“People paint to The Fall. They write novels to The Fall. The guy who wrote Silence of the Lambs wrote it… people like that. Strange people.”
Mick Middle’s low budget documentary about Mark E. Smith and The Fall was completed in 1994, but not seen until 2009 when it was made available as part of the Northern Cream DVD. 1994 was a good time to make a documentary about The Fall because at that point they’d been around enough to have gone through several incarnations—the group’s membership has been a revolving door since the beginning—including the Brix period of most of the 1980s when many feel Smith created his best music. That would include The Fall’s two collaborations with dancer Michael Clark. This is the period that I am the most interested in, so I thought this short film was a lot of fun.
Cigarette in one hand, pint in the other, the ever… charming Smith reveals how his father hated pop music, so there was never even a record player in the house until he was fourteen. When the kids at school talked about the Beatles and the Stones, he had no idea what they were going on about.
Asked if anything positive came of the “Manchester scene,” (i.e. The Smiths) Smith replies with characteristic bluntness: “Nowt.” He also slyly says that if you drink “out in the open” (in a pub) you “don’t become an alcoholic.”
When the interviewer asks Smith about the group’s fanatical American fans, particularly in California, he replies that “It’s funny, America… your’re talking about twenty countries there, in one country. Like the time we went to Cleveland and they hated our guts.” Smith says he thinks Los Angeles is the “most boring town in the world. The most boring city I’ve ever been to in my life.”
Although he and his dance troupe have performed choreography set to the music of Wire, Glenn Branca, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Igor Stravinsky and others, it is his work with The Fall that the work of Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark will always be the most closely associated with.
The classically-trained Clark has said that hearing the manic, rubbery, jagged-edged relentlessly repetitious music of Manchester’s post-punk bard Mark E. Smith was a sort of clarion call for him as a young man to start doing his own work—if punk bands could do their thing, then that same ethos and attitude (and shock value) could go into creating a new form of modern ballet. Clark’s vision of ballet happened to incorporate Leigh Bowery wielding a chainsaw, syringes strapped to his dancers and sets festooned with fried egg trees . Clark seemed touched by the gods. His angular, asymmetrical, yet bizarrely graceful form of movement caused a sensation in the dance world. He was Nijinksy with a mohawk.
Michael Clark as Caliban in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books
The Fall and Clark’s company appeared together on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1984 in a provocative performance of “Lay of the Land” that saw Clark prancing around in a Bodymap leotard that exposed his ass cheeks to the nation as the group made a mighty roar behind him.
They collaborated more formally in 1988 when The Fall provided the live soundtrack for Clark’s ballet “I Am Curious, Orange” at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London (The Fall’s LP was called I Am Kurious Oranj). Some tantalizing looks at what that production was like come from Cerith Wyn Evans videos for “Wrong Place, Right Time” and “New Big Prinz,” which were apparently shot at a rehearsal.
It’s time Manchester did the decent thing and honored its most celebrated son. If their Merseyside rivals can honor John Lennon by renaming their international airport after the sarky mop top, then Manchester should do something similar and at least rename its bus station after Mark E. Smith.
But let’s not stop there. A local holiday should be adopted on his birthday, with street parties and free beer, with a statue erected in his birthplace of Broughton. Not much to ask for the man whose band The Fall have been essential listening over the past thirty-odd years.
Thirty odd years indeed, with Smith the only constant in The Fall’s ever-changing line-up through a long, difficult, but productive, and brilliant career. How the great Mancunian has survived the bitter fights, spiked drinks, broken bones and riots says it all about Smith’s ambition and touched-by-genius talents.
Yea, let us rejoice, for we are alive in the days of Mark E. Smith.
This little gem is from Grenwich Sound Radio in 1983, when Smith gave his “guide to writing guide.” Not the kind of toss you’ll get from those writing-by-numbers courses, no, but something far more oblique and entertaining.
Here’s how it goes:
“Hello, I’m Mark E. Smith, and this is the ‘Mark E. Smith Guide to Writing Guide.’
Day by Day Breakdown.
Day One: Hang around house all day writing bits of useless information on bits of paper.
Day Two: Decide lack of inspiration due to too much isolation and non-fraternization. Go to pub. Have drinks.
Day Three: Get up and go to pub. Hold on in there as style is on its way. Through sheer boredom and drunkenness, talk to people in pub.
Day Four: By now people in the pub should be continually getting on your nerves. Write things about them on backs of beer mats.
Day Five: Go to pub. This is where true penmanship stamina comes into its own as by now guilt, drunkenness, the people in the pub and the fact you’re one of them should combine to enable you to write out of sheer vexation. To write out of sheer vexation.
Day Six: If possible, stay home. And write. If not, go to pub.”
I must remember this the next time I have writer’s block…
Anyone who’s grooved to “Theme from Sparta FC” from the Fall’s 2003 The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click) has probably figured out that postpunk legend Mark E. Smith is a serious fan of football, or as we say in the United States, “soccer.”
“Theme from Sparta FC” is a fanciful meditation on the existence of a soccer team in ancient Greece, quite possibly one of the Fall’s more immediately comprehensible compositions. Since 2005, much to the BBC’s credit, the song has been used as the theme music to the “Final Score” section of BBC television’s Saturday afternoon sports coverage.
On November 19, 2005, the producers of the show invited Smith into the studio to read the day’s results. For anyone who has indulged in the Fall’s indelible catalogue, Smith’s scarcely modulated rendition of the scores (“Reading 3, Hull City 1 ... Sheffield United 2, Millwall 2 ... Southhampton Town 3, Leeds United 4” ...) needs little more than a typically hypnotic Fall bassline to become an accepted part of the Fall canon.
The Mancunian Smith, not very surprisingly, is a Manchester City fan, and it is to be presumed that he despises his club’s crosstown rivals, the far wealthier and more successful Manchester United. On that particular day Manchester United bested Charlton Athletic 3-0, whereas Manchester City had to settle for a 0-0 draw against the Blackburn Rovers. Later in the clip, Smith calls Manchester City’s performance “hopeless, as usual.” Smith also makes fun of the haircut of host Ray Stubbs and disparages England’s national team as a collection of eleven millionaires rather than a cohesive unit of cooperating players.
In 2010, Smith recorded an earnest (for him) World Cup ditty titled “England’s Heartbeat” for reasons unknown, that includes a sing-along chorus and the inspirational phrase “Like a rainbow through a storm.”
Mark E. Smith has occasionally claimed that Edinburgh is his favorite city. He lived there between 1988, when he performed I Am Kurious Oranj, with The Fall and Michael Clark’s Dance Company at the Edinburgh Festival, until around the mid-nineties, when he returned to England. Edinburgh has long captured the imagination of writers and artists - in part because of the city’s mythic history and role as “the Athens of the North” during the Enlightenment. But also because of its darker and more murderous associations.
This symbolic division is reflected in the city’s design of Old Town, with its original fortress and fishbone wynds off a cluttered HIgh Street; and the New Town, to the north, with its Georgian and Victorian splendor. This physical division symbolically underlines the duality at the core of the Scottish psyche and literature.
It was G Gregory Smith who first noted and defined the division in Scottish psyche and literature as Caledonian Antisyzygy - the “idea of dueling polarities within one entity”:
“...[Scottish] literature is the literature of a small country…it runs a shorter course than others…in this shortness and cohesion the most favourable conditions seem to be offered for a making of a general estimate. But on the other hand, we find at closer scanning that the cohesion at least in formal expression and in choice of material is only apparent, that the literature is remarkably varied, and that it becomes, under the stress of foreign influence, almost a zigzag of contradictions. The antithesis need not, however, disconcert us. Perhaps in the very combination of opposites - what either of the two Thomases, of Norwich and Cromarty, might have been willing to call ‘the Caledonian antisyzygy’ - we have a reflection of the contrasts which the Scot shows at every turn, in his political and ecclesiastical history, in his polemical restlessness, in his adaptability, which is another way of saying that he has made allowance for new conditions, in his practical judgement, which is the admission that two sides of the matter have been considered. If therefore, Scottish history and life are, as an old northern writer said of something else, ‘varied with a clean contrair spirit,’ we need not be surprised to find that in his literature the Scot presents two aspects which appear contradictory. Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure, and we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all.”
This notion of “a zigzag of contradictions” was further developed by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid who saw it as a key influence on Scottish Literature, for example R L Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It was also a theme in MacDiramid’s greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, in which he wrote his own definition:
“..I’ll ha’e nae half-way hoose. But aye be whaur extremes meet – it’s the only way I ken…”
Jekyll and Hyde may be set in London but it is one of the best novels about Edinburgh and the Scottish psyche. Here is a fictional representation of such infamous Edinburgh characters as Deacon Brodie, who was a cabinet-maker by day and a burglar by night, or its Resurrection Men (Burke & Hare), and indeed, of Stevenson’s own experiences as a visitor to brothels with his student friends, one of which, a respectable family man, was implicated in the murder of a prostitute. This split continues today Irvine Welsh and his Edinburgh of Trainspotting, Filth and Porno.
Unfortunately, in this quirky and very brief tour of Edinburgh, Mark E. Smith only highlights his rather superficial likes and dislikes. His main dislike is the statue to Field Marshall Douglas Haig, the First Earl Haig, on the Castle Esplanade. It was Haig’s whose mismanagement during the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres, that led to the needless slaughter of thousands of soldiers during the First World War.
However, Smith does like the military statue to Blackwatch Regiment, situated at the top of the Mound. Smith’s old man was in the Blackwatch, and he claims he likes to visit it when he feels sentimental. But it’s the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that Smith describes as favorite location in the city.
: Bonus track ‘Edinburgh Man’ by The Fall, after the jump…
This must be on some “100 Things To Do Before You Die” list - have a beer named after you. Something Mark E Smith can tick off, as The Fall’s legendary frontman has just had an Indian Pale Ale named after him.
Produced by Northern Brewing, an artisan brewery in Nantwich, Mark E. Smith IPA is currently only available in one bar in the UK, the Snooty Fox in Islington, London.
It was Snooty Fox’s owners Nicole Gale and Jonathan Tingle, who commissioned MES IPA for their “Hit the North Festival”– (also named after the Fall song – which is celebrating northern beer and music. As Nicole explained to the Manchester Evening News:
“Jonathan is a massive, massive Fall fan so we thought it was only right to name a beer after the great man. It was the most popular beer at the festival.”
The Snooty Fox sold their order of 72 pints in just two hours.
Mike Hill, director of Northern, said: “I had never heard of him to be honest. We prefer Northern Soul, which inspired the names of most of our beers.”
If you want a taste of Manchester’s famous son, then have your local put in an order for Mark E. Smith IPA.
It’s time Manchester did the decent thing and honored its most celebrated son. If their Merseyside rivals can honor John Lennon by renaming its international airport after the sarky mop top, then Manchester should do something similar and rename its bus station after Mark E. Smith. But let’s not stop there - a local holiday should be adopted on his birthday, street parties held, and a statue erected in Broughton. Not much to ask for the man whose band The Fall have been essential listening over the past thirty-odd years.
Thirty odd years indeed, with Smith the only constant in The Fall’s ever-changing line-up through a long, difficult, but productive, and brilliant career. How the great Mancunian has survived the bitter fights, spiked drinks, broken bones and riots is proof of Smith’s creativity, ambition and touched-by-genius talents.
And let us not forget, Smith’s ability to be a thorn in the side of the condescending prissy-mouthed southern soft lad press, who’ve repeatedly written him off as a “piss-head,” failing to see that a piss-head could never produce such quality or quantity of work. Yes, let us rejoice, for we are alive in the days of Mark E. Smith.
This little gem is from 1983, when Smith gave his guide to writing - not the kind of shit you’ll get from those writing-by-numbers courses, but something far more interesting and entertaining.
While my Fall phase stopped completely with ‘88’s still-excellent I Am Kurious Oranj, Mark E. Smith and his rotating cast of band members have continued pumping out albums with almost Woody Allen-like consistency (28 albums, 33 years).
Um, maybe it’s the crank factor? The 53-year-old singer claims that Pavement, “didn’t have an original idea in their heads.” He also thinks that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore should “have his rock license revoked.”