... Issue 1
The Biggest Library Yet 17
Published: September 1999, 60pp, A5 SOLD OUT
Bootleg Fall, part 4
To date, I. Ewart has covered those tapes featuring ultra-rare material or which are of a particulary good standard musically and clairtywise. This issue I bring you TBLY's very own adaptation of: It'll Be Alright On The Night. A glossary of bloopers, howlers and unforgettably bad gigs; an article Mr Ewart wanted no part of. He'll reappear in the next issue with his series of bootleg highlights.
It was inevitable that there have been times when performances by the Fall have been so barely held together and out on the edge, that they have slipped ingloriously over the precipice.
Mark E.Smith, believe it or not, on occasion, can be a niggly, aggravating man, with a totally unrivalled ability to provoke audience members.
Such was the fervour of one gentleman's depth of anger in the Lyceum on 25 March 1979, he actually mounted the stage and aimed a barrage of punches at Mark, causing the Fall's set to finish after barely 20 minutes. Undeterred by the OTT reaction of some 'soft southern git', Mark decided the badlands of Middlesbrough were fair game later in the year (4/11/79), when an audience made up mainly of onlookers wearing third generation punk attire were greeted with a less than cheery riposte of 'The fucking UK Subs were last week yer fuckers', that met with an understandably unpleasant response from the now marauding hordes of bondage trouser wearing angry locals. Ooh Mark, you are a wit!
Never one to take the path of least resistance, Smith reversed these roles 12 months later at a college gig in Manchester, where a five minute 'interval' is introduced with the legend 'Right, I've had enough of you, yer cunt!' while MES wades into the audience to sort out an over-zealous detractor (heckler, heckler! Message for ya, message for ya').
By far the largest clutch of live disasters come from a 24-month reign of terror encompassing late-1996 to April-1998, when it is obvious with hindsight that certain elements in the Fall camp were continually at loggerheads with each other and desperately needed to part company before the band became a terrible parody of its previous self and deteriorated into a Spinal Tapesque joke. Obviously for audience and band members alike it was far from amusing at the time, and was a terribly disturbing spectacle to behold. Ugliness incarnate.
Kings Lynn and Norwich on the final weekend of September 1996 was when any behind the scenes 'musical differences' got an airing in public, the latter of these dates features Birthday being played at the behest of a disgruntled MES three times in a row. The tape recorder was either turned off between these songs or else the audience response was one of muted bewilderment. Motherwell, less than a week later featured a line up of Nagle, Wolstencroft, (S) Hanley and Smith, the latter playing guitar (very badly!). Two aborted gigs later the Fall hit Worthing, and how. Whatever the reasons behind all the internal aggro at the previous gigs on this tour, there was only one person responsible for this shambles, a certain inebriated vocalist. The tape lasts for just 45 minutes and begs the question: why isn't this bootleg actually titled The Chaos Tape?
Constant thudding noises throughout the tape are not the fault of an out of time drummer, but the result of the said vocalist, his microphone or a combination of both, falling to the ground. If this was to have been the last ever live gig by the band, then the tape would've represented a very sad un-grand finale' indeed. Given the fact that all parties concerned have emerged from this tunnel into apparently more personally fulfilling and creative climes, allows this performance to be related to in a different context - it's absolutely hilarious!
Against all the odds this tour was actually completed, and a tape of the London Forum gig (11/10/96) features the guitar strains of Brix who had been coaxed back for one last farewell appearance (she had gone AWOL prior to the Motherwell gig).
Into January, an hour long set at Swindon Level 3 (30/1/97) was interspersed with an endless stream of intervals while Smith took the band off stage for numerous 'pep talks'. The underlying current of nastiness finally spilled over in May '97 in Belfast. Amazingly a three minute tape of this 'gig' actually exists, where sombody has recorded the intro tape and a venue manager cursing MES from the stage by way of an explanation as to why the show was cancelled. A week later an unprecentented amount of older Fall fans converged on Sankey's Soap in Manchester to lay the band to rest, but came away disappointed/relieved that all was not lost, despite the band's insistence on playing too loud and deliberately drowning Smith's vocals out.
A fairly solid if unspectacular tour was completed in November and December of the same year and in March/April of 1998 an American tour was embarked upon. I won't dwell on all the tales, lies, half-truths, innuendo and fall-out which dragged on long after this ill-fated sorte, but in the sprit of reporting things as I hear/see them here is a resume of the NYC Brownies gig as captured for posterity on both audio and video recorders. Evidently there was an incendiary atmosphere between the band that threatened to implode and explode by this stage of the tour, and it certainly did just that. Obviously there was more background to these outpourings of bitterness than are evident to the naked eye, but from my neutral viewpoint; it seems the trouble had started prior to the band going on stage and simply escalated once Smith joined them there.
Claims by one ex-Fall member that MES had attacked the band seem far-fetched once I'd seen this tape. If anybody thinks the 'handbags at ten paces' happening onstage was a real fight, then lord help them if they're ever caught up in the middle of a real riot. Burns, obviously drunk, or maybe even high, attempts to grab Smith after scaling the drum kit, but merely effects the guise of a drunk attempting to mount a sexual conquest doggy fashion and Smith catches Crooks round the face with a swipe from a coiled up mic lead. Other than that, the 'violence' is aimed at equipment. Obviously The Fall in this manifestation were heading their separate ways, and in the words of the TBLY editor and Mark E Smith himself in issue 15, it was best for all concerned in the long run.
Gigs with a makeshift line-up at the end of April went as smooth as clockwork. Unfortunately, some of the audience owned time-pieces that were stuck in a 1979 timewarp, those no longer present might have really had a storm to report if they'd been on the end of such a barrage of bottles and missiles. One of these gig tapes features an audience member attempting to get celebrities present to speak badly of Smith. If you're reading this Stewart Lee, you emerge with a lot of credit from this 'conversation'.
So with the personality clash personnel of 96-98 going their own way, then surely harmony and tranquility have been restored? Not just yet. Anyone present at the London Astoria 2 gig (12/8/98) would never have believed how such a marvellous performance could have been preceded by all the mistiming and errors evident on a tape of the previous nights gig at Manchester Uni.
The first night of a double date in Whitefield (21/10/98) was a ghastly affair, virtually a rough-arsed public rehearsal session, but the band had improved considerably the following night. On 14/12/98 The Fall rolled into Bristol, hearing some of the songs now familiar to the live repertoire in prototype form nearly saves this recording, but not quite. Smith commented on the shambolic performance throughout and even amended the line-up for the set after three songs! A similarly off kilter performance at Manchester Ritz (29/12/98) was proof that this line-up still had a way to go, and though the tapes filtering through from the May tour suggest they are close to becoming the finished article, there was still the cautious seeds of doubt sown by that last night of the tour in London.
Typically, the TV cameras were present here, when any other gig from the tour would've presented a far more competent and positive picture.
From the postbag...
1) re: the Outsiders. Much as I enjoyed Ken Sproat's ruminations in TBLY 16, I feel the likeliest source of MES's thiking would be Colin Wilson's 1959 book 'The Outsider', which deals with the alienation felt by creative/ artistic types in dealing with what we laughingly call the Real World. Wilson (namechecked in 'Deer Park') first came to fame with this book, and for a while was pegged as one of the original Angry Young Men. The people cited by Wilson as ptrototypical outsiders include Camus (author, as if you need reminding, of 'The Fall'), Sartre, Hesse and William Blake. Which brings me to:
2) Blake's long narrative poem 'Jerusalem', or the "Emanation of the Giant Albion", 1820 (not to be confused with the hymn) which includes the following stanza:
The Spectre weeps, but Los unmov'd by tears or threats remains.
I must create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's. I will not Reason and Compare, my business is to create."
So Los, in fury and strength, in indignation and burning wrath. Shudd'ring the Spectre howls: his howlings terrify the night"
... which is as good a description of 'Dragnet' as I've ever heard, as well as the source for some Fall lyrics. This type of poem - an allegorical battle between good and evil - is known as a Psychomachia, which may or may not be relevant [to the song title Psycho Mafia]. Blake also wrote (1793): "The road of excess leds to the palace of wisdom," a quote which crops up with a typical MES twist in 'Lost in Music'.
I was going to write an extended piece on the importance of Blake and his relevance as far as Smith is concerned, but I found Michael Bracewell had beaten me to it, and he uses longer words than me so he's obviously much wiser. However, I would point interested parties to Peter Ackroyd's 1995 biography 'Blake'.
3) Finally, a small observation and probably a well-known one. From Silence of the Lambs, chapter 22 -
"You believe he's a catatonic schizoid?"
"Yes. Can you smell his sweat? That peculiar goatish odor is trans-3-methyl-2 hexonic acid. Remember it, it's the smell of schizophrenia."
Pete Conkerton, Hull
Singles reviewed by Samantha Fox, 1986
The Fall: Living too Late (Beggars Banquet)
'I didn't like this at all - it's really crappy. And it's got a Duane Eddy guitar bit - you know what's it called? (Peter Gunn) - ripped off. And he sounds like he's been having yodelling lessons. It seems to be the fashion at the moment to like the Smiths and these sorts of groups, and to me the lyrics are really depressing. I heard one the other day while I was in Kensington Market trying on some jeans and it gave me a headache. The Smiths, it was. Singing "Oh my God, I can't get a job, what am I going to do?" As for this song I listenmed to the first half and I had to turn it off. My mother was in the other room and she shouted "nah, I don't like that one - get it off!". '
Bircotes Leisure Centre. 4 November 1979
My first encounter with the Fall was, I'm almost ashamed to admit nowadays, a rather brief and blurred affair. It was a dingey Notts venue, sat against the wall between the DJ's booth and the bar, a vantage point that succesfully blocked my vision of 95 per cent of the stage. Unfortunately, I was in the grip of that teenage ceiling spinning experience, bought on by drinking a mere two pints of snakebite, while trying to express my undying love to a young lady of my age in a similar state of alcohol induced stupor. All I really recall was that everyone else I knew kept going on about how the bass was too loud and distorted.I was too drunk to have noticed and confess any band playing that night would have been playing second fiddle to my ham-fisted attempts at teenage rites of passage. I have no recollection of the date, only my age, which means it must've pre-dated my sixteenth birthday in the spring of 1979.
My second experience of The Fall was altogether more satisfying. I was still in the company of the same young lady and by now we're both obtained an abnormally large appetite for the demon drink. This particular night (4 November 1979) we visited the leisure centre in our village to watch a local Stooges covers type group who were appearing third on the bill - The Uncool Dance Band. They were pretty unmemorable, likewise the second band The Kick-Starts. The venue was merely a gymnasium with all the ropes and apparatus pushed back, up against the walls. There was no stage, the bands played at floor level beneath one of the basketball nets.
The main band appeared, they were like nothing I had seen or heard before, I was totally captivated. The bass wasn't too loud or distorted either. I rued not paying them more attention the first time I'd seen this scruffy troupe shuffle onto the stage some months earlier. Within the confines of the gym were a good number of irritating Sid Vicious clones playing on the gym ropes, making oh so ironic ape noises. One of them sported the slogan on the back of his studded leather jacket 'It's not what you wear, it's what you are.' Doubtless the punk-by-numbers copycat displaying this statement and his identically attired friends had totally missed the point put over by such wise rhetoric, but it would have made an apt banner to hang above the main turn for the night, belting out their message which such intensity and conviction that the whole thing threatened to spill over into a violent skirmish with the front row at any time.
Like I said, there was no stage and there was no security presence either. Mark Smith was quite literally giving the crowd his undiluted vitriol confrontation at a face to face level. The effect was awe inspiring. This Bircotes gig has since been released for posterity, though in typical Fallesque fashion it was never documented properly. The Bircotes action was released under the incorrect heading of Doncaster! on the Totale's Turns album. 'Donny' is actually eight miles north of Bircotes and in a different county, but the Fall were travelling so much on their hectic, amphetamine-fuelled touring schedule back then (and they didn't have Garbage's tour bus) that such a minor geographical faux pas can be forgiven.
The very next day I travelled over to Sheffield and purchased all the Fall vinyl I could lay my hands on, a spend-thrift shopping addiction I'm still in the grip of when it comes buying Fall records, even the rip-off ones that labels put out against the wishes of MES. I had to wait two whole weeks before The Fall were 'In My Area' again, due south in that godforsaken barren wasteland called Retford. This proved to be the first of many occasions when I couldn't get home from a gig but travelled anyway, besides what's a ten mile walk home for a fit, healthy 16 year old!? The Fall were just as good as in Bircotes, even if they were playing in a 'proper' venue (though if the truth be known it was really a cramped sweatbox). I've seen better gigs than the 4/11/79 one, many times since, but I would never have thought this possible back then. I wonder, how many other Fall fans can say they've seen Mark E. Smith exerting himself in a gymnasium!
I have no idea what became of The Uncool Dance Band, they probably went down Harworth Colliery to find gainful employment like most of the male population of Bircotes did. Nor do I know the present whereabouts of my snakebite consuming lady friend of two decades ago, but if you're out there Liz, do you still have that Dragnet poster we nicked off the entrance doors on the way out that night?
Excerpts from issue 17:
Whilst in that attic Mark Edward Smith also invented: art, literature, contemporary music, the X-Files and the spinning Jenny... The Fall are happy. The Fall will last forever (1980)... stubbornly pouring out words in monotone cuteness... Howard Devoto was Lenin, Pete Shelley impersonated Stalin... 'He hit us a lot and it sounded dreadful'... are The Fall the thinking man's Public Image?... FIDDLING with tranche of papers on desk... What's that luminous man doing in my kitchen?...'my roast beef sandwiches have made both grown-up intellectuals and juvenile hoodlums weep with pleasure'...he is grimacing, yes grimacing every time I correct one of his anorak Fall observations...