Warning.  This tale is chaotic in the extreme.

October 1996. Brix Smith leaves mid-tour after a violent confrontation with MES in the soundcheck at a gig in Motherwell, some ten miles south-east of Glasgow.  She came back a few days later, after a heartfelt plea to from the booking agent, to play the tour finale at the Forum in London, knowing it would be her last ever involvement with The Fall.

A new guitarist, Tommy Crooks comes on board in May 1997 and two months later work got underway on a new album.  The sessions were messy and difficult, and during them, Simon Wolstencroft decided to quit after ten years as drummer, frustrated by the way MES was behaving.  For the live dates over the summer, Karl Burns came back in yet again (possibly for the ninth time!!)

It was also a year in which loads of compilation albums, consisting of live recordings and alternative versions of previously released songs, were issued by various labels, all the result of the chronic inability, over many years, of MES to sort out his affairs.

September 1997, the album Levitate is released via Artful Records, a relatively new and cheap’n’cheerful indie label.  The songs came from three different sessions at three different locations over an extended period of time.  One way to illustrate how chaotic it all was is the inclusion of a track called Tragic Days, which is credited to MES and Martin Bramah. The explanation provided a few years later by Bramah was that it was really a work in progress, recorded in 1990 as a home-produced jam session between himself and Craig Scanlon; he also added that the song was really more of Craig’s than it was Martin’s…..

No singles were released prior to Levitate hitting the shops.  But in February 1998, something strange happened in that Masquerade, an MES/Julia Nagle co-composition was released as a single, a full five months after first being made available.  The fact that MES and Julia were now an item, may or may not be coincidental.

Masquerade was released on 2 x CDs and on 10″ vinyl, with the latter having exclusive mixes.

mp3: The Fall – Masquerade
mp3: The Fall – Ivanhoe’s Two Pence
mp3: The Fall – Spencer Must Die (live)
mp3: The Fall – 10 Houses of Eve (remix)
mp3: The Fall – Calendar
mp3: The Fall – Ol’ Gang (live)
mp3: The Fall – Masquerade (Mr. Natural mix)
mp3: The Fall – Masquerade (PWL Mix)

Masquerade reached #69 in the singles chart.

Six weeks later, The Fall flew off to America for a tour of America. It was a five-strong band consisting of MES, Steve Hanley, Karl Burns, Julia Nagle and Tommy Crooks. It was their first visit to the States in four years and as there was no record company support, it had been pulled together by Hanley, calling in a few favours along the way.

The first four dates pass off without incident, although MES is sporting a black eye having been hit in their hotel room by Nagle.

The fifth date in Philadelphia is in a venue that is barely half-full. MES takes to the stage exceedingly drunk and gives his mic to a member of the audience. He spends the night making a total nuisance of himself, unplugging equipment and walking on-and-off the stage. Shambolic doesn’t come close to describing it. Hanley eventually snapped and, accompanied by Burns and Crooks, left the stage for MES and Nagle to finish off the show on their own.

The next night is Washington DC. Things are a lot better, although Nagle walks off mid-set for a few songs.

The seventh night is New York, on 7 April, at a venue called Brownie’s. MES was again very drunk, and he began the show by purposely knocking over the drums. He would later again hand the mic to the audience, during Hip Priest, and bumping to Crooks as he tried to play the guitar notes. He then stole Burns’s spare sticks which leads to the drummer leaping out from his kit to try and throttle the singer, only prevented from doing so by Hanley getting in-between them and shouting him down.

Unbelievably, the show got going again, but before long it was Crooks’ turn to be on the receiving end of MES’s temper, leading to the guitarist swinging his instrument at the singer’s head. In a similar ending to the Phily debacle, the trio of Hanley, Crooks and Burns walked off, leaving MES and Nagle to finish the show.

It gets worse. Back at the hotel post-gig, the police are called, and they arrest MES for third-degree assault after he hit Nagle. He was held for three days until his $1000 bail was posted, and it would take until Tuesday 14 April for him to appear in court where he was ordered to undergo an alcohol-treatment programme and anger-management counselling. There was also a limited order of protection afforded to Nagle, the terms of which enabled them to continue to work together. MES was finally able to fly back to the UK on Saturday 18 April, by which time he had learned that each of Hanley, Burns and Crooks had quit.

Steve Hanley would later say the American tour had been the final straw, especially given he had put so much work and effort into making it happen. MES’s antics with walking offstage had seen promoters refuse to pay a full appearance fee, only adding to his stresses and strains. After 18 years, he’d finally had enough.

The really incredible thing was that just ten days after getting back to the UK, The Fall were back on stage in London, as a three-piece with MES, Julia Nagle and a temporary drummer in the shape of Kate Leatham. By necessity, the next time the Fall went into a recording studio, the line-up would be much changed. Somehow, the next single eventually become the best known of all their songs here in the UK…..hey, hey, hey.



  1. As the sticker suggests, this single was released to coincide with /cash in on MES receiving the ‘God-like Genius’ award from the NME. The single mix is quite different to the album version and features a reading by Julia Nagle’s son Basil.

  2. This is when the behaviour of MES becomes difficult to justify and when ‘the Godlike genius’ starts to look like a bit of a twat. All part of the story I guess.

  3. aaaaaannd….I lose what little faith I had left when, once again, a favorite band drops their long-suffering bassist. Everyone digging this series should pick up Hanley’s Fall memoir, The Big Midweek. One of the best recommendations I ever got from JC, among many.

  4. I thought about going to see that Fall show at Brownies, until I heard it was actually at…Brownies, a dive bar purpose built to afford anyone there dive bar cred…Now I kinda wish I had been there to experience this tragi-chaos… I wonder if JTFL ever found himself at 5am in the original Brownies after hours dive on 13th street. Now there was an NYC Rock + Roll “institution.”

  5. I’ve seen clips of the Brownies gig online and it’s a wreck. In hindsight, it’s incredible that Smith actually stayed alive for another two decades. I have incredible empathy for Steve Hanley. I haven’t read his memoir but I will, thanks for the reminder, Jonny.

    I bought the Masquerade single on 10″ vinyl – this may well be the last single of The Fall I ever purchased – but tellingly, it was without the sticker announcing his NME Godlike Genius award.

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