The summer of 1983. The Fall are signed to Rough Trade. Their label mates included The Smiths, Aztec Camera, The Go-Betweens, Jazzateers and Violent Femmes, all of whom were recording and issuing what Mark E Smith regarded as bog-standard tuneful indie-pop, often with jangly guitars at the centre of the sound. Rough Trade did not feel like a natural home, but hey-ho, a contract is a contract, and a single and album are required by the end of 1983.
The current five-man line-up of MES, Craig Scanlon, Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley and Karl Burns convene in a London studio to record the contractual new single. It’s a song they have played a great deal while touring throughout the previous six months, mainly in Europe, but also over in the USA on the tour when MES had first met Brix Salenger after a gig in Chicago. Brix had followed MES back to England, and as recounted in last week’s tale, the couple had married in July 1983.
It’s a song about football. A sport which was at something of a low in England (and indeed Scotland) in 1983. It was often a brutal watch, with skilful players all too often at the mercy of no-nonsense defenders, played in front of hostile and aggressive crowds. Hooliganism was rife. Fighting broke out on the terraces, in the surrounding streets, on public transport, at motorway service stations and was often at its worst when English clubs or the England national team played in European competitions.
It was as far from trendy as could be imagined, so there’s no real surprise that MES spent months crafting lyrics which had a go at those in charge of the sport, who were all too often and willing to do it down instead of looking for ways to bring about positive change. Oh, and as a reminder to Rough Trade that music wasn’t and shouldn’t always be instantly accessible and appealing to the masses, he came up with a tune which, for the early verses, leans on that rockabilly rift the band had used to great effect so often, but is mixed in with a degree of brutalism around the chorus and middle section of the song:-
It came out in September 1983 as a 2×7″ package with an original track on the b-side of Kicker Conspiracy, with the bonus 7″ having two songs taken from a John Peel session dating back to 1980:-
The writing credits on Wings are given to the Hanley brothers and MES. It’s one of those tracks which quite likely delighted most long-standing fans, but confirmed the prejudices held by the haters. I’ll hold my hands up…..it’s a song I didn’t discover until many years later and my first thought was that this was the sort of hard-to-take-in music I had experienced at the Glasgow Night Moves gig in April 1982, as mentioned a couple of weeks back. And sure enough, I’ve since been able to check and confirm that it was on the set-list that night, seemingly just the fourth time it had ever been aired. I’ve still never really taken to it……
Kicker Conspiracy reached #5 in the Indie Charts. MES wasn’t happy at how little promotional support was offered, despite it being the first Fall song to have an accompanying video, part of which was filmed at Turf Moor, the home of Burnley FC. He likely had a point in that Rough Trade was devoting resources to the charts and would-be chart bands, and not pressing enough copies of the records by other acts, which is why it is one of the rarer 45s of the era to track down with second-hand copies starting at £30 and going all the way up to £75 for a mint condition offering.
A few postscripts.
There are many fans out there who reckon that the Peel Sessions brought out the best in The Fall, and there’s plenty of evidence to back this up when you listen to the tracks collected on the compilation box set released back in 2005. Marc Riley, in a radio interview in 1999 had this to say, specifically about the third Peel Session from which Container Drivers and New Puritan are taken:-
“The thing about recording a John Peel session is that you get in the van in the morning, in our case you drive two hundred miles, get out, unload the gear, and record everything in a pretty quick time. I mean you would do four songs for a session. Now normally, even for band like The Fall, you would have to take two or three days to record four tunes. In this case you have to get it all done and dusted by ten o’clock at night. So you would get into the studio, wheel everything down into the catacombs in Maida Vale, set up and do the deed. And I remember, I think it was the third session we did, we recorded the first track, made a right old racket, as we did, went in to start listening back to it, make sure we were happy with it, and I turned round to see the producer (John Sparrow), and his pipe had gone out. This is the truth, his pipe had actually gone out and he was asleep.”
As a bonus, here’s the other two tracks from that same session, recorded on 16 September 1980 and first broadcast 24 September 1980:-
Mark E Smith – vocals; Marc Riley – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Paul Hanley – drums
I made mention last week that Kamera Records had hoped, in late 1982, to issue a 7″ single containing two tracks from the album Room To Live. The label was in its dying days when it arranged for the pressing and issuing of this single in September 1983 only to find itself in a position that it couldn’t afford to do so. My understanding is that just 200 copies ever found their way into some shops, and even then, it was a real peculiarity. It had which had Marquis Cha Cha on its a-side, and Room To Live on its b-side, but the sleeve and the actual info on the vinyl for the b-side states the track is Papal Visit. All of which means I’m not inclined to include it in this series.
Finally, the contractually obligatory album for Rough Trade was also recorded in the summer of 1983. Perverted By Language was released on 5 December 1983 and its credits revealed that The Fall had undergone another line-up change. The five who had made Kicker Conspiracy had been joined, on two of the album tracks, by an additional guitarist and vocalist.
Welcome to The Fall, Brix Smith. Things weren’t quite ever the same after you joined, were they?