The Fall

TrackAlbum
Cab It Up!I Am Kurious Oranj
Gross Chapel - British GrenadiersBend Sinister
MasqueradeLevitate
Pearl CityCerebral Caustic
Prole Art ThreatSlates
SmilePerverted By Langauge
The ClassicalHex Enducation Hour
The NWRAGrotesque
Underground MedecinLive At The Witch Trials
Words Of ExpectationThe Complete Peel Sessions

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Contributor: Rick J Leach

It’s difficult to know where to start with The Fall. They’ve been a part of my life for so long and I can’t remember a time when they were not a yardstick by which I would measure other music. Not only music – they have been so influential to me that they’ve informed my approach to many other cultural forms.

I’ve been a fan since I was 17 years old and that’s nearly thirty-five years ago; longer than I’ve been working, been married, had a mortgage, children, driving licence and longer than the time I’ve followed Liverpool FC. I was a Fall fan before I started (and stopped) drinking and before I started smoking, before I ever went abroad and before I ever got on a plane.

While following The Fall I’ve seen music genres come and go, and technologies rise and fall like brief empires; cassettes (cassingles – what an awful name), mini discs, Walkmen, DATs, vinyl singles, laserdiscs, dial-up broadband – the list goes on and on. I’ve gone from having a full head of hair to being both balding and grey at the same time – not an easy task – and through it all, the one constant in my life has been a cult band from Salford.

I first encountered The Fall when one of my friends showed me an album that had just been released. He was quite enthusiastic about it, but he wasn’t raving. The cover of the album intrigued me, however. It wasn’t the usual punk blackmail lettered dayglo but a pen-and-ink illustration of a windswept moorland scene with the name of the band in an odd sci-fi type font. The title of the album seemed mysterious as well, Live At The Witch Trials. As he played the album, it was just like a massive light bulb going on. It was like nothing I’d heard before and yet it all made perfect sense. It was so different. Even though its punk roots were clearly audible, it didn’t exactly take things to another level, it fractured them sideways; music refracted through what was clearly a Northern sensibility. Maybe that’s why it spoke to me so strongly. The subject matter of the songs wasn’t immediately clear; in place of the punk approach of being simply angry, it was beyond that. There was a world weariness, a resignation, but not cynicism. Under that blasting blanket of anger, a deep strata of compassion, humour, intelligence and love.

The Fall have taken me on a route in music that I might not otherwise have followed. It’s not as if Mark E. Smith has ever provided a shopping list of artists of whom he approves. I suppose it’s more of an intuitive thing; being so immersed in The Fall’s music gives you a sense when things are not quite right, when they’re a bit phoney and pseud-like. You naturally gravitate to artists who approach their work professionally, seriously and with an intention to communicate. The music should mean something, not just throwaway but an understanding and recognition that whoever takes the time and effort to see or hear isn’t stupid and deserves to be treated with respect. That’s the benchmark.

It’s also been a pleasure that The Fall have been such a prolific band. Not for them, gaps of five years or more while they scratch their heads and stroke their chins in some god-forsaken studio in LA or Wales, conjuring up 45 mins of addled rock to inflict upon “their” public. No, The Fall have, by and large, released one album at least every year since Witch Trials and show no signs of letting up.

Of all of the artists I’ve heard, The Fall are the only ones where I’ve gone out and bought their records as a matter of course. I’ve read reviews and the like just out of curiosity not as a guide to whether I should buy or not. If they were reviewed in a positive or negative light, it makes no difference to me. Buying records by The Fall is not a proactive decision but something that happens regardless of any external factors. It’s just something I do and it’s something I’ve always done. The ready availability of music on the net doesn’t apply to Fall albums – I’d no sooner think of not having a physical copy in my hand than not getting it at all. Apart from Dylan, The Fall are the only band where I have all their studio albums in a physical format rather than a mixture of tracks scattered on mp3s, CDRs, mixtapes and various iPods.

The Fall in a live context are a whole different proposition than they are on record. Without seeing them live, and only hearing their music, there is a massive dimension missing. It would be like watching every film that’s ever been made as a silent movie or in black and white. What you would see on the screen would be correct, but it wouldn’t be complete. Something would be absent.

I first saw them play live early in 1980, the first of many Fall gigs that I’ve been to – over thirty or so at the last count. This really isn’t that many considering that they’ve been at it for so long – it averages at about one per year and my rate of seeing them has dropped off recently, I think that I’ve only seen them two or three times since the turn of the millennium. It’s not as if I haven’t had the opportunity – they’ve played in Liverpool a lot of times in the past decade. For some reason, whenever they’ve played it’s clashed with other things that I couldn’t get out of. Or really that’s just a lame excuse. I’m not sure, but for some odd reason I’ve seen them less and less as time has moved on.

My first Fall gig was at a strange club on Victoria Street in Liverpool. I’m sure they opened with the Mark E. Smith, “Good evening, we are The Fall” bit as they always do, but it’s just a guess. I do remember that it was a very small stage at the far end of the club. There was a bar running the whole length of one wall on the right hand side and a small dance floor at the front of the stage. The only songs I remember: Jawbone And The Air-Rifle (years before it was recorded and released). Slags, Slates Etc and Totally Wired. What really struck me was the intense ferocity and tightness, even at that early stage. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve.

I saw The Fall play live a lot of times in the 1980s. At one show at the Venue in London, they came back on stage 45 minutes after an encore and played for another 30 minutes or so to the handful in the audience that remained behind (and we were there!). This is just one of a couple of hundred Fall shows recorded between 1977 and 2013 that are neatly burnt onto CDRs, filed in chronological order and given pride of place on my shelves.

It would be incorrect to say that all of these recordings show The Fall at their best. There are some duff shows. There’s one gig that I went to in Liverpool in 2001 when Smith was clearly worse for wear and it was a bit of shambles. There is also the infamous NY Brownies gig where there was a full scale fight on stage and the band essentially broke up in front of a paying audience. For every poor Fall gig however, there are five or six that are remarkable. There’s an afternoon show at a youth club in Altrincham sometime in 1978, where an early concoction of the band played with such fervour that it was akin to a gospel revival show. But whether playing out of their skins, or crashing and burning spectacularly, The Fall are different to every other band. Every time, every single time I have seen them live, a sense of tension and anticipation is so palpable as they step on stage that it feels like a physical rather than an emotional activity.

I’ve wondered sometimes if things would have been different if I hadn’t heard that first album all those years ago. I love listening to music, but if I’d never heard The Fall then I am sure that life would have been unquestionably poorer.

 

Mark E. Smith (1957-2018)

 

The Fall official website

The Fall online – independent fan website

The Annotated Fall

The Flickering Lexicon – The Fall Concordance

The Fall Tracks/Live/Alumni

The Fall biography (iTunes)

This is an abridged version of a longer chapter on The Fall in the author’s recent book – Totally Shuffled: A Year of Listening to Music on A Broken iPod by R J Leach, available on Kindle from Amazon. The top ten listed above has been selected exclusively for toppermost.

TopperPost #119

7 Comments

  1. Ian Dufeu
    Nov 7, 2013

    An excellent post, really enjoyed it, thanks.

    I thought about trying to write about The Fall, but couldn’t do it. The lyric I like the most, and which seems to sum up The Fall to me is:

    ‘Life is an onward, downward chip’

    silly, absurd, northern, throwaway, as deep as you want it to be,

    the tracks I like the most are ones that get into a repetitive, mesmerising groove –

    Slates, Slags, Etc.
    Ibis Afro Man
    Mod Mock Goth

    Albert Camus would have been 100 today.

    • Rick J Leach
      Nov 7, 2013

      Thanks for your response – good to know you enjoyed it.

      It’s never easy to write about a band you love – especially when it’s The mighty Fall.

      I like your comment about a lyric that sums up The Fall. I’d be hard pressed to think of one single one; now you’ve got me scratching my head!

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Nov 7, 2013

    Nice work, fella! I don’t know how on earth you whittled it down. I got down to around twenty and couldn’t go any further, three songs overlapping with your ten (Prole, Classical, NWRA), and even then I was still popping songs in and out of my list.

    I’d have to have Spoilt Victorian Child and Glam Racket, and definitely What About Us? (that three album run of Fall Heads Roll, Reformation! Post-TLC and Imperial Wax Solvent is very strong).

    But if I start thinking about it again I’ll just get wound up! So, once again, great selection. I’m going to play it today.

    • Rick J Leach
      Nov 8, 2013

      Thanks for your comments and glad you liked it!

      It was a bit of a lottery just getting it down to ten tracks as you say; really any ten Fall tracks could readily suffice and it was just what I picked at the time.

      I don’t really think I could go wrong with the Peel sessions track though; I do think that they did by far their best stuff for Peel and, for me, the session versions are generally much better than the album versions.

      Anyway, off to re listen to Re-Mit and decide if it was such a let down as when I first heard it!

  3. Nairn Davidson
    Nov 22, 2013

    My two pence. The Fall will always be the band by which other bands are measured. There’s simply been nothing better. I would say the Peel Sessions box set is their collective definitive statement; even when they got a bit ropey in the late Nineties, their radio sessions were still an enjoyable mess. As you say, impossible to pick ten but I would have included “Leave the Capitol”, “Garden” and “Blindness”.

  4. Andrew Shields
    Jan 27, 2018

    Rick, thanks for this great list. For obvious reasons, have been listening to The Fall a lot over the last few days. I first discovered them through their brilliant version of The Kinks “Victoria’. which would still be in my Fall Top 10. Others that would have to be to be there are “Industrial Estate’, “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul’, “How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man ‘ and their brilliant take on ‘Jerusalem’ on I Am Kurious Oranj. Mark such a huge and irreplaceable loss…

  5. michrasman
    Jan 27, 2018

    What an insightful article for a mighty artist. As a fan starting in the 80s I know what it seems exploring when a new FALL album came out. It was great seeing him performing. Last year I was browsing the net for a nearby gig. No chance or I was engaged otherwise. So I have to imagine the past gigs and a boozing encounter after a show in a bar. The problem is that the barmaid knows more about this meeting than I. Keep on rockin MES!

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