“Have you ever heard of this band?”
“No, but apparently the frontman’s a notorious arsehole”.
If I was writing a fictional account of seeing The Fall, you’d be right in finding that a little clichéd, but that was the snippet of conversation between two bouncers I overheard outside the Queen Margaret Union the night they really did play. Not as well-known as you would perhaps think, and frontman Mark E. Smith certainly has a reputation that precedes him.
I must confess to being somewhat new to The Fall. They were first put on my radar roughly a year a go by a good friend, but I hadn’t committed myself to listening to a whole album of theirs until a month before I saw them live. I can now add the decision of deferring that pleasure to an ever growing list of regrets: I urge my readers not to do the same.
Notorious arsehole Mark E. Smith was lifted onto stage in a wheelchair- a recent fall (not to mention a lifetime of thoroughly taking the piss with the human constitution) having left him temporarily disabled. Then began what for me are the two defining features of The Fall’s musical style: Smith’s singing and the electrifying bass line. It was perhaps Smith’s voice that put me off for so long: it isn’t really singing, more of a shout cum wail. But coupled with the bass, and with the lyrics in front of you, it is perhaps one of the greatest experiences pop music has to offer, if you’ll excuse the expression.
To my shame I didn’t recognise any of the songs (their oeuvre goes back forty years), but Smith’s persona is something I’m familiar with. Wheeling about in his chair, looking faintly bored as he “sang” into two microphones, I did feel somewhat privileged to see him in the flesh: something he’d perhaps rightly mock me for saying.