Jan 18

And Then I Took Some Of THESE

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Mark E Smith, 1957-2018. Some things to read.

My favourite ever piece or sequence of pieces on The Fall is our own Kat Stevens’ stint on One Week One Band. It’s very wide ranging, very funny, and especially perceptive about the different things different musicians brought to The Fall. It also gives the Brix Years their due, which I’m pleased about – it may not be the greatest era of The Fall, but it was where I jumped on.

Another writer who’s good on The Fall as musicians is Douglas Wolk – his review of their Peel Sessions box set is an excellent single-article history of the band’s development, making the argument that they were often at their best in the pressure-cooker environment of the BBC studios. Peel repeated a bunch of their sessions across two weeks in the summer of 1990, and I stayed in night after night to tape them. I don’t think any Fall recording on any format could be as berserk as the session version of “Container Drivers” that kicked off the C90.

Over the last decade or so there’s been renewed interest in Mark E Smith as a literary figure, though. The Quietus has an excellent long piece by Taylor Parkes discussing him as a crafter (and, crucially, performer) of short stories in song from “Spector vs Rector” on through most of the 1980s.

And then there’s the critic I most think about when I think about recent interest in The Fall: the late Mark Fisher, aka K-Punk. Fisher is an interesting critic of The Fall because he was devoted to them but in one specific aspect – he’s quite caustic about Smith’s decline as a visionary writer (the element he loved) and reification as a national Northern treasure. It’s a reading that de-emphasises a lot – mostly the man’s identity as a working musician, a James Brown style bandleader/martinet/monster. And the fact that – granny-on-bongos jokes aside – The Fall were always a collaboration between Smith and specific sets of musicians (or dancers/artists/etc) with specific talents, something that comes out in Kat’s writing. I quit listening in 2000 or so but there are surely great pieces to be written about his late lyrical approach in this punishing, gigging context. This conversation on Smith, Brian Clough and management, from K-Punk’s blog, is an interesting angle.

But there’s much that’s truthful about Fisher’s position as well as harsh. First off, Smith really was a unique, visionary creator – there’s nothing in English pop remotely like, to take one example, “Wings”, the SF yarn Fisher talks about in this essay. And second, there was certainly a Cult of Mark E Smith, of the cartoon curmudgeon and bully, the straight-talking prole with the difficult band and the endless catalogue. He played up to it – crafted it, even – but like all cults I doubt it did him (or anyone) any good.


  1. 1
    Tom on 25 Jan 2018 #

    My personal history with the Fall:

    Read about them before I got into them – even at that point (1988) the press was presenting them as notoriously difficult/weird so I saw them as an exciting challenge. This was just after Victoria i.e. their most pop phase ever.

    First heard them on Peel – Guest Informant and Bremen Nacht on the 1988 Festive 50. Entranced. Bought The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… on CD, then Frenz and Kurious Oranj on cassette, then filled in the Brix years gaps.

    Bought Seminal Live – first ‘new’ Fall release since I discovered them (fucking dreadful).

    Got an overview of Fall history from the Peel sessions repeated – enthralling and baffling in alternate measure.

    Didn’t really feel Extricate and the Coldcut collabs but really liked Shiftwork, which I played loads at school and became my favourite Fall LP for ages. Loved “Free Range”.

    Found like-minded Fall fans at University and converted a couple of others. Heard the really early stuff for the first time, especially “Frightened”. Flipped my opinion and decided old Fall was best, current Fall not so hot. May have seen them live, I honestly can’t remember. “Behind The Counter”/”War” probably the last current Fall release I really loved.

    Worked at the bookshop, picked up a bunch of older CDs – Hex Enduction Hour etc. – Became obsessed with “Wings”. Played Early Years a lot. Served Mark E Smith once – he bought two issues of The Mighty Thor and was very polite.

    Stopped listening to their new stuff for good in 1999/2000 – whenever the band broke up in NYC and he got arrested for beating up Julia Nagle. I don’t know if I made a conscious decision to stop because of that, I was on the way out anyway. It hardened into a ‘position’ over the years.

    Dipped in and out of the older stuff, settling on one or two songs at a time – Smile, The Classical, Spectre vs Rector, Leave The Capitol, Slates, Middle Mass, all the goodies.

    And here we are.

  2. 2

    excellent pitchfork piece by jes skolnik on how to engage with the dark as well as the bright side of MES (and by implication many others):


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