The Fall

Mark E. Smith does a bit of plain talking with Helen Fitzgerald. Photographs: Stephen BarnettMasterbag cover

THE FALL. MARK E. SMITH. Together over the years they've provoked a slurry of pathetic pseudo-intellectual journalistic garbage, the like of which has never before been seen. I'm sick of reading verbose theories about the Fall. Sick of the Morleys/MacCulloughs/Hoskyns of this world who strain with bated breath to catch the tiniest morsels of wisdom from his Lordship's lips, for them to synthesise and interpret through their own inhibited personalities, twisting and distorting them into what they like to laud as "prophetic" statements. You see to me the Fall is a very simple thing ... Mark Smith never put himself on any pedestal, never asked anyone to read deep esoteric meaning into his songs ... he left them open to personal interpretation, not intellectual over-analysis. MacCullough and his ilk should take a few night classes in simplicity and humility-if their egos could take the strain! And Mark himself is less than amused by the dictatorial intelligentsia ...

"It really pisses me off you know - and whatever I say, people are definitely influenced by this shit. These superior bastards pick us to pieces - they're not content with presenting the Fall to readers, it has to be filtered and coloured by their own attitudes first...their articles are like, I5% the Fall and 75 % the journalists' own hangups. Basically there's not much to write about the Fall, like you say, we make the music and let individuals decide for themselves what to make of it. . ."

OK... well before we get too superior, let's start this interview ... you're just back from playing Athens - how did that go?

"Well ... we played in this huge basketball stadium as part of a three-night extravaganza, the Birthday Party had been on the night before us, and New Order were on the night after us. The gig itself was great, we were on for hours, mind you, I don't think the crowd understood much about what we had to say."

Did you expect them to?

"No, I suppose not!! ... blasted by the Birthday Party and then us ... they were a bit confused I think. . ."

I notice certain insane parallels between you and the 'Party, and more specifically between you and Nick Cave - nothing you could call tangible, but the same intense self-analysis projected through disjoint/distorted lyrics and semi-sinister heavy drumbeat music ... what d'you think?

"Yea h. they're one band I really like and I would say we have similar vibes ... what they played in Athens was real bluesy stuff which I really liked, and I take your point that there's certain cross influences, when I saw them at the Venue I went home and wrote a couple of songs the same night ... mostly about the audience though, not the band!"

Continuing the Aussie train of thought, you played the Antipodes fairly extensively last month, I can't imagine all the laid back Bruces and Sheilas reacting favourably to a healthy dose of incisive Mancunian wit ... In fact I'm always surprised when you're acclaimed abroad, to me the Fall are so intrinsically British, Northern British at that... I mean what do these middle class bronzed surfies know about the stark realities of life in the industrial wastelands of dying cities?

"Yeah it was dead weird playing Australia... we went to Sydney fr'instance and it's like some sort of surrogate 'Frisco, and they'd expected us to be somewhere in the UB40/Jam category, not being able to get our records and that... it was incredible seeing their faces when we started to play, we did six gigs there, the first night 1200 people came, the last we counted two hundred! But, like, that's one of the reasons I wanted to play there, an old fashioned pioneer, like they were Rip Van Winkle and I was waking them up!" "They were saying to me ... Why are you here ... ? what's the catch ... ? what do you want from us ... ? the geeks who interviewed us couldn't understand that I just wanted to give them a bit of what they originate from, it sounds arrogant but it's true, I mean the fucking Scots, Irish and northern English built Australia with their bare hands. . ."

But you can't really resent their incomprehension of the Fall or of the imagery of the music ... I mean they've never seen snotty nosed kids playing in derelict Moss Side buildings on a rainy Saturday afternoon ... that'd be as alien to them as little green men from Mars ...

"I know, but they're just so fucking lazy, they just go on being an outpost of 'whitey' you know, I hated it. . ."


"No ... Melbourne was alright it's only 500 miles from Sydney but the difference is incredible, they've got a healthier music scene, more adrenalin, and we went down really well, I suppose that compensated some!"

Right then, the Fall have just released a lump of vinyl called 'Room to Live' - it's not an album, not an EP - 'a twelve inch seven track thing' - Mark describes it as - the press blurb explains that it was 'precipitated by the events that hit Britain circa Spring '82 - probably the Falklands fiasco and the much celebrated Pope's visit ... but why not wait and incorporate these songs onto an album proper?

"Room to Live" is an interlude like you said, an aside ... the songs are an overflow ... it started off as a single, but then I decided to put down this other material I had, the songs all went together, and I wanted to do something instantaneous... to get back to the old Fall way of recording songs straight off the top of our heads! I thought we were getting a bit restricted by 'Hex', it was so 'thought out', planned, and like, intensive. That's why I've shuffled round with the band, I didn't want the same sound reproduced twice. We've only used one drum set on here, a bit of an experiment, and I excluded some of the band from certain tracks, shuffled them round a bit, and used some outside musicians. "All of the Fall are on the record, but not all of them on every track ... which I did to keep with this 'instant' thing that we've had in the past - the far past! The band weren't even familiar with some of the songs, we just went in and did them which is how we always operated in the good old days! ... and I think it's served to stir them up a bit! I suppose I'm a contrary bastard - I like to do the opposite of what I've just done ... the new songs we've been doing live will find a place on the next album, like I said this is more me going off on a tangent... most of the songs are about Britain as I see it on a wider scale, having been abroad a lot and that ... what d'you think of it anyway?"

Well I've only had a few days with it... but so far only a couple of songs have grabbed me by the balls! -"Marquis Cha Cha" (the new 7") - mellow man, mellow! - "Joker Hysterical Face" - (a tale of urban pretentiousness turning rotten within marriage - this person is classless and could dig K-Tel or Kreches or house prices) but the best one to me is "Hard Life in Country" - a brilliant dose of paranoia with traces of ingredients of all my favourite Fall songs, the early ones, "Dice Man" "Underground Medecine" - "Muzorewa's Daughter"-"Mother/Sister"...heavy on the old sandpaper abrasiveness ... hah! - oh yeah and "Papal Visit" - not so much coz of the music, it's a bit detached but I love the sentiment expressed! - but aren't you afraid it might be seen as anti-Catholic as well as anti-Pope?

"No - it's not anti-Catholic, fer Christ's sake! the rest of the band are all Catholics... "I was brought up a Methodist - they're the ones who wanted to burn down all the Catholic churches and used to encourage people to drop hot wax on priests' heads! ... I'm just strongly vibed by John Paul II. . . this Polish boy he really frightens me - no - disgusts. I mean he's reeking of socialist dictatorship man, he's propagating populist myths. . . 'The people's Pope' - but he's really quite insidious. The guy stinks. "I'll tell you a story about their precious Pope. . . Kay bought this book, a biography of Roman Polanski - you know, the film director - his family lived in a Warsaw ghetto during the war. His mother was shot by a German soldier and his father blamed him coz he'd been playing in an area that was restricted - no Jews allowed, and he'd attracted the Nazis to the house. So his Dad packed him off to the country...some Catholic families used to take in Jewish kids to hide them from the Nazis. Anyway Polanski got shunted off to Cracow - and guess whose family took him in? Yeah, JP's - he was the eldest son. Anyhow the family got real paranoid about the Nazis, jittery you know, so they finally chucked him out of the house to fend for himself, left him to his own devices - and their fucking son becomes Pope - preaches love thy neighbour, Christian charity, better love no man has than he who lays down his life for his friend, big fucking deal! Biggest fucking hypocrite in the world that guy is ... "

That may well he but when he came here he gave a lot of mothers and old biddies a lot of happiness maybe whose sons had just been killed in the conflict - would you deny them a bit of comfort, however transparent?

"It's all crap 'elen, escapist fucking crap - and now there's this big Vatican financial scandal, it's rotten to the core."

OK - enough about religion - let's talk about war, Marquis Cha Cha, the single - I don't really understand the lyrics, you'll have to decipher them for me!

"Yeah well I got this funny idea in the middle of it all ... why don't I get a plane to Buenos Aires and become like a modern version of Lord Ha Ha ...broadcast messages to the Brits. . . 'This is Buenos Aires calling. This is Buenos Aires calling... come over 'ere lads, it's not as bad as they paint it...' (Heranez Fiendish comes over to me/Offers a job as a broadcaster/That's how I came to be/ MARQUIS CHA CHA!)"

Did you think the war was jingoistic or that Thatcher had a rightful claim to the islands?

"Listen, I'm sick of hearing people bemoan the war for monetary reasons - how much it cost in money and lives, I drink in this Labour Club, right? - and they have posters on the wall 'No to Thatcher's War' - and all this, and they moan about it all the time, but I'll tell you, if someone invaded their island they'd want something done about it fucking quick, irrespective of cost. "And all these women bewailing their dead sons 'Cut off in his prime at the start of an illustrious career' . . . I mean you don't join the fucking Navy and earn three hundred quid a week for just prancin' about in a fancy uniform ... you join to defend your country, to the death."

That sounds very unsympathetic, cold, if it was your brother that had been killed I'm sure it would have been a different story.

"Yeah, perhaps, I'm just sick of people wailing and moaning about it - I mean in most countries you have to join the army for a period, there's no choice, it's compulsory, some of these moaners should get a good dose of army discipline and patriotism, then they'd change their tune!"

So you'd class yourself as a staunch patriot, would you?

"I'm proud of me nationality, yeah, and proud to be Mancunian, and if something was threatening either of these issues I'd bloody well do something about it"

Well, let me throw Hard Life in Country back in your face - that's a song of paranoid contempt for parochial English life ... to quote yourself 'The hidden evil behind villages'. . . that song wasn't so happy with the English way of things. . . 'It's hard to live in the country/In the present state of things/Your body gets pulled right back/You get a terrible urge to drink. .

"It's really hard for me to explain that song, it's like, I'm too subjective. It started as a sort of pop song, real simple, but then I kept distorting it you know, kept adding bits, like, when I heard Bow Wow Wow singing about the country it really pissed me off so I put in the line about when New Romantics come over the hill - it gets a bit depressing'. It's like, semi-fun but very prophetic, I really did have feelings of paranoia about the villagers surrounding the house, and it came true. When we went to Australia I left this bloke in charge of me house, but he let all the scum of the village in and they, like, wrecked the place, broke down doors, and they attracted the police to the place, so the village did close in on me. ' I mean don't get me wrong, I love Manchester, but sometimes the claustrophobia sets in ...I love the mixture of people there, like, I was brought up with Jews and Irish, and when I go away from the town that's what I miss most the Jews and Irish. I mean, it's really perverse, I feel more at home in New York than I do in London, even though I hate the place, coz it reminds me of home, big red brick buildings with wrought iron fire escapes, built by the Irish, and plenty of Jews and Irish on the ground! That's why I got into the Velvets when I was fifteen - coz they sang about things that reminded me more of Manchester than anything English groups were doing at the time." 

"Mark Smith is a cynical, bitter critic of English Society. He's also a rude and sarcastic man. . . I disliked him intensely..." (M Ryan - RAM magazine .. Australia)

"Sidney was the most unreal place I've ever been to..I just kept fighting all the time, like, I was fighting for my life, if I didn't fight they'd suck me into their quicksand torpor - it scared me stiff." M. E. Smith.

Masterbag 1982