Carol Clerk, "15 Years Of Fame"
MELODY MAKER, May 1, 1993, p. 8
The Fall have been going for 15 years. And they're still bloody-minded and bloody marvelous, far out and far ahead. Carol Clerk meets Mark E. Smith on the eve of the release of "The Infotainment Scan", arguably the band's most accessible record to date.
THERE'S SOMETHING TREMENDOUSLY REASSURING about the fact that The Fall, and Mark E Smith, exist.
The days go by, and while, all around us, television personalities and wobble board-wielding painters are making records, computer engineers are producing albums, rich young men in pony tails are running record labels and packs of harridans are roaming the country trying to cause rrriots, Smith is that cantankerous old fellow in the corner of the pub, shaking a wise head and smiling wryly as he mutters into his pint: "Dicks!"
Alternately portrayed as Mr Grumpy Northern Git and one of pop's most relentlessly critical and witty elder statesmen, Smith does, in reality, exhibit elements of both personae. He's as blunt and as unerringly to-the-point as any self-respecting Mancunian ought to be.
And while no one can dispute that the field of music is all the healthier for the hundreds of twists and turns and detours and diversions it's taken in recent years, Smith sees no harm in pronouncing that the king has got no clothes when the king is obviously naked.
If there are idiots to be revealed in all of their idiocy, he's the one who will be tugging at the mask.
Yet, for all of that, the thing which makes Mark E Smith more valuable to us than even the most successful of the David Bowie wannabes is that, in one of the greediest and most egotistical industries in the world, he is, indeed, 4 Real. He nods, blowing cigarette smoke across the table in this pocket-size pub in Notting Hill. "I've got a good conscience."
THIS is demonstrably so. Mark E Smith is the man who marched The Fall out of their major label deal with Phonogram in November last year-- because he didn't want the cash.
"Phonogram were happy to give us money every year to twiddle our thumbs," he declares, talking so softly I have to lean six inches closer to make out his words. "I didn't like the atmosphere. I didn't need idiots in baseball caps telling me that rap is the new thing, when I told them rap was the new thing four years ago.
"Phonogram said to me, 'We' re going to lay off a lot of bands but you're very lucky -- we're going to keep you on. If you send us demo tapes, we'll release your album next year.' I thought, I'm fucking 30, don't talk to me like that. 'Send a fucking demo tape'!
"We could have waited around till the summer and they might have released the LP and, if we were lucky, a single a year. But I didn't want to hang around. We're not Dire Straits. We're a working group. I want to put out two or three singles a year, and as many LPs as we can. So I thought, Fuck them.
"I went to the group and said, 'Look, I made a rash decision. I walked out.' And they said, 'About time, Mark.' I did the right thing. And I paid for the album myself."
The album in question "The Infotainment Scan," which has just emerged on the Independent Permanent Records (run by former Fall manager John Lennard).
Described by an amused Mark E Smith as "bright, clear, warm, strong, very up, very positive, and a step forwards ... after 12 years the LP is light-hearted in its delivery, if not in all of its lyrical content, and extremely accessible by Fall standards. And in case anyone might misinterpret the title, Smith is quick to insist that the album is not about the music business. Well, not entirely.
"The British record industry is a microcosm of British industry," he declares, quietly yet emphatically. "The album is about society as a whole. That's what most of our LPs are about. It's an attempt to be topical. The theme of this album is entertainment and the media, cheap thrills masquerading as hard news or information.
"The people in the media are middle-class people who don't have enough sex or enough cars, which is all they want," he adds. These are the people immortalised amid the hilarious Glitter Band riffs of "Glam-Racket", which is widely assumed to be at Brett Anderson and Co because the words, "You are entrenched in Suede."
We go off the record, for quite some time, while Smith has a private explosion about the whole misunderstanding.
He finally continues with remarkable good grace: "In Manchester, if you've got a job in the media, say in videos, you wear suede shoes and a suede jacket. They all do. The song has got fuck all to do with the group Suede, and they shouldn't flatter themselves to think it is."
MARK E Smith lights another fag. I like this. Even more, I like the fact that he'd arranged for drummer Simon Wolstencroft to drive him to London from Manchester, rather than take the train, just to be sure of a smoking seat.
By now, the formal interview situation has evolved into more of a conversation among the three of us, just bitching the hours away over a pint or 10 in the pub. It's all that I'd been told, and hoped, would happen.
The talks career unpredictably from one topic to the next. The state of the coalmines, the docks, the British Army, Europe and America -- all of this eventually gives way to a series of inspired Smith one-liners about everyone from Wilson Phillips, Nelson and Ugly Kid Joe to Adamski, The Sultans Of Ping FC, and the fact that the British public get what they deserve -- "the Government, and a lot of car boot salesmen in the charts."
We chew over Smith's contempt for Sixties nostalgia and his enthusiasm for "Coronation Street" and Schumann, and finally arrive back at the subject of The Mighty Fall.
Largely underestimated in the UK, unsung pioneers of what has followed in their footsteps, they are still here, years later. But why?
"Getting bitter is the worst thing you can do," says Smith, swapping an empty glass for a full one. "They have stupid parodies of me in the press: 'Mark Smith - eh-up, where's the Hovis?' But if you got upset about it, you'd go fucking mad.
"The Fall are always ahead. People are doing what we did in 1983. And then you read interviews with these groups criticising us, and we've written every drum riff that they do. I just go, You'll learn.
"You can get bloody-minded, and I enjoy that. There are also times when you think in the back of your mind, Oh, this is will wind people up, and that's very important.
"A lot of people think rock music is dead easy. They don't try to develop it. They just want to go 'la, la, la, la' like The Beatles.
"You hear something on the radio, and you say, 'Fucking hell, you can't just stand by and let this happen.' I think a lot of stuff needs to be said in songs that isn't being said. And that's why I keep going."
To the next 15 years ...