SOMETIMES I think the world is simply too weird without Mark E Smith. Other times, I think it’s not weird enough.
Either way, I miss him. I wish he was still around to enlighten us with his opinion on the hole we find ourselves in today. I wish we had a new Fall album to look forward to rather than an unstoppable stream of reissues of varying quality and morality.
And I wish I could go and see the Fall one last time and wonder what version of MES we’ll be getting tonight, knowing full well it’ll either be very good or very bad but it’ll never be indifferent.
Luckily, the body of work he left behind bears repeated listening. Obviously.
EVERYONE was on tour in the States and I was staying at Southview House on my own. Alice and Dan were playing stadiums for MTV with Aerosmith and I was working in Belle Isle. But at least I got to hang out with Derek the dog.
One morning, hungover as hell, I stumble out of my basement bedroom and head upstairs.
I discover the Ex cheerfully bouncing around the kitchen with what I have come to understand is their customary enthusiasm and vigour, laughing and joking with each other in high-volume Dutch while frying cheese and mushrooms with abandon.
The people in Chumbawamba and the Ex had been friends for years – in fact Coby did the live sound for the Ex before she moved to Leeds and began working with the Chumbas – and they’d let themselves in after playing a local gig somewhere the night before. It was that kind of house.
LOCATED in one of those patches of bleak post-industrial wasteland that Manchester used to do so well before all the foreign money arrived, the White Hotel is sort of white but it’s certainly not a hotel. The bar, with staff serving drinks from a sunken inspection pit, seems to indicate a former life as a garage. A dodgy garage, knocking out fake MOTs, no doubt.
It’s just over the other side of Bury New Road from HMP Manchester, in the area of Manchester that once gave the prison its name. They like their evocative place names in Manchester, and this is about as Manchester as it gets. Even if we are in Salford.
NEITHER fish nor fowl, single nor album, the Fall’s dinky 10-inch Slates is a little record that makes a big impression.
“I was looking through the import bins in Wax Trax in Chicago, and I found Slates,” said Brix Smith in an interview with Guitarist magazine. “I took it home and became obsessed. It was the most brilliant thing I ever heard. It was outrageous. Two weeks later they were playing Chicago at Cabaret Metro, so Lisa and I went along.
“Stephen Hanley was totally, totally hypnotic. I was scared of Mark E Smith. They played a lot from Slates. After the gig, Lisa took off with some boyfriend, leaving me at the bar on my own. Before I knew what was happening I was talking to Mark E Smith ..”
And we all know what happened after that.
Slates made a big impression on me too, although unlike Brix I didn’t end up marrying Mark E Smith. I have a vague recollection of buying it from some record fair some time later. But I’m not entirely sure that people like me and Brix were the target audience for Slates in any case.
“That’s what I was trying to do with Slates in England, you know, get across to people who have no music,” MES told an interviewer in New Zealand. “People who either haven’t been told about the music trappings and the rubbish that surrounds it or people who do know it and don’t like it.
“That’s why it was a 10-inch, neither single nor album. It’s very conceptual, do you understand? It’s like an attempt to get over to these thousands of working class or middle class people, whatever, in England who don’t listen to records anymore, who don’t buy records .. I’d be one of them if I wasn’t in a group, I know that.
MARK E SMITH of the Fall is talking to me, eyeball to eyeball, giving me a few pointers about how I might like to approach our interview:
“Is he an idiot like Oasis? Or is he friendly like New Order? Or is he reclusive like Morrissey?” he whines in a fey, airhead manner, before snapping back into reality and fixing me with a surprisingly steely and clear-eyed gaze. “Say what you want. But watch your back.”
MES doesn’t have much time for the people others might regard as his contemporaries. If you see Manchester as one big happy musical family, Smith is the surly step-child in the corner, loudly singing off-key and out of time, spoiling it for everyone. Loving the fact that he is spoiling it for everyone.
I CAN honestly say that (with the possible exception of my beautiful and clever friend Clare’s novel The Dying Of Delight), I’ve never looked forward to the publication of a book like I’m looking forward to the publication of Mark E Smith’s autobiography Renegade: The Lives And Tales Of Mark E Smith.
It probably says a lot about my cultural priorities, but there you go. I’m gagging for it.
I’ve got a couple of Fall-related Hip Replacements in the pipeline but for now, here’s the first interview I did with him.
It was a couple of months after I’d started work on Swan Street and I was just about to leave Leeds to live in Manchester. My opposite number at the London Big Issue, the very wonderful Tina, passed on the interview to me as a kind of ‘welcome to the organisation’ gift. It was my first big, nationally syndicated piece. It was all very exciting.
I might be wrong, but I think that the IRA’s explosive redesign of Manchester city centre occured at some point between interview and publication, because it doesn’t come up in the conversation and I’m sure it’s the kind of thing I would’ve mentioned.
One sunny weekday afternoon, I left the office, walked down to a boozer at the bottom of Oldham Road and met up with Mark and Julia Nagle. He pressured me into getting a load of cans in.
I didn’t mind.
* * *