From the Observer (16 August). Thanks to Paul Wilson.
He got drunk and beat up his band. Now he has a new one
Pop interview by Sam Taylor
THE FALL Astoria 2, London
I EMERGED FROM my encounter with Mark E. Smith sporting a black eye. Before anyone calls the police, though, I should point out that I got it from a flying beer can during The Fall's gig at London Astoria 2, not during the ihterview afterwards.
It is only four months since Smith was left mouldering in a New York jail by his erstwhile bandmates after he was arrested for punching his girlfriend (and keyboard player), Julia Nagle. For a while, it looked like the most unswervingly great rock band of the last two decades had come to a sad and squalid end, but Wednesday night's gig (with Smith and Nagle abetted by a brand-new drummer and bassist) marked the beginning of yet another era in The Fall's unique 21-year career.
The Fall has always been Mark E. Smith plus a bunch of interchangeable musicians (the band has featured a total of more than 20 members), but the acrimonious split of the 1997 line-up - Tommy Crooks, Karl Burns, and, in particular, bassist Stephen Hanley, who has provided the foundation of the band's rumbling, muscular sound since 1979 - seemed to reflect badly on Smith. They told the music press he was impossible to work with, and there were reports that he had physically attacked them as well as Nagle. When The Fall played a chaotic gig at London's Dingwalls as a trio in April, it was regarded as a triumph of bloody-mindedness,but not much more. As Smith wrote of himself on the sleeve of the great 1980 live album, Totale's Turns: `I don't particularly like the person singing on this LP. That said, I marvel at his guts.'
Last week's show was something else altogether - the sharpest and freshest the band have sounded (and the most up and sober Smith has looked) for several years. Smith seemed less contemptuous of the crowd than he has done recently: there was even a trace of avuncular affection in his voice when he advised a moshing youngster to `get your hair cut'. When they played `Ol'. Gang', co-written by Hanley and Wols- tencraft, it was hard to tell if he was taking the piss or obliquely asking his exiled bandmates for forgiveness.
In the grim, grey dressing room afterwards, Smith erased all doubt on that score. `A month ago, I was still irate about it, but time heals, y'know... but you don't leave someone in jail in a foreign country with no money and just piss off home. You just don't do it. Only Julia stayed, and she was the one with most reason to leave.'
So, typically, he feels more sinned against than sinning. He says he's reading about Napoleon at the moment, and he sympathises with the emperor's problems in finding loyal, competent generals. And besides, he says: `They're musicians, aren't they? Y'know what I mean? I've never understood musicians.' This despite the fact that he was married to former guitarist, Brix, and is now in a long-term relationship. with his keyboard player.
He speaks in a soft, cryptic slur, his Mancunian twang melting into an indecipherable mumble at the end of each sentence. Smith's refuelling problems' are infamous, but his eyes are clear and he doesn't look drunk. His face gets more walnut-like every year, but he has lost the unhealthy pallor he had a couple of years ago, when I last saw The Fall play. That gig, at the Astoria, was a bizarre, dislocated event: Smith kept walking off stage after each song and switching on the house lights. He seemed pissed and unhappy.
He nods as I tell him this. `Yeah, the more you talk about it, the more I remember that night. It's interesting because that was probably the beginning ...` He means the beginning of The Fall's decline, the spiral that culminated in those two lonely nights in an American prison.
Did he ever consider giving up on music? 'I've thought about jacking it in lots of times', he says, 'but then something like that [the New York incident] happens and you get angry, and you write all these great "fuck off" songs, and suddenly you've made the best fucking album in the world. Or the worst.'
In truth, The Fall's recent albums have been pretty average, and it is now a good decade since the end of their glory period. Smith admits as much when he says he can't listen to the band's 1982 meisterwerk Hex Enduction Hour `because it's too good'. Still, even their worst albums usually contain two or three great songs. Against all odds, The Fall are still going; and, unlike every other band who've been around for 21 years, they still matter. Unlike every other band, they have never sold out, never compromised, and they are not about to start now. Smith's next release is a spoken-word album called The Post-Nearly Man.
One sign of The Fall's continued relevance is the youth of their audience. And, aside from a couple of meatheads yelling `When are The Fall coming on?' all the way through the gig, the crowd's reaction on Wednesday was generally ecstatic. Smith shiffs: `Yeah, it was good. One thing I've noticed, though, is that since Steve and the others left, all these old hard-core Fall fanatics have come out of the woodwork, people who haven't seen us since 1979 - they've come to the gigs to show their support. It's really touching.'
I gasp. Mark Edward Smith, the most unsentimental bastard in showbusiness, says he's moved by his fans' devotion. Really, I ask?
`Yeah,' he deadpans. `I cry sometimes.' He's taking the piss. Thank God for that.
Manchester University, 11 August 1998
Terry + Alfie:
line up: mess ( this was a typing error ... he was probably the best i've
ever seen him last night ...)
julia (keyboards and VERY bad guitar playing)
bloke = tentative drummer ... not sure how familiar he was with some
of the material. mark was trying to teach him to play plug myself in
and free range ON STAGE at the end of the gig so that had more songs
to play ... he couldn't
overall, it was a shambles to be truthful - reminded me of the
dingwalls thing ... very basic ... verdict ... bird (wonky alice) is
good - couldn't quite do calendar... bloke will be alright if he
can stop being so nervous.
for me, the gig was saved by the new rockabilly one (which sounded
like a cover) and the new one they encored with ... they'll be much
better when they're not fighting to play other people's stuff ...
set list: (no particular order)
the joke (instrumentally ... very bad)
rockabilly cover (lots of stops and starts like white lightning
"can't seem to get er er er er errrrrrrrrrrr")
powder keg (new version)
(plug myself in/free range)
fave lyric of the night ... "i want my chocolate and i want it fucking NOW !!!!" (in he pep, would you believe ?)
terry + alfie
MES on good form - smiling even. Julia Nagle holding things together well and strumming a mean guitar. Two new youngsters on drums and bass making a tight rythmn section. I'm never too good at remembering set lists but quite a bit of new stuff as well as Ol Gang, The Joke, Calender. Got a bit shambolic towards the end and Free Range was aborted before it started. I felt there was definate attempt to give the impression that they quite definately didn't need Hanley and Burns, which succeeded. I heard one bloke saying afterwards that it was like watching an old mate dieing on stage. Bollocks as Stve would say! -- -----
London LA2, 12 August 1998
MES was urging us not to take the bus home because this town is a powder keg but I'm safely home now and I forgot till just now. Anyway, the man himself was on top form, improvising some lines, which I will let the psychic-eared diw report. Setlist much as in Manchester, the country-style song is tops, the stop-start fooling the crowd into thinking the band had screwed up. But then they did it again. And again. I guess it's a cover but don't know what. New bassist Karen did a fine job, and the drummer didn't need any lessons tonight. They really could do with a guitarist, though, the sound gets one- dimensional. And as for the backing vocals, the less said the better.
A full venue and some excessively vigorous punters down the front. Didn't see Penthouse because of the usual FallNet lingering in pubs, so that's my fault. Some tapes played, from spoken word album, segeuing into songs. Some idiot screaming when handed the mic, and shouting 'Mark will sink us' over and over.
For me, always after something new, although this wasn't exactly new, but never mind about that now, the highlight was the encore ... there's an old interview where MES talked about seeing this band perform this song on Top of the Pops, (I haven't seen the interview on the net, maybe it's there if someone could point in the right direction?) And some of you had this group in your top 20s recently... 'don't need no one to tell me what I don't already know!' The greatest single of all time - This Perfect Day by the Saints, a number 34 smash from July 77 (would have been higher but they were surprised at its success and couldn't get more copies into the shops I think). Now, it's a golden Fall moment as well. And as I write this, XFM, who I criticise all the time, are playing the original in homage to the mighty Fall groodp.
Graham - it's so funny I could laugh...
... over to our Spencer lyrics improv correspondent:
This is the last band
You will ever see
Reading the lyrics again
Don't trust me
I love the carpet
Of Astoria 2
It's the only carpet
That's worse than my house
Cut it up
Cut it up
I kid you not; Mr Smith on toppest form last night. Sharp. Focussed.
After goodness knows how many experiences of the band carrying MES over the past couple of years, here was MES carrying the band with imense aplomb ... you've got to hand it to him. Words, words ... songs filled with words. As if this band allow him the space to rediscover his creativity. Not that the band were at all bad - with the notable exception of Ms Nagle's excrutiating vocals, which must stop - adequate, but not bad.
Other notes: packed house; if this audience came to wallow in a repeat of Dingwalls' farce, then they were quickly surprised into genuine adulation.
....the full set-list at LA2:
Spencer Must Die
Ten Houses of Eve
Plug Myself In
This Perfect Day
From: Paul Wilson
For what it's worth, my bit about last night. Started with a great Ol' Gang, and some high points but the overall feeling I've got about it is that - to repeat Graham - it was one dimensional. My problem is the drummer. New bassist was great and did a good both-feet tapping-at-the-same-time (as opposed to head down stomping) movement.
But the drummer's no Karl or Simon or PHanley or even that guy who was in them for one gig only. He was of the school of WetWetWet pot-bashers. Plodding, safe and at one speed only. And that's mid-tempo. It got a bit better for the more erm, metronomic stuff like Pep and Ol' Gang (which again sounded superb, any chance of a tape Id?).
But, and it doesn't need me to repeat it but I will, MES was maybe the best I'd seen for a long time. He tried *once* to start pulling micrphones from the drum kit and I think I saw him do that thing where he backs into someone (usually Tommy, if I remember right) but he gave it up pretty quickly.
As I am not a fall fanatic, I like to think that I can bring a more balanced view to all things FallNet. (ho ho)
Venue pretty packed. I was surprised how many turned up given the rumours of deceasedness. However for some reason, maybe to do with what journalists listen to on their headphones, this was put forward as gig of the week in quite a number of papers and that might help explain the turnout......or probably that was utter tosh.
The main part of the crowd and certainly all of the people at the front were, over 25 year old males! I kid you not. That I thought inside my over 25 year old male brain was a tad depressing.
As I dont even know the track listing of my favourtie record of all time (Strwaberries by the Damned) I have no idea about the names of any of the songs played.
To the gig itself. Band comes out, strikes up bass and drum heavy beat as per usual and a couple of minutes later MES saunters on wearing natty green shirt and the usual pleated black trousers. He was on super form folks. coherent, sharp and alert with some good interaction with the crowd. There was only one attempt on the stage by a pyschobilly and as I was up at the front at the time, and still wearing my glasses, I think Mark even smiled. I think the kick up the backside did him good (not by the physcobilly).
However, to the rest of the band. Yup they can play their instruments but if MES had just sung to a backing tape I dont think anyone would have noticed the difference. They are not Steve/Karl, they are session musicians and sorry I would put Julia in this category as well (no offence to session musicians meant) She aint no Brix.
Following lines require my lynching :)
I also thought that the Fall sounded tired. I think a change of direction is required, I did get bored before the end as I thought everything sounded dull, lacking in energy, like the band, itself, samey. I just hope that Mark hasnt left it too late and yes I also think he needs more musical input than just his own.
This was the best gig that Mark has played for a number of years in my book but the Fall justed managed to scrape a 0-0 draw.
Extract from 14NOV81 NME
"Hip Priest: The Mark Smith Interview"
Barney Hoskyns p14-5, 56
"One of me favourite bands was The Saints who naturally got really bad reviews. I saw them right back at the beginning of '77, and they were, like, the best.
"But did you ever see them on Top Of The Pops ? They were doing 'This Perfect Day', I think. and they looked, y'know, just slightly wrong ! they all had these pullovers on, and they were really, like, dirty, and really over the top, and the singer stood at this strange angle, I think he had a pint in his hand, y'know ... fuckin' great! That was the great thing about "them, there was no way the English could televise them. Yeah, I still play all their singles."
As Saints mania sweeps the nation, it's a good time to mention that Perfect Sound Forever have a cool tribute to them at :
This new rockabilly cover's called "Folding Money". That's the title, now go and find who it's by.....(Stefan: According to the ASCAP site Folding Money was written by Vincent Lopez and Johnny Messner).
Those of you who prefer real shops: TBLY is now available from:
Piccadilly Records, Manchester
Division One, Hanway Street, London
Helter Skelter, Denmark Street, London
Something in Rob's latest flyer that no-one's mentioned yet (I don't think) - the DOSE lot are supposed to be releasing Inch sometime.
The Totale's Turns main gig (Doncaster, eat this grenade) took place at Bircoats Leisure Centre.
Hot off the presses from Pulse Magazine, August 1998, p. 14.
The long and volatile history of the Fall reached crisis point during a recent trip to New York. Mainman Mark E. Smith is now undergoing six months of counseling after an alleged assault on his girlfriend, Fall keyboardist Julia Nagle. The previous night, drummer Karl Burns had hit Smith onstage, and within a week three band members quit, accusing Smith of being "impossible to work with." Undeterred, Smith played two shambling gigs with Nagle and backing tapes that left fans queuing up for refunds. Few doubt that he will bounce back with a new lineup. But far more disturbing is the news that the Fall are, with typical perversity, playing a new-wave package tour with Pere Ubu, the Buzzcocks and the Stranglers in the U.S. in September.
There you have it: Pulse, the cutting edge of music journalism.
There's a bit in "Stranded" (history of Oz punk) re:Fall.
Promoter Ken West's dad gave him $5K as a nest-egg. He took it, flew to London, drove to Manc, and slept on MES's floor, and signed the Fall to tour. Quite pleased he made $3K on the Fall tour; lost $30K on New Order.
Has this been mentioned before? A friend pointed out to me that The Fall are referred to twice in a book called "The Crow Road" by Iain Banks:
p. 359: "Music started up in the marquee. Kiss The Bride . Ash stood on the Persian rug again, putting one hand to her ear. Hark; it's young brother and his pals. She frowned. 'Doesn't sound like a Mark E. Smith or Morrissey track to me.' She shook her head. 'Tsk. How are the mighty fallen.'..."
p. 384: "I'd stand and look at time-dark paintings, or run a finger over the line of some cold, marble animal, while the tall, glittering rooms resounded to the Pixies, REM, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, The Fall and Faith No More."
By the way, the new Mojo has a page of "how to buy The Fall". I didn't read/buy it because I know how to buy The Fall, as does everyone here I presume. I think it said start with A and B sides, and avoid Receiver
AUG98 THE WIRE (album) Live To Air in Melbourne 82 Douglas Wolk p61
The Fall Live To Air in Melbourne 82 Cog Sinister COGVP108 CD
At this point, The Fall's Cog Sinister label is a grand, high concept joke on the idea of quality control. It's making available every scrap of tape The Fall have ever filled. In itself, that's no bad idea: the acolytes need this stuff, and the unconverted needn't indulge. On the other hand, the presentation of Cog Sinister'' re-issues and live discs amounts to utter contempt for anyone who buys them. Deleted Fall albums such as Palace Of Swords Reversed and Live At The Witch Trials have been remastered from scratched vinyl, even when earlier, perfectly good CD versions exist and the reissue of In A Hole, unforgivably includes the vinyl master's jumps. Baiting the reissued Palace and Room To Live with messy live Eps, and incorrectly labeled discs, underlines Cog Sinister's contempt. Recorded on The Fall's 1982 Australian tour, the first time release Live To Air shares half its repertoire with In A Hole recorded 19 days before. Apparently, The Fall played songs called "Hexen Strife", "Knot Deer Park"and "Totally Twisted."How come the sleeve wasn't proof read by somebody who had actually heard of The Fall ?
The album itself is fine, thanks, the dodgy bootleg sound quality aside, with a mix that shows off the complex interaction of Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon's tuning-is-for-wimps guitars - even if they were a little, uh, loose on this particular night. Though it features nothing we haven't heard before, five tracks improve on their difficult Room To Live versions. The album also includes an earlier rocked-up version of "I Feel Voxish", a take on "I'm into CB", where nobody's sure of the songs key; a long and fabulous "Deer Park" (excuse me, "Knot Deer Park") and the inexplicably durable "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul", complete with Riley's ebullient flamencobilly flourishes.
But the ultimate test of any Fall live recording is simple: how far off the rails is Mark E Smith ? In this case, five feet up and levitating, baby. Sqealing, declaiming, erupting into laughing fits, and making up the words as he goes along, he's half lead singer, half proletarian Cassandra. This may have been the hottest live incarnation of The Fall ever, and though Live On Air doesn't exactly advance the understanding of The Fall's development, it deserves rescuing from live tape trade hell.
From News of the Weird:
Strafing the Customers at The Ice House
In November, the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department, in an official inspection report, urged that the Ice House nude-dance club should immediately correct two food- contamination conditions. First, it was serving pizza at less than the required 140 degrees F. Second, wrote the city inspector, a sanitation risk was being posed by a dancer named Stephanie Evans, whose act consisted in part of expelling Ping Pong balls from her vagina to various points in the room, in that the balls could possibly land on pizza slices or in customers' drinks.
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 1995
From: andrew john richardson
British People in Hot Weather is a wonderful song and an example of MES's seering social observation. British people go 'ape' in even slightly warm weather. We are not talking Tucson desert temp here we are talking "Ey up, t'sun's aht, have to (as in genetically programmed in the DNA) go to Blackpool (or Southport or Skeggie or wherever coastal hell-hole is nearest). Get out the rancid tube of Factor 12 Puttyblockonthesunah, score 5 6 packs from the Offie, take six steps back, put on union-jack shorts, take off shirt, take off string-vest and tie on top of head. Head for rail station along with 3 million others all dressed similarly and chanting "Ere we go earwig o'dowd ere wig oh" Get to coastal resort MEGA PISSED, buy first bag of chips, ice cream, candyfloss (Giagia mallia for Greek people) and go to beach. Find space at long last, stake claim with towel and the Daily Star Book of Tits. Oops left the Factor 12 on the train. Never mind, have crap in sea and go back to beach, take 2 steps back, ensure that the string-vest is on the head, get incredibly sun-burnt, blister for 4 hours at a modest temperature. Baste with 6 pints of Special Brew and there you have it, British Person in Hot Weather.
And that's what happens in the UK, Torremolinos or Mallorca isn't in it!!
Stefan's put a small tribute to Rick on his gigography page:
980811 Melody Maker interview, Live Various Years
details, previews. Rick.
980802 Spoken word LP press release, Northern Attitude key & sleevenotes, Edwyn Collins, TBLY #12 details
980727 FallNet address change
980719 Spoken word LP and band details (from NME), Disney's Dream Details
980713 MES & Elvis, several lyric/literary refs, a few reviews of the rereleases
980706 Some Grotesque/PBL details, Twilight Zone stuff
980620 MES communication, MES font, Falling Through Time, Grotesque/PBL rerelease details, Northern Attitude ripoff, British Grenadiers
980614 Fall cover version details, US tour provisional dates, BEF
980607 not much...
980531 The Fall as a can of beans with a dead mouse inside, Lovecraft, Bracewell
980525 Lay of the Land, old fan club stuff
980517 Alchemy, chiliasm, Michael Bracewell spouting bollocks
980510 Another NME report
980504 Dingwalls and Reading reviews; Guardian, NME articles; pointers to Fall pics and PSF's Fall tribute
980426 German Levitate review, Dee Pop's tour diary
980419 NME online report, Lathe of Heaven
980414 Wire Levitate review
980410 More Philly reviews, Black Cat DC, NY Brownies reviews. Loads of stuff on the Thule group. Select interview from January
980405 CIH, Loop Lounge, Middle East Boston, Plilly Troc reviews. Various press reports.
980331 Details of Live in Melbourne 82 CD, Smith on Smith spoken word CD, Nine Unknown Men, initial Coney Island High reports
980329 bollocks Smile comp details
980322 Vox interview, other stuff
980315 TBLY/Info service details
980308 Peel session details; US tour dates
980227 a few bits & pieces, RTL, PoSR out
980222 NME interview
980215 Destroy punk covers exhibition, Masquerade single details
980207 Brats award transcript
980130 Bits on NME Award, POSR/RTL reissue details
980125 Shanley i/view
980118 Time Out interview w/pics, Melody Maker review, Oh Brother press release, Oxford review
980111 Dutch Opscene interview
980104 Melody Maker interview
971221 Not much
971211 Portsmouth, London, Cambridge, Norwich, Bristol reviews
971203 Oxford, Stoke, Leeds, Liverpool reviews; Esquire interview
971125 Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stoke reviews
971116 Manchester reviews, Loaded interview
971112 Band back together, teletext interview
971110 NME report, various Dublin/Belfast disaster reports
971109 First Dublin/Belfast reviews
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