The Fall The Hippest Priest
Published Jan 01, 2006An interview with the Fall's Mark E. Smith may seem like it has the potential to pick one of the great mind's of music in the last 30 years, but tell that to the Loaded writer who reportedly received one of Smith's cigarette butts in the eye after asking the wrong question. Or how about the time he pulled a knife on an interviewer, or threw an NME hack's tape recorder (or was it a notebook) into a pond? The truth is Smith is an easy target for provoking a livid outburst, but he's an even bigger target for people and most recently the internet to spread rumours about (he used to be a former head of the CIA's confidante, didn't you hear?). Unfortunately, Smith wasn't available for an interview because of scheduling difficulties, but he's also said time and time again that "I don't want any of that retro crap," so maybe it's best just to let his past speak for himself. Throughout his 28 years as the front-man for the inimitable, ever-changing and unpredictable band the Fall, Smith has provided the music world with some of its finest mishaps, quotes and best of all, music. Constantly perceived as an incoherent, alcoholic grump, anyone who appreciates the Fall's music (trust me, it's not always so easy) will quote Smith's mantra "Hip Priest" and tell you "he is not appreciated" but he is a musical genius, despite an admitted distaste for "proper" musicians and an ignorance of music himself. However, through his love of rockabilly and Krautrock and his loathing for most other things, the "Northern white crap who talks back" has carved himself an extraordinary career that boasts an estimated 52 alumni, 49 singles, 25 studio albums, 25 live albums, 37 compilations, 24 Peel Sessions, two solo spoken word albums and countless bootlegs that can rival the Grateful Dead and Phish in numbers. As the Fall's number one fan, the late great DJ John Peel said it best: "They are always different, they are always the same. The band against whom all others must be judged."
1957 to 1976
Mark Edward Smith is born March 5, 1957 in Broughton, North Manchester. The oldest of four children, Mark is also the only boy in the family, something that immediately shapes him as an outsider. Growing up in Salford (a town just outside of central Manchester), his family doesn't purchase a record player until he turns 14, causing him to take a late interest in music. With a sharp uncompromising wit he sets his nonconformist mould that will eventually pave the way for his career by finding solace in more obscure bands at the time like the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Can, who will become significant influences in his musical output. In 1973, Mark decides he's better off leaving grammar school and enrols at St. John's College where he befriends Una Baines, however, both struggle with finances and leave not long after. He joins the working class by taking a job as a clerk down at the docks, which gives him time to work on his short stories and poems. One day at home Smith's sister introduces him and Baines to Martin Bramah and Tony Friel, which soon blossoms into a friendship based around a love of music. The foursome begin hanging out at a flat on Kingswood Road in Prestwich, which serves as a creative breeding ground for poetry and music. In July 1976, Smith and company attend two gigs by the Sex Pistols at the Lester Free Trade Hall, which play key roles in the rise of not only their imminent band, but also Britain's burgeoning punk scene. Smith, however, downplays the importance of the happenings in his autobiography The Fall (co-authored by Mick Middles) admitting: "Yeah, it was crap and anyone who says differently is lying. But what it did was break things down. We came away certain that we could do a lot better than that." The band begin with Smith reading poetry and playing guitar, which quickly takes shape into something proper. They decide to name themselves after Albert Camus' The Outsiders, but hear of two other bands with that name. The band then throw around the name of Flyman and the Fall with the idea of using a concept where Smith dresses up as a fly, reads poetry and ends every sentence with "bzzzzz," but instead they avoid disaster and chop the name down to another Camus title: The Fall.
1977 to 1978
An underground scene begins to take shape fuelled by the rise of the Buzzcocks and a bingo hall-converted bar called The Electric Circus, which plays host to a number of crucial punk gigs including another Sex Pistols gig and a riotous performance by the Damned at the end of the previous year. Though punk and the underground are coming to the attention of the entire country, the Fall are swift to detach themselves from the overwhelming punk movement. "We weren't part of any fucking scene we weren't even part of our own scene," Smith says in his book. The initial line-up finds Smith playing guitar with Bramah on vocals, Friel on bass and Baines on keyboards, but it doesn't take long to realise Smith is not a gifted guitarist so he switches roles with Bramah. His unique ranting vocal delivery is an attempt to reflect where he came from, and immediately raises doubt over whether he's suitable for the job. Smith's lack of professionalism drives the band not just early on but also throughout their career telling The Wire: "I can't stick musicians. I've thought about this. I can't stand them, and being stuck in a studio with them I think that's my strength: I can hear what they can't." The band get involved with the Manchester Musicians Collective who organise meetings and book shows for liberal-minded musicians. Smith finds the environment to be an encouraging one, as the collective's co-founder Dick Witts turns him onto more German and avant-garde music. Witts also offers the Fall their first gig, which forces the band to find a drummer. They find an ad in the Manchester Evening News placed by a drummer only known as "Dave," an insurance salesman with a penchant for right-wing activism. The gig goes on without Baines, who is denied a loan to buy a keyboard and watches amongst a small crowd consisted mainly of Buzzcocks members. Two months later, Karl Burns who will play a major role in the infamous "in through the out door" reputation of Smith's band by re-joining the Fall three more times becomes the full-time drummer. Baines meets Kay Carroll, a divorced mother of two who left her family to become a nurse in Prestwich and eventually the Fall's manager. Smith becomes busier with the Fall and quits his job at the docks and signs on the dole (the British version of welfare). In November, the band head into a studio to record their debut EP, which is funded by Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon. They struggle to find an interested label and it takes them ten months to see it released. Smith tells Volume in 1992: "Nobody liked it. They wanted to make it new wave. It was very rough and all that. Out of tune and that. It was good. Stark, sort of." Late in December Friel leaves after a triumphant headline gig called Rock Against Racism and is replaced by Marc Riley (who will later become BBC Radio One personality "Lard"). Friel's departure is a result of the growing dictatorship in the band led by Mark and Kay. Smith fires Baines and replaces her with Yvonne Pawlett in a move to make this band more accessible. BBC Radio One DJ John Peel discovers the Fall in what will become a long-time love affair in which he will declare them his favourite band. He invites the band to participate in one of his renowned Peel Sessions in June and again in December; when it's all said and done, Smith and Peel will record 24 sessions together in 26 years. The band sign to Step Forward Records and finally release Bingo-Master's Break-Out! EP in August to rave reviews. Melody Maker calls it "marvellously perverse" and "a brilliant, uncomfortable observation on modern life," setting the tone for what will be a career of music that is filled of both descriptions. The band begin recording their debut album without a dime in their pockets, crashing on spare mattresses and going days without eating. Departing members: "Dave," Una Baines, Jonnie Brown, Tony Friel, Eric Random (5).
1979 to 1980
Their debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, is released in March and lays down the framework for the band's career: unabashed, ingenuous and unlike anything out there. In a brazen move, Smith cans the rest of the band immediately and replaces them with guitarist Craig Scanlon and bassist Stephen Hanley (who would both uncharacteristically stay with the band for a number of years), as well as drummer Mike Leigh. Smith tells Volume: "I didn't like any of them. I never thought the line-up would last. Tony Friel wanted to be like Weather Report. He used to want to do bass solos and all that. Martin was into Television. Karl was into Rush. I was into Can, more into sound than music noise, you know." The Fall waste no time in getting back into the studio and they release their darker second album, Dragnet, only seven months after their first. The studio find the recording to be so objectionable they ask for the album not to be released to save face. The band ignore the plea and include an ambiguous statement in the sleeve credits from one Roman Totale XVII saying: "This master-tape is the result of experiments which took place in the remote Welsh hills one autumn I have not long left now but I urge the finder of this master-tape' never to unleash in on humanity!" Within the next seven months, the Fall sign to Geoff Travis's Rough Trade and release their first live album Totale's Turns (It's Now or Never) the start of a string of live albums that will follow Smith throughout his career. Hanley's brother Paul joins the band as a second drummer. 1980 operates on a prolific schedule releasing material every two months with seminal non-album singles "How I Wrote Elastic Man" and "Totally Wired" following in July and September before their third studio album Grotesque (After the Gramme) drops in November. Departing members: Martin Bramah, Karl Burns, Steve Davies, Mike Leigh, Yvonne Pawlett (10).
1981 to 1982
Mini-album Slates appears in April 1981 and is the last record on Rough Trade. Since the relationship with the label was rocky from the start, the band decide it's time to severe the ties with Travis who they feel is a "soft, boring hippy" simply looking for "pop perfection." Distraught and fed up with the music industry, having to split the money between six parties and being misunderstood, Smith expects the band's fourth album proper to be their last. They fly to Reykajavik, Iceland to record (only the fourth non-Icelandic band to do so at that point) in a "lava igloo" resulting in their crawling epic "Hip Priest" and the self-explanatory "Iceland." Hex Enduction Hour proves to be their pivotal moment and a bold testimonial on the miserable state of Britain, declaring that there is no culture and comparing the BBC to a Nazi camp. The album is also one of the first to push the running time over one hour, something unheard of in music at this point. NME calls it a "masterpiece," The Independent praises it as "one of the great albums of all time" and Smith remembers it as "the only one I like from '80s." Though released on the small, struggling Kamera label, the band receives some unexpected help from one of the unlikeliest sources: Tamla Motown. A London representative of the label takes an interest and offers them a contract on the basis that Motown approves of the new record. Smith gives them a copy of Hex, but upon hearing the first track, "The Classical" and its lyrics of "Where are the obligatory niggers?/Hey there fuck face!" the deal is retracted and sent with a disapproving letter to boot. Mini-album Room to Live in October fulfils their deal with Kamera. Departing members: Arthur Cadman, Kay Caroll, Marc Riley, Dave Tucker (14).
1983 to 1984
During a stop in Chicago on their U.S. tour, Smith meets American Laura Elisa "Brix" Smith, a Californian who just so happens to play the bass. The two hit it off and eventually marry before Brix joins the band as a guitarist, something Smith admits was not his idea, but everyone else's. In a letter to friend and biographer Middles, Smith writes: "Brix is the best thing that ever happened to me I also think she is the best thing that has ever happened to the Fall." As time goes by, her arrival seems to have as profound effect on the band as it does on Smith, changing the music's direction by adding more of a melodic rock'n'roll sensibility as well as giving the motley crew a visual attraction. Brix tells Jamming!: "At first, I was going to be a solo artist with Mark producing me. Then we decided that I could be a good contrast in the band. I give it a lot of drive, as well as adding some glamour' to it all." Brix's influence, however, isn't prominent on December's Perverted By Language, a noisy and tuneless album that pales in comparison to past works and just barely hints at what will follow. Peel agrees to guest host The Tube on the basis that the Fall perform, which they do, making it their first ever national television appearance. The band sign to Beggars Banquet and work with legendary producer John Leckie for The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (as well as on the next two albums), which is released in October 1984. Brix reveals the idea behind the album is that "the first side is the frightening side and the second the wonderful side of the Fall. We've come close to what it should really be like." Easily the most accessible Fall album at this point, it marks the moment where Brix's co-songwriting influence takes hold; "C.R.E.E.P." and "Oh! Brother" show the band have discovered the knack for writing proper pop singles, while "Disney's Dream Debased," a song about the Smiths visiting Disneyland only for it turn into a horror show when a ride fails and kills people is surprisingly full of jangle pop delight. Smith meets Scottish ballet dancer and choreographer Michael Clark and the Fall turn in an improbable performance while Clark and his dancers move around with a pantomime cow. Clark and Smith become friends and collaborate on a ballet entitled I Am Kurious Oranj, in which the Fall write the music and libretto. Smith ends the year sourly telling NME: "'84 was definitely: by not bringing notice, nobody will notice. This came to me when I was not asked to sing on the Feed the World' Xmas record." Departing members: Paul Hanley, Stephen Hanley (16).
1985 to 1986
Through Clark, Smith meets classically trained musician Simon Rogers, the first proper musician invited to join the band. Asked to rearrange "The Classical" for a Clark performance, Rogers joins the fold as bassist when Stephen Hanley takes a leave of absence to nurse his sick child. When Hanley returns, Rogers moves over to keyboards. The band release This Nation's Saving Grace, their strongest album since Hex Enduction Hour. The album is their clearest statement as a band joining the two worlds of the Fall: melodic rockabilly ("Couldn't Get Ahead") and the fascination with something otherworldly ("I Am Damo Suzuki," their tribute to Can). Smith seems content with the band's line-up and status, telling Muze: "This is a much happier band than ever before. I feel very proud with our output nowadays. We are even happy with Beggars. They know what they are doing and they will act quickly unlike, well, Rough Trade who... well, Travis is just an idiot." A book of Smith's lyrics, wisely titled The Fall Lyrics is published. Bend Sinister follows the example of the previous two albums when it is released in October 1986, however, it finds the Fall moving even more forward with a minor hit in the cover of the Other Half's "Mr. Pharmacist," a duet between the married couple on "Dktr. Faustus" and a flirtatious attempt at rap with "U.S. 80's-90's." Smith explains his interest in rap to NME: "I like the way it's totally non-musical. Objectively, it's like some of the Fall stuff, the way these guys have the arrogance to believe that people will be interested in these long raps about what socks they put on. It's dead humorous and bitter I like that." The album also features "Terry Waite Sez," a song about the humanitarian author and hostage negotiator Terry Waite. In an ironic twist, Waite himself is taken hostage soon after the album is released, causing many to believe either Smith was in on the kidnapping or just a really good psychic. Smith writes a play after his song "Hey Luciani" about the mysterious death of Luciani Albino, Pope John Paul 1, who lasted only 33 days on the throne. Rumours circulate that he writes it on some beer mats and delivers it to the director in a shoebox. The script is 500 pages and squeezed into 90 minutes, not unlike the lyrics in a Fall album. NME calls it a "heap of shite" and Melody Maker declares Smith's vision as "weird delusions." Departing member: Karl Burns (17).
1987 to 1988
The Fall break their streak of releasing a studio album each year in 1987, but spend their time carefully recording their next album. The extra time pays off when in April they release "There's A Ghost In My House," which reaches the Top 30 a feat they will never top, and later on the Top 40 hit "Hit the North," which comes in four parts as well as with remixes. Their cover of the Kinks' "Victoria" follows in January with the same success, leading the way for their ninth album, The Frenz Experiment. Produced by Simon Rogers, the album sees the most radical transformation in the band, which appear as a functioning democratic unit on the album's cover. Both Brix and Rogers flex their influence on the album; Brix pushes the band's pop side even more, while Rogers incorporates electronic sounds and dance music with "Hit the North." Critics find the album to be a disappointment; NME says: "it isn't fit to share the same planet with This Nation's Saving Grace." Brix attempts to record an album with her side project Adult Net (which at one time features Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce of the Smiths), but arising relationship troubles with Beggars Banquet puts the kibosh on her plans. In October, the Fall revive their ballet with Michael Clark and in turn record an accompanying and difficult album, I Am Kurious Oranj, produced by renowned producer and soon to be front-man of the Lightning Seeds Ian Broudie. The performance features Clark and his ensemble's ballet dancing in front of a spirited version of the Fall. The gig sets up a two-week residency in London and turns in strong reviews. Smith tells Muze: "[Clark] had to build a routine around the uncoordinated tempos. It furthered his art. He was so brave to break away from the traditional expected route of ballet and create his own style and following." Departing member: Simon Rogers (18).
1989 to 1990
The Fall leave Beggars Banquet and are scooped up by Phonogram. Meanwhile, the honeymoon ends when the Smith marriage collapses at the start of the year and Mark separates from Brix. Though they've called it quits, Brix doesn't actually leave the Fall until, well, the fall that year when she begins dating popular violinist Nigel Kennedy, whom Smith immortalises in the song "Fiend with a Violin." Throughout the years, Smith is open about his marriage and break-up with Brix. He tells Vox: "The actual split was very amicable. Brix never demanded money. She always asked politely. I didn't mind seeing her out with someone else. I'm not like most men," but also sheds light on how he saw her involvement in the music in Volume: "Thing about Brix, not to call her or anything, but she always used to take credit for more than she actually did. One of the things that used to fuckin' piss me off about the wife was everything was always her idea, and it wasn't at all. Very American." Smith invites Bramah back into the band to play guitar for the next album. He also provides vocals and lyrics for Coldcut's "(I'm) In Deep" from their What's that Noise album. The experience inspires Matt Black, one half of Coldcut, to admit: "British rappers could learn a lot from listening to Mark E Smith." With Brix out of the picture, Smith takes the band's sound forward with more electronic experimentation (partly thanks to co-producer Adrian Sherwood) for Extricate, which immediately reveals the absence of Brix. Though it lacks the hooks of the four previous studio efforts, the album is an instant classic and to this day the band's most underrated work. Most noteworthy is "Bill is Dead," an unexpected slow jam that reveals the uncharted sensitive side of Mark E. Smith. Despite the open-armed welcome of the album, a worried Smith decides to make a sparser line-up and fires Marcia Schofield and Bramah during the band's Australian tour. A confused Smith then heads to Edinburgh to write the next album. Just in time for Christmas, Beggars Banquet compile the band's singles and b-sides for the excellent 458489 A Sides and 458489 B Sides retrospectives. Across the pond in the U.S., a young band named Pavement begin their rise to indie rock fame using the Fall as a major influence. Years later Smith tells The Wire: "Pavement: it's just the Fall in 1985, isn't it? They haven't got an original idea in their heads"; and in a fan inquisition set up by Q in 2001 he extends his disgust further by declaring: "The thing about Pavement was it was calculated. I was furious because it was chord for chord. And you know, that cunt's driving around in a BMW and I'm fucking trying to pay my lads. It's the old story, isn't it?" Departing members: Charlotte Bill, Martin Bramah, Marcia Schofield, Brix E. Smith (22).
1991 to 1992
Shift-Work finds Smith not only continuing the synth-heavy sound of Extricate, but also the occasional exposure of his soft side. "Edinburgh Man," which apparently takes 18 months to finish, is an obvious homage to his love for the city he wrote the album in that extends and realises his scope as a talented romantic ballad writer. The album also shows Smith is at his breaking point and a crossroads in his career. He tells Select: "I get really fuckin' fed up sometimes. Basically, I'm in a business of fuckin' phonies and idiots. I was dead nervous about this LP and I was serious about it: if this doesn't work, I'm out." The album does not reach the level of success Smith hopes for, yet he does not pack it in. Smith does however see his music reaching the masses through the medium of film. The band's signature tune "Hip Priest" takes fans by surprise when it blares in the background of The Silence of the Lambs' gripping climax (when Agent Starling enters Buffalo Bill's house). Though he receives some money for its inclusion, Smith tells The Independent's Tim Cummings that he "was more democratic in those days and gave everyone a share so that it has to go round about six people." Code:Selfish (1992) turns its back on the vulnerable side of the band Smith revealed on Extricate and Shift-Work. Produced by Rogers again, along with Craig Leon (who also worked on Extricate), the album may not age as gracefully as their earlier work, but it combines the band's early uncompromising sound with a harder, contemporary style that only the Fall can pull off. It is both praised and panned by critics. On tour in support of the album, the Fall kick opening band Levitation off the bill after Smith gets upset by their lengthy soundchecks and heavy use of dry ice onstage. Smith gets into an altercation backstage one night and challenges the band to a fight after Levitation's guitarist threatens to "take his eye out." They leave Phonogram and after the tour the Fall retreat back to Manchester where they record their follow-up in New Order's Rochdale studio as an unsigned band. In the meantime, Brix tries out as a replacement for Hole's bassist Kristin Pfaff and begins rehearsals with the band. Departing member: Kenny Brady (23).
1993 to 1995
The Fall shop the tapes of their record around and sign to Permanent in the UK and get their first American record deal for quite some time when they sign to Matador. The Infotainment Scan is released in April and hits the Top Ten in the UK album charts. With an array of influences and retro satires from disco (a true cover of Sister Sledge's "Lost in Music") to glam (the pastiche "Glam Racket") to metallic reggae (their rendition of Lee Perry's "Why Are People Grudgeful?"), it's easily one of the most musically and lyrically adventurous albums in their catalogue (sample lyric: "And if I ever end up like U2/slit my throat with a garden vegetable"). The following year the Fall release their second and final record on Matador. Like its predecessor, Middle Class Revolt is a strong record that boasts the amorphous sound of the Fall; it receives positive reviews in the U.S. and does well in the college charts but fails to make much of a sales impact. The band part ways with Matador after Mark discovers a label executive was sending emails discussing Mark's "personal habits." Smith tells The Wire: "He told me I didn't understand, that we were from the bleak industrial wastes of North England, or something, and that we didn't understand the internet. I told him: Fall fans invented the internet. They were on there in 1982." In the midst of their U.S. tour, Brix suddenly rejoins the band. Smith tells Vox: "She said she'd been rehearsing with Hole and was really pissed off with it. At the time, I was looking for a guitarist and arranger. I wanted either a really young kid or an old producer someone to put some bite back into the Fall, to kick them all up the arse. I'd rather take a chance with someone I know than some smart-arsed kid who wants to be in Oasis." The band record Cerebral Caustic with Brix, again using her talents to their advantage, however, this time the mix of Infotainment's techno-glam rock with their forward-moving M.O. provides their most disappointing record up to this point. Unfortunately for Smith and Fall fans, this album marks the last time guitarist Scanlon records with the band. Though not an important figurehead like Smith, Scanlon will go down as the band's finest "musician" and one of the key forces behind the band's best work. Departing members: Dave Bush, Craig Scanlon (25).
With Scanlon gone, the remaining band members each step up to fill the void. Smith adds Julia Nagle, who pulls double time as both his girlfriend and the keyboardist, replacing Dave Bush who leaves to play with Elastica. With liner notes written by Peel, The Light User Syndrome is a surprisingly good one packed with plenty of nice surprises to show the band still have a creative edge. A fun cover of Johnny Paycheck's "Stay Away (Old White Town)" showcases Smith's roots, while Brix joins Smith for vocal duty on the pop-filled "Spinetrak," and co-producer Mike Bennett even adds some melody to the vocals for "Cheetham Hill" and "Chinilism." Again, Smith's songwriting takes a psychic turn when album track "Powder Keg" appears as a precognitive message when a bombing in Manchester occurs soon after the album's release. In an interview with The Wire, Smith reveals the Fall's overwhelming popularity in Brazil: "They had a poll: we are the most popular group in Brazil. Their equivalent of The Sun had a poll and the Fall are number one. Number two was their Take That. Number 29 was U2. Number like 59 was New Order. You get me? We played Brazil and this place had like 10,000 people there." Brix leaves the band for the final time. Departing members: Karl Burns, Lucy Rimmer, Brix E. Smith (27).
The Fall record Levitate and release it in September. In an interview with The Guardian the interviewer recalls a surreal moment weeks before where Smith takes over the empty cab of a crane and torments the operator who is at the top of a building fixing some scaffolding. Smith's reaction is to say: "I don't like this new breed of modern workman. Always strutting around with their cranes, going up and down like that." In the same piece, Peel describes the album as, "good one for devotees to pick over. It's full of weird gurglings, and some songs are just him repeating the title over and over." The album contains a song called "Spencer Must Die," an acidic song dedicated to the album's sacked producer Stephen Spencer. In a third clairvoyant twist, Princess Diana (nee Spencer) dies in a car crash soon after the song is written. In December, after drinking at the Night & Day pub, Smith mistakes a local musician named Damon Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy for a cabbie and demands a lift to Stockport. Gough obliges, but only on the condition that the Fall record one of his songs called "Tumbleweed." Smith ends up leaving his false teeth in the car, which Gough reportedly stores as a keepsake in a mouldy old acoustic guitar case. Talking to Q in 2001, Smith states, "I also left a bloody expensive leather jacket that he has not returned. A Lakeland leather jacket, about 110 quid. I haven't had that back. He can keep the teeth though, the fat little get." Ironically, the pair co-write and record the song "Calendar" together that year, just before the "teeth-napping." Departing members: Adrian Flanagan, Simon Wolstencroft (29).
In April, during a short tour of the U.S., Smith begins to drink heavily, prompting a scuffle with girlfriend/keyboardist Nagle, where he hits her before receiving a black eye when she hits him back with a telephone. Later on during a gig in Manhattan at Brownies, Smith is in a crabby mood, which summons drummer Burns to jump over his kit mid-set and physically attack the singer. Smith yells to the audience, "If it's just me and your grandmother on the bongos, it's still the Fall," which prompts Burns, Steve Hanley and Tommy Crooks to exit the stage for what will be their last-ever performance in the Fall. Afterwards, back at the hotel, Smith reportedly proceeds to run topless throughout the lobby threatening other band members. After striking Nagle, the police are called in and Smith is taken to jail and charged with misdemeanour assault and harassment. He is released on $1,000 bail and leaves without notifying any of his band members. He appears in a U.S. court in September where a judge orders him to undergo six months of counselling in the UK, submit monthly reports to the court and observe a "limited order of protection" regarding Nagle. Oddly enough, Nagle doesn't leave the band and performs just a couple weeks after the incident when the Fall play a gig at Dingwalls in London as a three-piece with disastrous results. A spokesperson describes the whole episode as "just another explosion on the Fall Rd, and the tank rolls on." NME meanwhile includes the story in the "100 Moments in Rock That Shook the World," ranking it at number 79. Smith opts not to record an album by the Fall, and instead tries his hand at a solo, spoken word album of short stories, H.P. Lovecraft quotes, lyrics, poems and sound effects entitled The Post Nearly Man. He tells The Independent: "The first spoken word [album] was really popular and no one wanted to bring another one out. I listen to it. I like it. What I use it for sometimes is an outro tape for a show. You play these things in a show and go off and the DJs put on the Smiths, especially in small towns. So you shove that on and it shuts them all up. Empties the hall quick." Departing members: Karl Burns, Tommy Crooks, Stephen Hanley, Karen Leatham, Katie Methan (34).
1999 to 2000
The Marshall Suite is released in April the first album featuring the brand new line-up Smith assembles after his band's split in New York. It's another well-rounded Fall album that continues the band's healthy streak of solid '90s albums, though it fails to get the attention it deserves. Instead, the band find attention elsewhere. Smith is approached by Calvin Klein to model some of the designer's latest line of fashion. The style guru admits, "I don't think people are interested in models any more. Just a pretty face isn't enough. I want musicians and young actors who are not necessarily that well known but have their own look." A spokesperson for Smith says, "Calvin Klein's vice-president said he was really interested in Mark so we sent over a load of stuff about him. We're waiting to hear what they want to do with him. I think they want to get people who are cool and interesting rather than perfect looking." Unfortunately, Smith is never seen sporting the latest CK briefs. Smith and guitarist Neville Wilding appear onstage during the band's performance at the Reading Festival covered in blood. According to a band spokesperson, an altercation had taken place right before the gig that also involves drummer Tom Head, who was briefly sacked and replaced by the Chemical Brothers' co-manager Nick Dewey (formerly of shoegazers Revolver) for the gig. Head, however, is reinstated for the next day's Leeds Festival appearance. In November during a London gig at Dingwalls, Smith's band members invade the stage during support act Pacino's set. They disconnect the band's equipment and boot them off the stage for playing over time. Smith makes a brief appearance in the infrared shot film Midwatch as the caterer on the ship of a British vessel returning from the first nuclear test. In the May 2000 issue of Select, Smith and Bush's Gavin Rossdale are teamed up to have a discussion where the Fall front-man candidly reveals his professional outlook: "The thing about the Fall is, it might be fun for you, but it isn't fun for me. I've had times when I wished I'd been a plumber like my dad. I'd have earned a lot more money and been a lot happier. But there's something about rock music that hasn't been explored yet. When I feel like packing it in, there's so much crap about, you have to carry on." Smith makes an appearance on Elastica's second album The Menace, providing guest vocals on their Fall-inspired track, "How He Wrote Elastica Man." The Unutterable is released in November. Opening with a jazzy number called "Pumpkin Soup and Mashed Potatoes" that is what it seems a tuneful recipe the album gives a humorous change of pace from the band's hectic and disastrous lifestyle that also includes "Dr. Buck's Letter," a distorted bass-heavy industrial creeper that reveals the lengths the subject had to go to get himself an American Express card. Departing member: Tom Head (35).
2001 to 2002
During a break from touring, Smith attends a rockabilly festival in Great Yarmouth. He slips down a slope and crashes into a concrete post, which breaks his leg. In true Smith fashion he claims that he wasn't drunk and will not sue Great Yarmouth Council over the state of their pavements. Michael Clark composes another ballet, Before and After: The Fall, again with the music of the Fall that is filled with disturbing sexuality. Unlike Kurious Oranj this one leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. The Fall follow Clark's move and make their first lapse as well with Are You Are Missing Winner, a poorly executed album with weak production that suggests maybe Smith has lost his touch. Castle/Sanctuary begin to reissue the band's back catalogue and compile worthwhile collections of the band's rare material. Mark makes a cameo appearance as himself waiting in line at a Manchester club in Michael Winterbottom's film 24 Hour Party People. NME lists its Top 50 music icons from the last 50 years, listing the Fall at number 21 ahead of Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and heroes the Velvet Underground. The Fall also make Vice's less glamorous "Ten Seminal Bands That You Say You Love But Never Actually Listen To" list, with the magazine proclaiming: "Great band, right? Mr. Pharmacist' is the jam, right? What about the other 99.9 percent of their songs?" The Fall come into some money when they sell 1999's rowdy anthem "Touch Sensitive" to car company Vauxhall to use in an ad for the Corsa. The song becomes a hit and soon children and soccer moms across Britain are singing the Fall. Smith releases his second spoken word album, Pander! Panda! Panzer! in September, the same month his new wife, German-born Elena Poulou joins the band as their new keyboardist. In November, Smith is voted "Greatest Mancunian of All Time" by readers of the Manchester Evening News, doubling the number of votes of runner-up Peter Collins, a speedway champion. Departing members: Spencer Birtwistle, Ruth Daniel, Brian Fanning, Adam Helal, Julia Nagle, Neville Wilding (41).
2003 to 2004
Bassist Jim Watts is fired when Smith calls a band meeting in a pub and buys every band member a drink except Watts. Due to fly to Turkey with the band the next day to take part in a gig, Smith offers Watts the one-off concert but Watts declines and tells Playlouder: "Have to give it him that though, he can be extremely funny. It's a pity as I feel short changed. We didn't have a blazing row as I was laughing too much." The new album Country on the Click is pushed back when it leaks onto the internet in February. The album, originally mixed by sacked bassist Watts, is diligently remixed by Smith and given a new track-listing as well as the new title of The Real New Fall LP formerly Country on the Click'. The band sign to Action Records and the album is released in October. Getting back on track from the disaster of their last album, Real is the first release with wife Elena on board, who shows she can fill the hole left by Nagle and Brix as the romantic lead and female band member by leaving her presence all throughout the record. Smith's songwriting gift, more importantly, finds itself back on track, most notably on "Theme From Sparta FC," a fiery anthem dedicated to football hooliganism complete with appropriate gang chants. The band shockingly get into the yuletide spirit and close off the 2003 by releasing the Christmas single "(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas." The new year finds the Fall signing with Narnack Records, a Brooklyn-based indie label, and finally getting back to releasing records in North America again. The label releases the album in the summer with a slightly different track-listing and a much different cover. In Newcastle, Smith slips on some ice and breaks his leg. When a bystander attempts to help, Mark falls again and this time breaks his hip. He has a metal rod inserted that runs from his hip to his knee but manages to tour America by sitting at a table onstage during the gigs. Manchester-based artists David Alker and Peter Liddell paint a selection of Fall album covers onto cream crackers for Liverpool Biennial. Beggars Banquet compiles 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong, the most thorough and legit compilation of the band's entire library. Smith is even complimentary of it saying, "They have got a bit of taste. Some of the other compilations, I used to have nightmares about them." In October while on holiday in Peru, the Fall's biggest supporter John Peel dies. Smith eulogises the legendary DJ and reveals that the pair never really had much of a personal relationship besides a mutual respect, telling Metro: "I never spoke to him more than three or four times face to face but Peel Sessions definitely kept us afloat in really bad times." Departing members: Ed Blaney, Steve Evets, Dave Milner, Jim Watts (45).
The BBC air a tell-all documentary called The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith. Filled of interviews with Smith, former and current members, fans and exclusive footage from the notorious '98 gig in NYC and the Fall recording their final Peel Session, the film is remarkable evidence of British music's greatest misunderstood hero. After years of being lost in obscurity and alive through old copies and bootlegs, Hex Enduction Hour is finally given the deluxe redux treatment by Sanctuary, like the majority of the band's catalogue. Plans for more deluxe reissues by the label will continue into 2006 and will likely keep going as long as the band exists. Smith tells The Scotsman in April that he's been approached to play Doctor Who. "Ten years ago there was talk of me being the Doctor. I was down at the BBC, doing a session for Peel, and this bloke he must have been a Fall fan said a place on the short-list was mine if I wanted it. Nah, I don't do acting,' I said. Well, could you see me fighting Daleks?" Narnack releases Fall Heads Roll, the impishly yet accurately titled 25th Fall album. Again, the current line-up are in excellent form, following their leader and making every right move in the process. The album feels like Smith has found the strongest set of "musicians" proving time and time again that the Fall are in no hurry to reach an end. Like he said to Jamming! back in 1998: "People ask me why the Fall keep going. Well, it's about striving. I'm never satisfied." Departing member: Simon "Dingo" Archer (46).
The Essential The Fall
Hex Enduction Hour
(Kamera, 1982/Castle, 2005)
From the Pavement-inspiring groove of opener "The Classical" to the epically cantankerous drawl of the self-reflective "Hip Priest" and the slow build of the twinned "Winter" halfway through, Smith and his crew painted their masterpiece in only their fourth try in as many years. To this day it's still the Fall album to own and the recent expanded deluxe edition only makes it an even more valuable listen.
This Nation's Saving Grace
(Beggars Banquet, 1985)
Smith gets married and his wife takes over, transforming the Fall into a proper rock band who can write catchy singles. This may not be the album that almost broke them into the mainstream, but it is the finest songwriting of the Brix era and the most consistently melodic output they'll ever achieve. After one listen to "Cruisers Creek" you'll be trying to match that patented squeal of Smith's.
The Complete Peel Sessions
Though 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong is the ideal starting point for newcomers, this collection of all 24 Peel Sessions is the compulsory compilation in the Fall's catalogue. Following the band comprehensively through their many trends better than any other (it's the only one to have all the rights to the music), this is a six-disc, 97-song gem and the only place you'll hear Scrooge sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."