Thursday 25 January 2018

Mark E. Smith RIP

I awoke this morning to the sad news that Mark E. Smith, lead singer of The Fall has passed away. The Fall are one of the biggest influences on my musical career and I've seen the band in many incarnations, from the earliest days in the late 1970's at The Marquee club. Smith operated a revolving door policy with co-musicians and the band saw over 60 members come and go. The first two albums, Live at The Witch Trials and Dragnet are among the finest examples of their work. The Fall summed up everything that was good about the punk era. The songs were dark and humourous. Numbers like "No Xmas for John Quays" show Smith at his acerbic best.

Going to see The Fall was never dull sometimes the band were absolutely brilliant, sometimes they were complete rubbish, sometimes both in the a single song. Sometimes there were fights on stage, sometimes love was in the air such as when Smith married Brix and she joined the band.

In their early years, the band were resolutely anti commercial. When Brix joined, the band, they decided to take a commercial turn. They even started having hit singles, their cover of The Kinks Victoria being a case in point

As a musician and a songwriter, The Fall and Mark Smith were huge influences. The uncompromising risk taking was something that I found intoxicating. Smiths lyrics are at times quite bizarre. At first glance he is a northern miserablist, chronicling the decaying, rotting northern landscape of the end of the millenium. Dig a bit deeper and you find a rich vein of warmth and humour.

One of my favourite albums is "The Wondeful and Frightening world of....". The song Elves, is perhaps one of the most underratted songs of all times. Using the Iggy & The Stooges "Now I wanna be your dog" guitar riff and adding a commentary about a fairy hoax from the 1920's.

The addition of Brix Smith to the band was a masterstroke and added a softer side to the band. Although the band had featured female members such as Una Baines from the start, Brix was hugely influential. She added style and sassiness to the band and ensured Smith made music that was far more accessible. At first, I felt this was heretical, but I soon came to realise that it was still the fall, only a slightly improved version.

I think that Mark E. Smith was an artist who could only ever have thrived and come to prominence in the 1970's punk era. He was the absolute antithesis of the X-Factor & The Voice school of singer. The band played by none of the normal rules of rock and roll but somehow managed to be more Rock and Roll than just about everyone else.

I've always been of the opinion that people who didn't get The Fall didn't get Rock and Roll. They are not always an easy listen, they are a band you have to work at. I recall the first time I saw them at The Marquee in 1977 or 1978. I was totally bemused by them. I loved amphetamine driven fast punk rock and they played slow tunes with attitude. I wasn't sure if they were brilliant or rubbish. I bought Live at The Witch Trials to see if I could make my mind up. I realised that they were both. That was what made them unique. The musicianship was never anything to write home about. The lyrics were often bizarre and very morally ambiguous. Smith wasn't a singer as we know it. Just when you started to feel comfortable with them, Smith would turn the applecart over and start again. If you really want to understand Mark E. Smith, I'd suggest you start by listening to Diceman from Dragnet.

I am the dice man
And I take a chance, huh
Do you take a chance, huh?

Where you two going?
Where you two going?
Is this a branch on the tree of showbusiness?

Do all these musicians
Have a social conscience?
Well, only in their front rooms

But I am the dice man
And I take a chance man
Do you take a chance, huh?

They stay with the masses
Don't take any chances
End up emptying ashtrays

But I push, push, push, push
Throw the bones and the poison dice
No time for small moralists

Cos I am the dice man
And I take a chance, huh
Do you take a chance, fan?

 For me this song is the epitome of the Fall at its best.

Mark E.Smith RIP - Wherever you are, I am sure you'll be causing trouble, starting fights and adding to the general jollity of the place. I fully expect a few Angels on their Harps to get the sack or have beer cans thrown at them. Thank you so much for everything. Whatever Smith is doing, he'd never end up emptying ashtrays!

1 comment:

Glyn Burns said...

Roger, very good summary of MES and The Fall, thanks!
I was always captivated by them. Sometimes frustrating but very often they were superbly inventive with a refusal to be fashionable. The sheer energy could be overwhelming. I've never heard anything else with that kind of passion.
Always the same, always different, as Peelie would say.