts."
Roman Totale XVIll, Member, Wakefield Young Drinkers Club (from the cover of 'Totale's Turn' by The Fall.
One Sunday, just before the 1980s started, NME dispatched Charles Shaar Murray off to a gig at London's Lyceum Ballroom to review a live bill featuring The Human League, Gang Of Four, The Fall and The Mekons. In this ramshackle, badly-dressed, resolutely Northern English line-up, Shaar Murray saw the 1980s, and he saw that the 1980s were good.
To some, the '80s meant Antmusic, the death of niggling, thin-tie New Wave, Thatcherism, a merging of hedonistic Glam values into white funk and some drugs. To others, it meant The Fall: 12 mighty albums, well over 20 unforgettable singles, umpteen line-up changes, two hits and a ballet. This wonderful and frightening band may not have garnered the mainstream bouquets afforded The Smiths or New Order, but they nevertheless made the decade their own.
Some would damn them resolutely inaccessible, deliberately grey and awkward, wilfully obscure. Others would celebrate them for the exact same reasons. Immovable. Inimitable. Disrespectful. Shabby.
It was NME's Ian Penman who, in The Fall's first year, 1977, described them as "shabby, ordinary, have no image" and, although he meant it as 'constructive' criticism, again he had pin-pointed one of the band's trump cards. Even to this day, as Mark E Smith saunters ever onwards towards his autumn years, sartorial elegance is not a criterion he lives and dies by.
Natch, The Fall's anti-image has, over 14 years, become a look in itself (open-neck shirts, jerkins, testcard jumpers, uninterested partings), a curious credibility gap, a Bermuda Triangle of style into which C&A account-holders with names like Yvonne Pawlett and Tony Friel have constantly disappeared.
The Fall, named after an Albert Camus novel about a man having a shit time (as opposed to all the other ones), were formed because of the Buzzcocks. Not because the Definitive Punk Group (as I call them) were good, but because Mark E saw them play in Manchester and was gripped with the 'I-could-do-that' fervour so common at the time.
"Punk? I hate the stuff. Wouldn't have it in the house!"
He was adamant that his band wouldn't become The Drones or The Lurkers, and, by virtue of an indefinable, untutored gestalt that threw plinky keyboard, roughneck guitar and Smith's pseudo-intellectual barking at kids only just used to Generation X, The Fall leap-frogged that particular quagmire. Within a year, they were 'adopted' by the man who would add the prefix 'Mighty' to their name - John Peel.
The Fall's recording career began not with a bang but a sort of cough. A contribution to 'Short Circuit - Live At the Electric Circus' became their inauspicious debut, a swansong to the top Manchester venue which also included Warsaw, John Cooper Clarke and the Buzzcocks, spiritual and geographical peers all.
A Peel session later, and London indie Step Forward put out the first proper Fall record, 'Bingo Masters Breakout', a three-track EP, in July 1978. (The label would stick with the band for a further three 45s and two albums. "No other label would touch us," Mark later claimed.)
Total control is a holy grail still drooled over and falsely claimed throughout the music business -however, in most cases, across-the-board dictation over what a product looks and sounds like is merely a frightened band's fantasy. Not so with The Fall. Yet another unique aspect of their illustrious career is the determined (and often infuriating) attention to sleeve design (or anti-design). The hand of Smith is never far away, and the very fact that the pathetic exercise book scrawl of 'Bingo Masters' looks more professional than the cover of last year's 'High Tension Line' (on Phonogram) is testament to the eternal flame of crapness lies at the centre of the Mighty Fall.
Mark E Smith's headstone will be handwritten, natch.
"I don't really consider myself a musician. I'm deeply ashamed that my passport says "Songwriter/Musician". There's some vague affectation about it." (Mark E Smith, 1984).
THE FALL were on ten quid week in 1979, apparently. Before the long and productive relationship with Beggars Banquet, the sold out dates at Kilburn National Ballroom and Sadlers Wells - some would insist that poverty and cultdom suited the Fall. And indeed, Mark E told Roger Morton in NME earlier this year that he always makes the taxi stop a few yards away from the hotel entrance these days, so he can walk in. Probably just having us on, of course, but the man in the Armani sweater has always been obsessed with his own working class credentials.
'Prole Art Threat', from the 'Slates' LP, 1981, 'English Scheme' from 'Grotesque', and 'Hit The North', amongst others, seem to trace the line from proletarian North West work-ethic to urban revolution, but, as with everything else Smith has ever written, the meaning is clouded by cocky irony and funereal humour. The subject matter of so much of The Fall's track record hovers precariously between gritty, political reality and trout mask replica surreality, and therein lies the indisputable magic. Boring they never are. Themes like the music biz, drugs, religion, America, London, hotels, Nazis and literature crop up again and again; to suggest that the lyrical bent of Mark Edward Smith is complex would be to understate the understated. Imagine Luis Bunuel, Nicolas Roeg, Eisenstein and Ken Leach making a skiffle record...
The game of Making Up Fall Titles is a constant fund of enjoyment around this office; to total the amount of NME headlines based on Fall titles would take all day; and only The Fall could have committed to pop legend the words "philanthropist", "quantifier" and, erm," voxish".
The English language is both nightmare and Nirvana to Smith, the fury with which he attacks juxtaposition, pun, onomatopoeia, pastiche, tabloidspeak and pure, unadulterated whimsy remains unmatched to this day.
Oh, and then there's the music. A succession of excellent, hard-hitting drummers (Karl Burns, Paul Hanley, Simon Wolstencroft) underpins the rampant, rambling Fall sound over countless line-up changes and/or blatant sackings. Burns was often cited as the only Fallperson on first name terms with his instrument in the early days, and rather than subscribe to the derigueur whack-it-and-see punkline, The Fall took discord and minimalism to unheard of and sophisticated places more in tune with Captain Beefheart than Captain Sensible.
Rockabilly/ Skiffle rhythms crop up a lot ('Lucifer Over Lancashire", "Spoilt Victorian Child", "Couldn't Get Ahead'), Glitterstomp rears its ugly head ("Guest Informant"), and, inevitably, there's always been a dance element to The Fall's music, most obviously realised of late via 'Telephone Thing' with Coldcut, and 'The Mixer' on 'Shiftwork'.
As with Talking Heads, there is quite literally something to listen to in every song, some quirk or hook or surprise or repeat that takes it out of the realms of conformity.
Try as I might, I cannot find a lean period in The Fall's history, the earliest output speaks for itself; 1980's live album 'Totale's Turns' ("the most accurate document of The Fall ever released" ran the joke sleeve notes) is gripping in its pig iron rawness, recorded at working men's clubs and a lovely snapshot of a working band; the Rough Trade years (1980-'83) present an ever re-shuffling cult finding their erm, commercial feet; and to chart a curve of creativity from 1985's 'Cruiser's Creek' to the epic 'Jerusalem' in 1988 would involve a lot of extra graph paper, cock.
Sell-out is a thing The Fall are pathologically incapable of. They signed to industry giants Phonogram in 1990 and became instant labelmates of Dire Straits and Wet Wet Wet - but did they go rubbish accordingly? They did not. 'Extricate' demonstrated a technical maturity and multi-producer perestroika, but it was as weird and wired as 'Dragnet' in essence. Previously, in May 1987, The Fall pierced the national charts with a cover of R. Dean Taylor's 'There's A Ghost In My House' and followed it six months later with a mental version of The Kinks' Empire song 'Victoria'. The wet blankets deduced that The Fall could only sell when dressed as someone else, but they were ill-informed.
This year, the second Phonogram LP 'Shiftwork' entered the chart at Number 17, concrete proof - for those dullards requiring it- that The Fall were serious contenders. Ten years earlier, Smith's spurious alter-ego Roman Totale XVIII wrote "Maybe one day a Northern sound will emerge not tied to that death-circuit attitude or merely reiterating movements based in the capital". His vision was now flesh.
IN THE Fall's reading of 'Jerusalem' from the Michael Clark-performed ballet I Am Curious, Orange, Smith launches into an hilarious tirade in the style of The Disenchanted Prole: "I was very let down by the budget/I was expecting a one million quid handout/I was very disappointed/It was the government's fault'. So is Smith a twisted Tory sympathiser or simply better at irony than The Pet Shop Boys will ever be? And are The Fall an elaborate practical joke on gullible South Bank pseuds or a true voice from Salford?
Echo And The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Magazine, Gang Of Four, even The Smiths, all the great post-punk bands came from the North West, and by the end of the '80s, they had all gone. Except the Mighty Fall Group. What really went on there? We only have this excerpt. And what a f----ing excerpt. Ah.
We tried hard to produce a definitive list of great Fall songs any self-respecting home should own. And we failed. No two lists turned out the same, which is a mark of the sheer volume of great stuff The Fall have churned out (no slight intended). So here instead is a list of 57 fantastic Fall songs. To print the details of where to find them would take pages, so seek them out any way you can. But do seek them out...
A Lot Of Wind
Bill Is Dead
Bingo Masters Breakout
Black Monk Theme
British People In Hot Weather
Cab It Up
Couldn't Get Ahead
Eat Y'self Fitter
Gut Of The Quantifier
Gross Chapel- British Grenadiers
Hard Life In Country
Haf Found Bormann
Hit The North
How I Wrote Elastic Man
The Jawbone And The Air Rifle
I Am Damo Suzuki
I'm Into CB
It's The New Thing
Leave The Capital
Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
Living Too Late
Lucifer Over Lancashire
The Man Whose Head Expanded
Marquis Cha Cha
Mere Pseud Mag Ed
My New House
New Big Prinz
No Xmas For John Quays
Oswald Defence Lawyer
Pat Trip Dispenser
Prole Art Threat
Spectre Vs Rector
US '80s '90s
Words Of Success Expectation
GLUT OF BONKERS FALL TITLES
1 To Nkroachment: Yarbles
2 Mere Pseud Mag Ed
3 Eat Y'self Fitter
4 Haf Found Bormann
5 Mollusc In Tyrol
6 Win Fall CD 2080
7 Jawbone And The Air Rifle
8 Hexen Definitive - Strife Knot
9 WMC - Blob 59
10 Gut Of The Quantifier