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The Biggest Library Yet 4

Cover TBLY4

Colin B. Morton

(co-author, Great Pop Things cartoon in NME)

Graham C: How did Great Pop Things start?

Colin B Morton: On a long train journey to Edinburgh, me and this other guy started making up a 'history of David Bowie' to pass the time. I sent Chuck a postcard with some of the drivel on the back (it was much more rambling than the stuff that eventually surfaced in the strip). He was working as an illustrator-caricaturist for various music papers. Unbeknownst to me he'd been asked to contribute a strip cartoon, and had no ideas what to do. On my return, he came to see me and suggested a collaboration. That was it, a complete accident... though I knew a lot about comics, technically, how they work.

GC: Great Pop Things takes as its starting point the view that most of our popstars are inherently absurd...

CBM: I think it's much more complex than that either-or. I'd cite the inherent absurdity of the 'special position of th artist', the prevalent assumption that all songwriting is biographical self-expression, the idea of fan-worship... we don't really have the space! The 'image' of a pop star is a complex dialogue between artist, fan, press etc... we all of us collaborate in this, and have as much right to play with it as does the 'artiste'. I've met some of our victims who know what we're doing and appreciate it. Others don't. Houdini believed his tricks, 'that is why he dies' as someone once said.

GC: Do you have any favourite subjects to write about (David 'Dave' Bowie perhaps)?

CBM: We were explicitly asked 'please stop doping Morrissey' by both NME and LA Weekly. I think the Mozz is the funniest. I saw the Smiths once in Newport, and I was pissing myself laughing at his antics. All these Mozettes were giving me dirty looks. I often think pop stars are meant to be funny and why isn't anyone else getting the joke?

Once I was sat with Patricia from Datblygu in a restaurant in Hay-on-Wye and Robert Planet was at the next table. He said 'Have you got any pickles?'. Pat had to lead me away. 'Pickles' was such an un-Robert Plant word! I was crying!

With Dave, he's the comedian chameleon and caricature of rock so every time he changes his personality we can do him again... I heard Derek Jameson play Laughing Gnome on Radio 2 once, about 1988, and he said to his weather person 'Is that a new Dave Bowie record or an old one?' That's where calling him 'Dave' originates from. It's caught on somewhat.

GC: Is there anyone you'd like to feature but no one would know who they were?

CBM: I'd like to do: THE FUGS! Co-founder Tuli Kupferburg was about 40 when they started in 1964 or so... none of them could play or sing. They tried to change the world by levitating the Pentagon! When they split, one of the main Fugs, Ken Weaver, ended up in the CIA. Ed Sanders investigated Manson and gets a hate Xmas card from him every year, reindeer with swastikas drawn on. And then reformed in 1984 as a close-harmony group! I heard a rumour that a Fugs story is in the works, starring Willem Dafoe.

GC: Have you had any angry letters or threats from your 'victims'?

CBM: No, none. I think even if people are annoyed they realise that we'd delight in knowing we'd annoyed them! We get very little feedback. Tori Amos liked hers (we basically said she was just a Kate Bush ripoff!), and PJ Harvey. I've heard rumours that Gary Numan was not amused, and Mozz threw one across a room 'cos we'd made his chin too big. Think about that: THE NOTION OF A CARICATURE HAS NOT REACHED MORRISSEY! Oh, and we made Jackson Browne very upset. He beat up Daryl Hannah (allegedly) and then wrote a concept album when she chucked him... I can live with that! Someone wrote in to LA Weekly 'correcting' us. 'Brian Eno was not in Genesis, he was in Roxy Music'...!

GC: How long do you expect Great Pop Things to continue?

CBM: Three months! I always think it'll last another three months... this is maybe quite healthy.

GC: Are you musical yourself... what instruments do you play?

CBM: Sax, flute, harmonica. I like playing those instruments because you can just make stuff up. I can't learn parrot fashion, can't be bothered to remember. It's ok when I've played with Datblygu, I just stand there and blast away when I feel like it. I'm a pretty smart improviser.

I was in a band when I was very young and was thrown out for 'being weird' (see below). I couldn't see the point in being in a band and not doing EXACTLY WHAT WE WANTED and everyone else disagreed. To me, playing music you don't like is just like having a proper job.

GC: Despite your occasional beastliness towards Mark E. Smith, it's pretty obvious you're an admirer of The Fall.

CBM: Yes - when we first did a Fall cartoon, it was a response to a challenge. 'How come you never do people you like?' You could tell, couldn't you? Did you spot the misheard lyrics? 'Actresses on cupboards!' is something a friend misheard from Winter.

Plus his interview technique is smart. Most fairly voluble, articulate people of our generation, the one trapped twixt two generations of hippies, amuse each other by airing irrational prejudices in pubs. If music-journo transcribed, it would come out sounding like Smith. My mate Phil does it. He makes some vasty claims and all the hippy children start arguing... and just when they think they've got him, he'll erupt with some triumphal piece of nonsense like 'Don't be stupid, you'll be claiming schoolteachers have personalities next!'

GC: When did you first see them?

CBM: It was at Newport Stowaway Club, 1979. No one knew much about them. Smiffy had that haircut like Doyle on Grange Hill. He started by reciting the 'three rules of audience'. I had just been chucked out of the very first band I'd ever joined (the second was Datblygu, last December!) for 'being weird'. At that point it was very life-affirming to see The Fall being uncompromising in duffle coats... the people from the band I'd just been thrown out of hated them, which was a bonus! Mark Smith came on and said the three rules: 'No requests - you do not pay us enough to dictate our actions', 'we do not play for the ghost dance' and 'if you don't like it, it's already too late.' I knew what the Ghost Dance was, so it all made perfect sense to me. Martin Bramah was playing thee daft guitar solos the like of which I'd not heard before or since. Anyone got a tape?

I've seen them many times. Once at Warwick University we had a lift with these people who were the Real Ale Society from some other university (Wolverhampton?). They were actually The Fall Society: they'd make sure that their Real Ale Sampling Outings coincided with Fall gigs. They gradually took over the Real Ale Society 'cos it had a minibus, and a majority of them kept voting for trips to sample booze in towns in which The Fall just happened to be playing. (Adopts Mark E. voice: 'Real Ale Soc! Hijacked by democracy!')

GC: Have you ever met them?

CBM: I've met Marc Riley, does that count? I also know the man who says 'From the riot-torn streets of Manchester' on A Part of America Therein, and have a theory that it is my hysterical laughter after the words 'Have you ever heard a Bill Haley LP' on Putta Block, but I have no way of substantiating this! [see as-yet unwritten TBLY9 for the real owner of laugh.]

My brother had a blue drug-squad anorak thing which he um, acquired from a police station where he was working as an electrician, and I wore it to a Fall gig in Bristol University. Karl Burns was smoking a joint on the stairs and I said 'Are you smoking certain substances?' and he buggered off a bit quick. Have any other readers frightened members of The Fall by impersonating the drug squad?

GC: Which are your favourite Fall songs then?

CBM: I like anything where he sings about stuff no one has ever sung about before in hist. of world, like Wings, Carry Bag Man, Riddler, Winter. I'm not so fond of his songs about music biz things. You know those band who go 'This is a song about how hard life is on the road' and the audience is all office-workers. Smith's had a proper job, but he still moans a bit in songs about his showbiz life. He should know better.

GC: John Peel has said that Captain Beefheart and Mark Smith are the dominant figures in popular music. Would you agree with this... and would you add anyone else to the list?

CBM: I couldn't agree more about Beefheart being THE dominant figure. I think this will become more apparent as time goes by. I can't immediately think of anyone else I'd put on such a plane, except Muhammad Ali in boxing. Beefheart's the best. That's not idol-worship. Someone's got to be best, and you can prove Beefheart' is on an etch-a-sketch, to paraphrase Bill Hicks. What he did was unprecedented.

With MES there are precedents like the Entry of Christ Into Liverpool by Liverpool Scene, some Can or Kevin Coyne. But The Fall have been the most consistently good at it, to the extent that if someone else makes a record with a bit of cryptic half-speech over music, everyone goes 'Oho! Fall ripoff!'

That's Bardic tradition. The Fall didn't invent it. When Datblygu play the Eistedfodd, going on in Welsh: 'You come here and listen to this as it's in the Welsh language and you've got nothing better to do 'cos you live in crummy Wales', nobody goes 'Fall ripoff!' They say: 'The bastards, they make a mockery of our Bardic heritage.' And throw stuff. Datblygu are as good as The Fall except it's in Welsh and I've just joined them, like 'new kid in Suede'. But there's another smart thing Peel says: 'A life measured out in Fall albums'.

Great Pop Things Fall cartoons

Maybe we should do a tribute!

The tribute lp treatment has been extended to everyone from Captain Beefheart to the Carpenters, Husker Du to Cole Porter. A project to cover The Fall in this way has been in existence for a few years, but it still remains unreleased. The LP's organiser is Douglas Wolk of the US-based Dark Beloved Cloud label. A member of a one-off Fall tribute band, Wolk decided a covers LP was long overdue and set about contacting bands to record tracks. This was the track listing:

Nothing Painted Blue: The Steak Place
Number: Your Heart Out
Airlines: Leave the Capitol
Giant Mums: Last Orders
Lid: Telephone Thing
Smack Dab: I am Damo Suzuki
Ferret: Stephen Song
Jupiteria: Edinburgh Man
Wedding Present: Jumper Clown
Bugskull: There's a Ghost in my House
The Gamma Rays: Look, Know
Dustdevils: Big New Prinz
Television Personalities: Bingo Master's Break-out
Jowe Head: Two Steps Back
Versus: The Classical
Fire in the Kitchen: I Feel Voxish
Fly Ashtray: Joker Hysterical Face
Wingtip Sloat: Mark E Smith and Brix (Barbara Manning song)
Uncle Wiggly: Papal Visit and/or Winter
Nipple: Hilary
Alan Smithee: Prole Art Threat
Eeyore Powertool: Copped it
Lovefish: Fantastic Life
The Garden Gnomes: Bug Day
Fifth Column: No Xmas for John Quays
God is my Co-Pilot: Totally Wired

The Wedding Present track (a Creepers song rather than a Fall song) has been released as a B side - but what has happened to the others I can't tell you.

By the end of 1996, however, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Kandell and Andy Halper, a cassette of Fall covers by Fallnet-related bands was released, entitled Good Evening, We Are Not The Fall

Middle Class Defender

On 28 May 1994 The Fall played at a festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. After the gig, it seems Mark E Smith was interviewed for a TV show. It was eventually reported in a Russian newspaper and translated back into English for TBLY by 'Vadim from Kirov'. Of course, MES did not say the exact words produced below but it gives a good idea of the contents of the newspaper article. So 3 or 4 times removed from reality, here is the 'Middle Class Defender' (approximate title of the piece).

"During the concert Mark threw microphones and stanchions, turned the knobs of the amplifiers. though everything had been regulated at the rehearsal, which he had not honoured with his presence, did not let the operators make shooting and turned the camera aside. In a word, he behaved as a fickle old man who thinks that his children aim at giving him the smallest piece of cake.

Suddenly Mark left the stage, the group followed him. Shortly after this incident the concert continued and there were no more excesses. But I had no desire to talk with Mark: he had perfectly confirmed his reputation as one of the most uncommunicative people in british rock .But it turned out that my colleagues from tv had already made arrangements about our meeting with Mark.

There is a small sign "The Fall" on the door of the room. I am coming in. There are many bottles of beer, sandwiches and pineapples on the tables. And among this splendour sits Mark E. Smith. He is about 36-37 years old, a wax skin, wrinkled lips and fussy movements, in contrast to the Smith who radiates the energy on stage,

- Mark, what is your opinion of the concert?

MES - Well, a good concert, successful.

- Why did you not let the operators make shooting?

MES- I don't like it when there are unnecessary men on the stage.

- But is their work.

MES- Of course. but they could place their cameras in front of the stage. I couldn't concentrate because of their presence.

- Why did you take the musicians away from the stage during the concert?

MES- I didn't like the way they were playing.

- What happened behind the scenes?

MES- I showed them how to play.

- Well, I see you are a teacher aren't you?

MES- At any rate, when they came back to the stage they played much better.

- Your last album is called Middle Class Revolt. Why is this? Does the middle class have a reason to revolt?

MES- The situation is serious. Earlier, people thought that all problems were the fate of social outcasts. But nowadays the middle class clashes with the same problems, including unemployment.

- How do you manage to work without faults all these years? Not one of you8r albums was criticised by the press.

MES- I don't know how it happens. As for the press, I don't care about their opinions. Newspapers I don't read at all. there's nothing serious there, only naked women and rumours.

- Or conversation will be shown on tv. What is your opinion of that?

MES- TV is a very dangerous thing. Seeing yourself on the tv screen, you start thinking you're a star. I don't watch tv.

- Do you think John Peel will include your new songs in his programme?

MES- Who knows? Maybe he will. So what? I don't like listening to the radio.

- If you don't read newspapers, don't watch tv, don't listen to the radio, what gives you information about the problems of the middle class?

MES- Life.

The ceremony of farewell was more touching than it had to be. He wished me every success, health and promised to visit Moscow. And in spite of all this he looked aside and did not hide his satisfaction that one more foolish interview was over."

Stepping Out

Wise-ass American film critics would call it a 'rite of passage'. We linguistically sober Little Englanders would refer to it as all part of growing up! I'm talking about my first ever Fall gig. It happened on 28 June 1980 at the Newcastle New Tyne Theatre. The gig cost £2.00 and beer was 43p a pint. I was a month away from my 16th birthday and was on something of a high, having just completed my O levels and secured a six week summer job in an electrical components factory. This particular night was a Saturday and I was still coming to terms with having £25 in my pocket in respect of my first week's wages.

The gig was being promoted by a wonderful organisation called Anti Pop that had done the Au Pairs and Delta 5 the week before and, wait for it, Pink Military Stand Alone (remember them?) the previous night. The New Tyne Theatre was not new at all, but an aged musical hall that had done time as the Stoll 'erotic' cinema before lying dormant - like its former customers presumably - for many years. It's still doing service as a theatre and infrequent musical venue; in fact, I saw Kristin Hersh there in April 1994. The best thing about the New Tyne was that all the seating was as it had been, thus me and about 10 mates commandeered one of the Royal Boxes, complete with velvet drapes and opera glasses, in order to get a better view. First on were local band Flesh, both of whom worked in the local Virgin Records store and were absolute shite. They released a record once: a cover of 'My Boy Lollipop' in the manner of Suicide. This was a decade and a half ago remember.

Next to read the boards were Clicks, a band memorable only for having ex-Penetration guitarist Garry Chaplin as leader; they had played one gig the previous April as Iron Curtain and used Munch's 'The Scream' for their posters and t-shirts; Joy Division crossed with the Velvets, unpalatable now but very popular among the long overcoat proto-Bunnymen brigade. Now perhaps this doesn't seem to be much of a night to remember so far but Cabaret Voltaire, in their atonal electric dadaist phase, were on immediately before The Fall and achieved an enormously polarised reaction. I thought they were brilliant; the rest of the audience bombarded them with glasses, jeers and phlegm. To be truly innovative, you must be prepared to endure the opprobrium of those less advanced then yourself I mused, then went for a pint.

When The Fall hit the stage, I had the horns of a dilemma to sit on; should I remain in the Royal Box with a perfect view, or should I venture to the front in search of a better atmosphere? There was no problem with sound quality, it was diabolical everywhere, but it was important for me to find the right spot to spend the second most important night of my life thus far. Subsequently, a man I did not know and have never seen since came up to me in a pub, the name of which I can't remember, and gave me a bootleg of the gig (did I cover myself legally on that one?) and what strikes me is just how long a gig it was. Perhaps it was the overpowering stench of Evo-Stik from the prototype punk retards in the bogs or just the sheer excitement I felt, who knows? It certainly affected my mental equilibrium. Anyway, most of the evening passed in a blur. As was their wont at the time, The Fall slipped in eight unreleased songs out of a 16 song set. I spent a lot of time inventing possible titles for the newies, such as - and how I cringe now - Totally Wild.

When I arrived downstairs, I discovered the closest I could get to the stage was about 50 feet. Contrast this with The Fall's next appearance at Newcastle in October 1981, when I spent the gig sat on the stage at the dismally naff Hofbrau German Bierkellar; this was in the days before Riverside and finding a place to play was almost impossible. The reason for being kept at a distance was the roped off orchestra pit area that hailed back to the Music Hall days. No doubt it had been maintained during the time it was a cinema to ensure the dirty raincoat brigade didn't impale themselves on the stage, attempting to ravish the Swedish nurses or lesbian nuns on the screen. Faced with this huge gap, I returned back upstairs. Sadly, unlike Royal Variety Command performances, all performers and audience didn't turn to applaud us and throw red roses at the end. My main memories of the set were of how wonderful 'Impression of J. Temperance' and 'New Puritan' sounded.

The only downer was at the end. As the gig would finish after the last bus and I hadn't a clue about taxis at that age, my dad had arranged to pick me up. Horror upon horror for me and my cousin, as my dad and uncle were waiting directly outside and proceeded to drone on for the 15-minute journey home about how dreadful punk fashions were and how the music is just noise - much in the same way as I go on about jungle/ techno nowadays.

Fall set at Newcastle New Tyne Theatre, 28.06.80
The N.W.R.A. / 2nd Dark Age / Impression of J. Temperance / City Hobgoblins / Totally Wired/ Muzorewi's Daughter / Fiery Jack / Gramme Friday / Printhead / English Scheme / New Face in Hell / Choc-Stock / Diceman / New Puritan / Psycho Mafia / Stepping Out

Ian Cusack

Random quotes

Mark is the singer and Mark is the star he is the fucking captain of the ship and I know that. He is Captain Kirk and I am Mister Spock and that is the way it is.
Brix Smith

After playing this incomparable album [Fall in a Hole] all weekend I went back to the local record shop on Monday following and purchased "The Wonderful and Frightening..." Suddenly everything, but every thing else in my collection seemed trivial and a little embarrassing. Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Talking Heads, stuff I had followed for years, sounded... lame.
Rex Freeman