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The Biggest Library Yet 1
Published: May 1994 SOLD OUT
'And They Will Ask Me...'
Mark E. Smith with Michael Bracewell at the
8 March 1994, The Mall, London
A small theatre at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was entered through a bar/cafeteria populated by stray members of the band Pulp, and ICA regulars finishing their puddings. Bereft of bottled beers, about a hundred people took their £5.50 seats and settled down for what was billed as a 'talk'. In conversation with Michael Bracewell, Mark Smith was to 'discuss his ideas and work as a self-taught artist'.
What transpired was an evening's entertainment which was as difficult to categorize as The Fall sound itself. Besuited novelist Mr Bracewell suggested we were to be 'privy' to an event. Apparently, Jim Morrison had once sat inside a giant egg on the ICA stage while punters, who had paid a pound, filed past. Their quid entitled them to ask and receive an answer from the guru. No record of these transcendental murmurings exists. Would this 'talk' with Mark Smith produce anything worth reporting?
The atmosphere of a 60s happening did begin to develop as the curtain-up time came and went whilst all that was 'happening' on stage was that a black box was brought in to join the two empty chairs. Time passed and ICA people apologized for the delay. An ashtray was put on the box. At last, five bottles of beer arrived on stage and Mark was not far behind.
Resplendent in one of his corny leather jackets, he seemed not to have had this 'happening' thing explained to him. Bracewell failed to get a conversation going. His questions were mainly declined. He tried flattery: "Those original lyric sheets you do with all the corrections on them are real works of art. Will you publish them?" Answer: "No." Bracewell in an air of embarrassment admitted he was drowning. He tempted his reluctant interviewee with everything but the kitchen sink. "Were there any musicians in your family?" "Who is Roman Totale?" "What was your favourite lesson at school?" Mark, smoking like the proverbial Lancashire mill chimney, sniffed disingenuously and drawled the occasional hilarious retort. "Me uncle Joe used to play the saw. Beautiful sound." "Favourite lesson, ah, yeah I was always in that music class."
Clearly, there was not to be much discussion of the concept of the self-taught artist. At one point, Bracewell reminded Mark how he was once arrested by a SWAT team for smoking on an American internal airflight. "How did you know that?" "You told me when we had lunch together."
So there was a sense of relief for Bracewell and the audience at moments like this when his 'talk' degenerated into little bits of anecdotes and the Mark E. Smith soundbites which have been finding their way into the music press for a decade and a half. "Nirvana? Middle class Americans with too much money. He goes out with an actress, doesn't he? Courtney Pine. They tried to cadge a lift home on our tour bus when we were in the States. I said don't let them on the bus Steve.' Mark is proud of his Fall. "They can say what they like about me, [but] I won't hear a word against the band."
And we have not heard the last of them just yet. "I don't care if we've done twenty albums or if we do thirty." But there will never be mainstream acceptance, it seems. When Mark crossed a generation gap to team up with the Inspiral Carpets to do Top of the Pops, they were given the worst of all the dressing rooms. Then there was the recently sacked Radio One DJ, who wouldn't play a Fall record if it was the last on earth. "We're identified with John Peel."
When will Mark write his novel? "The book world is an evil world."
Will there be another 'Hey! Luciani' or 'Kurious Oranj'? "No."
When Michael Bracewell's best efforts had been spent, questions were invited from the audience. "The words of the track 'A Lot of Wind' send up daytime TV. What do you appreciate in modern popular culture?" "What do they think of The Fall in Europe?" "Who are your favourite lyricists?" "Do you like Sebadoh?"
Mark had had enough after about forty minutes. "Mind if I split?"
The Lost Peel Sessions LP
In May 1991 John Peel announced on his radio show that the long-awaited Fall sessions LP was finally being planned for release. It was not going to be possible to issue the entire session recordings, presumably because The Fall were not commercially successful enough to warrant the full box-set treatment then being given to many 60s/70s acts. John Peel thus invited listeners to supply selected tracklistings for what might constitute a shortened Best Of collection of these unreleased gems.
In response I wrote a letter indicating my choice of tracks and the reasons why each deserved inclusion. Amongst these were Words of Expectation, then unreleased in any form. An absolute Fall classic, this lengthy ramble featured the thrilling repetition and monotony which drives many of their best moments, and examples of Mark E. Smith's underrated sense of humour in lines like: 'I'm proud of the way I've avoided prison. If we carry on like this, we're gonna end up like King Crimson.'
Another suggestion was C 'n' C Hassle Schmuk, which begins as a version of a Grotesque track and sprawls off into a high-speed rant concerning Arthur Askey. Then there was New Puritan - a completely different recording to the acoustic version on Totale's Turns, and one of the most dynamic Fall performances ever taped. Although this had been released on the 1983 single Kicker Conspiracy, it certainly deserved more status than that of a lost B side.
The Man Whose Head Expanded also constitutes a radically reworked version of a released track. Recorded for John Peel some two years after appearing on a single (now collected on In Palace of Swords Reversed), the new intense sound of the song reflected its treatment in concerts that year.
Perhaps the most obscure recording in the selection was Whizz Bang, recorded for the January 1990 session but never aired. As John Peel explained: 'There was actually a fourth track recorded at the session, but Mark E. Smith changed his mind about it after it had been recorded so it was never broadcast.' The track was presumably an early version of Butterflies 4 Brains, a B side from later that year.
Each of their then 14 sessions was represented by at least one selection - Rebellious Jukebox and Mess of My from 1978, Deer Park and Winter (Hostel Maxi) from 1981 etc. All of the 1987 session was suggested: fantastic versions of Australians in Europe, Twister, Guest Informant and Athlete Cured. Like most Fall recordings from the BBC, these are superior to the later released versions.
The long and hypnotic Garden and power-riffing of What You Need, as well as the tuneful conspiracy theory New Face in Hell deserved recognition, as did the almost psychedelic reggae of Kurious Oranj. The more recent Black Monk Theme and A Lot of Wind completed the proposed tracklisting, which I then promptly posted off to John Peel, care of Radio One.
Nothing was heard until late February 1992, when a letter on Strange Fruit headed paper arrived. To my astonishment it contained the following:
'Dear Stephen, I thought it would be prudent to drop you a line informing you that you have compiled the track listing for the forthcoming Peel sessions album by The Fall. As you know, it had been agreed that John Peel would decide which session tracks to include but he had been struggling to reach a decision. He then received your letter to him dated 8/5/91 and favoured your proposed track listing. John sent a copy of your letter to his business manager, and Strange Fruit co-director Shirley Selwood, suggesting that we use your listed titles. A copy of your letter was then sent to Mark who gave his approval and we now hope to release the album around September of this year.
Many thanks for your detailed proposal. Obviously we do intend to give you credit on the album sleeve. Best wishes, Brian O'Reilly.'
I was overjoyed at this news, and proud to think the band I most loved would release a whole album of songs I had chosen, songs which I felt best represented them at the peak of their formidable powers. With further news in that April's Record Collector, it seemed the release was finally going ahead.
Since then there have been three more sessions (the 17th was broadcast this February), but the LP release seemed to have been quietly scrapped. At the start of March 1993, an EP was put out by Strange Fruit containing some of the best of the unreleased material. Words of Expectation and C 'n' C Hassle Schmuk were featured alongside the 1992 session cover version of Lee Perry's Kimble (complete with samples from The Fall's own Sinister Waltz) and Spoilt Victorian Child from 1985. Gut of the Quantifier is featured on the CD version of the single.
It appeared that this was all that was to be released from the session archive. I eventually wrote back to enquire if the LP had indeed been shelved, and received a courteous reply early this year. On the back of a Claire Sturgess promotional postcard, John Peel had written:
'Dear Stephen, Afraid M.E.S. put the stopper on the LP - I forget why to be honest. Something fairly daft though. V. Sad.'
It is possible that Mark E. did not feel the need to interrupt the band's prolific release schedule with recordings which represent directions their music is no longer taking. After all, these recordings were never made with a view to eventual release. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the session tracks rival their better known incarnations, with what are often different and more impressive approaches to the material. It is to be hoped that one day The Fall and Strange Fruit could collaborate on a venture to make available some of the best music ever recorded for the BBC, by Britain's most enduringly creative band.
Stephen Fall, April 94
Jingles! Cabaret! Merseybeat! - Unreleased Tracks
As well as an astonishing output of releases, The Fall have played many unissued songs in their 17 years of live performances. These represent primitively compelling listening. Many of the best songs deserve the status and recognition of the released tracks they more than equal.
From a 1977 rehearsal tape comes the shrill and intense rendering of Dresden Dolls. One of the earliest Fall recordings, this boasts the lyrics 'Dresden Dolls are back in style, with a clockwork walk and a backward smile'. Performed live the following year, the track was released on a bootleg single (with Psycho Mafia and Industrial Estate from the same session), and the first 50 copies came with a 'free insert'.
1978 saw a wealth of new material, only some of which could fit onto the first LP. Whilst Stepping Out and Last Orders made it on to the various artists' 10" live LP Live at the Electric Ballroom, both My Condition and Hey! Fascist remain unissued curiosities from that year. The latter is especially fascinating, being an early prototype version of what was finally released this year - the amusing rant of Hey! Student. Only poor quality tapes of these appear to exist so lyrics are even more inaudible than usual.
Many of the best Fall concerts were played in 1981. The band were not only playing concerts of mostly unheard material, but playing them with the tight and ruthless efficiency that is evident in all of their most exciting performances. The official live document of that year, A Part of America Therein: The Fall in North America, whilst a welcome release, failed to include such wonders as the stunning C 'n' C / Gramme Friday coupling, and the semi-acoustic introductory ramble before Middle Mass, known on live tapes as Middle Mass Explanation.
Starting in one version with Mark saying: 'Right, to my long and varied career,' this is a peculiar intro, taking in European bars, syphilis and 'the new Swiss', At a Manchester University show the track was used to silence an unruly audience member with Mark incorporating the lines: 'Look, heckler. Your heart's in the right place but your brain is in your arse.'
From 1981 also comes the magnificent Session Musician - a long and humorous swipe at targets such as Velvet Underground imitators. The song begins with Mark reeling off the immortal lines: 'The singer thinks one day he'll be recognized as the true prophet that I am. The band think one day they'll be seen as the musical geniuses they am!' By the end of the track he is chanting 'Jingles! Cabaret! Merseybeat!' over an awkward, spiky accompaniment. Also peculiar to 1981 shows was a track listed on live tapes as Stars on 45 Lines. This was a medley comprising lyrics from I'm Into C.B. set to music from various Fall classics such as Psykick Dancehall, Fiery Jack and Leave the Capitol.
A concert obscurity from 1982 and 1983 was another lengthy track, the astounding Backdrop. This did see a release, however, on the 1983 New Zealand live document Fall in a Hole. The tensions surrounding the recent departure of Marc Riley were evident in Mark E.'s between song comments, as well as on the LP sleeve. Soon after, the band were playing a song in concert entitled Hey! Marc Riley. If only for libel reasons this is unlikely to be released, and the song remains little more than a thrown together rockabilly effort, taunting Mark's former chum.
Of better quality from the 1983 concerts was Words of Expectation (issued on the second Peel Sessions EP), and the very strange Plaster on the Hand (since released as Pilsner Trail on the Levitate bonus CD). It is unclear what Mark is attempting to communicate in this long, repetitious track, but there cannot be many songs with a chorus as memorable as: 'And the yellow seeps through the plaster on the hand'.
As the 1980s progressed, The Fall played less in the way of unissued material in their live shows, perhaps because the growing number of multi-format singles enabled the release of tracks which would otherwise be lost. Similarly, Mark E. Smith's witty and sarcastic comments between songs have almost disappeared, although he made up for this with a gripe about having to support The Levellers at a recent Glastonbury. Nevertheless, they have continued to use concerts as a way of trying out new songs.
An added feature of these tours have been the mysterious intro tapes with which the band are announced. Often specially recorded, these are anything from snippets of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to vocal doodlings from Mark himself. The I am Curious, Oranj concerts from 1988 included several spoken word links between songs.
Recent concerts have featured instrumental versions of tracks later given vocal accompaniment. On 1990's Extricate tour they used an instrumental Mollusc in Tyrol as the intro, and played an alternate version of Theme from Error-Orrori (performed by two-thirds of The Fall on the Home compilation), complete with familiar 'Good evening, we are The Fall' announcements.
Both You Haven't Found it Yet from 1990 and Behind the Counter from 1993 have also been premiered without vocals. 1993 has also seen performances of the punky Strychnine - also yet to make it to record - as well as tapes of Mark reading his own lyrics between songs.
One other unreleased gem is the fantastically sloppy Race With the Devil, played at John Peel's birthday party in 1989. Broadcast on Radio One, this was a furious rendition of the Gene Vincent favourite; so slurred it was almost unrecognisable.
There may be many other performances of discarded
or one-off songs. The Fall have included some of these on official
releases, such as That Man and Cary Grant's Wedding on Totale's
Turns, and Tempo House on Perverted by Language.There are also
presumably a number of withheld studio recordings, such as Medical
Acceptance Gate, recorded in the early 80s and only issued on The
Collection in 1993. The Fall have always offered unusual material in
their concerts, rather than just familiar tracks, and long may they
continue to do so.
Revolving cocktail bars: Swindon, 1982
The date 26 March 1982; the place the Brunel Rooms, Swindon.
My reason for being here, to watch The Fall playing live.
This is my first Fall gig, and as I queue up outside the venue with my £2.75 in hand, the excitement is mounting.
To set the scene, the interior of the Brunel Rooms is very upmarket, a huge cavernous hall all plush seating and revolving cocktail bars. The size of the hall makes the small crowd (probably less than 100) look even smaller.
The Fall come on early and open with Jawbone and the Air-Rifle and then promptly leave the stage. The DJ explains that they are not happy with the sound and will come back on later. The support band Moscow come on. I sit patiently waiting for The Fall to return.
After what seems an age, the band finally take the stage again - nobody is going to be disappointed tonight.
The Fall play a great set featuring most of the songs from Hex Enduction Hour. Highlights of the night were a razor sharp Who Makes the Nazis? with Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon trying hard not to giggle while providing the cattle mooing backing vocals, the crowd jeering at Mark as he fluffs the spoken intro to Just Step S'Ways, and a pulsating And This Day.
Encoring with forthcoming single cuts Look, Know and I'm Into CB, The Fall receive well-earned applause.
It was a most memorable night and a great
performance by the greatest band in the world, and 12 years later
they are still the best.
The Milos Centre, Thessaloniki, Greece
The Fall fly into Greece and bring a piece of Manchester with them. In Thessaloniki, a cosmopolitan, wealthy university town and also Greece's second city, it's cool and blustery and won't stop raining. The local radio station have been playing The Fall non stop all afternoon. Fall fever has hit town.
The venue for the opening night of the three date tour is 'The Milos Centre'. A new complex of overpriced bars, nightclub, restaurant and open air cinema geared towards Greek yuppies.
As the midnight hour approaches, The Fall emerge onto the tiny three foot high stage, bathed in a dim green glow. They are barely visible above the heads of the heaving sweat soaked throng, their necks straining, eager to catch a glimpse of Mark E. Smith attired in his ideal summer wear of T-shirt and slacks.
New song I'm Going to Spain kicks off proceedings, but the throbbing sequenced beat stops almost as soon as it starts and the band launch into Return. Zagreb and Free Range drive the crowd into a frenzy, the whole heaving mass grooving to the sequencer driven grunge beat, while Craig Scanlon's guitar goes into overdrive and Mark E. Smith informs us that 'it pays to talk to no one'.
But all this is nothing compared to what happens next. The band are ready to deal their ace. As soon as ace keyboard player Dave Bush plays the opening bars of Strychnine (an obscure Sonics song which was apparently a hit in Greece) the crowd go bonkers, singing along with every word and punching the air in time with the chorus.
The euphoria of the audience isn't to last however, as several burly bouncers are dispatched into the crowd to protect the stage and quell the crowd's over-exuberance.
Hit the North and Shiftwork are greeted well but the atmosphere has cooled drastically due to the overbearing presence of the bouncers, who eject anyone who dare to do more than tap their feet or clap politely.
Mark E., always in control of the situation, seems to sense that the mood has changed and the next few songs reflect the repressed atmosphere. He snarls about the horrors of Pittsville Direkt - maybe tonight a pseudonym for Thessaloniki? The tactics have changed, The Fall are not defending their corner anymore but are on full scale attack. It's time for Big New Prinz and by now, obviously nonplussed with the listlessness of the crowd, the 'hip priest' is screaming 'He is FUCKING NOT appreciated!' into the microphone. Steve Hanley's repetitive pumping bassline is guaranteed to leave a few people with headaches in the morning.
There is no let up. U.S. 80s 90s seems to revive the crowd, who throw caution to the wind and begin to move again. U.S. 80s 90s is now awash with samples and top sound effects courtesy of Dave Bush. In this reworked, updated form the song sounds as fresh as it did six years ago on the flawless Bend Sinister album.
All cylinders are firing as The Fall deliver The Birmingham School of Business School. Mark E. slouches across the stage, mic stand in tow, turning up guitar amps, tapping out a tune of sorts on the keyboard and trying to demolish the drum kit, while Simon Woolstencroft hammers out his rock solid funky beat.
Then they are gone. The crowd want more but they
won't get it. There is no encore, The Fall don't need one. They've
said what they came to say. No one messes with The Fall, especially
not overzealous bouncers. As someone once said: 'This is a cool
Ian the Skeleton
The singular opinions of Mr Mark E. Smith
On the youth of today:
I hate hippy children and their fuckin' crusty rubbish. Why? Because they're the only generation to have turned out exactly like their parents. Hippy culture is a hoax. Like it was in 1973 and like it is now. 'Don't wear fur coats, don't wear leather jackets.' That's why you get little kids murdering other little kids - because they're taught at school that a fuckin' flower is as valuable as a human life.
On today's bands:
Full of crusties with long hair who do exactly as they're told because they're too stoned or they've got hippy parents. The Fall aren't like that.
They wanted to keep us but they kept telling us crap like how many bands they'd dropped and how we had to start sending them demos. It wasn't a good attitude, so I told them to stuff it up their arse.
In five years they couldn't do what Permanent did in a month - put our album in the Top Ten. They couldn't manage it because they were to fuckin' busy promoting Dire Straits, Tears for Fears remixes and all that. You can't work with people who aren't interested.
On the work ethic:
The Fall are a working band. We have to produce, otherwise it's a waste of time. We're not some fuckin' dickhead crusties from bloody Cleveland, over the moon to have a record contract. They're all perfectly happy to just bring out one LP every two years, get the money from the record company each week, take limousines and all that.
On the grunge phenomenon:
Grunge bands are rubbish. They're all hippy children.
On record company execs:
They're all fuckin' hippy graduates, man. They don't even know what the map of England looks like. I'm going 'Don't you know how far Stoke is from Southampton? There's no way you can get between them in half an hour unless you've got a fuckin' jet plane. They're like: 'Don't you talk to me like that.'
On modern fathers:
Hippy fuckin' fathers - they're a problem when you have to work with them.
I mean, even their wives have got a problem with them 'cause they want to spend more time with the kids than with their mothers. It's quite ridiculous.
There's a lot of blokes - especially middle-class blokes - who are unemployed. They use it as an excuse. Instead of getting a job, they hang around with the kids all day playing computer games. They make out they're caring, sharing dads, when in fact it's just an excuse to stay at home.
On the motor car society:
The fact is you get lung cancer from car fumes because all the hippy children have to drive everywhere.
Me, I never saw my dad. He worked. Saw him at breakfast, and saw him again at tea. That's the way it should be, too. I think mothers know better how to handle kids than most blokes do.
On modern England:
This country's turning into a bunch of whingeing, mithering bastards - going on about nothing at all. Spoilt brats. In every rock article you read, there's some fuckin' cunt going on about what a hard life he's had. It's all very third world, very crusty, very hippy.
On drink and drugs:
Look at Boy George - he does two lines of heroin and he fucks it up. Goes and ruins it for everyone else. And it's the same with people who can't hold their drink. Everything in moderation, as the Bible says.
I don't like whingers and groaners. There's too much of it about. Daytime television is full of these twats - retired fuckin' idiots moaning on about all the problems they've got. I don't want any part of it. It's not English and it's not fuckin' right. Having a problem is like a professional career these days, it's become really hip.
Based on an interview by Lisa Verrico in VOX,
'Encoded in The Fall's music we find the true
cognizance of late 20th century Brit-youth intelligentsia
'If that's singing, I'll show you my arse!'