THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 20)

From the closing sentence of last week’s entry in this series:-

“John Leckie was on production duties for The Fall on this occasion as he would be for the album Bend Sinister released just three weeks after Mr Pharmacist.  But by the time of the next single, he would have been usurped……”

…..as the next single by The Fall would end up being produced by Ian Broudie, lately mentioned on the blog via posts about Lightning Seeds.

But, as David Byrne might have said, how did we get here?

October 1986.  Bend Sinister, the band’s third album with John Leckie involved, is greeted with a degree of bemusement as it sounds like nothing else the producer had ever worked on over the years.  It was only years later that Leckie would reveal that Mark E Smith wanted the album to be mastered from a chrome cassette and had also insisted on having the final say when things were being mixed, often taking out contributions from members of the band which Leckie and indeed Brix Smith felt were crucial.  The reviews were mostly negative, with the producer coming in for a great deal of criticism, all of which led to the inevitable ending of the creative partnership.  Three years later, and Leckie was being lauded as a genius for his work on the debut album by Stone Roses.

The twisted way that MES’s mind works is that, having sabotaged the efforts of a slightly mainstream producer for the album, he would agree to have Ian Broudie come in to work on the next single, which was actually recorded before Bend Sinister was released and the critical savaging had taken place.  It was almost as if he’d planned the whole thing with the intention of coming back with a great pop song, almost to spite John Leckie.

Hey! Luciani could have been included on Bend Sinister. It had been written in early 1986, and featured regularly in the live shows throughout that year, including UK, US and European tours.  Indeed, a version recorded with John Leckie would surface sometime later.

MES, however, was pursuing things beyond songwriting and was working throughout the year on completing a play about the death, in 1978, of Pope John Paul I, who had been born Albino Luciani, after a reign of just 33 days.  It was almost immediately after Pope John Paul II was chosen that the conspiracy theories started flying.  Hey! Luciani was therefore, and understandably, held back for inclusion in the play.

Hey! Luciani: The Life and Codex of John Paul I opened on 5 December 1986 and ran for two weeks at the Riverside Studios, London.  A mixture of established actors and creatives who were friends of MES, such as the dancer Michael Clark and the performance artist Leigh Bowery took to the stage, and there were parts for everyone in The Fall at the time, including  keyboardist Marcia Schofield who had come in to help on a short tour of Austria a couple of months earlier when Simon Rogers was unavailable.

The play itself was well-attended over the two weeks, despite some scathing reviews about it being impenetrable and badly acted. A few songs by The Fall featured during its 90-minute duration, including the song that had been held back from the previous album and instead re-recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Ian Brodie adding his touches of magic:-

mp3: The Fall – Hey! Luciani

It was released on 8 December 1986, timed to coincide with the opening of the play. It’s an absolute belter of a single, one that really should have received extensive daytime radio play, but the negativity surrounding the play, allied to the controversial nature of the subject matter, almost certainly played its part in it being ignored.  It didn’t help, mind you, that the single was released in the run-up to Christmas when the airwaves are filled with the perennials.  But I’m thinking it was all part of MES’s master plan to deliver another flop.

Hey! Luciani was released on 7″ and 12″ vinyl. It reached #59, which was easily the best chart position of all the singles to date.

mp3: The Fall – Entitled
mp3: The Fall – Shoulder Pads #1B

Both of these were produced by John Leckie and date from the Bend Sinister sessions. Entitled, a slow, ambling gentle song appears on both the 7″ and 12″. Shoulder Pads #1B was the bonus track on the 12″

Shoulder Pads had originally appeared on Bend Sinister, spilt into two, with #1 fading out at just under the three-minute point early on the album and #2 fading in as the album closer, and coming to a gradual halt after less than two minutes. The version on the Hey! Luciani single is an alternative take and runs to over five minutes in length with a few additional lyrics. The contrast in production values between the A-side and the two songs on the B-side are quite marked.

The next single wouldn’t appear until April 1987, and I’ll look at that in the next instalment of this series. But in February 1987, thanks to a 7″ single giveaway with Sounds, one of the UK’s main music weeklies, everyone got the chance to hear the John Leckie take on the single from the play:-

mp3: The Fall – Hey! Luciani (original version)

Quite different in many ways…far less polished and nowhere near as obvious as a potential hit single. But still well worth a listen.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 19)

This week, a single that made it into the Top 75 in September 1986, thanks to a song that could and did pack the floor at indie-discos.

mp3: The Fall – Mr Pharmacist

The first Fall song which Mrs Villain ever admitted she liked, thanks to me constantly including it on all the mix taped we would pack into a suitcase to take with us when we went away on holiday.  It’s amazing to think back and realise how much space was needed for a box of 24 cassettes, and how often the batteries would need replaced on whatever cheap version of the Sony Walkman was being taken down to a beach or pool.   I don’t miss those days now that there’s almost 50,000 songs each on a couple of i-pods which quickly charge up in a matter of hours overnight.

Enough of me wallowing in nostalgia. Here’s the press release issued by Beggars Banquet:-

The 1st of September heralds the release of The Fall’s version of MR PHARMACIST, a superb break-in taster for, and from their next LP.

Recorded straight onto master tape at Abbey Road Studios, MR PHARMACIST is the first record by THE FALL to contain new ingredient ‘JOHN’ S. WOLSENCROFT (ex-Weeds) on the drums who replaces much loved Karl Burns (now of the group ‘Thirst’).

MR PHARMACIST was an afterthought during the recording, being one of Mark E. Smith’s FAVOURITE songs by The Other Half – coincidentally, M.E.S. was ill with a chest infection during part of the recording.

HEAR live bass of Super Hanley on vinyl! NOTE phlegm vocal rattle! WITNESS earscorch of Brix Guitar, unfettered by tedious modern mixing methods. If only all cover versions were like this.

Companion track ‘LUCIFER OVER LANCASHIRE’ would not fit onto (blank space) but it is too good to store. The subject of much debate, ‘LUCIFER OVER LANCASHIRE’could refer to:-

A. Recent Commie cloud and complaints of aching bones in the health-conscious Fall camp.
B. The Erasure of good manners and good groups in that holy county or
C. A trailer for Pashion Religious Whodunnit due December
‘I tell you no lies.
Completely blind/are the Sentinels
Eyes/At the back of his mind/
This demon’s hip.

Bonus track ‘AUTO TECH PILOT’ features horror machine FX by Simon Rogers, and offers weirder territory in THE FALL legacy – where delirious commentary meets modern classical at the Eighties Trash-Gate.

Get It.

Regards,
Edward M. Cohort II
Hotel Cohesion
Hampstead
M/CR

There’s no point in adding anything to that is there??

mp3: The Fall – Lucifer Over Lancashire
mp3: The Fall – Auto Tech Pilot

I love Lucifer Over Lancashire. Another example of the weird and wonderful stuff that was stuck away on b-sides over the year (and yes, I’m thinking that’s a subject matter for a future ICA….). Auto Tech Pilot, on the other hand, I can happily live without.

Mr Pharmacist entered the charts at #75.  It dropped out after one week.  The song was, in due course, played more than 400 times at Fall gigs, the first being on 9 November 1986 in Birmingham and the last being on 23 October 2017 in Newcastle, the second to last show they ever played, and was, by far the song most aired. Maybe an indication that MES wished he had written it?

For those who are interested, The Other Half was an American psychedleic/garage band from San Francisco in the mid-late 60s.  They were largely unknown at the time, but the inclusion of Mr Pharmacist, a single back in 1966, on a Nuggets compilation in 1985 from which it is likely that MES picked up on it, finally got them noticed.

mp3: The Other Half – Mr Pharmacist

John Leckie was on production duties for The Fall on this occasion, as he would be for the album Bend Sinister released just three weeks after Mr Pharmacist.  But by the time of the next single, he would have been usurped……

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 18)

The sixteen-month period from October 1985 – December 1986 was a busy, yet reasonably stable one for the band.  They were being well-supported by Beggars Banquet and seemed to be happy with the label.  There were sell-out tours of the UK. The core of the band remained the same – Mark E Smith, Brix Smith, Craig Scanlon, Steve Hanley and Simon Rogers, with just the drummer’s chair becoming a touch on the hot side. Karl Burns left the band, again, in April 1986 shortly after a month-long tour of the USA and Canada, and was replaced, but only always on a temporary basis, by a returning Paul Hanley, proof again that even those who had left before under the darkest of clouds were always prepared to help out whenever the need arose.

But, come the summer, a new drummer, in the shape of Simon Wolsencroft, was drafted in. ‘Funky Si’, as he was commonly known, was a familiar figure in the Manchester and wider indie-scene having been a contemporary of the likes of Ian Brown, John Squire, Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, as well as being a member of The Colourfield, the group formed by Terry Hall after the break-up of Fun Boy Three.

Over the course of the final six months of 1986, there would be three 45s and the album Bend Sinister, and while Wolsencroft drummed on most of the songs, some of the material completed prior to his arrival was issued, meaning Paul Hanley got a few final credits with the band, including the tracks on the next flop single in July, released only on 12″:-

mp3: The Fall – Living Too Late
mp3: The Fall – Hot Aftershave Bop
mp3: The Fall – Living Too Long

Have a look at the cover of the single at the top of this post, and you’ll see a man who has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.  Combine it with the downbeat nature of the lyric and the almost funerial pace of the music on the a-side, then it was no surprise that at least one interviewer thought it might be a sign that MES, with his 30th birthday just a year away, was beginning to plan some sort of exit from the music industry.  In response, he said it was really his attempt to write a song about upper-class suburbia and how pissed off folk must be about the routine and dull way it was all panning out. Not exactly the sort of things that make for a good single is it?, albeit it remains a song I still enjoy all these years later.

The b-side, Hot Aftershave Bop, is a faster-paced number  that wouldn’t sound out-of-place down at the local indie-disco, albeit not when the DJ really wants to pack the floor out. It’s more than worthy of a listen, albeit it does have an almost throwaway near-nonsensical lyric in which the song title, or a slight variant on it, appears regularly.  The extra track on the b-side, Living Too Long, is an extended yet different version of the a-side, with a lot more going on in the playing.

Fun fact 1: There was actually a limited edition 7″ promo single issued, omitting Living Too Long but offering a miniature bottle of Hot Aftershave Bop aftershave.  I’m guessing MES wouldn’t have been best pleased with the marketing folk

Fun fact 2: Living Too Late was reviewed in Smash Hits magazine, possibly the first (and last?) time that the Beggars Banquet promotional folk got a 45 into the pages of the UK’s biggest selling music weekly.  There was always a guest reviewer, who that week happened to be Samantha Fox, whose initial claim to fame had come through regular appearances on Page 3 of the tabloid papers in which there was a daily photo of a woman with her tits out, but who had, in early 1986, embarked on what would become a successful, if short-lived, career as a pop star.

Cutting-edge criticism, indeed.  MES, many years later, would look back and laugh at it all:-

“That’s as good as it got inside Smash Hits: Page 3 birds airing their views. I think it’s great, actually — better than being harangued by Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill.”

Living Too Late reached #97 but was voted in at #15 in the Peel Festive 50 at the end of 1986.

Next up……an actual appearance in the Top 75, thanks to a song that could and did pack the floor at indie-discos.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 17)

Another song that I only picked up on a few years after its release as a single in October 1985.  My excuse being that I had graduated from university a few months previously, moving almost immediately to Edinburgh to start my first job in July 1985.  Money was tight, and much of my salary went on the rent for a room in a shared flat, albeit in a very nice part of the city.  The three of us all worked – mine was office based with regular hours, but the flatmates worked in hotels and bars, often on night shifts, which meant there was little opportunity to play records or tapes without causing a disturbance.  It proved to be the beginning of my drifting away, for the most part, from music for a few years.

I was also not yet familiar with the alternative scene in Edinburgh, and so wouldn’t know the clubs or places that would likely play The Fall or indeed any of the music I liked.  Besides, most other folk in my office (i.e 100%) were a tad more straight-laced when it came to music….something that only changed when Jacques the Kipper appeared on the scene some five years later.

Why am I telling you all this?  I suppose it is partly confessional as Cruiser’s Creek is up there as one of my favourite of all the songs written and recorded by The Fall and I really wish I had been aware of it at the time of its release, and not a few years later when I got my copy of The Fall 45 84 89 compilation. I have, however, danced to it loads of times over recent  years as I always made a request for it at the Little League nights when they used to take place, and John was always willing to indulge me.

Cruiser’s Creek is brilliant.  It’s also bonkers.

Putting the backstory together nowadays is much easier, thanks to the internet and the various fan sites devoted to The Fall, but trying to work it all out back in 1985 was a very tough task. Mark E Smith, in a contemporary interview with one of the music weeklies, said ‘it’s a party lyric with a party twist’.  I’m thinking he was referring to the utter danceability of the song, with a pacey riff and sing-along-chorus, albeit so many of the words in the verses are hard to pick out or fathom.  Reading them written down many years later and there’s confirmation that MES is having a sly dig at two of the year’s biggest happenings in the music world – Red Wedge and ZTT Records.

One of the most astonishing things to emerge in later years is that Cruiser’s Creek was the name of a library on a ship on which MES had spent time with Brix’s family after her grandparents had taken all the relatives on a fiftieth wedding anniversary cruise.  It seems that MES, in trying to escape all the fuss that was happening throughout, retreated to Cruiser’s Creek where he did some writing, seemingly using the location for the title but making the narrative about an office party.  Whether he was comparing the agonies of an office party at one of his former places of employment on Salford Docks with having to spend days at sea with the extended Salenger family, we can only make an assumption……

mp3: The Fall – Cruiser’s Creek

The version on offer today is taken from the compilation album, and it is a couple of minutes shorter than the original single, which ran to over six minutes in length, released on 7″ and 12″ vinyl, with the 7″ playing at 33 ⅓ RPM.  But never fear, I’ve the promo video to provide the full version:-

Here’s your b-sides:-

mp3: The Fall – L.A.
mp3: The Fall – Vixen

The former, which is mainly an instrumental with a few snippets of lyrics/dialogue thrown in. The tune was written by Brix, as a homage to her home city. It seems that MES leaned on the TV series TJ Hooker, starring William Shatner as a cop, for inspiration. Unusually for a Fall 45, it wasn’t a new song, as it had been one of the tracks on the album This Nation’s Saving Grace, released the previous month.

The latter, only found on the 12″, is a Brix song on which her vocal is very prominent….it becomes a Mr & Mrs Smith duet in due course….and while it’s harmless and inoffensive enough, it doesn’t stand up to repeated playings. I do wonder if any other member of the band had presented it as a tune whether it would actually have seen light of day.

Fun fact, specifically, for JTFL-Ahh.

Vixen was never played live, but seemingly a snippet of it was played by Brix during an in-store appearance by The Fall at Texas Records, 2204 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica on Saturday 23 March 1985.

Your musicians on this one were Mark E Smith (vocals), Brix Smith (guitar, vocals), Craig Scanlon (guitar), Steve Hanley (bass), Simon Rogers (bass, guitar, keyboards) and Karl Burns (drums).  John Leckie could again be found in the producer’s chair.

Cruiser’s Creek reached the giddy heights of #96 in the UK singles chart.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 16)

Those of you paying attention will have noted that The Fall had enjoyed a couple of years of stability in respect of all six members staying together.  Things changed dramatically at the beginning of November 1984 during the UK tour to promote The Weird and Wonderful World Of….

On 1 November, the band returned to their hotel after a gig in Cardiff.  For whatever reason, they don’t follow the usual practice of empting the tour van and taking the instruments into their rooms. The following morning, they return to the van and discover it has been broken into with almost everything stolen.  By the time of the next gig, two nights later in Brighton, the record label has managed to get everyone temporary replacement instruments.  The gig turns into the worst of the tour, with all sorts of mistakes, missed cues and cock-ups, after which Mark E Smith loses his temper with everyone.

It proves to be too much for Steve Hanley who was already struggling to keep things going after his first child, a boy, had been born prematurely and was seriously ill for the first few months of his life.  Steve goes back to his hotel to think about things and after making a call home to his wife, he tells her he’s quitting the band and coming back on an overnight train back to Manchester.  But he hasn’t told anyone in the band of his decision, nor that his intention was to get out of the music business altogether.

The next day, he gets a call from his brother who tells him that he had just informed MES that he was leaving, deciding that he would take up an offer from some old friends to start up a new band, one free of the control-freakery of MES.

The tour continues onto Europe, with The Fall now being like most other bands and having just one drummer. A call is put into Simon Rogers, a classically-trained musician who had become a friend of MES and Brix, and he replaced Steve as the bass player for the rest of the tour.  In due course, things did calm down a bit but not enough for Paul Hanley to change his mind.  Steve Hanley was officially put on an extended period of paternity leave, and although he helped out by playing bass when the band appeared on BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test a few weeks later, he is absent when the band returns to the studio in early 1985; he would also miss a UK and US tour in the first half of that year.

So, it was a five-piece band who met up again with John Leckie early in the year, the fruits of which lead to a new double-A single that was duly released in June 1985, just around the time Steve Hanley was about to officially re-join.

mp3: The Fall – Couldn’t Get Ahead
mp3: The Fall – Rollin’ Dany
mp3: The Fall – Petty Thief Lout

I’m not going to offer too much on this one.  It’s not that I dislike Couldn’t Get Ahead, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me in the ways that many of the previous (and later) singles managed to do.  It’s kind of perfunctory if you really want my take on it.

Rollin’ Dany, not that I would have known it if I hadn’t looked at the sleeve notes in the The Fall 45 84 89 compilation that I picked up a few years later, is a cover version. I’ve never take to it as its opening notes somehow remind me of Shang-a-Lang by Bay City Rollers, a song I had been trying to forget for many a year going back to my early teens.  Having said that, given it was the first ever official release by The Fall of a cover version, it is of historical significance.

Petty Thief Lout, which was made available only on the 12″, extends to over five minutes. It is a quiet-loud-quiet sort of number, but at no point does it come across as anything but the band somewhat going through the motions.  Maybe everyone was missing the Hanley brothers…..

It reached #90, which at the time was the highest chart position achieved by any 45 released by The Fall. Brix’s dreams of being a bona-fide pop star were becoming increasingly distant.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 15)

12 October 1984.  A date on which The Fall again defy convention by insisting that the record label issue a new album along with a new single.  But not just in any bog-standard way as the new single was to come out on 12″ vinyl, accompanied by a free 7″ single.  Oh, and if you chose instead to buy the new album on cassette rather than vinyl, then you would also get just about all the music that was available on the new single, as well as the tracks that had made up the previous two singles…..

The new album was called The Wonderful and Frightening World Of….and it contained nine tracks with a running time of just over 40 minutes.  Three of its tracks were co-written by Mark E Smith and Brix Smith.  Of the other six, Brix was credited on three of them, which is some achievement given that her only previous contribution to a Fall album had been to co-write one track on Perverted By Language, released some ten months earlier.

It has to be said that the other band members were quite relaxed about it all.  Steve Hanley is on record as saying:-

“She was good for the band. We’d reached as far as we could with fifteen-minute songs like ‘And This Day’ battering the audience.  She did commercialise the band, she helped convince Mark to go that way. She was like a breath of fresh air for five miserable blokes from Manchester’

I’m not sure if MES, newly married and seemingly enjoying himself on stage like no other time previously, was all that miserable in 1984.  The other four blokes were still those who had been making music together for the past couple of years – the duel drumming efforts of Karl Burns and Paul Hanley (who also played occasional keyboards), Craig Scanlon on guitar and Steve Hanley on bass, whose musical contributions were becoming even more increasingly important and influential.

I came quite late to this, and indeed, subsequent periods of The Fall, so I can’t really comment on how I felt about it all at the time.  My excuse is that the new flat that I had moved into didn’t really have what you would call any other fans of the band, and so between the six of us there were just a handful of previous singles kicking around, and they weren’t on heavy rotation.  Nobody bought the new album or the Call For Escape Route package.  It would take until the early 90s, and me picking up a CD compilation album bringing together the singles that had been released on Beggars Banquet between 1984 and 1989 before I actually heard any of these songs. In this instance, it was No Bulbs, but it immediately became an instant favourite, and remains so all these many years later.

Call For Escape Route 12″

mp3: The Fall – Draygo’s Guilt
mp3: The Fall – Clear Off!
mp3: The Fall – No Bulbs

Bonus 7″

mp3: The Fall – No Bulbs 3
mp3: The Fall – Slang King 2

It’s another very fine collection of tunes, albeit more ammo to those fans of old who might have been a bit concerned about the band shifting to a sound which bordered on commercially friendly.

Draygo’s Guilt, co-written by MES and Craig Scanlon, has a tune which sounds as if it has been around since forever, with just about every kick ass rock’n’roll band having some sort of stab at it along the way. Indeed, The Fall had been playing this song, or at least a variation on it, as far back as 1980.

Clear Off! is, for The Fall, rather a light sounding track.  The tune, in places, reminds me of a slightly sped-up Hip Priest and at other times, like the sort of tune New Order would pull together a little later on in time. Oh, and it also features a guest co-vocal from Gavin Friday of The Virgin Prunes (as indeed did two of the tracks on The Weird and Wonderful World Of….

The full version of No Bulbs extends to a few seconds short of eight minutes while the edited down version, given the title of No Bulbs 3,  is around four-and-a-half minutes long.  It is this edited version which was included on The Fall 45 84 89 compilation I mentioned above and thus offered me my first ever listen to the song.   If ever you wanted to hear just how much John Leckie brought to the table in terms of his production skills, then take the time to give a listen to both, or either, versions of No Bulbs offered here today.

I still cannot get my head around it wasn’t selected as a stand-alone 7″ single, as I’m convinced it would have provided The Fall with a chart hit.  It is a truly magnificent and mighty piece of music, one which wonderfully disguises that it is actually about living in squalor and poverty, as was the case with the newly married Mr & Mrs Smith in a dingy flat in Prestwich, just north of Manchester and just south of Bury.  It would also justify an entry into the ‘Some Songs Are Great Short Stories’ series, with MES trying to get his hands on the one belt he owns as it is needed to hold his trousers up, only he can’t find it for the amount of junk and debris lying around the flat, and as he goes to switch on the light to assist in his efforts, the bulb blows, and they are so poor, they don’t have a spare.  There is also a truly inspired closing stanza, which drives home the miserable conditions of their habitat:-

They say damp records the past
If that’s so I’ve got the biggest library yet
The biggest library yet.

Slang King 2 is a different mix of a track which was included on The Weird and Wonderful World Of…., and seemingly was written by MES and Brix, but with a rare writing credit offered to Paul Hanley on account of MES liking the way he had improvised the keyboards into the tune.

The single came into the charts at #99.  The album got as high as #62.  In both instances, it now feels like an absolute travesty.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 14)

Let’s get a misconception about this one right out of the way.

C.R.E.E.P. is not about recently departed band member, Marc Riley.

Brix Smith‘s book, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise (2016) devotes a few paragraphs to the song, saying that she was excited by it, not least as she provides ‘bratty backing vocals that contested well with the darkness of The Fall’, and firmly believed it had a chance of cracking the singles chart. She also explains that the lyrics were aimed at another of the many hundreds of individuals who had upset Mark E Smith somewhere along the way, a German tour manager by the name of Scumech, whose name was turned into scum-egg as part of the lyric.  A bit of investigatory work by fans of the band later unearthed that the man in question was most likely Scumeck Sabottka, who would later make a fortune as the founder of one of the biggest online ticketing agencies in Germany – and looking at some of the photos of the man that can be found online, he does look something of a peace-loving, trendy wretch who was fond of ABC.  It would appear therefore that MES never gave him the look of love….

C.R.E.E.P. didn’t sound like anything the band had written, recorded and released up to this point.  It was even more ‘pop’ orientated than Oh! Brother.  It is very much a record on which the guiding influence of John Leckie in the producer’s chair is obvious, and the folk at Beggars Banquet must have been pleased at how it was all going.

Many years later, it would emerge that the tune had been written by the brothers Steve and Paul Hanley together with Craig Scanlon, just after The Man Whose Head Expanded had been recorded, but MES had hated it, throwing the cassette down in disdain, seemingly lost forever.  Brix, while doing a bit of serious cleaning in her new matrimonial abode, found the discarded tape and suggested that it would make for a good song if MES could come up with a lyric.  Still very much in love with his new wife, the cantankerous frontman didn’t let on what he really thought of the tune and in due course came up with the words. Oh, and Brix somehow manages to get a writing credit on the final version, possibly/probably because of the bratty backing vocal…..

I should at this stage owning up to having a real liking for C.R.E.E.P. but not buying it at the time of release, being content to hear it played on a reasonably regular basis at one disco or other in the Students; Union. The problem, however, was that the music critics weren’t all that keen, with some barbed comments that the new-look band, which had undergone a fairly radical image transformation, was now being fronted by the new wave equivalent of Dollar (click here if you need an explanation).  Many fans from way back didn’t care for it either, thinking it was clear evidence of the band selling-out to the man.

Similar to last time out, C.R.E.E.P., released on 24 August 1984, was made available on 7″ and 12″, with the latter being on green vinyl and containing a version which is almost two minutes longer, with particular prominence given to the bass playing skills of Steve Hanley:-

mp3: The Fall – C.R.E.E.P.
mp3: The Fall – C.R.E.E.P. (12″ version)

Despite Brix’s hopes, it stalled at #91, just two places higher than Oh! Brother. You might well be able to easily dance in the student unions to the music The Fall were now making, but it still wasn’t making any impact on the wider market of record buyers.

The b-side to the single was inspired by another individual whom The Fall had dealt with while on tour. Again, let’s turn to Brix’s book for the details:-

“The Fall’s American tour manager, Pat was a plump fellow from Hoboken, New Jersey. He was a fun-loving, beer-drinking kind of guy. Mark went to Pat and asked him for some pills. Pat removed a plastic bag full of colourful capsules.”

The capsules were emptied out and duly snorted, but instead of it being the anticipated speed it turned out to be nothing more than powdered caffeine….

mp3: The Fall – Pat-Trip Dispenser

It’s an absolute belter of a song…..one which benefits from the polish offered up by Leckie but without going down the truly commercial road. It seemed to bode well for the album that was being worked up……

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 13)

Do you remember a few weeks back when I highlighted that The Fall had just one entry in the Peel Festive 60 (as was) of 1982, and that none of the tracks from Hex Enduction Hour had gathered enough votes?  Well, 1983 was significantly better in that both of the year’s 45s, The Man Whose Head Expanded and Kicker Conspiracy, along with its b-side, Wings, were prominent, but pride of place went to a Peel Session version of Eat Y’Self Fitter, the track which had opened the album, Perverted By Language, with it being voted in at #8, headed only by songs from Billy Bragg, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and New Order.

MES, however, was disillusioned at Rough Trade, and he began 1984 on the look-out for a new home.  Some major labels were taking notice of the increasingly positive press coming the way of The Fall, and, let’s not pretend otherwise, the addition of an attractive female member made the band a much more marketable proposition.  The music weeklies, in the first week of May 1984, announced that the band had signed a deal with Beggars Banquet, and were currently holed up in a studio with producer John Leckie who had brought success to a number of other bands including Magazine, Simple Minds, XTC, The Skids and Public Image Limited.

One month later, and the first fruits of the new labour were unleashed on the listening public.

mp3: The Fall – Oh! Brother

It was The Fall, but not as we, or indeed anyone, knew them.

It was a pop song, one which would have sat easily alongside those that were being released on a regular basis by Rough Trade.  I’m sure that Geoff Travis would have been scratching his head and wondering just what he had ever done to upset MES to the extent that the thrawn bastard continuously refused to contemplate anything akin to radio friendly songs, only for him to come up with this absolute monster once he’d moved to a major label.

Right away, the music press suggested that it was the pop sensibilities of Brix Smith that had led the band down this particular path. After all, the line-up was still the same as it had been since the departure of Marc Riley, but with the addition of this American guitarist and vocalist who might have been a fan but had not been part of the rough and ready apprenticeship going back what was now six studio albums, an EP, ten singles and many hundreds of gigs in toilets all across the UK and further afield.

But……why let the facts get in the way of a good story?  It turned out that Oh! Brother, or at least a version of it, dated back to 1977/78, and had been resurrected as being a tune that Brix Smith could quickly get to grips with in the live setting and in the studio.   The person who was really most responsible for bringing about this change in sound and dynamics was John Leckie as his production techniques and fingerprints are all over the 45.

Suffice to say, some fans were horrified.  But at the same time, the Leckie name being attached to the band likely opened The Fall up to a whole new audience – I can vouch for that as, not withstanding the home recording of Hex Enduction Hour in advance of the 1982 gig in Glasgow, this was the first single of The Fall that I bought at the time of its actual release.  On 12″ vinyl, and I was completely unaware that this was the first single by the band that had been issued on that format, with everything previous being on 7″ only.  My copy from back in 1984 didn’t survive being constantly played on record players with needles in less than perfect condition, nor a few moves across student and workplace flats across the remainder of the decade.  But I’m pleased to say I’ve since picked up a second-hand copy in decent nick:-

mp3: The Fall – God-Box
mp3: The Fall – Oh! Brother (12″ mix)

God-Box was the first song on which Brix Smith received a writing credit for The Fall. In fact, it goes well beyond that with the lyrics attributed jointly to Mark E Smith and Brix Smith, but with the music and arrangement being solely in the hand of Brix. It was almost as if MES was announcing that she was here to stay, and far from being just a pretty face, was going to bring something concrete and meaningful to bring to the band.

Oh! Brother did what no other previous single had done in that entered the mainstream singles chart at #93. Thanks to it being on a major label, it didn’t qualify for the indie singles chart.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 12)

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:-

mp3: The Fall – Kicker Conspiracy

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:-

mp3: The Fall – Wings
mp3: The Fall – Container Drivers (Peel Session)
mp3: The Fall – New Puritan (Peel Session)

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:-

mp3: The Fall – Jawbone and The Air-Rifle (Peel Session)
mp3: The Fall – New Face In Hell (Peel Session)

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?

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 11)*

Taking up the story from where it ended last week with the release of Look, Now in the early summer of 1982.

The Fall were about to head over to Australia and New Zealand in July/August 1982 for a month-long tour.  MES pulled everyone back into Cargo Studios in Rochdale for what the rest of the band thought would be a new single, intended to keep up a bit of profile in the UK while they were gone. It turned out that the frontman actually wanted a full album out of the sessions, but one which would be in a totally different way from Hex Enduction Hour. The songs were all new, very few had been performed live beforehand (which was unusual), and furthermore MES kept everyone on their toes by using the occasional guest musician and arranging for recording sessions without telling key members of his band and keeping them off the actual record. Paul Hanley has since described the time in Cargo as “a fucking nightmare. You’d turn up and find Smith had only invited half the band, or brought in other musicians without telling anyone!”.

Room To Live was released on Kamera Records in September 1982 to less than enthusiastic reviews, with its seven songs seen as way inferior to the material from earlier in the year.  The tour down under had, unsurprisingly, been a difficult one for all concerned, with many fall-outs, particularly between Marc Riley and MES, with the former still smarting from being heavily excluded from the Room To Live recording sessions (it would later transpire that he played on just two of its tracks).

There were also rumours that Kamera was in a bit of bother, which may be why there was a decision, taken by the label, to release a single to accompany the album, consisting of two of its tracks – Marquis Cha Cha, backed with Papal Visit.  This wasn’t to MES’s liking and the single was withdrawn (there’s a postscript to this, which I’ll come to in a future edition of this series).

So, 1982 ended with a whimper, with a tour of some student venues in England….and as you’ll recall from the previous two editions of the series, not even much enthusiasm for The Fall among Peel listeners with just one track in the Festive 50.

MES’s solution?  To sack Mark Riley from the band, which he did in the first week of 1983 (and not, according to legend, on Riley’s wedding day which was 24 December 1982).  Oh, and to take his leave of Kamera.  Once again, having no label to call home, fate kindly intervened in the shape of Geoff Travis at Rough Trade who, despite having been ridiculed by MES some 18 months previously, re-signed The Fall.  The first new 45 of the post-Riley era appeared in June 1983, with its title, on the surface, being a dig at the departed musician:-

mp3: The Fall – The Man Whose Head Expanded

We’re back with the Casio intro again, but this time it goes into a wonderful bass-line intro which sets the tempo, initially for one of the most upbeat and easily danceable (at this point of time) of songs by The Fall….except it had a bonkers, almost ad-libbed lyric, which ensured nobody on radio (except the usual suspect) would play it.  Oh, and just as you might be getting into a groove on that dance floor, it slows down dramatically for a minute or so, at which point MES goes all shouty, before suddenly it switched back to the fast tempo.

It’s a real tour de force, driven along by the duo drumming of Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, with Steve Hanley on bass and Craig Scanlon on guitars and keyboards.  The song was credited to Smith/S. Hanley/Scanlon/Seaberg.  It seems that the latter was Sol Seaberg, a part-time van driver for The Fall; whether he actually came up with something for the song or not is unknown – it may well have been MES’s way of saying to Riley that anyone can write songs.

The b-side is just two-and-a-half minutes long, and in some ways is a throwback to the earlier rough’n’ready material, with pounding drums at the centre of a cacophony of noise and shouty vocals:-

mp3: The Fall – The Ludd Gang

But hidden away, at the exact halfway mark of the song, is one of the funniest lyrics anyone has ever penned:-

I hate the guts of Shakin’ Stevens
For what he has done
The massacre of “Blue Christmas”
On him I’d like to land one on

The Man Whose Head Expanded reached #3 in the UK indie charts. It had been released on 27 June 1983.  Three weeks later, Mark E Smith married his American-born girlfriend whom he had met just a couple of months previously, in Chicago, while The Fall were on tour in the States.  I think you all know what comes next….

JC

*With thanks to JTFL-Ahh for prompting the change to the name of this series…

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 10)

As mentioned last week, none of the tracks on Hex Enduction Hour made it onto Peel’s Festive rundown at the end of 1982, although this later single did scrape in at #58 (one place ahead of Happy Talk by Captain Sensible).

The second 45 to come out on Kamera Records was released some five weeks after Hex.  I mentioned in a previous edition of this series that Mark E Smith had a tendency to get any finished songs down on tape in a recording studio almost as soon as he’d written the final word and hated hoarding or stockpiling material for the future.  Look, Know was no different, although its eventual release would be some seven months after its recording…..and while it would find its way into the Peel Festive 50 of 1982, it had in fact had its very first airing back on 15 September 1981 as part of a Peel Session:-

mp3: The Fall – Look, Now (Peel Session Version)

This was broadcast while the band were in Iceland, initially playing a few gigs and then recording some tracks intended for what would become Hex Enduction Hour. It was while in Iceland that a rather different version of the song emerged from a studio session, seemingly in one take which MES decided wouldn’t be improved on.  From the same Casio-keyboard intro that would soon make temporary superstars of the German group Trio, into giving space for other members of the band to take the mic up front, it was unlike any other Fall song in their canon at this point in time:-

mp3: The Fall – Look, Now

Steve Hanley has since said that there was a sense of astonishment when MES decided to go with the first take and that nobody knew at that point whether it would appear on the album.  There was also a belief that they might return to it again, perhaps looking to record it in a way similar in style to the Peel Session, for future use as a b-side.  There was certainly never any thought that it would be suggested as an actual single, especially on the back of Hex Enduction Hour, as its sound was very much at odds with the tracks which made the cut for that album.

Listening now, and I say this as someone who quite likes the single, but this was just another curveball thrown by MES, partly to ensure the label was sticking to its agreement to issue material in the shape and form he wanted, but also to further confound the writers on the music weekly papers, who were surely bemused when they played their promotional copy on the office stereo system.  It could almost be regarded as a novelty single, of sorts.

As for the b-side:-

mp3: The Fall – I’m Into C.B.!

It’s one of the funniest and most entertaining of the early(ish) songs by The Fall.   The writing credits are given solely to MES and one can just imagine him manically and frantically directing things in the studio – it was recorded at the Hitchin Cinema in December 1981 at the same time as much of Hex.

The subject matter may, on the face of it, seem a strange one for MES to take any great interest, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that, until late 1981, CB Radio was always an illegal form of broadcasting in the UK. There was no licensed frequency and its users were often referred to in the media as ‘bandits’ with the suggestion that they were lawless.  It surely would have appealed to MES’s sense of humour, not to mention justice, that a harmless individual, sitting at home with a form of self-entertainment, would be facing the full brunt of the law bearing down on them when there were real criminals out there getting away with all sorts of high jinks.

Oh, and with the fear of stating the bleedin’ obvious, the 4+ and 6+ on the front of the sleeve refer to the running times of the two songs.

Look, Now was another 45 which hit the top end of the Indie Charts, reaching #4.   The Fall, in 1982, remained a band not recognised by anyone who didn’t read music weeklies or listen to John Peel.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 9)


I think it’s only fair that Hex Enduction Hour, released in March 1982, features as part of this series as it enables me to get a bit personal and nostalgic. It doesn’t actually show me in that great a light to be honest…..

The thing is, The Fall were coming to Glasgow on 1 April 1982, for a gig at Night Moves (the club recently referenced in flimflanfan’s wonderful ICA on Goth music). A really good friend at the time, and someone who I went to a lot of gigs with, was determined to go, partly on the basis of him liking what he had heard on the John Peel show, but also from the fact that the support band was an up and coming band from Scotland called Cocteau Twins.

My mate went out and bought the new Fall album and taped a copy for me onto a C90 cassette.

I listened to it. I really liked the opening couple of tracks, but then thought it became a bit of a droning dirge. It also sounded as if my mate had cocked up the recording as the tape faded out mid-song before halting altogether, but when I turned it over to Side B, the song which had faded out started up again. Both tunes appeared to be called Winter. Side B was a tough listen as the singer asked questions but seemed to give no answers about Nazis, while the final two songs were long-drawn-out affairs that were unlistenable.

My expectations for the gig weren’t high. But as my mate had seen a few bands that weren’t his cup of tea, it was only fair that I went along with him.

As it turned out, the support band were fine, albeit they didn’t play for long, with the incredibly shy and possibly terrified singer seeming as if she just wanted the experience to end. The Fall were very strange. There didn’t seem to be all that many songs in their set from the new album, and the lead singer seemed at his happiest when he was provoking a reaction from the audience. We had been down near the front to begin with, but we edged back in due course, worried about getting caught up in something we wanted no part of. The musicians seemed to be a decent lot, but it was hard to tell as the sound was quite muddied. The gig ended and we kind of shrugged our shoulders.

The next day, I taped over the C90.  Probably a mix for my then first serious girlfriend, who had just left school for a job/career as a trainee with one of our major banks.  Her tastes were quite conservative…..I didn’t know it then, but the writing was on the wall, and we would go our separate ways by the summer….and it’s quite likely that the tape would have been filled with ‘mood’ music for those few occasions when her parents weren’t home.

Now, looking back at things.  I was 18 years old.  I had been going to gigs for around two years, mostly at the Glasgow Apollo where the established acts with chart hits rocked up, although I’d been to a few smaller shows in other venues including the various student unions in the city.  I knew little of The Fall beyond some early singles, most of which I had enjoyed…..but the album just didn’t resonate for the most part.  I quickly dismissed The Fall, and it would take a couple more years before I took them seriously again, thanks to their songs being played every now and again at the alternative disco in the students union of Strathclyde University, my regular haunt in 1984/85.

Forty years on, and having all sorts of different reference points on which to now draw, none of which were the least bit familiar to me back then, I can appreciate that Hex Enduction Hour is a wonderful piece of work, probably my favourite of all the studio albums. I now have a copy on vinyl, not the original version, but a 2019 re-press by Cherry Red Records in which three slabs of 12″ vinyl contain the album along with live recordings and Peel Sessions from September 1981, with a bonus 7″ single also thrown in.  Oh, and it all comes on a fabulously eye-catching green and white splattered vinyl…

Some background if you’re not aware. Mark E Smith thought this would be the band’s final album before the band totally imploded. Two tracks were initially recorded in Iceland, in September 1981, as part of a trip to play three gigs in that country, The remainder came from sessions in a disused cinema in Hitchin, some 38 miles north of London, in December 1981. The band had the same line-up as had played on Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul, and following on from the success of the sessions for that 45, Richard Mazda was in the producer’s chair in Hitchin.

It came out on Korova Records to fairly enthusiastic reviews, and thanks to the band’s increasing popularity, became their first single or album to make the official as opposed to indie charts, peaking at #71. Rather incredibly, none of its tracks made it onto Peel’s Festive rundown, as voted by listeners, at the end of the year, although a later single (and subject of the next edition of this series) did scrape in at #58.

But returning to the subject matter in hand.

Hex Enduction Hour has many wonderful moments, including loads I despised back in 1982. Like this:-

mp3: The Fall – Hip Priest

Seriously, how was I meant to get this in 1982 when I was enjoying and dancing to New Order, The Jam, Scritti Politti, Associates, The Clash, The Cure, Simple Minds, Blancmange, Yazoo, Echo & The Bunnymen and Aztec Camera – all of whom feature prominently and regularly in the ’82 Peel rundown, whereas these songs are nowhere to be seen:-

mp3: The Fall – Jawbone and The Air Rifle
mp3: The Fall – Mere Pseud Mag Ed
mp3: The Fall – Just Step S’ways

Looking back at the Night Moves set list on 1 April 1982, all the tracks on offer today, except for Jawbone, were aired, which is at odds with my recollection that the gig was mostly stuff that I didn’t know. Which just shows that I really didn’t do my pre-gig preparations properly.

The joke is on me. I should be still been dining out on the fact that I had seen an astonishing double-bill, for probably less than £3, of a band from Scotland set to soon take the indie music world by storm, and a tremendous line-up of The Fall at the height of their early powers.

If I could find a time travel machine, and offered a fresh opportunity, I’d certainly approach things very differently. I’d still have that C90 tape, for one……..

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 8)

“We went into a studio in London just to do Lie Dream and Fantastic Life. This was the first thing we did with two drummers, though it’s mostly Karl on the single. I was demoted to percussion (both drummers were on Fantastic Life though). Lie Dream features Richard Mazda on saxophone, trying to emulate Dave Tucker’s clarinet part as per the Peel session.”

Paul Hanley, quoted in the booklet which accompanied The Fall boxset, released in 2007.

You’ll recall from Part 5 in this series that the then 16-year old Paul Hanley, brother of bassist Steve, had been brought into The Fall on drums to replace the Mike Leigh. One year on, and the latest change in the line-up didn’t involve any sackings or musicians walking off in a huff, but instead saw Mark E Smith decide the band would best be served by having two drummers.

The new bloke wasn’t actually new at all, as Karl Burns, who had been part of the band in 1977/78, became the first musician to return to the fold, and as you can see from Paul’s above recollection, was given a prominent role. I’ve occasionally wondered if MES had actually wanted to get rid of Paul altogether, but decided he couldn’t run the risk of antagonising Steve Hanley, whose contributions, on stage and in the studio, were becoming increasingly important.

Or maybe he was just being practical…..Karl Burns had answered an emergency call to help out the band when Paul Hanley, on the account of his age, was denied a working visa for a tour of the USA, and keeping him on afterwards was returning the favour.  In any event, the two-drummer line-up was cemented, for a short while anyway!

MES had cut ties with Rough Trade after the release of Slates in April 1981.  I can’t be entirely sure, but it may well have been the case that the band convened in the London studio to cut this new single in the summer of ’81 without having any record company deal in place.  I’m surmising this, as the next move was to a newly established indie label – Kamera Records – and that Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul/Fantastic Life was the first 45 to be issued on the label, in November 1981.

No matter what, it’s an absolute stomper of a song.  MES was at pains, a couple of years later in an interview with NME, to explain that far for ridiculing the Northern Soul scene and those involved in it, he was paying a tribute:-

“That song actually did create quite a bit of resentment in the North because people thought it was being snobby and horrible about the old soul boys, which it was never about anyway. Because I was brought up with people that were into Northern Soul five years before anybody down here (in London) had even heard about it. But they’ve all grown out of it, which is what the song is about, but it wasn’t putting them down at all. If anything, it was glorifying them, but not in the format of, where are those soul boys that used to be here?”

Richard Mazda, as well as contributing the saxophone parts, was also in the producer’s chair.  The other thing worth noting is that Marc Riley wasn’t required to contribute on guitar, being relegated somewhat to keyboards only.

mp3: The Fall – Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul

The b-side, Fantastic Life, has long been one of my favourite Fall tracks of them all.   It has both a rollocking tune and a funny, crazy and sing-a-long lyric, albeit it takes a fair bit of working out…..thankfully there are websites out there nowadays to confirm and/or correct things.   I’d never have worked out these lines, from just after the point in the song where it changes from the fantastic life stories to the fantastic lie boasts…..

The Siberian mushroom Santa
Was in fact Rasputin’s brother
And he didst walk round Whitechapel
To further the religion of forgiven sin murder
Fantastic lie!

It would, if you want my opinion, have been an excellent single of its own making, but MES wasn’t the type to hoard things for later on. Once it was recorded…bang….get it out there as quickly as possible and to hell with the commercial aspects of things.

mp3: The Fall – Fantastic Life

The previous single on Rough Trade had got to #2 in the Indie Charts, with MES firmly believing that the label didn’t work hard enough for the band.  Casino Soul got to #5. Would it have managed to crossover to mainstream success if he’d stayed put? We’ll never know…..

Next up for The Fall was album #4, released in March 1982 by Kamera Records.  Said album is going to feature in this series next week………

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 7)

And now to something which isn’t technically an album, and so qualifies for inclusion in this series.

Slates was released on 27 April 1981.   It has six tracks on 10″ vinyl, but wasn’t eligible for either of  the single or album charts, being too long for the former and too short for the latter. (It is 24 minutes in running length).  It was, however, included in the UK Independent Singles chart, where it reached #3, but it was also ranked at #13 in the best albums of 1981 by the NME.

It was originally put on sale for just £2, (nowadays you can expect to pay more than £30, even for a battered copy of the vinyl), and was, without any question, another way in which MES tested the patience of everyone at Rough Trade. It’s a recording which is has long been among the very favourites of long-standing fans of The Fall while also being one that more recent fans cite as being among the best of the back-catalogue.

It does seem that the plan, when convening at Berwick Street Studio in London was to come up with a standard 7″ single, although which tracks would have made that up remain unclear.  I’m guessing that the label would have pushed for Fit and Working Again, with it being the most immediately accessible of the songs, and I’m sure they would have been horrified if presented with An Older Lover Etc. as it is the sort of song that would be of appeal to a very small minority of listeners, with most reaching for the off button quite quickly, or, if they stuck it out to the end, would wonder, ‘what the fuck?’

In all likelihood, it would have been Prole Art Threat that everyone initially had in mind, given it isn’t too far removed from the frantic energy put on display on the most recent singles. But given that MES was always looking to move onwards, maybe not….

The other three songs on Slates are great listens.  It’s worth noting that, thanks to Rough Trade’s US arm, Slates was available in some shops on the other side of the Atlantic (where it retailed for $5), and it can be no coincidence that its tunes, and in particular, Leave The Capitol, would become the sort of templates for the way that indie music of the non-polished variety was set to go over the next decade or so.  Pavement anyone???

The musicians on Slates are the same as on Totally Wired, indicating that the band was enjoying something of a settled period, although it would later transpire that  MES was falling out on a frequent basis with Marc Riley.

mp3: The Fall – Middle Mass
mp3: The Fall – An Older Lover Etc.
mp3: The Fall – Prole Art Threat
mp3: The Fall – Fit and Working Again
mp3: The Fall – Slates, Slags, Etc.
mp3: The Fall – Leave The Capitol

Production credits are shared among Geoff Travis, Grant Showbiz and Adrian Sherwood, which maybe explains why the sound is, for the most part, cleaner and more polished than previous releases. It was perhaps for this reason alone that MES decided he’d had enough of Rough Trade and so, within a matter of weeks after Slates hit the shops, the ties had been severed (for now!).

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 6)

mp3 : The Fall – Totally Wired

This is the first time in this series that I’ve put the song ahead of the words I want to offer up.  It was the band’s sixth single, released on Rough Trade in September 1980.  I included it as part of the very first ICA dedicated to The Fall, back in August 2015, and said this:-

One of the very finest post-punk/new wave songs of all time. It might sound a bit rough’n’ready nowadays, but for something that is now 35 years of age it still feels awfully fresh. I’m sure every alt/indie/punk band on either side of the Atlantic have been influenced in some shape or form by this

Totally Wired is now more than 40 years old. It was recorded at Cargo Studios in Rochdale in July 1980. This time around, Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson stayed away and production duties, according to one of the websites devoted to the band, are co-credited to Kay Carroll (band manager) and John Brierley (owner of Cargo Studios). The single itself, which comes with minimal design in terms of a sleeve and information, doesn’t give away anything about credits other than saying the music was the work of Riley, Scanlon, Handley and Smith, with the lyrics being credited to Smith.

Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter of the song, the BBC were unwilling to put Totally Wired on any of its lists for daytime or even nighttime radio, meaning that John Peel continued to plough a lonely field. I still maintain, all these years later, that if this had gained any sort of exposure, it would have smashed the charts as it was the chorus made it that sort of song that would cross over very easily. It would have been hilarious to have been able to hear young kids chanting ‘I’m Totally Wired’ at the top of their voices in playgrounds up and down the country….

As it was, the single, like its predecessor, had to make do with reaching #2 in the Indie Charts.

Fun fact…..it was kept off the #1 spot by the reissue of Paranoid by Black Sabbath on the NEMS label which spent five weeks at the top in August/September 1980.

Here’s the b-side:-

mp3: The Fall – Putta Block

The same credits as the a-side apply here. But it’s all a bit misleading. Putta Block is a very strange release. In fact, strange doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

The first one minute and twenty seconds are taken up by a live recording of what, at the time was an unreleased song, but would reveal itself as The NWRA when the next album came out. It gives way to a lively and very new wave sounding studio recording, which is itself the song, Putta Block.

But that’s far from the end of things. The studio track lasts just under two-and-a-half minutes before it suddenly stops and another live song is segued in, this time we hear MES ranting a bit as the band play the intro to Rowche Rumble. This, however, ends very abruptly after 20 seconds, and almost in homage to a badly recorded bootleg, it goes into another snippet, this time to pick up the very ending of Cary Grant’s Wedding which had been released on the Totale’s Turns album mentioned in last week’s post. It all ends with MES singing/chanting ‘What Is This Shit?’

Bonkers. Genuinely bonkers, and I’d love to know what the Rough Trade folk said to one another when they first played it.

Another fun fact. Putta Block was never played live after it was released (surprise, surprise).

Oh, here’a final fun fact for today. Cary Grant’s Wedding has never been recorded for a studio album, EP or single.

The only other info on the back of the sleeve of the 45 was was that neither Totally Wired nor Putta Block were going to appear on the soon-to-be released album ‘After The Gramme’. As it turned out, this would be the case, although the album would be re-titled ‘Grotesque (After The Gramme)’ by the time it hit the shops in November 1980.

Hope I’m not losing too many of you already…..this series still has a lot of mileage ahead.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 5)

The fifth single to be released by The Fall reached the shops in July 1980. It was on Rough Trade Records, which in some ways seemed strange given that Mark E Smith wasn’t a fan of anything to do with London while the business ethos followed by those involved with the record label and the record shop would surely have been something he sneered at quite openly.

It wasn’t their first release for the label with that distinction going to the live album Totale’s Turns (It’s Now or Never) which came out in May 1980.  Here’s how that album has been described:-

Featuring recordings from two grotty northern club dates in late 1979, adulterated with a couple of outtakes, The Fall’s first record for London-based hippy-capitalists Rough Trade was a deliberately shambolic collection.  A loyalty test disguised as an album, Totale’s Turns was a reminder to their new label that The Fall continued to operate entirely on their own terms.

Jim Wirth, Uncut magazine

Despite being a ramshackle effort in which the band struggled with their sound at venues which were far off the beaten track, playing to a mixture of hostile and bored audience members, the album, retailing at a very cheap price, topped the indie charts on its release, no doubt pleasing Geoff Travis and his cohorts at Rough Trade.  There was, surely, much to anticipate from the first new studio material.

There was, surprise surprise, a line-up change from the line-up which had recorded Fiery Jack and it was a significant one with the 16-year-old Paul Hanley, brother of bassist Steve, coming in on drums to replace the now departed Mike Leigh.  The significance of this change will become increasingly apparent as this series rolls on.

The Fall might have been on a London-based label, but it was Cargo Studios in Rochdale where they assembled on 8 May 1980.  I’ve a number of friends from Rochdale and I have a lot of affection for the town, but it’s a place which, when I first visited it in the mid-90s, had pubs populated by individuals who terrified me, and I thought I’d seen everything growing up in Glasgow.  I can’t begin to imagine how uncomfortable Geoff Travis and his productionn sidekick Mayo Thomson (a Texan who had been part of a 60s avant-garde/psychedelia outfit called Red Krayola) would have been with their surroundings.

No matter what, the results delivered a triumph:-

mp3: The Fall – How I Wrote Elastic Man

It’s another of the country ‘n’ northern classics that were referred to last week by chaval, a phrase which really tickled Jonny over there in Los Angeles.  A cracking tune which is accompanied by one of Smith’s cleverest, funniest and most surreal lyric:-

I’m eternally grateful
To my past influences
But they will not free me
I am not diseased
All the people ask me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

Life should be full of strangeness
Like a rich painting
But it gets worse day by day
I’m a potential DJ
A creeping wreck
A mental wretch
Everybody asks me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

His soul hurts though it’s well filled up
The praise received is mentally sent back
Or taken apart
The Observer magazine just about sums him up
E.g. self-satisfied, smug

I’m living a fake
People say, “You are entitled to and great.”
But I haven’t wrote for 90 days
I’ll get a good deal and I’ll go away
Away from the empty brains that ask
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

His last work was “Space Mystery” in the Daily Mail
An article in Leather Thighs
The only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes

So I’m resigned to bed
I keep bottles and comics stuffed by its head
Fuck it, let the beard grow
I’m too tired
I’ll do it tomorrow
The fridge is sparse
But in the town
They’ll stop me in the shoppes
Verily they’ll track me down
Touch my shoulder and ignore my dumb mission
And sick red faced smile
And they will ask me
And they will ask me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

And yes, he does sing Plastic Man all the way through……….

The b-side is much more of the same, and as such makes for one of the most enjoyable and enduring of the earliest 45s

mp3: The Fall – City Hobgoblins

The single reached #2 in the Indie Singles chart. Very few people, outside of John Peel, were playing The Fall on the radio, and Rough Trade’s distribution efforts were geared up mainly to the smaller shops across the UK, meaning that anyone relying on the larger retailers and the chain stores would have some trouble finding copies.

Worth also mentioning that, despite being a huge favourite with the fans (or more likely because it was a huge favourite with the fans), How I Wrote Elastic Man was only ever played live at some 20 shows after its release as a single, and never after October 1981. The b-side, on the other hand, was resurrected for tours in 1986 and 1987.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 4)

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.

mp3: The Fall – Fiery Jack

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:-

mp3: The Fall – 2nd Dark Age
mp3: The Fall – Psykick Dancehall #2

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.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 3)

The time immediately after the second single was filled with touring as well as the recording and release of the debut album, Live At The Witch Trials, in March 1979, after which The Fall convened at Cargo Studios in Rochdale, less than ten miles north-east of Manchester, to begin work on a new 45.

The same five musicians as who had recorded It’s The New Thing/Various Times stayed together for the debut album.

But by 11 June 1979, it was again all change, with Karl Burns and Martin Bramah taking their leave (temporarily, as it turned out), with the newcomers being Mike Leigh (drums), Craig Scanlon (guitars) and Steve Hanley (bass), meaning that the band was now six-strong with Marc Riley moving from bass to guitar, while Mark E Smith and Yvonne Pawlett remained as vocal and keyboards, respectively.

It’s worth recalling just how young all the members of this line-up of The Fall were at the time of this recording – Smith (22), Scanlon (19), Hanley (20), Riley (17), Pawlett (20) and Leigh (24) – which goes some way perhaps to explaining the energy they were all able to bring to things, as well as the inexperience and immaturity to cope with any adversity…..of which there was plenty!

It was also the case that Riley, Scanlon and Hanley had played together in a band prior to Riley joining The Fall, and this, albeit limited experience, certainly helped drive the band along superbly for a spell, not least with the new 45:-

mp3: The Fall – Rowche Rumble

One of the most instantly recognisable of the band’s early tunes. It opens with some pounding drums, over which MES begins his rant about drug addiction via prescription pills, and it’s only after some 25 seconds that the rest of the band join in, playing as if their very existence depended on them delivering a top-notch performance (and let’s face it, given MES’s trigger-happy finger, there’s every chance that a sub-standard effort would see one or more of them get the bullet). It quickly turns into the most majestic cacophony, perfectly designed for body-slamming down at the front of the live audiences, albeit it never stood a chance of getting any radio play outside the usual suspect of John Peel Esq.

The b-side offers a real contrast, a meandering middle-paced tune that starts off quite conventionally, until Pawlett adds a deliberately out-of-key and out-of-tune piano line which then really goes on to dominate things as Smith sings about things he’s seen, including the madness in his area.  He also manages to fit in a self-deprecating reference

“Can’t remember who I’ve sacked, just stupid faces looking bad
The madness in my area

mp3: The Fall – In My Area

It’s really, all things told, one for the devotees rather than anyone seeking an easy route into the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall.

It was, again, issued by Step Forward Records. It didn’t chart.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 2)

There were just three months between the release of the debut single by The Fall and its follow-up, but there were already a couple of changes in personnel, with Yvonne Pawlett (keyboards) and Marc Riley (bass) coming in respectively for Una Baines and Tony Friel, to line-up alongside Mark E Smith (vocals), Martin Bramah (guitars) and Karl Burns (drums).

The facts.

Recorded on 9 September 1978 at Surrey Sound Studios which were located in Leatherhead, a town some 20 miles south of London.  The studios had been created in 1974 by Nigel Grey, a qualified medical doctor with a passion for music, initially as a basic and very affordable four-track set-up, before upgrading to 16-track in 1977.

It was inevitable given the fact that most singers and bands who used Surrey Sound were inexperienced, for Nigel Grey, to get involved in engineering and/or producing anyone who came through the doors of his studio.  He is listed as the engineer on this particular 45 with production being credited to The Fall, with some acknowledged help from the engineer.

Three months later, in the same week that The Fall’s second single was released, Nigel Grey’s life changed forever as another new band went to Surrey Sound to record their debut album, one which would go into sell in the millions and make pop/rock stars of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland.  Indeed, The Police would record their first three albums at Surrey Sound, while others, such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, would also work with him as a producer in later years.

mp3: The Fall – It’s The New Thing
mp3: The Fall – Various Times

It’s probably just a coincidence that Nigel Grey worked on one of The Fall’s earliest examples of a catchy single, one that’s initially driven by a simple keyboard beat, before the new 17-year-old bass player (and former roadie) shows no fear alongside his more experienced bandmates, to create a single that, if it had come along a few years later when the band was slightly better known and had a larger fanbase, could well have been a hit. As it was, by May 1979, they had played it live for the very last time, an early indication that MES was always keen to continually move forward and not ever get nostalgic for his old material.

The b-side is quite different, being a 5-minute plus effort in which the musicians provide more than a hint of their new wave influences while MES delivers an extraordinary and beguiling lyric, spread out over three parts of the past, present and the future, albeit the future was only two years hence in 1980. All five musicians get a writing credit for the b-side, while the single is the work of Smith and Brammah.

It was, like the debut, issued by Step Forward Records. Again, It didn’t chart.

JC

THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING NEW SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 1)

 

If there’s one thing that the look back at all the R.E.M. singles has taught me, then it’s to make sure that you have a true fan on board when taking a look at the career of a much-loved band, particularly when :-

(a) they have been, or were, part of the fabric of essential music for decades;and

(b) my own efforts will be hampered by not actually having a copy of all the records due to be featured in any series.

Let’s face it, without The Robster on board, many of the Sundays over the past year or so would have been a washout.

I’ve thought long and hard about who next to shine the spotlight on. Prior to R.E.M., the singles series had been devoted to The Auteurs/Luke Haines, Simple Minds, Marc Almond, Paul Haig, Grinderman, New Order, XTC, Undertones, Buzzcocks, Cinerama, The Clash, The Style Council, The Jam, Altered Images and James.

It’s not too shabby a list, but there is one band I’ve long wanted to cover but always felt it would be too much of a challenge. Thankfully, Drew, doyen of From Across The Kitchen Table, (which has been in abeyance since the end of last year), has answered my plea for help as I’m not perfectly placed to take on the fresh challenge single-handedly.

Yup. The aim is to focus on the recorded output of The Fall, going back to the debut single in August 1978 and meandering our way through the following 40 years.

The thing is, I really have no idea what road the series will follow.

Drew, quite rightly, doesn’t want to be restricted solely to looking at singles as they don’t really give a true indication of things. At the same time, if the series was to try and look at every release, be they singles, EPs, studio albums, live albums, compilations and Peel Sessions, it would be akin to painting the Forth Rail Bridge (i.e., never ending).

So, get yourselves comfortably and safely seated, but fasten your safety belts as we get set to take you through this wonderful and frightening new series. Here’s how it all started:-

mp3: The Fall – Psycho Mafia
mp3: The Fall – Bingo-Master
mp3: The Fall – Repetition

The facts.

Recorded late 1977 in Manchester but not released until 11 August 1978 on Step Forward Records. It didn’t chart.

The players were Mark E Smith (vocals), Martin Bramah (guitar), Tony Friel (bass), Karl Burns (drums) and Una Baines (keyboards). All five members are credited with the writing of Repetition. Smith and Friel are responsible for Psycho Mafia, while Smith and Baines wrote Bingo Master. One interesting thing to note is that both Friel and Baines had left the band before the debut single was released….but they wouldn’t be the last musicians eligible to have ‘ex-The Fall’ after their name.

Nostalgically, it’s fair to say it really was something of a sensational debut, but it didn’t quite feel that way back in 1978. In the era of post-punk and just about anything being able to go, the harshness of the playing and the unusual vocal delivery did make it a challenging listen. If the band had broken up there and then, it would likely have been highly regarded as a cult single. Better songs would quickly follow, but all three of these remain essential and, while the next five different decades would see a continual re-invention and evolution, it is nevertheless a reasonable statement to make that these are damn near the perfect calling card as any type of introduction to The Fall.

Welcome aboard. One or both of us will be back next Sunday.

Oh, and if anyone wants to contribute at any point, they would be most welcome. But, please remember, the plan is to do things in a chronological fashion, and so it might be that your words, thoughts and promptings will be kept in a holding pattern until permission to land is granted.

JC and Drew

PS – another reminder for those who still might need their weekly R.E.M. fix that The Robster has an ongoing weekly series over at his place.  Click here for a Star Trek type transportation…..