Thursday, 25 January 2018
Thank You Mark.
It took me a while but I eventually learned to love the Fall.
Actually that statement is not entirely true, it makes it look like for a considerable time that I forced myself or was coerced to listen to the gruppe until I eventually gave in to some sort of Stockholm Syndrome and was brainwashed which is not the case.
I had been aware of the Fall from the early 80s, nobody who listened to John Peel could not have known of their presence but back then I found the music quite rudimentary and the vocals jarring, sometimes when they came on I would switch the radio off and listen to something more of my liking, other times I would just ignore the track and let it wash over me, sometimes I would listen and then dismiss the track but very occasionally I would find a song tolerable but still not enough to go out and buy anything by whatever incarnation of the Fall was in session. Eventually this would change and I too, like thousands of others would wait in anticipation for the phrase "tonight we have a new session by the Fall" which would make my week/month or occasionally year. I would also hear the music in other places, I remember Mr Pharmacist being played at Scooter Club dos and somebody had the effrontery to play The Fall's atrocious cover of Ghost In My House once at one of these nights, quickly realising his mistake it came off mid play. I would later marvel at some of Smith's singular interpretations of the classic or obscure songs of others but at that time I was completely horrified at the bloody awfulness of the R Dean Taylor cover.
It eventually clicked for me in 1988 when I heard "check the record, check the record, check the guy's track record, check the record, check the guy's track record" repeated over and over on New Big Prinz the opening track of I Am Kurious Oranj, the band's 11th album ( I know a bit slow on the uptake) and the soundtrack to a ballet that Smith had written with Michael Clarke based on the accession of William of Orange to the English throne 300 years previously. The ballet was performed at the Edinburgh International Festival to mixed reviews. I am still not quite sure how I " got it" but I did and from then on I was hooked, not obsessively at first that would come later around the mid 90s but I had awoken to the strange and frightening world of Mark Edward Smith and there was no going back. Everything music wise from then on would be judged through the prism of the Fall.
I kept my growing passion for the band to myself for the time being and gradually added, singles, albums and cds as the opportunities arose. Not the easiest thing to do prior to the internet. During the 90s most of my focus on music had turned to the dance music scene and most indie went by the way side, except for the Fall and The Wedding Present. Smith also embraced dance music, as early as 1989 when he collaborated with Coldcut on the single Telephone Thing. During the 90s there were a few singles released with dance remixes included that horrified some of the purists and probably made MES smile. There was also an album containing bits of Techno, jungle and breakbeats, the poorly received Levitate but from 1992's Code Selfish you could hear the beats coming in. Which helped keep them on my radar. Over time I started to get Evangelical about the Fall and would bore friends to death with talk of this or that album. I would also try and convert others to Fall fandom without much success really, with only one person being turned on to the Fall but I knew that that conversion was only a matter of time and it would eventually click for him too.
Over the prolific output of the gruppe, there have been some outstanding albums, some very good ones and some quite poor ones but there have been none that haven't including something worth the cover price. Sometimes it has been exasperating buying releases by the band as tracks or mixes have been exclusive on a certain format meaning that multiple versions of releases had to be bought, as Fall Fans are completists but you had already guessed that hadn't you. There are also the myriad of live releases , the quality of which can vary widely. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Live, the Fall could be absolutely amazing and sometimes the worst band in the world depending on how Smith was feeling on the night. But I can tell you it was electric when eventually Smith would wander onto the stage around half way through the first song and utter the phrase "good evening we are the Fall . . , " and that was all the audience interaction you got and it was all you needed, his presence on stage was somewhat hypnotic and you could not keep your eyes off of him It took me a while to pluck up the courage to go and see Smith and Co live but after I did for the first time I berated myself for ages for taking so long to do it. From that moment on there was no stopping me until a couple of terrible gigs in Edinburgh in 2010/2011 when Smith took to the stage for maybe 20 minutes each time then that was it. I did go back to the Arches in 2012 when he delivered most of the set sitting behind the speakers, he did pull it back with an absolutely brilliant 15 minutes including one of the best versions of Blindness I have ever heard (I have heard a few, on checking iTunes, I have 25 versions in the database and that doesn't include recordings of some of the gigs I attended where it was played) But it was too little too late, I told Stiff that I would not be shelling out for any more Fall gigs and he agreed. Ironically, I changed my mind late last year and tried to get tickets for the gig in Oran Mor which was moved to the QMU but by the time I decided to end my self imposed ban all of the tickets had gone for what would be the final Fall gig and from all accounts they finished on a high.
Unlike a lot of Morrissey fans, I have not had to do any soul searching regarding Smith's pronouncements on politics, the state of the nation etc as I have never been under any illusions about him being any sort of saint or even just a "nice guy". Neither was he someone that I had any desire to meet. From most accounts he could be very difficult, aggressive and contrary. I believe that a lot of what he did utter in interviews can be taken with a pinch of salt. By that I am not condoning any of the unacceptable things that he has uttered over the years just that I think on quite a few occasions he would wind up interviewers for fun, knowing the reaction that certain statements would receive. I once nearly went for a guy who said after the 20 minute set from The Fall in Edinburgh in 2010 "that's why we love him, he does what he wants" . I left the guy in no uncertain terms that I did not love MES and it was down to fanboys like himself that he knew that he could get away with a 20 minute set and basically rip his fan base off without any repercussions or I'm sure any guilt on his part. I knew that Smith could be a contrary, reactionary, git and I may have described him as a c**t on more than one occasion but if he had been a nice guy then the Fall would not have been the Fall and might have ended up like The Sons of Mumford whom he was famously very disparaging about.
I still can't put my finger on why I love the music of The Fall so much, a lot of it has to do with the constant flux in the band and sound "not being quite sure what you're going to get". I was slightly obsessed for sometime by everything Fall and there have been periods when I have listened to nothing else and have been perfectly happy, not needing any other music to fulfill me but I don't think that I have ever gone any longer than a week without listening to the gruppe. If I were made to chose one thing from my collection and that is the only music I would ever be allowed to listen to again, then I would have no hesitation in picking up The Complete Peel Sessions boxset as it contains everything I would ever need apart from Soul of course.
I have never been one to sit and examine Smith's lyrics in great detail and cannot comment on whether he was a genius lyricist or not but when the vocals are clear there are some absolutely bloody amazing lines that I think, yeah that's brilliant but then there are things like A Lot of Wind and Insult Song where he must have been taking the piss. A lot of time for me it doesn't matter what he is singing as I think of his voice mainly as another instrument, the most important instrument to be sure but another instrument none the less. Although he took it to the limit on the last few recordings with some of the barks, growls and gurgling which did become very tedious.
So, at present I am utterly devastated but not surprised by MES death, his poor health being widely documented. The realisation that there will never be another Fall album to eagerly anticipate, speculate about, write-off before hearing and then love/hate leaves me cold and something I don't want to think too much about. But it really is the end. Other bands can regroup, find another singer to learn the lyrics to all the old songs and record new ones but not the Fall. What us Fall fans do have, however, is an incredible back catalogue to listen to and study and for that we really must give thanks to Mark Edward Smith, for his bloodymindedness and singular vision of what his gruppe should sound like.
The Fall - New Big Prinz
The Fall - New Big Prinz (Live in Nottingham)
I forgot to add this
John Peel - The Fall