Looking back at the Norwich gigs of The Fall’s Mark E Smith
PUBLISHED: 11:39 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 25 January 2018
Mark E Smith, the outspoken singer of the groundbreaking Manchester post-punk band The Fall, has died aged 60. Regular visitors to Norwich over the decades, we look back at recent gigs including one marking his long time champion John Peel.
Mark E Smith, the “hip priest” and pugnacious, outspoken singer of the groundbreaking Manchester post-punk band The Fall, has died aged 60.
But Smith was more than just a founding member, and The Fall were more than a band. He and his constantly shifting amalgam of backing musicians had been making music since 1976.
He was their driving force, the aggressive general, a ranting rebellious boss who embraced chaos and often felt the desire to poke his tongue out - most notably when discussing the death of John Peel live on Newsnight in 2004.
The Fall were not a band, but a cult, it was often said. Except not quite a cult because most cults don’t want you to leave, but with Smith, you often did.
For four decades the man hired and fired dozens of musicians at will, and it was not just those on stage who had to fear for their jobs - he once reportedly fired a sound technician for ordering a salad.
His band was frequent visitors to Norwich over the years most recently when they visited Norwich Arts Centre in April 2015.
The group had gone through over 60 personnel changes by that time; but the core on that visit had on board since mid 2007, marking one of the most stable periods during the group’s history. They had just release their 31st album, Sub-Lingual Tablet.
The Fall also appeared at the Waterfront in May 2013 a gig at which they produced a blistering set but one that was notable for Mark E Smith barking into two microphones before disappearing in typically idiosyncratic style to sing the entirety of one song sat at the back of the stage behind the monitors.
Perhaps the most notable of The Fall’s recent appearances in Norwich was a special fundraising gig in 2012 for the John Peel Centre of Creative Arts in Stowmarket.
The gig at Epic Studios in 2012, which saw them joined by those other John Peel favourites The Undertones, along with local talents Bearsuit and Dingus Khan, was also the launch event for the John Peel Festival of New Music.
John Peel memorably said of The Fall: “They are always different, they are always the same” – possibly the most perfect characterisation of any band in history.
The Fall did 24 sessions for Peel’s radio show between 1978 and 2004. They recorded the first in May 1978, four months before the delayed release of their debut EP. It marked the start of a long relationship between Peel and the band, which would often premiere their new material on his radio shows.
The organisers of the festival worked with John Peel’s widow, Sheila Ravenscroft, to help establish both the new venue and the event as a permanent legacy to the late DJ.
She recalled: “It was a great success and helped to raise a lot of money for the centre. Mark had actually got in touch to say he would do whatever he could to help. It was a bit of a surprise actually because it isn’t the type of thing that you would have expected them to do.”
She said she was sad to learn of his death and that she and John had attended numerous gigs by The Fall over the years as the late DJ championed the band.
“They had a huge amount of sessions for the programme and he was definitely a long time favourite of John’s,” she added. “They were totally unique and I think that was part of their appeal. I met Mark several times but he was not the sort of person you’d talk to for long periods. He was a one off. He never comprised. The Fall were what they were, and he refused to compromise, and I think that is what appealed to John about them.”
Iain Ross, guitarist with Norwich arty indie-pop band Bearsuit, recalls: “Mark was as weird and difficult and unique as you would expect. Apparently he mistakenly thought our drummer Joe had been in his band at some point. To be fair, he’d had a great many drummers.
“I vaguely remember him roaming the corridors of the venue clutching a Tesco bag full of beers. He spent much of the set behind the guitar amps, shouting. It was quite enthralling, if uncomfortable to watch.
“We always thought we were a weird band, until we played with The Fall. His refusal to compromise in his music made him one of the most innovative and frustrating figures in pop I’ve ever seen, and he has no modern equivalent.”
Inspired more by literary giants than musicians, Smith was an extraordinary lyricist with an aggressive bite. His writing style often changed. Sometimes intricate stories laced with sci-fi madness, other times wacky one-liners which pierced through the chaos.
Born into a working-class family in Broughton, Salford, on March 5 1957, Smith grew up in Prestwich. He first found work in a meat factory and then as a shipping clerk on the Manchester docks where on his lunch breaks he would write music.
In 1976 he quit the docks for The Fall after attending a Sex Pistols Gig. He was, in his own words, inspired because “whatever I did would have to be better than most of the so-called punk sh*** I was hearing at the time”.
He launched the band alongside friends Martin Bramah, Tony Friel and Una Baines - who missed their first gig as she could not afford a keyboard. Their first two albums, Live At The Witch Trials and Dragnet, arrived in 1979. The former came as a whirlwind punk record while the latter lost the aggression of Bramah’s guitar as he became an early member of The Fallen club (although he returned in 1989).
It was an important reshuffle as former bassist Marc Riley’s foreboding sound is largely present in their continuing sound.
Simon Wolstencroft, bandmate and drummer with The Fall, told the BBC: “(He was) a very good friend to me. He really looked after me in my 11-year tenure with the band, from 1986 and through 1997.
“Always made me laugh, and what an iconic singer to have worked for. I’m very saddened by the news, although it’s not totally unexpected at this point, because we heard he was very ill.
The musician said of Smith’s impact: “Basically John Peel played the band all the time and I was lucky enough to do a lot of Radio 1 sessions with him. It’s just so sad, really.
“Of course, his influences travel a long, long way to bands like Pulp, and new bands now like Cabbage, and many other bands have been influenced by him. It’s a sad day.”
Despite years of shows, Smith revealed in a recent interview that the nerves never left him. “I get it bad for hours before,” he said. “All these cities I go to, I never see them. They may be the most beautiful places in the world but I’ll just usually go to the nearest bar. I need a couple of hours by myself.”
Set List at The Fall’s final Norwich gig at Norwich Arts Centre, April 26, 2015
My Door Is Never
Venice With The Girls
Dedication Not Medication
First One Today
Auto Chip 2014–2016
Theme From Sparta F.C.
Weather Report 2