I’m being lazy/cheeky this week as Part 22 of the series is being given over to a guest posting, but without the author being asked if it is OK to do so.
Tom Doyle is an acclaimed music journalist, author, and long-standing contributor to Mojo and Q. His work has also appeared in Billboard, The Guardian, The Times, and Sound on Sound. Over the years, he has been responsible for key magazine profiles of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Yoko Ono, Keith Richards, U2, Madonna, Kate Bush, and R.E.M., among many other artists. He is the author of The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie, for which I will always hold him in the very highest regard.
It was for Sound on Sound, back in March 2015, that he composed what must be the definitive piece on the Fall’s 22nd single. I’m providing an edited version, leaving aside many of the technical aspects around the recording process, but there is link to the full article provided at the end.
In 1987, the Fall, a band who were 10 albums into their career, producing challenging, hall–of–mirrors post–punk, suddenly made a lurch for the dancefloor. October of that year saw the amorphous Prestwich troupe, fronted by their inimitable and unpredictable ringmaster Mark E Smith, release ‘Hit The North’, a rousing groove–based anthem which is now regarded by many as both their ultimate statement and best single.
For this most underground of bands, this seemed like a very conscious effort to go commercial. “Nah, it wasn’t a conscious effort,” Smith stated to this writer in 2006. “It was just trying to get it a bit more punchy. I always like it very clean and simple. A lot of groups are swamped with sound.”
The beginning of the Fall’s slow creep towards the mainstream, which culminated with ‘Hit The North’, had begun three years earlier in 1984 when, before signing to a new label, Beggars Banquet, Smith had seriously considered quitting music altogether.
“I thought, fuck it,” he admitted. “Nobody liked us. We always got good reviews, but that doesn’t put food on your plate, does it? I was thinking of packing it in. I was gonna sell pool tables. It was a bit heavy for me that time. But then I got a bit of the old writing impetus and I carried on with it. People forget all this, y’know. They forget that the Fall wasn’t really appreciated until the mid-’80s.”
Along with Smith’s change of attitude, the addition of two new members to the Fall was to significantly change their sound. The singer’s American wife, guitarist and vocalist Brix Smith, had joined the band in 1983. She admitted that she felt that, in many ways, the Fall were undervalued and that she had designs on upping their commercial potential. “It was definitely a conscious thing on my part,” she said, “because they were so, so underground and so unappreciated and unknown. I just thought they were such an important band and it needed to be broadcast all over the world.”
Then, in 1985, came Londoner Simon Rogers, a multi–instrumentalist who was initially brought in to play bass with the band, before moving to guitar/keyboards and then going on to produce many of the Fall’s records, including ‘Hit The North’. His connection to Mark E Smith was first made when progressive ballet dancer Michael Clark asked Rogers to score an orchestral arrangement of ‘The Classical’, from the Fall’s 1982 album Hex Enduction Hour.
“Which I tried to do,” Rogers remembers today. “But looking back on it, it’s not one of those things you can just arrange. It needs a real concept and real time and real skill, which I don’t think I had at the time. So that wasn’t a great success. But I phoned Mark up in the process of trying to arrange ‘The Classical’ and said, ‘What do you think about using horns on the chorus?’ And he said, ‘I dunno, cock. I don’t know anything about music. Do you play bass?’ I said, ‘I have played bass, yeah.’ So he said, ‘D’you wanna come on tour with us?’”
In the 2009 book The Fallen: Life In And Out Of Britain’s Most Insane Group, author Dave Simpson’s search for the more than 60 members who have passed through the band since their formation in 1976, he names Simon Rogers as “the least likely musician ever to end up in the Fall”.
Even if their backgrounds were very different, Mark E Smith and Simon Rogers bonded quickly when the former invited the latter to come and stay with him in Prestwich to learn the basslines to the key Fall songs. “Mark would have piles of papers and plastic bags full of notes and stuff,” he says. “We’d sit up all night and we’d listen to William Burroughs and Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Lots of speed, lot of fags, lots of beer. We became pretty good mates and he stayed with me in London nearly all the time when he came down.”
But even after joining the Fall and touring extensively with the band, Rogers realised that his heart belonged in the studio, forcing him to choose to quit the live band and concentrate on recording. “It was tough touring with the Fall,” he admits. “‘Cause we used to go to America and do 20 dates or more in a month. You’re on stage for an hour and the other 23 hours of the day, you’re just dicking around. And it wasn’t enough music for me.”
In approaching the making of the Fall’s next album, The Frenz Experiment, the sessions for which would yield ‘Hit The North’, Simon Rogers suddenly found himself promoted by Smith to producer for the whole project. “There was this idea that I was the guy that could ‘handle’ Mark Smith,” he says. “But it wasn’t that at all. We were just matey at the time. I think he trusted me as a musician to pull something together. Rather than having an engineer/producer, why not have a musician/producer? So it was like having another useful band member.”
The Frenz Experiment was recorded over the month of July 1987 in Abbey Road Studio 2. While The Frenz Experiment is a very live–sounding album, ‘Hit The North’ was a far more programmed affair.
Meanwhile, Rogers laughs when remembering the moment he got to the end of his rope in his dealings with Smith. One day, the frontman walked into the studio while Steve Hanley was fooling around on his bass with the riff of Spinal Tap’s ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight’. Smith decided this was great and it became the basis of the track ‘Athlete Cured’. Rogers couldn’t believe what was happening. “I said, ‘What the fuck? It’s a 100 percent lift’. I knew the track, I was a big Spinal Tap fan. So after a bit of pointless persuasion by me, they recorded it. I thought they’d get done for it basically. But then I suppose a bass line in those days… That was kind of before the massive sampling trials. Mark said, ‘Don’t care. I like it.’”
Simon Rogers was to go on to produce two more albums for the Fall, Code: Selfish in 1992 and The Infotainment Scan in 1993, before he and Smith had an irreparable bust–up in a studio in Manchester.
Looking back on his time working with the Fall, Rogers admits that it was a period which taught him a lot. “Just that there’s other ways to do things,” he says. “After coming out of the Royal College Of Music, I realised there’s more than one way to skin a cat. For sure.”
As far as ‘Hit The North’ was concerned, although it is now considered a classic track for the Fall, upon its release, it actually failed to chart, struggling to number 57. As ever, Mark E Smith had a theory about this.
“We lost half our fan base with that,” he pointed out, “‘cause everybody thought it was disco. Everybody was like, fucking hell, they’ve sold out.”
The full article can be read here.
Hit The North was released across a ridiculous amount of formats in October 1987. There was a 7″, a 12″ (with a gatefold sleeve), a 7″ picture disc, a 12″ with remixes and a cassette single which included a mix otherwise unavailable. I’ve done my best to bring you the lot but failed on the ones with the *:-
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 1 (as found on the 7″, 7″ pic disc, the 12″, the 12″ remix and the cassette)
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 2 (as found on the 7″ and 7″ pic disc)*
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 3 (as found on the 12″)
mp3: The Fall – Australians in Europe (as found on the 12″ and the cassette)
mp3: The Fall – Northerns in Europ (as found on the 12″)
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 4 (as found on the 12″ remix and the cassette)
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 5 (as found on the 12″ remix)
mp3: The Fall – Hit The North Part 6 (the double six mix) (as found on the cassette)*
Australians In Europe is another of those superb songs sneaked out as a b-side. So good, it was voted in at #2 in the Peel Festive 50 of 1987, while the a-side came in at #9. It was a regular part of the live sets throughout the year and was also aired in the band’s sole Peel Session of 1987, broadcast on 19 May. Come 1988, it was rarely played and indeed, disappeared completely from any future setlists by the time 1989 rolled around. It may, or may not be, about The Bad Seeds or The Triffids. MES never said……
Northerns in Europ is a short, cut-up/live version of Australians….I suppose it fills up a couple of minutes on the 12″ if for no other purpose
Simon Gallup, bassist with The Cure, was the guest singles reviewer in Melody Maker the week Hit The North came out. He liked it…..
“I’ve hated everything they’ve ever done but this is great – sounds like Van Der Graaf Generator. They usually whinge and moan a lot because they come from up north, but we won’t get into that. This is really good – it’s got a nice tune and a party mood, Luvvie. It sounds like The Glitter Band too which is great because, in the past. Mark Smith has claimed his lyrics are really important because he’s a Northerner, but you don’t hear what he’s on about here.”
Seven musicians played on this one. The usual six (at the time) of MES, Brix, Craig, Steve, Marcia and Funky Si, were added to by Simon Rodgers contributing on guitar and saxophone.
Up until writing this piece, I hadn’t ever heard Parts 4 and 5, which are the work of German producer, Zeus B. Held. Can’t say that I’m too fussed about them.