The Fall will appear at Radio 1 Evening Session Stage, Friday 27th Aug Reading, Saturday 28th Aug Leeds
Friday (Reading), Saturday (Leeds):
Elastica, The Fall, Bis, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Guided By Voices, Clinic, Bellatrix, Add N To X, Paradise Motel.
Reading tickets are £78 for the weekend, £33 for the day.
Many thanks to Tony Herrington of The Wire for allowing us to reprint the following from their May 1999 issue. Pictures by Dean Belcher.
In the days leading up to my appointed interview with Mark E Smith, which forms the basis for this month's cover story, I become feverish. Literally, as my body comes under attack from an unidentified, virulent bug; but also psychically.
I have interviewed Mark once before, over two and a half years ago now, and in retrospect I realise I was underprepared for that first meeting; my lines of enquiry only half-formed, petering out early, the conversation dissipating in the enervating fug of a mid-summer daytime drinking session. This time I must be better prepared, I decide, and so I immerse myself in deep background.
Inevitably, the site of my investigations is the infinite library. Spending hours on-line, I hit the Website that contains the unofficial annotated lyric sheets to hundreds of songs written by Mark E Smith over the last two decades, the texts transcribed by ear from records and bootleg concert tapes by anonymous Fall obsessives, ready for download by other Fall obsessives. Noting two early references, in two songs separated by a number of years, to the Battle of Culloden, in which the Duke of Cumberland, referred to as 'Stinking Billy', defeated the Scots in bloody conflict, I try to calculate whether I need to do any further reading on this apocalyptic episode in British history. Somehow, I land on a site commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Cromwell, the Lord Protector, a Puritan tyrant to some, but to others, such as Mark E Smith, the original working class hero.
I download pages of text from the FallNet discussion group, some of whose contributors are on a mission to reveal the sources for many of Mark's formidable lyric-texts. Some of the postings announce unusual findings, uncovering strange precedents in the realms of the autodidact; the rogue backwaters of unofficial history, science, literature and philosophy. Two rich sources of information are revealed to be William Shirer's massive history of the Third Reich, and The Morning Of The Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, which documents such sinister, mysterious secret societies as the Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn, the Nine Unknown Men, the Vril and the Thule. This strange, obscure little book also contains an explication of the theory of Eternal Ice, which, it is suggested in a chapter titled "A Few Years In The Absolute Elsewhere", formed the cosmic-occult-philosophical grounding for the rise of Hitler and National Socialism.
FallNetters call on surprise witnesses to support their cases, including the Oulipo, the group of French writers that dealt in absurdist, avant garde linguistics. A tortuous, speculative reference to writings on millenarianism and chillinism by the alchemist Fulcanelli leads me to Norman Cohn's The Pursuit Of The Millennium, and his chapters on the Ranters, mystical English zealots who clashed violently with the official doctrines of 17th century Christianity.
Clicking methodically through a maze of links, I find an essay on one of Mark E Smith's avowed heros, HP Lovecraft, 'the King of Weird', written by the critic Joyce Carol Oates in 1996 for The New York Review Of Books. In the article, Oates draws parallels between the life patterns of Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe: "Both tried to sell their writing skills. . . in a debased and demeaning marketplace, with little financial reward. . . Both were beset by dreams, nightmares, 'visions'. Both entered upon brief, disastrous marriages. . . Both died prematurely. . . having egregiously mistreated their bodies." As I read, I think of Mark Smith's own life story so far, and feel myself surpressing the urge to forge a third parallel of my own.
Under the weight of these private investigations, my thought processes grow fuzzy. After some confusion regarding the location, the interview eventually takes place in a deserted basement restaurant in West London on a crisp Sunday morning in early April. Mark seems relaxed and in good humour, less spooked and hunched over than the previous time we met. But in the cold light of day, the idea of asking him whether his 1979 song "Before The Moon Falls" has its origins in the theory of Eternal Ice, for instance, seems beyond absurd. And in the end I demur; ignoring some of the more esoteric lines of enquiry scrawled in the notebook, partly because many of them relate to songs written upwards of 20 years ago now, and I am mindful of the fact that during our previous meeting, Mark appeared to regard his own personal past as another country, one whose borders are perpetually closed.
So did I bottle the assignment? Turn to page 32, and decide for yourself.
12 months ago, the world of Mark E Smith imploded. In New York he was arrested and charged with assault. Alienated by his erratic behaviour, the members of The Fall walked out on him for the final time. Now he's back, fronting a new group, and ready to carry his artistic vision forward into the next century. Interview: Tony Herrington.
The interview begins with a red herring. A lead picked up that morning, but which turns out to be another scrap of misinformation to lay on top of all the other items of hearsay and rumour that have attached themselves, like an outer, disfiguring skin, to the body of Mark E Smith and his group The Fall over the last 20 years.
I'm told that you have just been away, I begin, to Africa. Even as I put the question to Mark it sounds utterly ridiculous, the kind of thing you might reasonably expect to ask one day of a subject such as Bill Laswell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, or any other member of music's intercontinental perpetual motion club. But not Mark E Smith, a musician who makes a virtue out of the fact that he still lives within walking distance of the place of his birth in Salford, North Manchester. (As he tells me later: "I'm near my mother now. There are no more men in the family, they all died. The family are all women, so it's handy to have somebody around, I think. And I can cadge money off them and everything," he adds, laughing uproariously.)
Sure enough, the answer comes back in the negative. "No, not really." Where then? "Lanzarote, Tenerife. I just went up there for a bit, four or five days."
The Canary Islands, then, located just off the coast of Morocco, but Spain rather than Africa. I was just there myself in fact, last October.
"Was you? It's good isn't it? It's strange."
Very. Some of it is like being on the surface of the moon.
"Iceland is a bit like that. Lanzarote was like Iceland with sun."
The Canaries are sometimes called the Islands of Lost Souls. People travel there to escape, but often they are criminals on the run, or people who are trying to erase some traumatic past incident in their lives. In the Canary Islands there is a high suicide rate among ex-pats.
"Is there? I didn't know that. . . Just having a holiday was great; I haven't had a holiday for about two years. So that was unusual. It took me about three or four days for my body to suss out that I wasn't about to go on stage. When I've been in places like that, Greece or Spain, Madrid, or Portugal, it's always been to play, so it really did me a lot of good actually. For the first three days I was like this [he hunches his shoulders into a stressed-out position], because when you're in places like that you are doubly keyed up with the group, because they're going, 'Oh, isn't it lovely', and they forget that they're there to play, or they play crap. At 7 o'clock I'm like, 'Hurry up! Finish your dinner'. No Mark, it's all right. You can do what you like tonight."
I remember something you once wrote about the track "Iceland" on Hex Enduction Hour (released in 1982), which implied that you had finally found your roots in Reykjavik. When was the last time you were in Iceland?
"Two years ago. I've been on holiday there, worked there three or four times. That's a good holiday to go on. It's the same scene. Like Lanzarote, there's no bugger there. The beach part was rammed to the gills with Brits and Krauts, but five minutes out of there it was great, there was no bugger around.
"The thing I liked about it was, it was the first time I'd got on an aeroplane where everyone wasn't a businessman or stuck-up professional traveller. That was relaxing, to get on a plane and everybody is working class. Usually with me, when they hear your voice, it's like, 'What's he doing on this plane?'; everybody watches when you go to the bog. And if you're with the group it's worse. I didn't get that this time. It was full of these people who never go away, never travel anywhere, maybe just once a year. They're asking you what to do: is this where we get off the plane?" Mark laughs. "It was nice that, you know."
Was the flight to Lanzarote part of Mark Smith's own process of erasure, an attempt to obliterate the traumatic events, still shrouded in mystery, that marked The Fall's 1998 American tour? The stories emerging at that time were terrible, and salaciously reported. Perplexing bulletins of internecine fighting both on and off stage; lacklustre or disastrous performances; Smith on a 24-7 drunk-binge, seemingly locked on a course of auto-destruction; a suicide mission to sabotage his group's music and future.
It all came to a head at the beginning of last year in New York City, when all but one member of The Fall walked out on the group for good, and Smith was arrested and bailed on charges of bodily assault.
I'm sorry about this, I say, but I have to ask. How do you feel now about what happened in New York?
"I was just starting to forget about it," he says, the reply dripping with sarcasm. "They wrote a lot of shit about New York," he continues, referring to a certain weekly UK music paper. "I rang the editor up about it. They get their information off the Internet. I said, 'What kind of editor are you? Get a retraction printed'. And it was like that big. It's dangerous that stuff, especially if you're still on bail. You're talking about jeopardising somebody's liberty here.
"But a lot of the time I play along with it. I mean, how many interviews have I done? They think you're that daft, but sometimes it's good to have that image of being drunk and arrogant.
"And people think it's engineered. People get very jealous. Bands, who are dead rich, I've got nothing, me, they think: how much did you pay to get that much press? People in America said to me that to get the amount of publicity I got you'd have to pay a press guy $500,000. That's what they do, you know, these actors and actresses: 'My struggle with alcohol' and all that. They haven't got a cocaine problem, you must have sussed this out, they've paid the PR guy just to revive their careers. That's the rate, $250,000, if you want blanket coverage."
Do you get frustrated by the fact that your constituency is defined by the music press, and that your contemporaries are perceived to be people like. . . Echo And The Bunnymen or some such. Don't you think that's ridiculous? Mark bursts out laughing.
"Very much. I did before I was in a band. You worked that out. I'm still very edgy about it, what I do, talking about it. That's my background. To my mam's mates, for instance, I'm that pop singer fella. That's good in a way, it brings you down a peg. I do find it. . . That's not what I only do. But they are my contemporaries, yes. Ian [McCulloch] out of Echo used to be our roadie. . . But I don't relate to him anymore. Because I don't like musicians much. I don't hate them, but I don't associate with them. Most of my mates know nothing about music. They just know I'm in a group. And I'm not what they expect of a singer. It sounds ridiculous, but if I do get a compliment it's: you're not like what we thought you'd be like. We thought you'd be a right pain in the arse."
At the beginning of this year Mark debuted a new version of The Fall, which retained just keyboard player Julia Nagle from the group that had come apart in New York. Performing in unlikely venues in Ashton and Whitefield, suburban areas of North Manchester, the group premiered many of the songs which now make up the new Fall album, The Marshall Suite. Among the record's 13 tracks is a thundering, motorik version of The Saints' misanthropic 1977 single "This Perfect Day" to set alongside extraordinary performances such as "Shake-Off" and "Antidotes". The record is split into three sections, obliquely linked by episodes in the life of a character called the Crying Marshall.
"This new band is great," Mark says enthusiastically. "Tom [Head], the drummer, I'm lucky to get him, he's brilliant. His older brother is a good mate of mine. He played me this tape he'd done and it was like Zappa-esque stuff. I said, 'Yeah, do you think he'd do it?' He's great because he does exactly what you want. He'd played jazz, Country & Western; he can play anything; I mean, really play it. It used to take days, weeks and months sometimes, before the drummer got it right. He can get what you want like that [he clicks his fingers]. Touch wood. It's a pleasure to be on stage now, which is the first time it's been like that for a bit.
"It's quite weird actually," he continues, then pauses. . . "A lot of the things that were frustrating me have disappeared. A lot of things that were put down to me rambling and all that was in fact the group, that last group. They were efficient, lazy, old fashioned, I thought, everything The Fall shouldn't be."
Is that something that bothers you: you get all the credit for The Fall, but all the blame as well?
"For sure, 'course you do. I take it anyway. You've got to take it. You can't say to interviewers, 'Well actually, I thought the set was rubbish last night'. If people say that set was a bit long, or a bit flat, you have to say, 'It was my idea'. You take the rough. . . But they've got their own band now," he says, referring to Ask, the group formed by the members of The Fall who jumped ship in New York, "and everyone says. . . It wasn't you [laughs]."
"Now," Mark says, "I relate a lot to, not to DJs playing music, but a lot of these dance groups, and I think they are very much ignored, much more than we were. You never hear about them, they never get reviewed, but there are some really interesting bands in Manchester, about 17, 18 years old. They've got a guy on the records, they've got a machine, something like a sampler, but they've also got a bass player and the singer looks like someone who works in a supermarket. They've got tapes going, keyboards, a lot of distortion, a lot of feedback. If they've got drums, they'll play just one drum, or a hi-hat. And the lyrics are just hitting you; stuff you can't understand."
That will do nicely as a description of the music that Mark has been issuing over the last two years, beginning with the "Plug Myself In" single, a collaboration with the Manchester production team DOSE, who had connections with Pete Waterman's PWL operation, and the release of the 1997 Fall LP Levitate (the follow-up to the 1996 Light User Syndrome album), which again featured input from DOSE, and was partly recorded at the PWL studios in Manchester.
"I looked on Levitate as a new start," says Mark. "That was part of the disagreement; I think the group understood what was going on. They were even talking about going on strike if we used a DAT player. [He sounds exasperated] You're The Fall, for Christ's sake. It's amazing how many times I've had to put up with that kind of crap. You think you're past all that; fellas with beer bellies turning everything you do into a bloody Sex Pistols track. I thought that stopped happening ages back."
There weren't many words on Levitate. The texts sounded like cut-ups, like they'd been blasted into incoherent fragments. Was that deliberate?
"Yeah, very, and that was what started the rows with the group as well. I was doing that on stage, walking off. I was doing it deliberately. People would say he was too drunk to sing so he disappears for 15 minutes, but I wasn't. What I was trying to do. . . When you've got nothing to say, don't say it, I reckon, and it was really working well. The audiences were getting younger and younger, and they were really getting into it, because if you talk to young people, that's what they listen to; they don't like a lot of lyrics. The lads who work at PWL, they don't care about lyrics; they're just another layer in the track. But the group would be saying, 'You never do your job'.
Applying the Protestant work ethic.
"No, they want to be rock stars; but those days are gone in my mind, a long time ago [laughs]. And they started doing stupid things on stage; I haven't been in that situation since before I was in The Fall. You can't sing to that way of playing. I had to bring back the old Fall things, fine people for doing drum rolls [laughs]. Fined for too many solos. 'What did you think of those two solos I put in?' 'Did you like them?' 'Yeah.' 'Well, it's coming out of your wages.'"
What kind of response did that get?
"Not much," he says, still laughing so hard that he almost spills his drink.
An insight into the kind of volatile relationships that exist between Smith and the musicians he works with can be heard on "Inch", a track that begins with a tape of a heated phone conversation between Smith and DOSE's Keir Stewart. "Inch" has only just been released as a single, but the relationship with DOSE was actually terminated during the sessions for Levitate.
"I had to fire them," says Mark. "Working with them was great, but the mistake I made there was asking them to work on Levitate. They went dead rocky. I felt like a real corrupter. They obviously read a book on how to be a rock producer, or how to behave. I said, 'If I wanted a bad rock producer, I'd have got one. I want you to do what you did when I worked with you [on "Plug Myself In"]'. Jason [Barron] still works with us. He was working at PWL at the time. He did a lot on Levitate, engineering and helping me with sounds. A lot of those funny noises, I couldn't have done that with a rock producer.
"All those lads who work at PWL, people sneer at them, they work on Steps and all that, but their own stuff is dead weird. Guitar groups sneer at Pete Waterman's, but they're pushing a few more barriers than a lot of people. They leave school at 16 and go straight into the studio. You go into other studios, the engineer's smoking pot, he's got his own band, his own ideas. With these lads, you can say, 'I want it to sound like this', and you can make the noise with your mouth. You go out for a drink, come back, and they say, 'We did it, Mark, the minute you went out the door'. [Laughs] You're so used to coming back an hour later and having to say, 'No, it's not like that, now do it like this'.
"Triple echo. 60s sounds. I said to them, 'I want a backward noise, a bit like on Sgt Pepper but not quite'. They all went, 'What? A Sgt Pepper sound? What's that?' One of the older ones said, 'Oh, it's an LP or something'. I said, 'I fucking love you lads!'
"He's been really good to me, Pete Waterman. At PWL they just have PWL artists working there, but he did it as a favour to me. He's the best record company boss, for me. When I was working with DOSE, they'd be going, 'Do this, do that'; there were all these managers, interfering buggers, from their label. Pete Waterman comes in and says, 'Let Mark do what he wants, all right? He knows what he's doing'. 'Yes, Pete!' Stopping record labels interfering is half the job. What you hear on the record is like five per cent of the work."
Last year, The Fall's current record company, Artful, released a Mark E Smith solo project, The Post Nearly Man, sections of which were recorded at PWL. Marketed as a spoken word record, the CD was best understood if listened to as an audio scrapbook, or in the tradition of the kind of marginalised, small hours radio art documented in Douglas Khan and Gregory Whitehead's Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio & The Avant Garde; or even the absurdist, theatrical compositions of Mauricio Kagel, which have been described by writer Paul Griffiths as providing the platform for a new "music of poverty and error".
The first track on The Post Nearly Man, "The Horror In Clay", opens with a quote from HP Lovecraft's 1926 tale, "The Call Of Cthulhu". The connection forms a link with some of Mark's earliest works. Lovecraft, who fused (in the words of Joyce Carol Oates) "the brooding idiosyncrasies and metonymic strategies of the 19th century Gothic imagination", proto-science fiction scenarios and his own nightmarish dreamscapes into hair-raising tales of existential terror and insight, has long been a marker for Smith's own intrepid imagination. For The Fall's genuinely spooky 1979 song "Spectre Vs Rector", just reissued by Cog Sinister/Voiceprint as part of the Dragnet album, Smith invoked the terrible character of Yog-Sothoth from "The Dunwich Horror", and many of his texts ("The Impression Of J Temperance", "Jaw Bone And The Air-Rifle", "Garden", as well as more recent songs such as "Hurricane Edward" and "The Horror In Clay") appear to draw on both Lovecraft's themes and techniques.
So I ask: when did you first read Lovecraft?
"When I was. . . a child really. It's funny going back to it and reading it now, which I did, with doing that record. It's very strange. It reminds you of how you were as well, what you thought. . ." Mark tails off, then continues: "I'm one of those people who rages about the way Lovecraft is treated in the cinema."
Hollywood does have a tendency to ruin everything it touches.
"Yeah, everything. There are not many films that are better than the books, or as good as."
There is a lot of diverse material on The Post Nearly Man. Where did it come from?
"A couple of years ago I got this commission to write six episodes of what was going to be like an X-Files thing. I said I'll do six 25 minute stories. So I spent all this time doing it, and the music, and got all these people to help me with the scripts, got them all ready, went to the TV station, and they said, 'Oh we've changed our minds', the new directors. It was like four or five months hard work up the spout. Then the last thing I heard was The X-Files had been in contact with the TV station and they said to me could we have a look at your scripts again because we can't find the ones you submitted. I said, 'No fucking way. You'll send them to The X-Files, rip all my ideas off, and then send them back and say you're not interested'. So I burned half of them," he says, laughing, "and I used the ones that were left for bits of Nearly Man."
The record features a disorientating range of characters and scenarios, which are made more oblique by the strange cuts and edits.
"I started getting deliberately obscure. That was the fun bit of it. I had people reading out parts of the script in the wrong tense [laughs]. The third person. They'd say, 'This can't be right, can it?' and I'd say, 'No, leave it, it's great'.
"I would have liked it to be about an hour and a half long, more speakers, and using these stereos you can get now where the bass is behind you and the drums are in front of you, this glorified furniture. I thought it would be good to have the voices like that, so that there's someone talking behind you.
"It was very frustrating in a lot of ways. It always happens to me; when I get the time and opportunity to do these things all these other things happen in your life. I don't know what it is with me; I've done something wrong in a past life or something. Something else will come up and it's on your mind, like that thing in New York, or I'll split up with the missus. Always.
"Another problem was, when it came time to cut it, edit it together, the guy at the cutting studio couldn't handle it, a lot of people couldn't handle it, and it became like cursed. At the record plant the lacquer went missing. They did a cut of it and it came out all hiss. There was a demo of it and it was sent to record shops and it came out backwards. You're doing it on your own and you think it's going to be totally controllable, but it wasn't, it was worse."
Because there were all these other people dealing with it down the line?
"No not really, it was just weird. It was like cursed, this bloody thing."
The night before I am due to interview Mark, I read a short story entitled "The Misanthrope", written in the years leading up to the First World War by the English novelist JD Beresford. The story is related by an anonymous narrator, who travels to an isolated rocky island in order to visit the Misanthrope, who has exiled himself there from all humanity due to a terrible psychic affliction. "When I look at people in the face," he explains to his horrified visitor, "I see them as anybody else sees them. But when I look back at them over my shoulder I see. . . Oh! I see all their vices and defects. Their faces remain, in a sense the same, but distorted. . . beastly. . . I was living in a world of beasts. . ."
Compared to many of the writers discussed by HP Lovecraft in his 1927 essay "Supernatural Horror In Literature", among them MR James, Arthur Machin and Algernon Blackwood, all of whom have been cited as influential by Mark Smith, Beresford is a forgotten figure in the history of turn-of-the-century fantastical literature. But he also wrote a biography of HG Wells, one of the pioneers of the idea of psychic time travel; and another of his novels, written in 1911, was entitled The Hampdenshire Wonder, the tale of a child born with such an advanced hyper-intelligence that it is eventually ostracised from the working class community of its birth.
The reason for citing Beresford here may or may not become clear presently, but after reading "The Misanthrope", I skim-read Philip K Dick's 1974 novel Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, trying to nail down the evidence that will lend weight to a question which I want to ask Mark the following day. . .
In the past, I begin, you've mentioned that you like composers such as Schoenberg and Stockhausen. I was wondering whether you picked up on that stuff from reading Philip K Dick, who was a big fan of that kind of music, and would drop subliminal references to it into his books. Were you aware of that connection?
"That's interesting. No, I never knew that, but it explains a lot, because his stuff was so layered at times, like 15 things going on at once in some books. I've seen biographies of Dick and I've had to put them away because it's horrible. It breaks your heart, the shit he had to put up with: bumming meals off students, things like that, just to live, and that was just before he died. I go on about not getting any royalties but he got nothing. They pissed around with Blade Runner for about five years before it came out, kept changing the script, and he's broke, health's gone, just wondering where he's going to get something to eat, and he dies like a fortnight before Blade Runner comes out. So I'm not that bad off."
Dick, like a lot of the writers you've said you admire, was interested in the notion of psychic time travel; attempting to decipher the present by intercutting it with past and future events, which has been a theme in a lot of your work.
"Pre-cog he used to call it. That's happened to me so many times. I've had a dream, or think I've seen something in the paper about an event, and six months later I'll see it. It's weird. You won't believe this, but I remember the last time we toured Yugoslavia, I said to the band, 'Something's going to happen here'. They said, 'Why? It's lovely'. But I could feel it. I could feel it. I could bloody. . . I could virtually see it, in the audience, above the audience. I'd come off stage, and say, 'It's fucking weird that audience'. I'd never been frightened by an audience, you know? The group go, 'No, it's great, the birds are lovely' and all that. And it was; they're better dressed than us. But every time I went out I got in trouble with the police or a soldier; every fucking time. I got stopped; I got chased by soldiers once. I thought: there's something going on here, I don't like it, you know what I mean?" Then he says: "I'd be talking to somebody and think they were crying. They weren't."
Mark laughs. "It's weird isn't it? I don't like that too much. I don't have that so much now. It used to shit me up when I was a teenager. [He shivers a little] Some things are better you don't know; don't want to know. Don't want to forecast or hear about."
Maybe those kind of things only feel strange because they've been suppressed or they are not discussed, or because they have been 'degraded' because they are the stuff of science fiction and fantasy; weird fiction, as Lovecraft called it. Maybe they are really not that strange.
"That's right. Maybe people should be a bit more aware of it. It's like these politicians; don't they read history books? I mean, the bloody Balkans is basic history O Level. I knew when I was 15 that they were bloody trouble, man. They decimated the English working class, the bloody Serbians, starting that mess off, getting mad about nought again. You go to Scotland, half the bloody male population died, you know what I mean? Three quarters of the villages you go through, gone, you know, because of a bloody Serb, and taking notice of them and getting involved. I think Bismarck had the best quote. He said the whole of the Balkans is not worth the life of one single Pomeranian Grenadier [laughs]. They said he was cynical, a horrible man, Bismarck. I thought he was bloody great.
"I haven't played abroad for quite a while now, so I've had things coming back. When you think back, it's quite weird. We were in Yugoslavia about the time of. . . "White Lightning". I don't remember when that was. Some years are a blur."
"The visionary is inevitably an Outsider" - Colin Wilson
Is it absurd to refer to Mark Smith as a visionary? Perhaps; and almost certainly if you subscribe to the kind of ingrained hierarchical value system imposed on our world by the likes of Roger Scruton, who might regard the likes of Smith as a mere insect, scurrying around the feet of the Great Men of art, science and literature. But many of the themes that have populated Smith's writing over the last two decades might reasonably fit the visionary-Outsider identity in 19th century European literature as defined by Colin Wilson in his mid-50s tract The Outsider. Like both Lovecraft's and Wilson's anti-canons of Outsider authors, like Louis-Ferdinand Celine and his notorious disciple Charles Bukowski, all writers whose supernatural X-ray vision caused them to ascend/descend into misanthropic loathing and linguistic overload, Smith still conjures idiosyncratic narratives as a means of decoding and reflecting back the absurdities of his times.
The Crying Marshall is just the latest in a line of invented personae that stretches back to the late 70s and the creation of Roman Totale ("the bastard offspring of Charles I and the Great God Pan") and through which Smith projects himself and his unbidden visions.
The 'I' in your songs is very rarely you, I say.
"Right, well done, someone's got it. I find it very stimulating, writing for characters. It's a good way to filter ideas. It gives you a new slant. I feel a lot freer headwise now, so that I have time for such thoughts, odd things. Explaining it to everybody else is a pain in the arse. But why should you have to explain it?"
It's been put about that sections of The Marshall Suite are based on Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge. Mark laughs dismissively.
"That got out because I was trying to explain the concept to the so-called producer, a loony, who'd get everything wrong anyway. They think: Mayor/Marshall. I said, 'Have you read The Mayor Of Casterbridge?' No. I said, 'It just goes down and down that book, which is the way you produced the record, you bastard [laughs].'
So who, or what, is the Crying Marshall?
"He's just. . . a figure, to link it together. The idea started when I did the track "The Crying Marshall" with these two blokes called The Filthy Three; one of them is Jason [Barron]. They had a song and they didn't have any lyrics for it. That song came from that; throwing ideas around. I thought it would be good to do it as the story of his life, a themed LP, with a thread running through it. It's such an unhip thing to do, but I do want to continue and develop it. Maybe a five sided thing next: the return of the Marshall."
The link with the version of "This Perfect Day" is elusive. "There isn't one." So why do you do cover versions?
"It gives you a different perspective, which is good for me, and you can be a lot freer in a strange way. "F-'oldin' Money" [also on the new record], that's half a cover; it's based on a piece of rockabilly from around 1955. I can't even find the publisher or whether the bloke's alive or anything. I don't like to just lift things; I've always been against that.
"I'm still very mad that some of the mixes on the new record were pissed about with by the producer while I was away," Mark announces suddenly. "It's only one or two tracks, no one else will notice it, but I'm furious. I won't talk to him. And they missed a track off! "The Crying Marshall"! [He laughs hysterically] The remix is on it, but the original song isn't, so there should be like another two and half minutes. Not to worry. You get to a point where it's not worth putting everything back again." Then he adds, through gritted teeth: "It's good I can laugh about it, innit!
"I used to try and cover everything," he continues, "still do, but if you have your eyes everywhere and your brain everywhere it just fucks you up, take my word for it."
Special thanks to .........the contributors to the FallNet for seeding various lines of enquiry
Taken from The Wire issue # 183 May 1999
Go to: www.dfuse.com/the-wire
Thanks to Kimmo, here's the storming Southend version of Big New Prinz
exit with a big, big grin.......
You have just missed "sinister times: an orgy of the fall" - a 60-hour radio program Justin Kollar ran from May 19-22 in boston, ma on WHRB 95.3fm.
first song played: repetition
last played: ts dance mix
only song missed: don't take the pizza.
Hastings, The Crypt, May 8
Odd venue - a pillared stage in the middle of a tiny pseudo-gothic club in the centre of Hastings New Town. I once went there under chemically heavy manners but being sober, on my own and there to see The Fall this was a genuinely bizarre experience.
Rico trawled through the self-same set as at Brighton only considerably constrained by the tiny 'stage'. They do have one good line in their opening song - "Fuck Ringo Starr, whatever the fuck you are" but do we really need such cod-earnest ten-bob Scots hiphop? The drummer played backstage incidentally, to accommodate The Fall's kit. Lead singer & guitarist kept shouting instructions back to him rather comically. Still, it's like Wembley Arena to them innit!
Spoke briefly to Tom Head as slow roadies set up the gig. He was reticent when I asked him what state MES was in tonight but claimed to have really enjoyed the tour thus far. Nice guy, very Fall, very small.
By the time they came on the place was heaving ( 150 max ) and MES was so close to me that we actually exchanged saliva, which was nice. Lilac kecks specked with white globs of summat and a pleated cleanish shirt. Still obsessively examining the back of his hand but certainly up for it and not too drunk. No backing tape intro just on and straight into Shake and then a segue into F-Oldin'. Essentially the same set as Brighton but in a different order. Again no Nagle...
2 encores inc. Jet Boy & Prinz.
Very much like seeing them in the late 70's/early '80's in terms of venue but there the similarity ended. Nev is a cocky get but fairly accomplished. Adam is competent but uninspired and Tom near perfect though his kit's a midget. Keyboard padding wouldn't go amiss.
A wheelie amp case at the foot of the stage was a serious health & safety issue for the savage and cuckoo moshers who saw the back of my hand a few times and then MES's young psycho tourmate acted as sociopathic bouncer, a role he was clearly born to. He kept shouting from backstage "Oi Smiff, you cant!!!". This earned several knowing smirks from The Man.
Having sung the praises of Brighton & Hastings to my London Fall mates I had to eat humble pie following the bag of shite that was the Forum gig. Whenever I see them in the capital I always think of the line in Smile, "lick-spittle southerners". Being such an ornery critter MES seems to deliberately sabotage London gigs, despite the fact that the majority of the audience are not native to London anyway. I guess that's why we love him?
London Forum, May 14
I was amazed to see the positive reactions to the recent Forum gig. The Fall are my favourite band (easily) and were responsible for the best gig I ever saw (Dingwalls shortly after the release of Levitate) but THIS...
The comments about the sound were too kind. It was *unlistenable*: too -loud rasping vocals; no drums; muddy bass; guitar like radio interference. Mark performed like he didn't give a fuck if the gig was any good or not (no doubt some people would find this admirable). The band are (judging by this gig) no bloody good at all - and they're certainly not The Fall by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the songs were unrecognisable - And Therein was just embarassing!
The audience comprised 50% people who didn't give a fuck (only along for the freaksow) and 50% people who are so devoted that they have surrendered all their critical faculties.
Message to all true Fall fans: DON'T BE BLINDED BY DEVOTION, YOU DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS CRAP.
Stunned by the size of the crowd. Even more stunned by the good-natured(ness) of MES. My first Fall gig in 4 years since the depressing debacle of the Cambridge Junction circa 1997 when they had Brix Smith and I think it was Lucy Rimmer who was MES' muse at the time. MES only appeared for half the songs, Lucy ended up doing three solo numbers and it was painful watching Hanley gritting his teeth playing numbers for her. Dreadful. Even more depressing was the sight of a few Fall fans crowded round leering at Brix. Being a big Hanley fan as well (who went to see Ark in Oxford who were just the worst thing I have seen since I mistakenly went to see Kingmaker in my naïve indie kid days), I felt duty bound to boycott MES for his treachery. But the mountain of good reviews lured me along to The Forum.
Firstly, if you saw two twats in a suit, one with a shoulder bag, trying to bounce around whilst not getting his nice new suit stained with beer then that was me. Never did I think I would ever find myself at a Fall gig coming straight from work in a suit but I suppose that's growing up for you.
Anyway nothing beats the sight of watching the grins break out around you as soon as MES walks on. I was a bit shocked at first because he does look kind of ghoulish at first but seeing him bounce around interacting with the audience (sort of) was a heartwarming sight indeed. Agree with the other reviews that the sound was shit, especially after the first encore which seemed to be about half as loud.
Hadn't had the chance to buy the Marshall Suite before then so I didn't know any of the new songs except Touch Sensitive which is a mighty fine number, even better live and Folding Money which is too short. MES was mighty efficient with little of the barging into guitarists and moaning about the sound. They also played quite the best versions of The Joke and And Therein that I have ever heard live and I also thought that number with the Golden Brown-like keyboard intro (On My Own ?) was outstanding.
Finally the absolute highlight was hearing MES muttering something about "the good people of Camden" as he went off for the first time. If that counts as thanking the crowd then that was indeed a seminal moment.
Richard Herring from Lee and Herring was also standing near me and involved in some sort of fisticuffs, quite funny in a sort of minor celebrity moment.
Why do people throw their pint glasses at MES ? Admittedly it's quite funny when one bopped him right on the head. He seems to take it with good humour. And no-one spilled beer on my suit.
Dave & Carina:
This is what was written on a setlist from the Forum, complete with DAT machine prompts:
10 HOUSES (inserted)
SHAKE + THERE IN
ON MY OWN (DAT)
(written on the other side)
From Radio 1:
Thursday 20/05/99 - The Fall
This is a repeat of The Fall's 23rd Peel Session who have been a favourite of the show for over twenty years. They've also done various other things for the programme such as playing at John's 50th birthday celebrations and doing their own version of Hark The Herald Angels one Christmas. They've produced a huge volume of high quality work over the past twenty two years without which punk and its descendants would have turned out very differently indeed. It all began when Mark E Smith, bored of his office job and inspired the Sex Pistols and the early punk scene, got together with Martin Bramah (guitar) and Tony Friel (bass) and exhorted them to "play something that sounds like the Beatles". The Fall recorded their first album, "Live At The Witch Trials", back in 1979 which was predictably angst ridden and placed Smith and his team at the screaming edge of rock. They also released a live album, "Totale's Turns (It's Now Or Never)", in May 1980 which accurately portrays the band treading the fine line of quirkiness and chaos and enjoying themselves immensely of course. During the late 1980's The Fall also encountered mainstream success with "The Frenz Experiment" propelling them into the Top 20 albums chart in 1988. Mark Smith also featured on vocals for the Inspiral Carpets' 1994 single "I Want You" but then went back to his day job later that year to put together "Middle Class Revolt". This spawned no hit singles and had Mark returning to the dark, cultist obscurity he's happiest with. There've been numerous changes of personnel of the years but The Fall are seemingly unstoppable having just released yet another fantastic album, "The Marshall Suite" and played at the London Forum last Friday.
"By test the best" - John Peel
Words of wisdom from our one and only luvverble MES as part of Thursdays' (that's last Thursday, sorry) retrospective on the Hacienda (ITV 10:30) .... in fact, come to think of it, everybody outside of the Granada region may be missing out too. There's a clip of him in the trailer guffawing something along the lines of
"..... the bouncers think they're fuckin' hard but as
soon as somebody turns up with a pop-gun they all shit
themselves and leg it .... "
990517 Salisbury, Sheffield, Cheltenham, Cambridge, Southend, Luton, London reviews
990509 Leicester, Leeds, Birmingham, Brighton, Salisbury reviews; NME fave songs bit
990426 Guardian interview, Brix interview, more album reviews, MES' radio session
990419 more Marshall Suite reviews, NME chat, live at Sound Republic XFM session, tbly#15 out
990411 Couple of Marshall Suite reviews, Live 77 details, 1985/1987 interviews
990330 Touch Sensitive reviews, Marshall Suite details
990320 Shake-off lyrics, tour details
990314 MES Escape interview
990308 Ashton Tuesday reviews, Falling Through Time part 1, Dragnet reissue
990302 Ashton Sunday and Monday reviews
990221 LP announcement, Inch reviews
990214 not much
990207 various stuff
990128 Peel Sessions CD review
990118 Uncut pieces, Marcia interview, NZ art collection
990110 NME LA2 review, modern rock sociology
990103 Manchester Ritz reviews
Old stuff: Nov 1997 - Dec 1998
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