This series, certainly for now, is only looking at the singles that were released by The Fall. As mentioned last Sunday, Rowche Rumble had been recorded in June 1979, and it wouldn’t be long before they were all back in a studio to record enough material for a new album; but prior to that, there were gigs to be played, mostly in north-west England, including one at the Factory Club in Manchester on Friday 20 July, where the support was another up and coming band, this time from the Liverpool area. It must have been a good one if you’d been there that night and also saw Echo & The Bunnymen…..
Dragnet was recorded over the course of three days in Cargo Studios, Rochdale at the beginning of August 1979. Despite making a substantial contribution to the b-side of the previous single in the same location just some eight weeks previously, Yvonne Pawlett was no longer part of the group who were now getting on with things as a five-piece. And almost no sooner were the Dragnet sessions over that Mark E Smith (vocals, keyboards), Marc Riley (guitar, keyboards, vocals) Craig Scanlon (guitar), Steve Hanley (bass, vocals) and Mike Leigh (drums, percussion) were reconvening in Foel Studios, in Welshpool, in October 1979 for a session that would result in the three songs that made up the band’s next single, which came out in January 1980.
One of many songs over the years in which MES adopted a character to spit forth a lyric, one which he would say was based largely on someone he had worked beside during his time as a clerk at the Manchester Shipping Docks, but in a contemporary interview said:-
“One of the points of “Fiery Jack” is ageism. People go round and think they’re smart when they’re 21 but these old guys you see have been doing it for years and a lot of them have more guts than these kids will ever have. It’s like the skinheads throwing cans, they know fuck all. I know twenty times more than them and I could knock them over in a pub if I wanted to. Everybody’s as good as each other, there is no tough fighter, there is no ‘young’ thing, everybody’s as good as each other. Everybody KNOWS that, but everybody keeps living it out and it makes me sick…in a mystical way, Fiery Jack is the sort of guy I can see myself as in twenty years..”
It’s also a song in which MES attacks left-wing politics, and although he could claim in this instance it was because he was in character, it wouldn’t be too long before he would do so himself in interviews, very much putting him at odds with almost all of his contemporaries, unafraid to hold unpopular or contrary views.
Musically, it chugs along at a fair rate, like an early Johnny Cash tune being played at 100mph, making it one of the more immediately danceable of the early songs. It’s also unusual in that it lasts the best part of five minutes in an era of the short, sharp and immediate 45. I need to be honest and admit that it passed me by totally at the time, and it wouldn’t be until 1983 that I would become familiar with it, thanks to a flatmate having a copy of the single. I fell for it, however, in a big way, and it remains one of my favourite Fall tracks of them all.
There were two b-sides:-
The former is just a couple of minutes long and, on first listen, doesn’t have all that much going for it. Its real significance is that buried in the lyric towards the end is a reference to Roman Totale XVII, another character creation from the mind of MES, and to whom he would return on quite a few occasions in future years.
The latter is a new and more lo-fi version of the track that had opened Dragnet, complete with some amended, almost free-flowing lyrics. It’s not seen by most folk as an improvement on the original.
Fiery Jack was, again, issued by Step Forward Records. It didn’t chart. The next single would be the band’s first effort for one of the best known indie labels of them all. I’ll hopefully see you next Sunday for that one.
Oh, and for those of you waiting impatiently for a contribution by the mighty Drew some Sunday, please be assured that it will be coming…..he’s been awfully busy with work in recent weeks and has just gone off for a well-earned holiday, in the UK, with the family. But he’s been happy enough to give me a thumbs-up on all the features I’ve penned thus far, including today’s.