Sylvia Patterson, "Git Pop Now!"
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS(?), February 3, 1996, pp. 26-27
The wonderful and frightening world of The Fall has been revolving for nigh on 20 years now. And still the narky ol' git Mark E Smith is careering off-kilter -- get a load of this, a jungle collaboration with Pete Waterman, signing to ELO's old label, and strangest of all, the Liz Taylor-ah of pop actually being stuck for words. Sylvia Patterson also talks to Mark and ex-wife Brix about more predictable happenings like their 29th LP, divorce and the state of the nation.
Mark Edward Smith, 39-years-old next month (March 5), swigs his beer and announces the latest project in a 20-year career for which the word 'uncompromising' was invented.
"Been working with PWL," he states, in his famed mumbly Northern whinny, smoking his B&H snout right down to the tip in three power-puffs flat. "I like that Pete Waterman, he's not about the (witheringly) rock world, he's about the real world. And so am I. One of the producers at the studio said to me the other day, 'Someone from The Smiths was in 'ere, is that one of your relations!' And he meant it. Harhaaargh. Anyways, I always liked The Reynold's Girls' 'I'd Rather Jack' -- a bloody great song."
MARK E SMITH -- poet, punk, pub philosopher, national institution, vilifying visionary, sacker of thousands, beloved of millions, relentlessly prolific artistic auteur, spectacularly unrepentant grumpiest man in pop -- grins with a startling, twinkle-eyed charm and laughs his bloody head off. We're in The Fall's nerve centre, a cupboard in a studio complex in Manchester featuring walls adorned in Fall posters, one Daily Star spread of Take That and a portrait of Leigh Bowery, naked.
"It's me guesting with this group called DOSE," he lathers, of his PWL collaboration, "they're all 17, 18, it's called 'Plug Myself In'. It's really hard... jungle. I think that's what they call it. They have about 20 bloody different phrases don't they!"
Typical, of course. Mark E Smith can make jungle tunes with the titans of '80s tots' pop if he so pleases because he can, and always has done, exactly as he sees 'fit'. It's been his lifetime's odyssey as meister-mind of The Fall's ever-evolving collective, this year's personnel expanding to eight with the addition of Lucy Rimmer (backing vocals), Julia Nagle (keyboards) and Brix Smith (rhythm guitar, vocals, ex-wife, ex-Fall 1983-1990). And they're back on full-spirited form with 'The Chiselers', a huge, bass blistering cacophony of industrial might, or, as Mark says, "A pain in the arse, it took eight bloody months to do 'cos it's got nine parts, 12 different speeds and eight different vocal arrangements.
It's a song, naturally, about "people who rip me off". And today Mark is adding huge paused impenetrable vagueness to his legacy of hilarious raconteur of miserable bastardism.
"She phoned me up 18 months ago," says Mark of Brix's reappearance, "I hadn't spoken to her since the divorce, two and a half years. She's been a Godsend, really, 'cos I was going a bit wonky around then. Going down. Y'know... (Huge pause) getting a bit... fed up. Of... y'know, there's just too many groups around at the moment. And all these old coots reforming."
"All them old bands," he snorts. "The Beatles an' all that. Hundreds of 'em. And... things weren't too good with sales an'... well, I've had me problems. (Nods to beer) Skulk 'em down. Whisky. (Even bigger pause.) I don't think this sort of stuff should be talked about because it's... excuses. I hate all that... being self-obsessed and thinking about your diet and what you drink. It's borin', self-pitying, innit? Anyway, it's alright with me and Brix, that's the good thing about Yanks, no grudges, unlike the British. And she's given the band a right kick up the arse."
And here she comes now, an unexpectedly short frisson of boundless energy who talks on natural helium and bears a pup-in-arms called Gromit. "Mark was a bit cagey at first," she shrills of the initial phone call, "I think he thought I was after money. She wasn't. She wanted to tell him he was "a genius" after having a revelation about how extraordinary The Fall had been/were, "they're the grandfathers to hundreds of fuckersers" and how much "creative freedom" she'd been given. She missed it.
"I said, 'If you ever want us to write together again, I'm ready to write'. And he phoned back," she beams, "and said, 'Guess what!' We didn't have a terrible breakup anyway, it was hard, but deep down we knew we could call each other up for anything. I went away and did something else and freed it all out, y'knowhatimean!" She "freed it all out" by becoming a waitress in an LA health food restaurant and a model on the side.
"I was the EPT poster girl," she gleams, "the Early Pregnancy Test. I must look like the kind of girl that gets fucked and always makes a mistake. Or do I look like a Catholic girl! Or maybe I don't look educated enough. Today, she has forsaken "the disease of LA" and is living in west London with her boyfriend, who is 50 years old.
"We're all knocking on that door," she breezes. Still, better than Nigel Kennedy, eh!
"BEEN THROUGH me third divorce now," says Mark E Smith and throws his head back in the mightiest cackle of rib-rattlin' jocularity you ever did hear. So, is this the track record of a total loser at love or the world's greatest romantic optimist!
(Huge pause, enormous grin with essence of deepest wry) "So this is the new angle of journalism, is it? I've noticed that in the British music papers, it's all about... trying to be like The Sun. Piffle. It's true!" he attests, "They've just discovered sex."
I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about love. And you are the Elizabeth Taylor of pop.
"Heh heh heh. Same star sign. Pisces -- the doomed romantic. (Ruefully) Yeah, well... I'm not havin' any of that... wah-ffle." Lucy arrives bearing gifts: more beer.
"Marvellous darlin', thank you," chirps Mark, then watches her float out the door, "she's great, Lucy."
She's your new girlfriend, I hear.
Prhrthrth!! You still believe in marriage!
"Must do," he muses, "oh, you know, you get let down a few times and then you change your mind. It's like music, innit! Are you courting, then! (Several minutes of interrogation later) I've been through a lot of shit but, y'know, you fall in love and you fall out of love and that's that, what's the problem?" Some people would be destroyed after one divorce.
"Which is why you get all these groaning old fellas listening to their fookin' Jam records," he bellows, "and they wonder why the women left them. 'Ooh, that Oasis singer reminds me of The Jam!' 'Yes, I'm leaving now'. It's true, though, innit!"
Unsurprisingly, he was singularly unmoved by the Britpop experience. "All these groups sound like something off Rough Trade in 1982," he slurps, "but I like Supergrass, they're dead funny. And I can understand about Oasis, I'm not gonna criticise them 'cos they're nice fellas. Bit muso for me, but when I've met them they've been great and I don't usually like musicians. Still. I like Liam, he comes up and goes "Ey, Mark, man, y'know, I really like... (effects profound cluelessness) I really like your... music'. I think he's hilarious."
Bet you don't appreciate them harping on about The Beatles.
"Never liked The Beatles," he yelps, "I hear The Beatles and I just think about being very poor when I was 11. I suppose they were a good pub band, and Oasis are a good pub band."
The entire nation is captivated by A Good Pub Band!
"Yeah," decides Mark, "cos they're very good at it. Professional. Twelve-year-old's poetry, innit!"
So you're not to be found bawling to 'Champagne Supernova' at dawn!
"What's 'Champagne Supernova'!"
Oasis' dreamer's anthem. Grown men weep to that at four in the morning.
"I bet," he guffaws, "in the NME staff room at least. (Begins weeping) 'Oooh, they're like The Jam and The Beatles put together!' Fookin' 'ell. Where's my pistol! It's all gone superpop and looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses. I remember the '70s -- totally depressing. The '60s were horrible. And now it's all retro, innit! And that's why stuff like Mojo exists, old blokes reliving their youth. Lucy gets Mojo sometimes and I throw it in the bin. Use it for cat litter. You don't want to be readin' about Barclay James Bloody Harvest for fook's sake, had enough of that at the time!"
Incidentally, have you ever fancied a Rolls-Royce?
"No. Don't drive," he says."
Noel Gallagher has. Creation gave him a Rolls-Royce.
"Did they!" he says, cackling anew, "Wouldn't give Liam one, then? So is Liam getting the old bus, then? 'Sorry, Liam, you're on the number 27, pal'. He'll end up standing on the corner in Manchester selling some Shelter magazine and Noel'll drive past in his Roller going (adopts 'Royal' wave) -- Har haaargh."
IT'S NEARLY 20 years since The Fall's very first gig.
"Nah," corrects Mark, "it's... 18." Nutter.
"It was in a basement round the corner actually," he recalls, thumbing out the window, "about 20-odd people there. We were about 15. We did it for this avant-garde music association, I remember that. (Face lighting up with recollection) Played with a socialist brass band. And a guy who made symphonies out of bird noises -- great, totally surreal. They thought we were great cos we were the first group who played continually in the chord of E. Wasn't exactly The Beatles heheh. Weren't even headlining, it was the bird noises, then us, then the brass band.
And you saw your future panning out gloriously before you...
"I thought, 'Fookin' 'ell, better get a job quick'.
It's down the docks for me...
"I'd already been fired from the docks! So there was.., no way back."
Thus he became the uberlord of discord; now about the release his 29th LP, 'Sinister Waltz', followed by two more in the next three months, all out on Jet ("ELO's old label -- harhar"), all compilations of rarities and "classic" reworkings.
"I walked out on me old record company and publisher last week," trills Mark as if this is something he does while sticking the kettle on, which it is, "the fookin' publisher said 'last year you brought out one LP and a double live LP, now this is not what we expected'. Them fookers think working hard is a criminal offence."
And he's off. On a 20-minute theoretical tirade outlining just why the British music industry's hurtling down the dumper, principally "Cos they're never bloody in!" and furthermore... "They've shut down all the pressing plants in Britain," he scoffs, "so you have to get your records pressed in bloody France.
It's easier to buy up a back catalogue of Thin Lizzy for 70 grand than do any bloody work and you still get the company car. I know a bloke who resigned from RCA 'cos the only artists they want are the ones that are dead. 'Cos they sell and they don't phone you up going, 'How's me new record doin'!' It's a great tragedy 'cos the record industry's the last industry this fookin' country's got. It's not even politics, it's sheer fookin' incompetence. They just bloody give it away, the bloody middle classes, crap management, throwing it a-fookin'-way, man. It's like matches. You can't get British matches any more. Every time you light up a cig the matches are made in fookin' Czechoslovakia, they don't light or they blow up in your bloody face. They just sit at home, English people, we're not making anything any more, so we'll end like bloody Greece, a tourist attraction. I tell you what, you'll have people walking round 'ere with Rat caps and clogs on. They've already brought the trams back!"
Black pudding stalls on the streets any day now... "it's bloody true!"
So The Future is Britain: The Theme Park!
"'Course it is! And there's no bloody need for it."
Mark likes abroad, especially Germany and America. It's there where The Fall are "appreciated". Because, "if this group depended on Britain, it'd be dead a long time ago, although he refuses to appreciate his own status as a British living legend: "if you start thinking like that you end up like Adam bloody Faith." "The light's going!"
It's Brix, she and her ex-husband must appear for photos on the roof of the building immediately. "The others were too scared to come in here so it's up to me to do my duty. His own band, "too scared"! Some reputation. And that's only the half of it.
"I get in cabs here," says Mark E Smith, slewing the last of his can, "and these blokes I know are going.' Still can't sing, then, Mark, hurhur! Still John Peel's band, never been on Top Of The Pops, then, hurhurhur! But I like that Oasis, though, oh that Oasis'. Not that I care, I think people know by now I never wanted to be a bloody pop star.
He locks the door and marches roofwards to view the world from above, a world which provides his despair, bewilderment, wisdom and personal amusement within the space of each passing second. "As long as I can still write, that's all I want to do. And I know I'm dead anti-English but I do like it here."
After all that?
"Oh aye," chirps the incorrigible old goat, "it's still better than anywhere else. You've got to have something to moan about, haven't you!"