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.
AS MUCH as I loved fast and furious bands like Antisect, Amebix and Discharge, who operated at the heavier, more raucous end of anarcho punk, there was also a place within my heart for the bands who took a stealthier approach, who sang rather than shouted, who took their time with what they wanted to say and employed a number of chord changes, hell, sometimes even actual melodies to say it.
Foremost among them were The Mob and Zounds – and the Poison Girls of course, but we’ll have to save them for another time – who always seemed to be linked in my mind, not least because they toured together a lot and shared a drummer for a while. And the two bands also seemed to share a style of approach which often seemed completely at odds with many other bands who released music on Crass Records – not least Crass themselves.
Both the Mob and Zounds employed humour, subtlety and experimentation where others were content to focus on shouting, profanity and buzz-saw guitars – not that there’s anything wrong with shouting, profanity and buzz-saw guitars you understand, but everyone needs a bit of light and shade sometimes, don’t they? Some respite from the anger and hatred, a break from the big ideas? I was very grateful they were around.
They didn’t parrot the by-the-numbers sloganeering endemic in much of the scene, and instead talked about people rather than problems, the personal rather than the overtly political. It was a very different way of working and one that was about setting a mood and creating an atmosphere as much as telling you what was what in the world.
In contrast with the black and white, one-side-or-the-other certainties of Crass and many of the bands on their label, Zounds and the Mob didn’t claim to know all the answers, or indeed any of the answers. They probably weren’t even sure about the question.
“‘GROTESQUE’ is the new LP by The Fall .. The Fall are the group who keep being brought up and slagged by other insecure bands – this automatically invokes a curse on them which usually takes its toll. This is true. Most people who like The Fall don’t like other groups anyway and don’t own coffee tables.
‘GROTESQUE’ contains very few choruses but a lot of beat and the raw edge of The Fall is retained. If they were psychotic, they’d think every other group was mad except – them. This band thrives on being in tight spots, odd knots, and calling the shots .. SHUUT UP! ENTER
JOE TOTALE: As he writes this weak TV rock filters through from the adjoining room. SMITH SAID ‘78 was the year of the average man. WELL IF That’s true ’80 is the year of the average band. The Fall are the GROTESQUE EXCEPTION.
ON this LP Every class gets what’s COMING TO IT. MY FATHER said: THE FALL WILL OUTLIVE YOUR SINS.
Get this – ‘GROTESQUE’ also tells stories ..”
And what stories.