Andrew Perry, "Alright?"
SELECT, May 1993
He's back ! He's back in Pringle! And he still doesn't give a flying one! Batten own the hatches, Suede, Pavement, Bob Harris, Morrissey, Prince Charles... The Fall's own Mr Infotainment Mark E Smith wants to give you a piece 'of his mind, cock..
"You talkin' to me, pal? Are you talkin' to me?" Of course we are, Fishface, we always do.
"THIS IS VIRTUALLY THE ONLY PLACE THAT'LL still take me," says Mark E Smith, gesturing coolly at the swanky facade of his West London residence. It's several cuts above your average Hotel Du Rock. "I'm banned from the fuckin' Columbia. You can jack up in the corridor, but order a fuckin' drink after half past fuckin' ten and you're out." He pulls viciously on his B&H. "Fuckin' London."
As is amply clear on 'The Infotainment Scan', The Fall's umpteenth studio album since 1977, Mark E Smith is back in top bile-spitting, tab-chewing, namby-pamby-fuckin'-Southerner-hating form. Here to promote it in the heart of Suede country, he seethes with righteous anger.
He's a surprisingly charming bloke in conversation, a hilarious raconteur who tends to look past your left ear while he's talking. When he hits upon a particularly savage idea he doubles up and wheezes with laughter, grabbing on to your elbow for support. It's hard not to wheeze with him. You get some cigs in, even though you've given up.
Mark relishes the opportunity to spout off in interviews, everyone knows that, but right now it doesn't seem to matter if there's a tape rolling. As we look for a pub by Notting Hill Gate, within a few minutes of our meeting, he has already disclosed some potentially libellous stories about Terry Christian, Mike Joyce and -- his favourite verbal whipping boy -- Morrissey.
Mark hovers outside a perfectly decent-looking hostelry. "Can't go in there, cock," he sneers. "That's fuckin' REM they're playing. Finally, settled behind a pint of Premium, Smith is in full swing, claiming that he's psychic and, stranger still, was recently offered two grand to do a night's DJing in London -- surprising when you consider that, more than ever, 'Infotainment' finds him sinking his teeth into what's hip in contemporary British pop...
You're taking quite a swing at the house scene on stuff like 'A Past Gone Mad' from the new album. What's wrong with it?
"Those lyrics are more about blokes in their mid 30s trying to swing out. Always makes me laugh, that does. I'm not against dance. What I'm having a crack at is all these guys in their mid-30s who're married with kids, and because they've seen The Hitman And Her once, they're going out to clubs and ruining it for all the young kids. Get my drift?
"Advertising's all controlled by people who are very much of my age group -- 34, 35 -- who're putting out Levis adverts with The Steve Miller Band, or black and white flashbacks of going to a soccer match. There's a lot of fellas in this country who won't grow up. All these twats ten years ago... You'd go, I'm off to see City, y'know. And they'd, go, Oh, we don't like soccer, we're into meditation and taking acid and listening to some of the punk sounds like The Stranglers and Talking Heads."
You're aiming at the roots of '70s nostalgia?
"'A Past Gone Mad' is like, you turn on the telly or listen to the radio and it's all '60s music or '70s music. And they go, It's because they don't make the tunes the same any more. It's not that at all (heated) it's because the fuckin' people in charge want to wallow in their past. You pick up Q or even Select, and it's all, like, your editor tells you who were the drummers in Emerson, Lake & Palmer! Who fuckin' cares? Really good groups just got an LP out get three lines, and then you get three pages on who Yes's drummers were. To me, it's like the fuckin' Twilight Zone."
So you don't remember the '70s too fondly?
"Waking up, turning the radio on and hearing Bob Harris is a total freak-out to me. I remember when I was 15, it was like, the day will come when we'll get rid of c**** like you. You had the New York Dolls on the Old Grey Whistle Test and he's going, It's not music. Music was Little Feat, Led Zeppelin. Country, soft rock. Now you turn on the TV and it's fuckin' Sounds Of The '70s. The bastard's back! I fought a revolution to get rid of these longhaired c****...
"I was at secondary school in 196-fucking-7 and this country was fuckin' horrible. It's bad now, but... They show you pictures of Carnaby Street and all that -- the rest of the country was living under a fascist regime, on rations. In my book, Spangles and powdered eggs were always crap."
So dancing and raving and letting off steam isn't your idea of a big night out, Mark?
"No, I like that music, but I didn't go out for a year or two, me. Armies of people in fuckin' Stone Roses uniform, people pretending to be scallies on E... It ruined it. When it was a serious rave scene in 1988 it was, like, something that car thieves do, poor people.
"It's like anything. It's like punk. It gets streamlined. Story of fuckin' rock 'n' roll, in't it? Start with Gene Vincent and end up with Pink Floyd. It must be cyclic."
But you cover 'Lost In Music' by Sister Sledge! What's that if it's not '70s nostalgia?
"Very funny that. Believe this or not, just before Christmas we were mixing it in a studio in fuckin' Chelsea for a day, and this engineer there, on our way out, says to us (in monied Southern accent) That 'Lost In Music' it's very familiar, you know. Yeah, it's Sister Sledge. That's it, he goes, they were in here to remix it the day before you came in. Three black women, isn't it? Well, fuckin' thanks for telling us! Tell us on our way out! (Shakes head bitterly) It was coincidental. Not very original, but I like the song. Lot of lyrical license, of course..."
On 'Glam Racket' you seem to be having a crack at Suede! Is nothing sacred?
"That's just a fashion comment on Manchester. It's hip to wear brown suede boots and jackets. (Getting shirty) No, I'm very annoyed about that. When we were looking at labels, we went to Nude, and the guy goes to me, It's great, the track you've done about Suede. And I says, Look, unequivoc-uk (choking with rage) y'know, no fucking way...is that about Suede, the group. If it was, they'd fuckin' have something to worry about, it's a really vicious... He's going, I played it to Suede and they were over the moo-oon! Hahaha! (wheezing) It's nowt to do with them! Hahahaha!"
What do you actually think of Suede? The sounds of the '70s?
"Suede're alright. They haven't brought out a good record yet, but they could do. They played with us a few times... It could be worse, they could be Hue & Cry or Simple Minds, but it's like pushing a new British car or something, Only runs for 15 minutes! (Errupting) That's about the size of Suede's set, in't it? When they played with us, we'd go, did you enjoy your sound-check? And they'd go, No, that was our show! It was like 12 minutes! Hahahahaha."
Isn't it good to have fresh, young talent emerging with a sense of national pride?
"I only noticed that last week, Andrew. Like, this is the only thing we've got, sort of thing. Pathetic, in't it? (Leafing through last month's Select) Yeah, so these are the only hopes, we've got? We're fuckin' lost already. (Stopping at Michael Gillette's Made In Britain/Dad's Army illustration) This is the fuckin ''Hit The North' cover, this! Ya bastards! "It's all nostalgia, in't it? Yeah, this is what all the stuff on our LPs about. Totally fuckin' Infotainment. I didn't think it'd be that apparent."
Do you see your role in music simply as a bullshit detector?
"I fancy myself as a monitor, yeah. The Fall's always been like that. It's what keeps me going. Every time I feel like packing it in, I think, You can't allow this to go on!"
Are you proud of the Union Jack? Did it piss you off to see Morrissey draping it round himself in such a ridiculous way?
"Considering Morissey's Irish, yeah (coughing). That's a bit pervy, actually. He's stepping away from the closet, isn't he? Ah these blond guys out of the Hitler Youth in his videos. Those nice skinheads, hmmm... Rough! But nah, I don't think he knows what he's doing. So all this Suede's like following on from Morrissey, is it? I've always thought the St George flag is a lovely flag, actually. But I'd only use it in an artistic sense, as a parody. The irony of it is, obviously been brought up English, and the one thing that English people never used to do was to go around flag-waving. That's vulgar. That's what Americans do or Germans. I'm from fuckin' 'ere! English born and bred! That's not English at all."
Are you the kind of Brit who stands to attention and salutes the National Anthem?
"Me? No. German song anyway. German Royal Family too. What of our monarchy? Where are they now ? The trouble with the monarchy is that they're revoltingly middle-class. They're mean. Elvis lived like a king. Charles frightens me to death. You can't have a vegetarian as a king. They haven't got the style, even the Queen. Charles is in fuckin' London and he goes, Look at the way people are living, summat must be done about the inner cities. And the c*** owns fuckin' Cornwall! He could do summat about it tomorrow. He'd probably make more out of it, as well. There was riots in Salford the other week. Papers said 'racial riots', but you'd be dead lucky to see one black person round there, I tell you. Prince Charles goes there and he's planting trees and putting little white garden fences up. What good is that, they'll be down in a week! All these Salford people were going, At half nine, we all went to watch this carpet warehouse burn down. Better than doing nothing! Knock 20 pence off a pint of bitter and they'd be no trouble at all."
What do you think is an acceptable form of patriotism?
"My opinion is, the government are a bunch of traitors and the Royal Family, and it's been a long line of traitors in this country since the Second World War. My family was decimated then, they all fought in it or got bombed in it or got put in prison camps, which is why they're all poor. It reminds me very much of the '30s now.
"Europe's never been more dangerous, so what's the government's answer? Well cut the army in half and shut all the mines down. What a time to do it. Only in Britain could that happen. Europe's fuckin' psyche-mad, they all want to kill each other. We toured Yugoslavia six months before it went off, and we picked up these two lovely couples in Ljubljana, right, and they wanted to travel with us, so we said we'd take them to Zagreb. These were cultured people, talking about Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw -- which the band would know nothing about; y'know, does he play rhythm guitar, or what? -- and they're going, We do not like the people in Zagreb. We'd like to kill them. And we're going, Yeah, we're like that, we make jokes about Southerners and all those people. And they go, No, we want to kill them and their families, the women and the children. Blood in their eyes, I tell ya.
"So the English close down the army, sell everything off... And it's skint, white trash like my family they turn to when they have to build it up, You get racist violence, skinheads... Treat people like shit, they act like shit. Lions, led by donkeys, as Napoleon said. So I don't stand up for the fuckin' National Anthem, pal. I'm not a big patriot, I think England deserves everything it fuckin' gets."
OK, so the Windsors are a crumbly, British institution. But aren't The Fall?
"Yeah, I think we should be subsidised. Y'know, they give money to everything else..."
Right, the Pavement question. Much has been written about the US tribute band and its Fall debt.
"Have a listen to 'Two Slates... "(Loudly) Turn it up (it's already on eight, Mark cranks it up to ten; heads are turning in the pub). The drummer's on Benylin! (Shouting) 'Ere, they're right fuckin' rip-offs, aren't they? (Removing headphones) Cheeky sods! They've sold about 100,000 fuckin' LPs, these bastards.
"I can't stand plagiarists. What I hate is, you get your interviews where Pavement say what their favourite records are, and it's like (assumes suave Yankee tone) Led Zeppelin, Stooges. Why not, The Fall's LPs from 1980 -1985? which it's fuckin' obvious is what their influences are.
"It wasn't just that we were poor or anything, I used to deliberately get that cassette boom sound, because the lads were about 16 and they couldn't play, so the best thing to do was put it on cassette and distort it. Like, grrbwaaanlrgg! They've obviously studied it, which is funny, but it sounds weaker. Hahahahahahaha! I'll bet they can play Deep Purple backwards. Don't worry, they'll be accountants in five years."
Are you aware of The Fall's current fashion status, especially in America?
"They're the worst, these new wave of American bands going on about all sorts. Then you hear them and they sound like me sister rehearsing in the bleedin' garage. Belly? Weak as piss. Is there a difference between Belly and Riot Gurls?"
'The Infotainment Scan' comes out on Permanent. A sign of the times, perhaps? Was your move from Phonogram symptomatic of a more widespread corporate squeeze on bands of The Fall's generation?
"The thing was, I'd re-negotiated the deal at Phonogram, and then this guy starts cracking on that, because they're giving us money upfront to record, he wants to hear demo tapes day-by-day. He was just the fuckin' financial department. Typical fuckin' British industry, spending hundreds of pounds to save fuckin' ten bob.
"I was fuckin' haywire, me. (Getting riled at the mere thought) How dare you fuckin'... The A&R guy on fuckin' holiday in fuckin' India or summat. So I rang that jerk and I go, We've given you three fuckin' Top 30 LPs in three fuckin' years, and this fuckin' kid who's fuckin' just come out of fuckin' business school wants fuckin' demo tapes of The Fall! And he goes, Man, it's the recession, mate..."
And you walked...
"Right. I got all the money off them, mind, so in fact they spent twice as much for an LP they're not even going to get. It was a case of screw them before they screw us. Come April it'd be, Oh, sorry mate, the pressing plant's booked up with the 'Hits Of The '70s'. You get on the train down to London already and it's full of bands who've been kicked off labels. Half of 'em probably deserve it, mind..."
Ever thought of doing anything else outside of The Fall -- like, working with other bands, doing Henry Rollins style stand-up turns?
"I've been doing a lot of spoken-word stuff on reel-to-reel, which I'm fitting in a lot with the music. I've done lectures, but once is enough. Easy money. It's just comedy, in't it? I could be dead funny in a pub or something, but it'd be a mistake to think you can do it on a stage.
"I'm a bit funny about things like that. I don't allow the rest of the group to play for other people. It smacks of supergroups. My lads just aren't interested in that sort of thing. We're a working, two-LP-a-year group."
Sounds like you're still keeping The Fall very much on a tight leash then, cock?
"It's really good just now. I don't have to be there telling them. It used to be you'd only have to go out for a pee and some dickhead would do a drum solo, or try and sound like The Clash. I don't have to worry these days. 'Anyway, musicians can't progress! You can only hear music if you're a layman. I can't play a fuckin' note, right, but I can write fuckin' good tunes and I know whether what they play's shit or not. I listen with different ears."