Curiosities of The Fall - No 14 of 15(ish) - Hit The North
1987 found music in an interregnum of sorts. If one was to codify the 80’s year by year, it would be the hardest to pin down as there was no real overriding arc. Folks seemed confused as to whether they wanted black vinyl or shiny CDs, three-minute 7” pop singles or 12” dance mixes. The Smiths went from unassailable to disbanded within a few strange and never-quite-unravelled weeks. The NME‘s “C86” cassette had codified the indie scene of the time and, therefore, killed it, leaving us to wade through the DIY delights of “shambling“ bands like Tallulah Gosh and The Soup Dragons, early Creation releases, Sarah Records and so on. The US was bringing forth the strobe-lit metallic KO of Pixies, Big Black and Sonic Youth. We had a bloody goth revival via The Mission et al and strangest of all, indie people went all funky and stuff with the early sampling experiments of Pop Will Eat Itself and the first records by The JAMS/KLF. Meanwhile, where are The Fall? Oh, yeah, in the top 30. With a cover version of an old Motown song. As Bill Drummond and Jimi Cauty rightly asked, what the fuck was going on?
Unquestionably designed as an all-out pop single, “Hit The North” was released on 19th October 1987. And the 26th October 1987. And 2nd November. Oh, and the 9th November too. It is a perfect post-ZTT 80’s artefact, a multi-part, multi-format meander through a pretty flimsy musical idea, being essentially a two-note riff in search of a purpose. As with many Beggars Banquet Fall singles, its b-side is its vast superior, in this instance, the hilarious rawk-riffing of “Australians In Europe”, made sublime by Smith’s use of an echo-unit and his long drawn out vowels, not to mention his inability to pronounce “Antipodean”. Anyway, back to the point…
“Hit The North” was fed to us in 6 parts and in 4 doses - a 7” (also available as a picture disc), two 12” singles and a cassette. These are extrapolated from at least two (probably three) completely different recordings of the track. “Part 2” (the 7” b-side) appears to be an entirely separate pass at the song and it’s guitar-free - this probably explains why this part has the writing credit “M. E. Smith/S. Rogers”, whereas all other parts add “B. E. Smith”. Containing a clearer but less dynamic vocal and what appear to be completely programmed drums, it could well be a cleaned-up demo. “Part 3” is closer to “2” than “1” but has a lot more group involvement and is taken at a faster lick. It’s at a slightly higher pitch too so it has likely been sped up a fraction to add some extra zip - which it does. Overall, it’s a very quiet one for old-skool fans - a heavily phased rhythm guitar part can be heard most clearly on Part 4 and this is likely to be Scanlon’s work whilst Hanley is mixed either low or out altogether with synth-bass largely preferred. However, Wolstencroft works well with Rogers’ machines, thus beginning a pattern where programmed rhythms provided by Rogers, Coldcut or even Wolstencroft himself could and would be successfully absorbed into Fall Sound. Parts 4, 5 and 6 are all remixes by German producer Zeus B. Held, a name so improbable that my 14-year-old self instantly assumed it to be an alias of MES (it was the middle initial). Presumably arriving on The Fall’s radar due to his remixes of Gary Numan for Beggars Banquet earlier the same year, he adds little, although the emptiness of Part 6 - listed as the “Double Six” mix on the original cassette single - has an appeal of sorts. Actually that mix poses an interesting translation issue - a dartboard was used as part of the artwork and was, in fact, the only non-text on the monochrome cassette inlay. But a double six is rubbish in darts. It’s a good one to have in dominoes tho’. Which game do we think MES actually had in mind?
The main event was “Part 1”, now usually referred to simply as “Hit The North”. It opens well - a bopping sequencer is joined by Schofield’s gentle keyboard pads and then Wolstencroft’s drums. It bursts into life on the two note off-beat riff, played by, ooh, everyone but with Rogers‘ none-more-eighties midi-saxophone bulking the largest. The first holler of the title is followed by a teeth-shattering scream from MES who then advises us that his cat says………..ack. Or eeeeeeee-ack depending on how one regards the layered vocal tracks. But after this, “HTN” sadly loses its way - the verses have nothing to tell us musically, doing little but stab at one of the two notes - it would be bigging it up to describe it as “dub” but that seems to be the aim (the other parts change key, swapping the D/Bminor sequence to A/E). The Fall can do monochordal or unison riffing like few others but “HTN” despite a snarky, topical lyric needling Eastenders and James Anderton, simply doesn’t catch light and throwing a few more layers at it as it progresses only adds to the weight of the tracks failure. Its best feature is probably the video, in which the whole group look heroically awkward, especially Steve Hanley. They head for the bingo and the funfair and, for the most part, Brix dances around guitarless as does, inexplicably, Kid Congo Powers of The Cramps/Bad Seeds. Bizarre.
This is the odd thing tho’. “Hit The North” became something of a catchphrase and, in this guise, penetrated the culture like no other phrase from the MES canon. It started quietly enough, being namechecked by the aforementioned (and undervalued) Pop Will Eat Itself and with Frank Sidebottom doing a cover. But there was a radio show of the same name, which was helmed by Mark Radcliffe - who had produced a Peel Session for The Fall in 1985 - and featuring ex-Fall member Marc Riley. Much more to the point, we *did* hit the north - within less than 2 years, it felt like the entire alt/indie media had headed to Manchester with every band who could string a chorus together on the front page of the NME and almost all of them being heavily remixed for extra 12“ singles - yep, “indie-dance” was the new thing (smash, crash, bash, ring) and the title was used as a headline again and again. The Fall, of course, prepared music for a very different kind of dancefloor, with the “I Am Kurious, Oranj” ballet soundtrack appearing late 1988.
Nowadays there’s a bike festival called Hit the North. And a group. But then, we’ve also had The Dresden Dolls and These New Puritans. Which reminds me. We need to talk about AFP sometime…