I have always liked The Fall.
I’ve written about those (various) times before. It was my brother Paul who got me into The Fall. Not John Peel. He bought a seven inch from a man in a market and we played it at home again and again.
It was called Totally Wired.
I arrived at Brixton Electric as the doors opened. Various Fall t-shirts already assembled in the queue – anticipation for this dedication to the rigmaroles of RnR already there in the air – all high tension (line) and knowing nods that we were all Fall fans.
And 50,000,000 Fall fans can’t be wrong.
As I ventured round the building locating enclosed open spaces for my lungs (that’s the smokers corner) I arrived there alone. On my own with cigarette smoke for friends. When through the door burst two wide eyed – wired fresh young things – all angular movements and rapid talk – they were singing Totally Wired.
You don’t have to be weird to be wired.
I’d learnt this much early on. Scunthorpe streets weren’t so tolerant back then – or at least I thought the world was divided into the ‘Henry Afrika’s Scene’ a nightclub on Doncaster Road with outdated hairstyles and outdated moral views and those of the independent scene – all spikes and hair and leather and cider – and never the twain should meet. It wasn’t actually like that at all – but I grew up thinking I was an outsider.
Turns out we were just conforming another way.
So here I am a 43 year old man (and I like it) holed up in Brixton with The Fall. It was a first for me. It was a good introduction to the rampant ramalamma of MES and assorted musicians. So from Totally Wired singing openings and nods and charged glasses I was wished well and that this would be an intense night and was welcome to join them later in the heaving mass of bodies up the front. I said I’d think about it.
There seems to be lots of discussion and talk at a gig like this – what’s your favourite Fall song? When did you first see them? How did you get into the Fall? Lots of never ending questions about the North and whether they’d be good or not.
They were good. Excellent in my head. But I’ll tell you about that later.
I read a review on the mighty Louder than War website that at a recent gig they had played a 45 minute slowed down film of rock royalty – just to set the place on edge. I wasn’t sure whether we’d be treated to the film - I quite fancied it to tell the truth. Instead we had two bands – the first were called Wetpig and they had a ramshackle repetition in the music (and they're never gonna lose it) appeal. Scratchy and catchy if you get me. Three strong women with post -punk riffage - keyboard drone – motorik drums and funked up bass. They were good actually. It may have been their last gig. So there you go.
This was followed by some overblown shite from a band who took themselves far too fucking seriously. All hand gestures to soundmen and raging intensity – they even had a strobe to accompanying their Ride/ U2/ Coldplay mash up. You don’t have to be weird to be wired. But it helps if you’re wired from the start. They weren’t. They will not feature on compilations in people’s cars in the future.
The Fall feature heavily on my car compilations. We as a family (my family- not the world) have listened to a potted history of The Fall over the years (yeah but what’s your favourite era? I can hear you asking) So to eventually arrive in a building when I knew The Fall were going to play in was exciting for this old man. So we waited - posters said 10pm The Fall - it would be considerably later than 10pm that MES and Frenz would walk on the stage. To a backdrop that simply read Dedication not Medication - You Decide on one half and The Fall (White on Blue) on the other - microphones were set up and a moog set up right hand side with a chair - repetitive squelches and bass rumbles accompanying the roadies technical know how.
And then nothing.
For forty five minutes.
Two deejays playing vinyl - but no Mark E Smith.
For forty five minutes.
Two deejays playing vinyl - but no Mark E Smith.
A can is thrown.
Conversations turn to Mark's state - is he too drunk to get it together? Is he actually in the building? Is this the way to start a UK tour?
And then an introductory tape - and the nucleus of The Fall arrive - Elena (Mrs MES) places her red coat and bag on the chair to the side of the Moog - Peter Greenaway turns up the guitar - Dave connects it all with his bass and then they lock down in double drum time (Keiron and Darren) and we wait for an entrance. At first a voice from the wings - and then the man - staring us down - prowling and stopping - gurning and growling. His door is always open. We welcome him en masse - we are suddenly under the thrall of Mark. He will command proceedings from now on.
And it's a whirlwind - muddy vocals and indecipherable sounds emanate from Smith - yet it mutates into a classic Fall sound. Chugging and reverberating around - as Smith swithes stance and microphones - turns dials and creates art out of chaos. He's the real deal this fella - he's wearing suit - you know - he's made an effort (I remember an interview with Mark in one of music magazines and he was bemoaning the lack of getting dressed up for a night out - I think it was around the time of the rave explosion)but here he is like he's just got out the office - slipped the tie off and wandered on stage. Oh to work with a colleague like MES in the office - it would be great.
Hurtling through new Fall material - this juggernaut of a group pummel us with twists and snarls - as Smith makes every part of the stage his own. There's new material from the much anticipated Sub-Lingual Tablet - I think Quit iPhone gets an airing as I snap cheeky photographs on mine at the side of the stage. A blistering Mister Rode and sonic exploration via Auto Chip 14 - 15 9 (another new one) So I'm there - and I'm getting it - not rushing like I did when I first heard Totally Wired - but all these sounds are falling into place and suddenly I have the revelation (to me - it may not be to you) that The Fall are direct (dead beat) descendants of The Kinks. Observational scowl and punk attitude - in your face - menance and grimace. The Fall are making art. They reflect and reinvent. They are incredible.
And then they are gone. 26 minutes in. They leave.
The crowd seem bemused. The band seem bemused. MES has left the stage - so they do to.
This could get ugly. But then from the wings - comes the crooning of Smith. He's back it's not exactly an encore more a light breather and then he's there - jacket off - back to get on with the show (and it is a show - studied rock n roll like Elvis' hips and legs) and we get four more numbers - including a song I think is called Stout Man - which the whole band seem to chant - in fact Darren the 'second' drummer may have had a run out on this one - adding more Smith like sounds to Smith's microphone maelstrom. Darren gets to round off the evening too. He's pretty integral to this whole set up. We also get Facebook Troll - a new song from the new album - as Mark commands from he front all open arms demanding that he 'wants a Facebook Troll'. It's brilliant. It's pertinent and it's funny. MES always in touch - always ahead of the game.
Four songs in they disappear again. The lights aren't up but people are unsure. It's 10 past 11. There's a scurry for (stale) air and I overhear a conversation - young lads - fred perrys and short sensible hair - moaning between themselves - and there's just one lad complaining - 'I can't understand him - it's shit - this is shit - I can't hear him - what's he on about - this is shit'. This is a band still getting a reaction that's divided - that's up for debate - 31 albums in.
And then they are back.
Two more tunes. Venice with the girls and Bury. Darren gets brought to the front. Stood next to Peter and MES stands with them as they tell us - explain to us they are not from Bury. Things like that are important. He's quite egalitarian is MES tonight - microphones are given to group members - all are encouraged to participate - including the audience.
Then they are gone. But not finished.
Suddenly as Smith is wont to do - they re-emerge and strike up a mighty Theme from Sparta FC - there's power in this longest serving line up of The Fall. And with Darren shouting Sparta, Sparta, Sparta to the crowd they depart.
It is finished. I have witnessed (the fitness) of the mighty Fall.
I don't think I could have envisaged that The Fall would still be so relevant - so important when we first played Totally Wired back then in Scunthorpe bedrooms. But Smith needs more room (to live) in this world. He might not play the game for the industry but he is a role model for art. He creates an effect - he demands a reaction.
He still makes me think.
I like that in my popstars.
I like The Fall.
It's Facebook Troll - but you never know MES may be writing another song called Fibre Book Troll.