Not as good as the Fall: Approximation of a Playlist §71

3 02 2018

Artists not wholly despised by Mark E Smith



Having commented on a collection of previous Fall-related posts I was reminded of the fact that MES was notoriously scathing of other musicians and bands but in his autobiography he did name a perhaps surprisingly eclectic group of artists of whom he didn’t wholly disapprove. Although none of them were a patch on the mighty Fall of course. There are some interesting inclusions…

The Kinks
Sex Pistols
The Stooges
Led Zeppelin
The Las
Chuck Berry
John Cooper Clarke
Happy Mondays
Stone Roses

And, perhaps most surprisingly

Alvin Stardust
Gary Glitter

plus, in a recent interview, he did express some enthusiasm for Sleaford Mods

It’s certainly an interesting list.

Falling for the Fall

27 01 2018

I started this blog back in September 2004 and named it after my favourite Fall Song.

I first fell for the Fall thanks to my very good friend Robbie Foy who played them continuously on a car journey from Edinburgh to Truro – Palace of Swords Reversed and Bend Sinister three times each I think. A very compelling and persuasive induction and after that I was hooked.

There have been plenty of obituaries of the late, great Mark E Smith but this one in the New Statesman is one of the better ones (still waiting for the Economist one) and there was a nice piece from Dave Simpson too (see also below).

Anyway, in recent years, there have been a number of books about the Fall, some of which I’ve covered here:

This entertaining autobiography from Brix Smith Start covers her time in the Fall and marriage to MES.

Dave Simpson’s book on tracing every former member of the Fall is a key record of the band’s development.

Steve Hanley, one of the longer lasting Fall members, does a great job in The Big Midweek of making the insanity of life in the Fall sound almost like a normal job.

And then there is Smith’s own autobiography. Not a great read to be honest but entertaining in places, including his views on other artists – primarily negative of course.

So, no doubt there will be more reflections in future but in the meantime there is one heck of a back catalogue to revisit.

And then there is this old BBC Documentary, The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith,  which has recently been revived and is well worth a look


Falling up

25 02 2017

The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise by Brix Smith Start


The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise is the extraordinary story, in her own words, of Brix Smith Start. Best known for her work in The Fall at the time when they were perhaps the most powerful and influential anti-authoritarian postpunk band in the world — This Nation’s Saving Grace, The Wonderful and Frightening World Of … — Brix spent ten years in the band before a violent disintegration led to her exit and the end of her marriage with Mark E Smith.

But Brix’s story is much more than rock ‘n’ roll highs and lows in one of the most radically dysfunctional bands around. Growing up in the Hollywood Hills in the ’60s in a dilapidated pink mansion her life has taken her from luxury to destitution, from the cover of the NME to waitressing in California, via the industrial wasteland of Manchester in the 1980s. What emerges is a story of constant reinvention, jubilant highs and depressive ebbs; a singular journey of a teenage American girl on a collision course with English radicalism on her way to mid-life success on TV and in fashion.

Too bizarre, extreme and unlikely to exist in the pages of fiction, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise could only exist in the pages of a memoir.


I do love a rock autobiography and couldn’t resist this extraordinary combination of the girl from the rich troubled Californian background and the wonderful and frightening world of Mark E Smith. From her messy but celebrity-peppered childhood (Cher was almost her babysitter) to her marriage to Smith and subsequent stint with Nigel Kennedy before further fame, fortune and happiness in the fashion world this really is a rollercoaster of a memoir.

It’s genuine and heartfelt and despite the privileged background Brix is someone who has been through a lot of pain but still come through successfully. It’s a really good read therefore (particularly so for Fall fans) with much to enjoy across the span of an eventful life.


And I do like this account of her early experience of British TV:


(Note – a slightly different version of this brief review appeared recently in the Times Higher ‘What are you reading?’ section.)


Falling and Laughing

18 01 2015

The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall by Steve Hanley


The first insider’s account of life inside The Fall, Steve Hanley’s story unfolds like a novel; from 1979 when he joined his schoolmates Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon in The Fall, he puts us right in the heart of the action: on stage, on the tour bus, in the recording studio, and up close and personal with an eccentric cast of band mates. These vividly drawn scenes give unprecedented insight into the intense, highly-charged creative atmosphere within The Fall and their relentless work ethic which has won them a dedicated cult following, high-art respectability and a unique place in popular music history.
It’s a detailed, comprehensive and largely dispassionate record of an extraordinary musical journey in one of the world’s strangest bands. Steve Hanley does a remarkable job in making this rock autobiography sound almost like the story of someone following a normal career. But, of course, it isn’t. One of the great pleasures of this book is in the deadpan descriptions of the bonkers goings on and the miraculous longevity of one member in an ever-changing cast of artists in what is often viewed as Mark E Smith’s musical dictatorship.


(Also, nice to notice the credit to “The Professor”, one Michael Nath, whose first novel has previously been reviewed here.)



Fallen but not idle

23 03 2013

The Fallen: Life in and out of Britain’s most insane group by Dave Simpson


Ever been held hostage in a dressing room with your parents? Ever been thrown off the bus in the middle of a Swedish forest or abandoned at a foreign airport? Ever been asked to play at one of the UK’s biggest music festivals with musicians you’ve just met who are covered in blood, or taken part in a ‘recording session’ in a speeding Transit? If so you’ve probably been in The Fall. Dave Simpson made it his mission to track down everyone who has ever played in Britain’s most berserk, brilliant group. He uncovers a changing Britain, tales of madness and genius, and wreaks havoc on his personal life.

It’s a great premise for a quest and book but you really do need to be a Fall fan to give a damn about some of these former band members. Anyway, it’s all entertaining stuff and does confirm what we all knew to be the case about the crazy genius that is MES. What is most remarkable is former members’ affection for Smith and their nostalgia for their time in The Fall despite the various unfortunate ways in which they were invited to leave.

3 star

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