Archives for posts with tag: The Fall

I suppose I must have had some consciousness of The Fall as far back as 1985 from mentions in the Record Mirror. ‘L.A.’ might have been the first Fall song I heard but the memory didn’t take hold as much as a later encounter. An early summer holiday in Devon in 1986 led to me having just an AM radio for company at the point where I desperately wanted to hear and absorb more new music. I can recall a Thursday night – possibly the night we arrived at the seafront house in Torcross – and a radio reception that made lots of interesting high-pitched sounds due to the proximity of the sea. At least, that was always how I understood it. I’ve been looking around for an appropriate word or phrase for these ghostly sounds but have failed to find one. Googling ‘ghostly AM radio howling’ just leads to lots of hackneyed lyrics related to memories which are of course vastly inferior to a piece of writing like this. I always hoped ‘wow and flutter’ might apply, but it doesn’t. This was always worse when there was no music and so John Peel’s usual seemingly random mutterings seemed to almost encourage single syllable words for clarity. That may be why I made out the name ‘The Fall’ amidst a description of the next song and some half-remembered reference made me stay listening.

The song was ‘Living Too Late’ and when I finally got it on the cassette of ‘Bend Sinister’ a few months later, it was obvious to me that I had liked something which had a tune I couldn’t remember. I may have just liked the line ‘crow’s feet are engraved on my face’ which might have been mentioned in a review I had seen. It’s hard to tell as I clearly just got a feeling from this listening experience and that would be a familiar feeling over the next 26 years. That summer seemed to allow the idea of a tune or a style to grow. The trip to Devon would not see any further development of Fall-love but did also see me by the double 7” of ‘Some Candy Talking’ by the Jesus and Mary Chain in the Dartmouth Woolworths. Why, when we went on holiday, did we always have to visit towns where I spent hours wandering backwards and forwards around John Menzies, Woolworths and the inevitable Our Price? – and they didn’t even seem to have them in Devon . I think a review also prompted the JAMC purchase though the novelty attraction of a double 7” certainly did no harm.

Come September, I wanted more obscure records than Oswestry would ever provide – well, at that time certainly. During the previous school year I had ordered a 7” single through a friend at school: Wait for the Blackout by The Damned. Now I decided to take this further and ordered a further couple of 7” singles: ‘Almost Prayed’ by The Weather Prophets (a classic possibly also first heard in Devon with added AM effects possibly provided by the sea, the atmosphere or even the ground according to my brief bit of radio wave research) and ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ by The Fall.

‘Mr Pharmacist’ excited me. It came in a really interesting sleeve with little bits of information and obscure references all over the back, as did all Fall releases in those days. It was certainly a beguiling way for me to be enlisted into this cult of fans – look, James!…lists of things and stuff! Yep, that hooked me. I can recall looking at it while awaiting a check up at the dentists on Salop Road. That set out like it was going to be a profound memory and yet it really isn’t, just a small moment stored away ever since.

The actual song itself (finally!) also excited. It felt like slow punk rock or like slow punk rock was supposed to feel as I understood it then: less frantic than a shouted manifesto lasting three minutes and yet more sure of itself and defiantly militant – yet decidedly apolitical. It felt ominous as well as fun to be involved in, though that may just be my idea of fun. It was drugged but not druggy despite seeming to be about a dealer or just a pharmacist selling over-the-counter ‘legal’ highs. The production sounds like it was an afterthought, but any Fall fan soon gets used to that. After all, this song was from an album that was mastered from a C90 cassette and probably an extra-brown ferric Memorex cassette at that. What impresses me most about ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ is that it manages to sound exactly like the original by 60s garage band The Other Half and exactly like a Fall song at the same time. It brings to mind the classic John Peel quote about the group:  “The Fall: always the same; always different.” This also points to the fact that the song sounds like it belongs in 1986, a garage band from the mid to late 60s and yet its punk spirit oozes the late 70s. Of course it would also sound at home in the future within the later sounds of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the inevitable White Stripes. Now, it could be the sound of yet another Ty Segall single, if he could summon up the undercurrent of malice suggested by Mark E. Smith’s vocals. In The Fall’s version of this song, you suspect the pharmacist might get done over for his product if he doesn’t comply with the singer’s wishes whereas the original suggests the group might be chased off by an ageing pharmacist wielding a broom or shaking a fist at those cheeky monkeys. The Fall’s pharmacist would of course be a chemist and therefore probably wondering why this sarcastic-sounding Salfordian fiend is addressing him as ‘Mr.Pharmacist’ while his band members are in the background throwing items from the shelves at each other. It’s the scene in the shop from ‘This is England’ without any racist overtones – you can’t technically be racist if you feel contempt for everyone as it sounds like MES does, it’s a more universal version of unpleasantness.

The opening syllable is uttered without the band, they come in on the second. This is the same on the original yet here it sounds deliberate rather than ramshackle, or possibly deliberately ramshackle? That seems almost a neat summary of The Fall’s entire recorded history. As a result of the band’s late entry, they seem to spend the rest of the first half of the song trying to catch up with the vocals. They almost seem to achieve this with a slight reggae lilt to their developing competence. Of course, in reality, being in The Fall generally meant trying to keep up with Mark E. Smith and his whims and sometimes having to do so while he tried to unplug the bass guitar…live…mid-song.  Maybe the reggae lilt is false confidence or an attempt to skip a note of two as the band only truly sound comfortable during the sped up break in the middle – as perfect for an indie disco wigout as it would have been for the 60s version possibly first experienced via The Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’. The Other Half’s original borrows the wigout and adds the customary garage band harmonica (something for the singer to do while the real musicians are playing?). The Fall have no harmonica, punk rock generally shuns them. Once we get back to normal speed, it seems like the band have caught up with the vocals and the song really does seem to have developed its swagger now and so it ends. I can’t imagine MES tolerating a band swaggering behind him for long without a good kicking being administered. The song ends as it began – this seems to be dictated by Mark E.Smith and the sudden, shuddering stop suggests his absolute control.

The original song sounds like some guys hanging out and having a joke and some fun, The Fall’s version doesn’t. The original song sounds like it was recorded for a keg party. The Fall sound more like they have been taught to follow using this track and maybe it was a way of introducing new drummer Simon Wolstencroft to the methods of his new band or, more pointedly, his new band leader.

I could go on to discuss the b-side, but that’s never a sentence opening designed to encourage readers or audiences to declare “Oh please do!” unless sarcastically. Also, said b-side appears to be one of the few Fall songs I don’t own digitally but the title alone backs up my points about malice or the threatening tone of The Fall: ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire’.

Liking The Fall became a badge of mine very soon after this point. Liking The Smiths seemed easy, but this lot of Mancs were a different kettle of fish and suggested a private club rather than the Salford Lads Club. There was definitely an element of pretension there but a worthy one. Better to be pretentious about music like this than many of the other 80s options. I shudder involuntarily at the hint of a memory of once considering Lloyd Cole ‘deep’. Of course, Lloyd Cole’s brain and face are actually made out of cowpat, everyone knows that – according to Mark E. Smith in one of his more famous putdowns.

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This has taken a while to produce – you try writing about simultaneously seeming to like AC/DC and Bronski Beat…hmmm, yeah, I can hear how that sounds now. Or take Judas Priest and the Pet Shop Boys…ah!  Prince and Motley Crue? Frankie goes to Hollywood and Queen???

Christmas 1983 saw the arrival of my Sinclair Spectrum – a whole 48K of memory. It heralded a hazy patch in my musical tastes as I became more interested in playing games on the computer as well as a lot of sport in my spare time. It is clear from a list of artists that I purchased around this time that I had lost all sense of image and was clearly – I mean, Bryan Adams’ ‘Reckless’??? Really James! I can understand how my interests changed in this period as a result of being more attracted to what would today be gaming. Therefore I can see why music these days is a less intense experience for the youth. Can I get away with ‘the youth’? I and I hope so.

In 1984, Queen were my favourite band*. I thought ‘Radio GaGa’ was ace and was deeply confused by the ‘I Want to Break Free’ video. They were ‘rock’ and therefore the excesses of Mercury were acceptable. I wanted to grow my hair like Brian May. Roger Taylor seemed like a cool guy somehow and John Deacon was…well, just kind of ‘there’ really. I seemed to like them a lot then and cringe about it now. There are many more cringeworthy bands in my past but, as a personal favourite, Queen really have so very little to do with my psyche. So what if I bought The Darkness album? They were funny for a bit. At 11 or 12 years old I wasn’t exactly picking up on Queen’s ironic humour was I? To me it was real and even fashionable. Oh Lord!

My favourite band in 1985 became The Damned. That sentence sounds inverted; it isn’t. Think about that. Anyway, I thought…I don’t really know what I thought, they were no longer punk and seemed more like a gothic pop group. I have few memories of why I liked them but do remember a summer job sorting intact bricks from broken ones for 50p an hour where I would sing ‘The Shadow of Love’ and ‘Grimly Fiendish’ all morning long as I gained experience in child labour in a place called Rhydycroesau which I have just learned how to spell now. A 7” of ‘Wait for the Blackout’ – the reissue, was the first record I ordered by post – not exactly a statistic that’s up there with the first manned space mission, but then none of this twaddle is. This would develop a lot over the next few years mostly through Rhythm Records of Cambridge. I also liked ‘Eloise’ – now I prefer the original. I bought their next album in 1986 and thought ‘Anything’ was punk. Anything but ‘Anything’ might have been. They really were not a very good band in that era and hard to take seriously in any genre which is a bit like a needy village kid perhaps.

It’s probably a good thing that my interest in metal was fading though late interest in Motley Crue suggests otherwise. Really, it was their debut album which I liked as it was good acoustic metal for the most part, like ‘Women and Children First’-era Van Halen. I think I was actually getting towards liking blue-collar rock and linked the sound of early Crue more with Springsteen and Bryan Adams than anything metalesque. However, by the time of the ‘Theatre of Pain’ album I bought, they were clearly a different, unlistenable beast. In mid-86 AC/DC made appearances in my purchases alongside The Smiths which is really quite something of a double bill. I’m still sure that Johnny Marr would have wiped the floor with Angus and his three chords but I may be in the minority there.

Queen, Foreigner, Marillion, Mike and the Mechanics, Genesis, Bronski Beat AFTER Sommerville!, Simply Red’s first single?, the 2 Phils’ number one – so very, very bland! Peter Gabriel again! Paul Hardcastle and Harold Faltermayer! Dr and the Medics!!! Truly, this was a disastrous time for my taste even if I was developing impressive abilities in Manic Miner as well as a bit of pace for my seamy bowling of the time. 1986 really was a weird year: Xmas 85 I made sure I received 6 heavy metal albums – bought in heavy metal country: Wolverhampton, no less…and ‘West End Girls’. In January 86 I bought a Bronski Beat single and the Big Audio Dynamite album and by June I was a confirmed Smiths fan; in the Autumn my Fall obsession had started. Somehow Mike and the Mechanics and got a look in in-between. In May and June I bought the Doctor and the Medics novelty number one, my first Smiths single, not to mention AC/DC and Peter Gabriel – who does that? I don’t understand me back then although it’s nice to see a bit of eclecticism rather than being different by liking music that all sounds the same – that stage was yet to come!

Out of this, from somewhere or nowhere, it’s hard to tell, grew some kind of an interest in alternative music. Apart from ‘Spirit in the Sky’, Dr. And the Medics were very much an unsuccessful little indie band, albeit a shockingly dreadful one. The Damned were a gothpop group and may later explain a move towards The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland was my first CD – and even some Nephilim on tape. Sigue Sigue Sputnik were not supposed to be as bad as they turned out to be and might have been cool had they delivered on their original hype. You can tell this by considering their still impressive sounding debut single title, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, and comparing it with the title of their last single ‘Grooving with Mr Pervert’. I liked a tape I had of various Beatles songs, I got this from a mod in 1985. I think I liked The Alarm a bit. It seems cool to like the Pet Shop Days these days, but it wasn’t particularly cool in 85/86. I seem to recall buying The Pet Shop Boys ‘Please’ and Prince’s ‘Parade’ on different Saturdays that were fairly close together in 1986. On both occasions, I managed to buy them when with my dad as part of a day out to The Gay Meadow to see Shrewsbury Town after giving up on the misery of Oswestry Town. Yes, I bought a Pet Shop Boys album on my way to the Gay Meadow. Do keep up.

However, some music from this period seems more comfortable among what I listen to now. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ was a favourite at the time if not now though I seem to be developing more of a taste for Springsteen these days. Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring is still something I listen to. I bought The Smiths complete box set which isn’t complete and so I even downloaded the missing bits. Prince became one of my favourite artists mostly thanks to ‘Parade’.  Then I heard ‘Living too Late’ by The Fall through a crappy little medium wave radio with terrible reception because were on early summer holiday or perhaps even a summer half term in Torcross, Devon. This is where I decided I was a fan of Mark E.Smith and haven’t really changed that opinion since. Somehow I was into The Fall and The Smiths now, as well as Paul Hardcastle.

I also liked U2 at this point in my life, so lets not get too carried away. They seemed important. I still think ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ is one of the best attempt at atmospherics by many a rock band, but that was all Eno’s doing in my opinion. It seemed a very impressionistic album even at the time – though I might not have understood what that meant exactly. However, it still seemed to appeal to me a lot – especially in cold weather and no central heating. Also, Larry Mullen’s cheekbones were definitely something to aspire to. He seemed to be popular with girls at the time. He didn’t have brown curly hair.

I’d already started to pay attention to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and Siouxsie seeming to act as a bridge towards my goth flirtations into a less undead world were people didn’t cover themselves in flour. Big Audio Dynamite were an early purchase in 1986 and possibly the first influenced by a best albums of the year list – 1985, from The Record Mirror. So everything’s moving neatly towards the present is it? No, for around the same time I also purchased ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and Bronski Beat seemed to oddly overlap with heavy metal as 1986 was the year when I demanded 6 LPs for Christmas and began getting into Metallica and a bit of Rush. A check of the charts of the time reveals that this was the era of A-Ha which therefore takes me into a music-class-muck-about hero moment of which I was quite proud – sorry Miss Lloyd.

I recall that we had a music lesson in December where we were all allowed to bring our own music into class and Miss Lloyd would play them and the class had to noted down how many time changes there were in the song. Clearly, Miss Lloyd came out of the prog-music teacher era and I imagine some Van Der Graf Generator might have really blown her mind but I would also probably have been punched quite hard too. The immediate reaction was not one of relief at finally being allowed to bring in our own music and embrace our own counter-culture, instead everyone wanted to work a plan to get records with swear words in them played. Many people simply forgot or didn’t bother. Miss Lloyd sniffed out a copy of ‘Frigging on the Rigging’ rather quickly and banned it. A second copy cunningly hidden inside an A-Ha sleeve was also thrown out. I think literally this time. I managed to go for the obscurity angle and so brought in a home taping (from where or whom, I cannot recall) of a song I declared to be called “Err…Animal?” when asked by Miss Lloyd just as she was about to hit play. It was in fact “Animal (I F**k Like a Beast)” by W.A.S.P. which stood for ‘We Are Sexual Perverts’ rather than the more disturbing white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The song lasted for a line which I think Miss Lloyd heard: ‘I’ve got pictures of naked ladies tied to my bed’, before the tape was removed and thrown at me. I think we managed one time change in the brief time it was allowed on for. I also feel that we could have possibly had a class discussion about lyrical ambiguity as I’m always unclear as to whether Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. either had a) pictures of actual women tied to his own bed in hopefully a rather disturbing bondage ritual or b) he had actually abducted them and tied them up or c) pathetically attached actual pornographic pictures from magazines to his bed so that he could pretend to be with them…well, you know. So, turning to ethics now, which option would be more acceptable in modern society and why?

Music lessons at school were a mostly wasted opportunity. There was a memorable occasion when Hitler walked into class and started dancing jauntily to ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Sadly, ‘Hitler’ was the disciplinarian German teacher, hence her name – she also had a little moustache as well. In another music lesson we were told that The Beatles released their last 3 albums on the same day, something which I knew even then to be utterly false. I kept quiet as the teacher was not only scary but a scary neighbour in my village, however I think Adam Roberts may have been sent out for his protests – big Beatles fan and mod, I think he may have provided me with my random Beatles tape mentioned earlier though I’m not entirely sure on that memory.

Oh crap, I’ve forgotten The Eurythmics, oh no wait – that’s a good thing, Simple Minds too. Never did get around to buying any China Crisis and never bought Level 42 because the bass player is ‘really good’. Big Country – argh, yes, yes guitars like bagpipes – check! Yes, this was not a particularly promising time, a time in fact which would suggest I would soon tire of music and give up listening altogether by about 1992. Except Big Audio Dynamite and sometimes Prince sounded like they came from way beyond that year to my ears.

The chronology is almost impossible to work with on this period. There are chart websites which help, but they only help you remember things that were bought when they were actually in the charts. Back then, records would slowly rise and fall in the charts. Music was less immediate. It had time to develop in the head and the consciousness. That could make the irritating stuff very irritating but it also meant that the good stuff could be better appreciated within the collective consciousness than it can now. A Smiths or U2 album would see an initial rush of attention but it would also last for a long time afterwards and more lyrics would be remembered or chords learnt.

Music faded into the background and then faded back in again. At roughly the same time, my interest in sport intensified but started to die out for a few years at the end of the 80s because Morrissey didn’t like sport and also partly down to Ipswich Town being dreadful for the second half of the 80s.

Who is this person? I must confess that looking back to these early teenage years of mine that surprises emerge all the time. I just take a random date in 1985, look at the charts and remember…(hang on I’m doing it now)…Good Lord! Frankie by Sister Sledge was a number one single! I forget that happening, presumably part of the trauma of owning the record below it – ‘Axel F’. Even the most desperate to be liked elements in my psyche are not going to try to draw a line from ‘Axel F’ and ‘19’ to my love of The Aphex Twin, drum and bass et al. Here are the other top 40 tunes that were lingering around that I bought, taped or listened to that week: Bruce Springsteen, Eurythmics, Marillion, Commentators, Simply Red, The Damned, The Cult and that’s about it…oh, alright, Paul Hardcastle. More on him is to come from when I worked in a record shop. The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ was possibly my favourite dance tune of the time as it involved trying to chicken dance everyone else into submission as also happened in the ‘verses’ of Wipeout – a pre-Pulp Fiction moment of cool? Or just desperate teenagers trying to be hard…in Morton and Llanymynech as I recall. The influence of The Smiths was some way off and Keats was just a kid whose parents didn’t seem to care if other kids got drunk at his parties.

Perhaps I can now move into properly writing about the music I actually like. My first Echo and the Bunnymen purchase in November 1985 seems like a good starting point and so probably won’t be the starting point that I get around to.

*Interestingly the word ‘tit’ emerged as a typo right when I was trying to communicate that Queen were my favourite band. I find this significant.