New Musical Express, February 19, 1994

Oxford January 29/30, 1994

(Part of piece in which NME search for the "spirit of rock" -- we only have this excerpt)


.....After such mind-blowing wonders, we need a sobering five-hour drive to Oxford to boost the spirits. We wrestle over who shall reside on the back seat, deny the existence of foul-smelling bodily emissions that flood the car and quiz an ever more mad-eyed Willsher as to why the stereo is regularly hijacked by Orange Deluxe demos.

Nerves overcome us, however, as the fair city's Ivory Towers come into view. Before us lies MARK E SMITH, Grandmaster Of Grouch and the one man who might just be able to capture the spirit without even trying. As we approach The Venue strange things start happening. We drop our usual hyperactive personae and adopt the nonchalance of men who've seen a thousand interviews. Willsher pulls up in heavy traffic and runs behind a wall to, erm, relieve himrself. Such is the great man's power.

So Mark, the spirit of rock? Where is it, like?

From within a four poster bed, the rest of his band huddled around a TV, Smith drags on his fag, slurps his pint and eyes us scathingly. Everything returns to The Fall.

"Are you really doing this? I thought it was a joke. I don't know what the spirit is and I don't really care. I still make records because it isn't perfect yet. I haven't said what I want to say."

But is the spirit Elvis in '56, The Beatles in '63, the Pistols in '77 or the Mondays in '89?

"I've always said the business needs The Fall more than The Fall need the business. Did you read that shit in the papers? I don't normally read papers, but that stuff where Tony Parsons said comedy was the new rock'n'roll? Keep that sort of rubbish away from me... but things are going very well for us - right now. The audiences are getting a lot younger, teenagers and that. They're not as daft as people crack on, teenagers. I think they get bored of the usual pop, I know I do. MTV and that. That's why they go to clubs, to get away from TV."

Do Primal Scream in their rock god guise have the spirit?

"Heh, heh... It's sad, innit! I saw Suede and that lot who did 'Runaway Train', Fishbone or something, on telly." It was dead sad all these supposed current groups dressed like something from 1973. Neil Young clothes and that. Disgusting.

"Funny thing is all those American bands, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are dead into The Fall. Nirvana tried to get into our bus, Courtney whatshername, the actress, tried it and we pushed her off. Heh, heh. But they all come from this horrible place called Seattle which is just like Moss Side on a bad night. And they're nothing more than glorified longhair guitar salesmen, y'know. Fucking idiots playing pub rock. Aye, pub rock, that's what it is. If they were English you wouldn't put up with it. It'd be Led Zep and all that rubbish.

"You see all these groups from Liverpool and London on trains and they're being paid to do nothing. And then they wonder why American groups come over and clean up. The British record industry closes down on December 10 and it comes back at the end of January. If there's something wrong with the spirit of rock it's that.

"Can I go now, or should I get the group to beat you up?"

And so onto the gig, which goes like this... Mark walks on trussed into a demob suit and barks into a microphone. The band show their age and clang along professionally. Almost everyone has a good time. Except us who find ourselves cornered in the back bar by Ben and James, two sixth-form NME readers little enamoured with our current search.

"What's the point of all this? It's just you having an excuse to go around the country for a week making snap judgements," says Ben, from within a Carter T-shirt. "You're not really looking for anything."

Only a patience born of a thousand nights at the Bull & Gate and a handily placed side-door prevents the evening falling into the deeper recesses of disaster...