The new Kansas City library
The new Kansas City library
Curiosities of The Fall - No 13 of 15(ish) - Touch Sensitive…Bootleg Box Set
Of all The Fall’s live releases, this is the most bewildering. Straight away, it’s a worry not just because the set is cynically named after what was, at the time, their most popular song in years but also because the notion of “bootleg” was always going to give one pause, given the quality of some of the recordings issued without such a qualifying subscript. That said, it looks good - a tidy little box with simple but effective artwork, presumably designed to look like a slightly rumpled paste-on and with a cheeky appropriation of the “Trademark Of Quality” logo, well known to bootleg traders. It was priced reasonably enough, less that 2 separate CDs. I scored mine second-hand for £9 - even now, it strikes me as an improbable used-rack find. Anyway…
All 5 gigs are from 2001, not generally regarded as a vintage year. The group are ostensibly touring “The Unutterable” but have already lost almost all of the line-up that made it; Neville Wilding, Adam Helal and Tom Head/Murphy are all gone, replaced by Ben Pritchard, Jim Watts and Spencer Birtwistle. Only Julia Nagle had held on and she would leave midway through the year. The gigs are not given in chronological order - the earliest gig is on disc 3, followed by 4, 5, 2 and 1. If one listens chronologically, it’s clear why Disc 3 (Haarlem, The Netherlands, 6th April) isn’t Disc 1 as it has the most amateur recording quality of the whole set. If the box had opened with this, there really would have been a surplus of second-hand copies. That said, it is one of the better performances - the overly pumping cassette-tape compression might actually help a bit but this is a blast. Kicking off with a terrific “Sons Of Temperance”, the group are lively, quick and sound like they’re enjoying themselves. It’s clear there were a few problems; 4 of the tracks on this disc are taped inserts but they make strong work of “Two Librans”, “F-Oldin’ Money” and, surprisingly, a spirited (if slightly simplified) “Paintwork”. We’re deep in the audience for the second disc, recorded the following night at the Melkweg in Amsterdam; the sound is a bit better but the performance doesn’t quite hit the same level. Nagle is virtually inaudible on both of these (I checked the gigography and there’s nothing to suggest she didn’t play) but she is heard very clearly on Disc 5, recorded in Brighton a week or two later. This is easily the worst disc of the set; the performance is sloppy, a guitar is already out of tune on opener “The Joke” and there are weird echo effects on the drums every so often - this may be partly down to microphone fuckery by MES, mind you. Anyway, the group appears to have forgotten the structure of “Mr Pharmacist” already and the version of ”Paintwork” is terrible, a messy, mainly instrumental botch with random tapes from “Midwatch 1953” and “Birthday Song” blaring across it. Pritchard’s faux-rawk guitar stylings are at their excruciating worst, the mostly awful keyboards are too loud, the group don’t know “I Am Damo Suzuki” very well (MES‘s mic failing won’t have helped them) and Birtwistle appears never to have even heard “And Therein”, let alone played it. Bah.
Returning to the beginning of the set, we flash forward to November and things are much better. Nagle is gone and The Fall are a tight, straight-down the line 4 piece rock ‘n’ roll band, touring an album they actually made - “Are You Are Missing Winner“. That said, “RUR“ weighs lightly on the set with just 4 songs making it to each gig - oddly, “Ibis Afro Man“ is dropped as soon as it hits vinyl. They‘ve learned “And Therein“ and the medley of “Kick The Can” and “F’oldin’ Money” works a treat, a gesture that connects this stripped back edition of the group to The Fall’s roots - r ‘n‘ r as primal spirit. They take “Sons Of Temperance” far too fast, sacrificing the burbling thwack of the original for pure speedthrill but overall, there is an improvement in atmosphere and energy as well as recording quality. A couple of these takes made it to “2G+2” and one wonders why the other gigs recorded for that CD weren’t included, given the generally ropey feel of the April recordings.
Inevitably, the set suffers from longeuers caused by excessive repetition (yeah, I know, I know…) - every disc features “Two Librans”, “F’Oldin’ Money”, “Mr Pharmacist” (all five takes of which are rotten), “Way Round” (which, by contrast, comes out of the whole thing brilliantly), “Cyber Insekt” and “Touch Sensitive” with “Sons Of Temperance” missing only from Disc 5. But the core calculation is actually pretty clever. If you’re keen enough to own one live album from this period, you’re likely to want another and popping 5 into a value-for-money box was pretty astute both economically and in terms of creating a “nice item“ which is inherently more attractive than yet-another-live-CD in a jewel case with crap artwork. Well played, Sanctuary. Ultimately, this is a spell of The Fall’s existence which is actually best served by the studio albums and few will pull this off the shelf with any regularity.
Actually, I think I’d rather do fiftytwoweeksofmilesdavis
Whilst discussing the fiftytwoweeksofthefall blog, someone on The Fall Online forum suggested that fiftytwoweeksofjandek would be a good idea. I certainly have the albums, do I have the wherewithall?
Week Nine: Hex Enduction Hour
Hex! Fuckin’ Hex, man! Who knew!
Well, apparently a few people knew, because Hex Enduction Hour is one of the few Fall albums that it was actually recommended I checked out before I started this whole ridiculous idea. It was their first album to chart, it’s considered by a lot of critics and fans to be their best, or at least the best of their early works (despite the fact it’s fuckin’ March, I’m only on their fourth proper full length. Wow. They’ve been together for six years at this point, though. I guess the length of their career means “early” covers a very long time), and the Fall Online Forum, which I think contains roughly 90% of my readership amongst it’s members, waiting on the edge of their seats for the album that finally puts me off, once decided to cover the whole thing for a bit of a giggle. People like Hex. So do I. I like this record. Actively, too, not just begrudgingly. The fact that it managed to get played multiple times in a week that has been completely dominated by Pre- and Post-Silver Mt. Zion show listening is remarkable.
It was often sold as being one of their weirder offerings, though, which is a bit odd, because although it is a bizarre, idiosyncratic mess (David Raposa put it well for Pitchfork: “It sounds like a group of five talented musicians trying to play as brilliantly stupid as possible, while a sixth fellow from the docks hops on stage, grabs the mike, and fights his way through the morass scorched-earth style”) it is, in places, poppy as all hell. I guess I mean that in the way that I mean Fabulous Muscles by Xiu Xiu is poppy, though – it’s sill pretty fucked up, it just has a few tracks with absolutely massive hooks. Hex is a bit of a juggernaut, this massive and unstoppable freak-punk racket. Thanks to actually having had the same lineup for a few releases now, it has the sound of a band coming in to their own and making a record that, even as they were making it must have felt definitive – it makes Grotesque sound a bit limp in comparison, actually. Mark E. Smith’s vocals sound at their best yet here so far – usually they’re annoying at best, but here they actually manage to work
The hookiest, catchiest track of all is probably The Classical. The album’s opener roars out of the gate, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on first listen. However, it also happens to have the misfortune of containing The Fall’s most notorious lyric – early on in the song, Mark E. Smith drops the N-word and wonders where the obligatory ones are in what fans probably tell themselves is Smith’s sarcastic and biting take on the music industry and that it’s fine because it was only the eighties and it’s art, man, so it shouldn’t matter. But oh my fucking god it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Why? Well, Mark E. Smith’s reputation as being a giant prick sure doesn’t help matters. The story goes that when a Tamla Motown subsidiary wanted to sign The Fall, Smith sent them a copy of Hex, despite how stupid the opening lyrics make that decision to be. Although some sources say he sent it because it was the only album he had to hand, an interview with Smith makes it sound like he had an actual agenda and resented the attention: “Then fuckin’ Tamla Motown steam in! You know… about time we had another white act, ha ha! Dead funny. But they were pretty serious. I went to see them and everything.” They passed on signing the Fall, famously condemning them as having no commercial potential whatsoever (which is actually more or less true, really, if we’re being honest), and he acts surprised that a label that was instrumental in ensuring black artists where, y’know, actually accepted by people would be put off by his use of a massively dehumanising racial slur. Mad, that, isn’t it? I’m not trying to say Mark E. Smith is a giant racist, I’m trying to say that this is the best example of him being an inconsiderate, ignorant, insensitive prick that I’ve seen yet, and his use of the word is inexcusable.
The Classical has been covered by Pavement, and on listening to it for the first time in ages (it was one of the last things they put out and, as much as I love early-mid Pavement, I could not care less about later Pavement) I was glad to hear they omitted the offending line from their version. A bunch of white dudes may have been able to get away with dropping the N-bomb at the beginning of the eighties, but it would not have gone down well at the end of the nineties, I’m sure.
The Fall’s musical influence over Pavement is something I’ve always been vaguely aware of, but never really considered. You can hear it the most on Wowee Zowee, their third album, a sprawling and experimental reaction to the massive popularity of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain before it - I think some consider it to be a bit of a mess, but compared to The Fall it’s still pretty coherent – but there’s elements of The Fall’s experimental, rambling fuzz throughout Pavement’s history. It’s just, y’know, used in a more consistent and listenable way.
Still. Back to Hex. That one unforgivable (regardless of intent, sorry) lyric aside, the album kills. Amazingly, the hour flies by, especially compared to Slates’ dragging twenty minutes. The mixture of elegantly slow, repetitive buildups that lead to discordantly messy crashing post-punk guitars means it sounds like The Shaggs covering Slint’s Spiderland. Or maybe Slint covering The Shaggs’ Philosophy Of The World, I’m not really sure. But if that’s not the sort of thing you’re interested in, then I’m not sure I want to know you. This was always supposed to be The Fall’s final album – Smith was getting fed up with it all and wanted a last hurrah, I suppose, and it shows. Hex feels like it has everything they ever wanted to do squeezed on to it - all the best ideas they ever had, all the necessary catharsis that comes from being in a band that literally only John Peel seems to like for six years, all crammed in to one record. It literally bursts at the seams – even on a typically rambling and repetitive number, there’s loads going on. No wonder it actually finally earned them some buzz and some sales, it’s a legitimately awesome, utterly exhausting listen. It’s easy to see why it’s considered the greatest Fall album, and it’s hard to see them actually topping it.
Thanks to being put off what would probably be my favourite Fall song if not for, y’know, the slurs (seriously, the outro with it’s refrain of “I have never felt better in my life!” is the high point of the record) FortressDeer Park stands out as a favourite, and probably one of the clearest examples of “typical Fall” that you’re ever gonna hear – if you’re new to the band, give this a go, and if you can’t stand it then you may not get much further. Still, Hex deserves to be viewed as a complete thing, and is well worth a listen, at the very least as a moment in this history of punk and post-punk. With Hex, the question switches from being “why do so many people care about The Fall?” to “why don’t more people care about The Fall?”. This album could so easily have been much more of a classic than it actually is – it’s definitely their London Calling, their Unknown Pleasures, their Romance Is Boring. I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of others over the years have joined myself and Motown in thinking the whole thing is held back by one unfortunate word. Of all the lessons I thought I might have learned from listening to every Fall album in order, I would never have guessed that “racism doesn’t pay” would be one of them. I mean, shouldn’t it be obvious enough? Not to Mark E. Smith, clearly, but his relationship with clarity has always seemed to be something of a broken one.
Yes, that N-bomb was questionable at the time and sounds truly horrible now but it’s quite clear that Smith was mocking the “I’m not racist but…” brigade who were *everywhere* in 1981/2; “tolerant” without being truly inclusive. Culture is done absolutely no favours by refracting everything through the lens of now but it is a pity that Smith employed a verbal bludgeon rather than his rapier wit in this instance. I’ve always fantasised that Hanley’s fluffed bass note immediately afterwards was a mark of shock/horror/disgust. Oh, and ex-manager Richard Thomas tells a much more plausible version of the Motown story in the book that came with the Omnibus “TWAFWOTF”.
It is a genuine concern of mine that the majority of males do not like pop music and if any potential boyfriend does not like (or at least tolerate) pop music then we automatically have 0 chance of being together. I am really limiting my options here..
It could be worse, at least your dealbreaker isn’t The Fall
*goes back to deciphering mid 80’s lyric*
Curiosities of The Fall - No 12 of 15(ish) - “Access All Areas”
Despite Mark E Smith’s reputation as an unpredictable spanner-throwing grouch, the group’s status as an exceptional live act is, today, very strong indeed. But it wasn’t ever thus. Things began to unravel around 1996 and, at the time these shows were recorded and released - 2001 to 2004 - the terrain was still rocky with some truly shocking gigs. As an example, there was one in Aberdeen which lasted all of 10 minutes - Smith had to be retrieved from a local pub and helped onstage. The gig ended when Smith damaged Ben Pritchard’s amp on purpose. Grim. So, 4 well chosen sets would please the faithful and do something to steady that particular ship, bring a few lost souls back to the front, yeah?
“Access All Areas” is the worst series of releases ever to have the name of The Fall placed upon them. Worse than “Live From The Vaults”. 2 double DVDs were initially released, followed by 4 CDs. The 4 CDs were exactly the same gigs as the DVDs and were sourced from them. I have two of them but was too embarrassed to put them in the photo. The quality of the DVD sets is rotten. Volume 1, Disc 1 is from 2004 and is called “Punkcast 2004” - the gig was webcast (as it happened?) from the Knitting Factory in New York and a VCD - a low-res video format that didn’t really take off in the UK or US - made available. Despite the availability of a superior source, the DVD was mastered from a VCD. A format capable of 4.7GB was mastered from one capable of around 700MB. The audio is encoded at 224kbps, mid-standard for an MP3. The CD was nonetheless mastered from this. The carelessness is disgraceful. It’s especially annoying as it seems to have been a great set and one by a line-up that never made it to the studio - Smith, Poulou, Pritchard, Trafford, Milner. They have decent cracks at “Middle Mass” and “Mere Pseud Mag Ed“ (or “More Pseud…” according to the sleeve). It’s one of their longer sets of the era too, giving a strong account of “The Real New Fall LP”. Smith is wheelchair-bound due to his broken hip but is switched on throughout, even standing up for a couple of songs. The visuals however, are almost unwatchable - dark, pixelated and shot on a single, wandering camera with an unnecessary graphic at the beginning of each song - it appears the gig was broken up to be watched track by track on the Punkcast website and was stitched back together for the VCD. Again, a better source was available and it wasn’t used. The other gigs are all home video sound and quality. The set from the Garage in London from 2002 occasionally cuts to a stage side camera but is largely one shot of a mediocre performance. The title borders on misleading - there is absolutely no backstage or additional footage. In 3 out of 4 cases, we have access to exactly the same view we’d have had if we’d been at the gig - a set from All Tomorrow’s Parties from 2002 is shot dark and stays stage side which is great for fans of Jim Watts, not great for anyone who was after an enjoyable viewing experience (no offense to JW, of course). The question emerges as to why these DVDs even fucking exist. Well, there’s an answer to that…
In January 2004, Sanctuary released the first entries in their reissue programme with “Live At The Witch Trials” and “Dragnet” being returned to the shelves. These were superbly produced - carefully remastered with comprehensive extras including unreleased takes, b-sides and scarce live material. Sanctuary’s work, which continued throughout 2004 and eventually into 2006, was a major part of the Fall’s rehabilitation with MES in particular going from casualty to legend - TRNFLP was a cracker, Peel 24 confirmed they were in rude health and the reissues met a warm critical consensus, peaking with the Peel Session box set in April 2005. The “Access All Areas” and “Live From The Vaults” series were an attempt to sell third-rate, cheaply assembled product off the back of Sanctuary’s first-rate effort. Unremastered bootleg live tapes made it to CD despite being incomplete or incorrectly credited. Home shot live videos that would be shoddy for Youtube found themselves on sale for £16.99 a time. Whether the calculation was that people would mistake these for the real thing or just buy them anyway on a wave of enthusiasm doesn’t matter, these releases were cynical, exploitative and potentially damaging to the excellent work being done elsewhere. The fact that all of these were eventually remaindered speaks volumes - I paid £3 each for the Vaults CDs and picked up both the AAA DVDs for less than £8. Including postage. That’s £8 for both by the way, not each. Smith has to take some blame for them - after all, he cashed that cheque - but the severance of The Fall’s alliance with both Voiceprint and Ed Blaney at least stemmed the flow of poor quality product and we haven’t had to deal with this since.
So that’s the plus point, I suppose. Despite the death splutter of the CD editions of AAA (which weren’t marked as such, typically), the era of extreme caveat emptor which started with the first Receiver compilations came to a close, really. Long may we keep buying the *real* new Fall LPs; if our support can keep MES from doing deals with those who have no regard or concern for quality, we can keep our shelves clean too. It’s win/win.
For various reasons, I didn’t start gig going in earnest until my late 20’s/early 30’s (that’s a general statement, not specific to The Fall). So the first was in 1992 (Smith/Scanlon/Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft - Suede supporting!) but the second wasn’t until 2005. I’ve seen them 6 times and my favourite was in 2007 at the Renfrew Ferry where the Reformation Post TLC line-up blew the accompanying album out of the water (quite literally, given that we were on a boat of sorts). Smith was totally on his game, amp-twiddling was resticted almost entirely to Rob Barbato and the songs just soared. It was faith restoring.
I’m not someone who feels the need to be there everytime - my relationship with live music remains a bit on-off and a run-in with a particularly aggressive Fall audience at the end of 2009 left me reluctant to go back (I left unscathed but it was a harsh night). But I did. Which is just as well cos they played The Container Drivers. Ultimately, recorded sound is my thing above live performance so if I can’t afford the new album and a ticket, I’ll buy the album. This probably explains why most of my Fall gigs fall outwith specific album tours.
For the record, I’ve been cancelled on once (an Edinburgh show ditched when MES found out how early the stage times were), the shortest set I’ve seen was about 45/50 minutes and I missed the October 2005 Renfrew Ferry gig that got a bit hairy because I was in The Arches watching Jandek.
"Worrying about stuff is pointless. So just, you know, go for it. Don’t worry about what people think or be too scared of the consequences. Obviously, jumping off a cliff…you need to worry about that sort of stuff. Don’t spend time wasting time. Worrying about what’s gonna happen or not. Just…do it. Live with the regrets” Richard Youngs in the debut issue of Totally Nang! available now at Volcanic Tongue: http://www.volcanictongue.com/labels/show/2181
This is one of the more curious events in the Corwood Industries catalogue.
To the left is “Modern Dances”, a noisy “group” album with shouted vocals, electric guitars and untamed drums. This is largely of a piece with the 5 or 6 albums before it (except Nine Thirty) and probably features the same people as those albums - loose atonal jamming. Communal. Therapeutic**. Sterling (as we can now safely call him, post Wire interview) mostly on vocals and probably guitar although maybe some drums too.
Despite boasting a front cover seemingly being shot mere seconds before, follow-up “Blue Corpse” couldn’t be more different. This is a duo record with a conventionally tuned guitar as the musical centre. The unidentified participant (probably called Eddie - the words “take it, Eddie” are clearly heard on “Down At The Ball Park”) sings the first couple of songs while Sterling claws away at the open strings. Then they swap, Eddie moving around some melodic standard progressions, some with a bluesy twang while Corwood’s finest explores some of his vocal limits. There are ghosts of other recordings in the background of one or two songs, probably due to faults in the tape machine. It’s not clear if the guitar on “Harmonica” is a bleed or an incorrectly erased track until about 3 minutes in when the titular instrument starts to link with the guitar and the latter becomes a bit louder. The standard tuning makes the album very accessible, despite it being so desolate.
The cover of “Blue Corpse” seems to be saying “It’s OK, things have changed a bit but it’s still Jandek”. But if the photo is meant to be reassuring, the album’s title is the exact opposite, a wilfully off-putting feature, preventing access to what is undoubtedly the most comfortable entry point into the “first era” of Jandek.
**NB - this is not to imply that there is anything in the much repeated story that these albums were an actual Group Therapy session.
I suppose we’d better get The Fall out of the way then, apologies to the other people who suggested them…
1. The first song of theirs I heard
The Fall - Spoilt Victorian Child - from the One Pound Ninety Nine Beggars Banquet label sampler LP. It wasn’t love at first listen but it was the track on the album I played most.
Throbbing Gristle - Hamburger Lady - my introduction to TG was a secondhand CD copy of “Greatest Hits” and that’s the opening track. Preps you pretty well, as it turns out.
2. My favorite song of theirs.
The Fall - nigh on impossible but “Auto Tech Pilot” and “Smile” are often to be found fighting it out for top honours.
TG - Is it cheating to pick the single-track “In The Shadow Of The Sun” soundtrack? That and the DOA album are my most played TG releases.
3. My favorite album of theirs.
The Fall - Perverted By Language
TG - D.o.A. That’s their most fully realised statement, I think.
4. My favorite lyric.
The Fall - incredibly difficult question. Today it’s probably “City Hobgoblins”
"They pass my home at night
They are not alright
Ten times my age
One tenth my height”
TG - also very hard because I greatly prefer them without vocals!! I love that the lyric to Hamburger Lady is basically a recitation of a letter from a friend of theirs (I believe) but they’re not a band I associate with words, truthfully.
1. The first song of theirs I heard.
2. My favorite song of theirs.
3. My favorite album of theirs.
4. My favorite lyric.
I’m up for this. Might make me think about someone other than The Fall for once…
Week Five: Grotesque (After The Gramme)
I’ve not had much time to spend with Grotesque, the seventh Fall release (not counting singles), and their third album proper, and it feels like a bit of a shame because (despite there being too much kazoo again) it’s actually pretty decent. My partner and I took some time off work and spent a few days in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and The Fall didn’t seem to be appropriate listening. They’re much better suited for walking through the terraces of Northern England, whereas I planned to spend most of our trip listening to those sad Scottish bastards in Frightened Rabbit.
On arrival, however, I was reminded of how proud Scotland are of Mogwai, and now they’ve dominated my listening all week. Seriously, they’re still fairly “underground” in England compared to the reception they get in their home country. Fopp (yeah Scotland still has loads of Fopps for some reason, which is brilliant) had a deal on where if you bought Rave Tapes, you could get all the other Mogwai albums for just £4 each. Bargain! And yeah, their gloomy not-really-post-rock sounds suited the train journey between the two cities perfectly. Glasgow was the better destination, if you must know – I could eat at Mono every day until the day I die from too much vegan cheesecake.
Anywho. As you can see, this didn’t leave much time for Grotesque (After The Gramme), so I’ve only had time for a couple of plays through at the weekend. You know, though, apart from a few horrific missteps (C’n’C-S Mithering, for example, is fucking awful), it’s actually been the easiest listening for a full-length, and their best studio work up until that point. The production is is nice and crisp with just enough of that 80s post-punk rattle and fuzz. Smith’s vocals neither dominate or fall too far in to the background, his voice has improved, and they actually seem some of the most coherent yet, lyrically. The band sound really tight despite it being their first with their new sixteen-year old drummer, and the keyboards have been incorporated in to their sound in a way they couldn’t quite seem to manage on Witch Trials. It’s just solid, the sound of an improvisational and experimental mess of a band finally starting to find their feet, with just a classic art-punk sound. Or, at least, an art-punk sound that would go on to be classic. You know what I mean.
Still, though, there is the unfortunate incident with the kazoo. I seriously can’t think of any band who have ever incorporated kazoo in to their music that doesn’t sound absolutely horrendous, and The Fall are no different. The only exception is Andrew Jackson Jihad’s ‘Kazoo Sonata in Cmaj’, but that’s pretty much only because they accept that the kazoo is a completely ridiculous instrument, and revel in it. The Fall’s motivations in regards to the kazoo are less clear, and it just doesn’t work.
The artwork is worth mentioning for this one, because the weird, cartoonish figures reminded me of the cover to ANX, the first album by a band called Doctrines, released in 2013. Both albums have a long-necked pink creature on the front, and Doctrines, like The Fall, are a weird, idiosyncratic art-punk band from Manchester who seem to really divide audiences. Whilst their main influence has always been later indie rock, like The Replacements, the realisation that The Fall are basically their spiritual forefathers is a hard one to shake off. And it really makes me want to listen to Doctrines all next week. Doctrines and Mogwai.
Still, I think the combined circumstances of not enough time and this actually being a decent record (it has a nine minute closer that isn’t terrible, smashing my theory that every Fall song over five minutes sucks out loud) mean I could actually see myself coming back to this one.
Glasgow and Edinburgh still have Fopps because it was founded in Glasgow - the very first Fopp was on Renfield Street, having moved out of the Savoy Centre and changed its name from A1 Sounds.