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.
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…
I miss Tony Wilson. I miss the idea of Tony Wilson. Someone who had an enquiring mind and was full of intelligent enthusiasms, like Tony Wilson. And who also didn’t mind making a prat of himself when he got things wrong. Or, even right.
I met him in 2005 for a TV interview. He arrived on a summer’s day at a small studio in West London. He wore a linen suit, sandals, carried a briefcase, and his toenails were painted a rich plum color - his wife had painted them the night before, he said.
Wilson was clever, inspired and passionate about music. He talked about his latest signing, a rap band, and his plans for In the City music festival before we moved onto the Q&A in front of a camera. He could talk for England, but he was always interested in what other people were doing, what they thought, and was always always encouraging others to be their best. That’s what I miss.
You get more than an idea of that Tony Wilson in this compilation of the best of his regional tea-time TV series So It Goes. Wilson (along with Janet Street-Porter) championed Punk Rock on TV, and here he picks a Premier Division of talent:
Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Penetration, Blondie, Fall, Jam, Jordan, Devo, Tom Robinson Band, Johnny Thunder, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Siouxie & the Banshees, Cherry Vanilla & Magazine….. The tape fails there!
The uploader ConcreteBarge has left in the adverts “for historical reference” that include - “TSB, Once, Cluster, Coke is it, Roger Daltery in American Express, Ulay, Swan, Our Price, Gastrils, Cluster & Prestige”.
So, let’s get in the time machine and travel back for an hour of TV fun.
It’s been described as one of the most important gigs of all time, one that saw hundreds, even thousands of people claim they were there. In truth only around 30-40 people saw The Sex Pistols perform at the Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976. But of those who did, most went onto form a generation of legendary bands - The Fall, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths.
Also, allegedly in the audience were such future ambassadors of taste as Anthony H. Wilson, who would co-found Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, and nascent journalist/writer Paul Morley.
Culturally, it was an event akin to the storming of the Bastille, for it unleashed a revolution.
I Swear I Was There tells the story of that now legendary night, and talks to the people whose lives were changed by The Sex Pistols.
Camus’ story tells of a so-called “judge-penitent”, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who reflects upon his life to a stranger at a bar the Mexico City, in Amsterdam. As Clamence comments to his nameless companion:
“Have you noticed that Amsterdam’s concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life — and hence its crimes — becomes denser, darker. Here, we are in the last circle.”
Clamence explains how he has had a fall form grace, is now in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam. He describes himself as a good man, giving to the poor, helping the blind across the street, and that he lived his life for others. This was, until one night, as he crossed over the Pont Royal returning home from his mistress, he noticed a woman close to the edge of the bridge. He walks on and then hears a scream, and a muted splash.
“It repeated several times, downstream; then it abruptly ceased. The silence that followed, as the night suddenly stood still, seemed interminable. I wanted to run and yet didn’t move an inch. I was trembling, I believe from cold and shock. I told myself that I had to be quick and felt an irresistible weakness steal over me. I have forgotten what I thought then. “Too late, too far…” or something of the sort. I was still listening as I stood motionless. Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one.”
Haunted by his failure to save the woman, or tell anyone about it, Clamence’s life starts to unravel, until one day a woman’s laugh (or is it his own?) causes him to realize everything he has done has not been for others, but always for himself.
To find out who he is, Clamence decides to act out of character, as “no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures”:
“...jostling the blind on the street; and from the secret, unexpected joy this gave me I recognized how much a part of my soul loathed them; I planned to puncture the tyres of wheelchairs, to go and shout ‘lousy proletarian’ under the scaffoldings on which labourers were working, to smack infants in the subway. ... the very word ‘justice’ gave me strange fits of rage…”
Though Camus never thought of himself as an Existentialist (more of an Absurdist writing against Nihilism), many of his concerns stemmed from the same bourgeois preoccupations that inspired Sartre and Existentialism - guilt, alienation, regret, angst. This is limned at the end of the tale, when Clamence reveals his role as “judge-penitent” - in a world without God, we are all guilty of everything, and Clamence must, therefore, sit in permanent judgement over everyone.
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.
Because putting together the Phew/Aunt Sally post made me think of them and because I need a unicorn chaser after that cheesy thing I posted just now (ironically from the same time period as this), Here’s The Fall, live in Leeds, doing one of the best odes to speed that I know of, aside from this one or (duh!) this one. I drunk a jar of coffee and then I took some of these !