A few weeks ago DM posted a remarkable typewritten letter from Mark E. Smith, frontman, songwriter, and The Only Guy That Matters in The Fall, to his friend and co-founder of The Fall, bassist Tony Friel. That letter was written around Christmas 1976; in it, Smith gushed about The Clash, quoted the Johnny Thunders song “Chinese Rocks,” and peppered in a couple of references to the 1960s TV show The Prisoner.
Eight months later, in August 1977, Smith was still writing Friel Prisoner references, signing off “Be seeing you, number six.” This letter is another gorgeous slab of cranky stream-of-consciousness invective from a man who did that kind of thing exceedingly well. He mentions some interactions with “Devoto,” obviously the Buzzcocks’ Howard Devoto, in which Smith reports that Devoto admires Friel’s work on the bass. Smith mentions a visit to “Richard’s a while back”—from the context I am assuming this is a reference to Richard Boon, who managed the Buzzcocks at the time. (An aside: you have to love Wikipedia, which is the only place you’re likely to find a sentence like this: “Richard Boon went on to work for Rough Trade Records, and is now a librarian in Stoke Newington Library, Hackney, London, where he facilitates a monthly reading group on the second Tuesday of each month.” If you find yourself in Hackney next Tuesday, you know what to do.)
The notoriously prolific songwriter Smith mentions a slew of songs that he’s been working on, but the titles aren’t familiar to me; the only ones I recognize are “Oh! Brother” and “Psycho Mafia.”
In a parting shot, Smith puts down something called the “Rivington free festival,” which apparently was held from 1976 to 1978. Here’s the poster for 1977; the event happened just a couple days before Smith typed up this missive:
“If you’d been at Rivington free festival, you would have heard enough “Musical” groups to last you a fucking LIFETIME.” What was MES doing at this thing??
I was lucky enough to find this letter on the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive; it took quite a bit of sleuthing. It came from Friel’s website, which was called Atomic Soup and didn’t have all that much to do with the Fall, which was outfit he didn’t stay in for very long. If Mr. Friel is out there reading this and would like to post any further correspondence with Mark E. Smith, we at DM would be awfully interested to see it. Write us at the “Contact Us” link above!
The Fall, “Psycho Mafia” (live, 1979)
The Fall, “Oh! Brother”:
Here’s the full text of the letter:
Why is eating meat bad for your karma? Who ‘revenges’ on behalf of dead animals? To be quite honest, I don’t like 99% of your so-called ‘top ten’ the ones I’ve heard anyway BUT as you in your new guise would say ‘do your own thing’. In other words GOOD FOR YOU. When did this Harmonic duet take place ? could you supply me with LP serial nos etc?
A Heep Freak.
Dear Heep Freak,
Don’t ask me, you can write direct to Tony yourself : his address is:
So you have new songs eh ? Why don’t you show me them? I would be tres interested. I have some to, one is sub-reggae so get working on the Family Man Barret bass lines. AS to your referal to re-hashed chord progressions, you have 4 5th of the groups backing (incl. yrself)so what’s the trouble-DON’T expect people to do things for you-a thought pattern too prevalent in The Fall for my liking. Becoming a hermit solves nothing.
I forgot to tell you, but when i went down to Richard’s a while back, Devoto told me he thinks your bass playing is superb,and he wants to know what bass + strings you use-he’s got a X reggae bass player for his group now.
Here’s the new stuff anyway:
X ‘impotency’ ‘Lucifer Over Manchester’ + ‘Untitled’(my sub reggae thing it’s got no chorus though-do you think they are necessary ?)
Not so new but EQUALLY VIABLE:
‘Oh! Brother’ ‘Psycho Mafia’ ‘Roll the Bones’ ‘Don’t think about it’ The last one is yours, so ‘get it together’
When Richard came down last time and we asked him to boss us, your pal Herrie was there, trying to integrate himself into the group-you can do what you want with him, but watch out and if i see him again i will be very tempted to ki ck the shitheads nuts off.
Have to go now, I keep phoning your place and some comedian keeps coming on saying x ‘no money,no money no money’ Who is he?
Be seeing you, number six.
P.S. ‘E-D that’s all I can play’ read anybody EXCEPT Z-Z-Z (ILLEGIBLE, please explain)
P.P.S. If you’d been at Rivington free festival, you would have heard enough “Musical” groups to last you a fucking LIFETIME.
Mark E. Smith CONTD.