YMGTA #04: Totale’s Turns (It’s Now Or Never)

“Are you doing what you did two years ago?”

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Details
Recorded: Tracks 1-6 recorded live in Doncaster 27 October 1979; tracks 7-8 recorded live in Bradford 29 February 1980; track 9 is a studio outtake from the Fiery Jack sessions; track 10 is a home demo recording; track 11 recorded live, possibly Preston 22 November 1979.

Released: 5 May 1980

01. Intro 0:45
02. Fiery Jack 4:27
03. Rowche Rumble 4:48
04. Muzorewi’s Daughter 3:44
05. In My Area 4:32
06. Choc-Stock 2:33
07. Spectre vs. Rector 2 5:52
08. Cary Grant’s Wedding 3:37
09. That Man 1:43
10. New Puritan 3:21
11. No Xmas For John Quays 7:41

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Marc Riley – guitar, vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Mike Leigh – drums

Background
Released only six months after Dragnet, there are at least no line-up changes to explain this time (although the sixteen year old Paul Hanley played his first gig with the group – turning up in his school uniform – two months before Totale’s was actually released). The month before Dragnet came out, the group recorded their fourth single, Fiery Jack. (While researching this, I discovered that the studio in which they recorded it is only half an hour down the road from me. This may not sound like much, but if you live in the middle of nowhere as I do, then this is quite a discovery.)

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Fiery Jack was released Jan 1980, backed with 2nd Dark Age and Psykick Dancehall #2. MES described the character of ‘Jack’ (‘I just drink drink drink… I live on pies… my face is slack’) as being typical of certain Manchester characters: ‘hard livers with hard livers; faces like unmade beds’1. I’ve always found Jack to be engaging enough musically, if a little lightweight. However, it went down well with the music press, for example being made ‘single of the week’ in Sounds2.

2nd Dark Age is also quite poppy and accessible, if not exactly indispensable. The new version of Psykick Dancehall has, perhaps unsurprisingly, a far cleaner and crisper sound than the Dragnet version; it’s not a great deal different otherwise, apart from a little monologue (2:24-2:43) about Helen Duncan.

Totale’s was the first Fall record to be released on Rough Trade, the group’s association with Step Forward having been ended because, according to Smith, they ‘never saw a penny’3. As Dave Thompson puts it, the new label’s reputation for ‘rewarding adventure rather than avarice, art over commerce’ made it seem ‘a perfect home for The Fall’4Sounds‘ Dave McCullough (an early enthusiastic champion of the group) described it effusively as ‘a dream come true, like two sources of the same river joining’5. Smith, however, (in Renegade) claimed that he was unsure about Rough Trade from the start (‘They reminded me of kids in school who suddenly get into things’6). More on this in future posts…

In The Wider World…
The day of the album’s release saw the end of Iranian Embassy siege. Maggie Thatcher was ploughing on with her monetarist policies: unemployment reached 1.5m; inflation 21.8%. West Ham became the last team from outside the top division to win the FA Cup (in the days when the FA cup actually meant something).

In the UK charts, Dexy’s Midnight Runners were number one with Geno (I love this song – I was distracted from writing this by having to play it several times), having just replaced Blondie’s Call Me (another classy tune, it has to be said). A couple of weeks later, things were to take a seriously downward turn as Johnny Logan’s dire Eurovision winner What’s Another Year would take the top spot for two weeks. The best-selling albums of the year were ABBA’s Super Trouper and The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta.

The Fall Live In 1979-80
The Fall played in Scarborough on the day of Dragnet‘s release, at a venue called Penthouse. (This rather intrigued me, as I lived near Scarborough for around ten years and had never heard of it. I discovered that it closed in 1982 when the building was taken over by Lloyds Bank; this used to be my branch, which adds to the sense of coincidence in this post!)

photo

London School of Economics, 7 November 1979  (photo by Christian Cavallin)

They played a further 27 gigs in 1979, the last ten of which were an American tour (see Steve Hanley’s The Big Midweek pp61-75 for a highly entertaining account).

CBGB, New York 2 December 1979 (photo by Godlis)

Two official live releases (both from 2005) capture the group just before they head off to the states (Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979) and at their last American gig (Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979). The group’s determination to avoid resting on their laurels and just wheel out crowd-pleasers is already evident: there are by now very few pre-Dragnet/Fiery Jack songs present in either set (Rebellious Jukebox is the only one that appears in both).

The sound quality on Retford is pretty dire and the recording is of little more than historical interest. The Los Angeles album is (audio-wise) even worse in places, but does have a little more that’s noteworthy to recommend it: MES’s intro to Psykick Dancehall, for example (‘Your decadent sins will reap discipline; we are the new puritans; we are The Fall as in from heaven… married couples discuss the politics (?) of their self-built traps’). Also, the impressive, lengthy version of Spectre vs. Rector is well-suited by the stark, brutal sound; in particular, there’s an impressively harsh, feedback-drenched Sister Ray-esque section around the five minute mark. Overall, though, neither of these albums are for anyone other than the obsessive/completist.

Front coverFront cover

The Album
The first official Fall live album, Totale’s is not, of course, actually a true live album. Not for the last time (they repeated the trick with Seminal Live and The Twenty Seven Points, for example) there are studio/demo tracks thrown in as well.

The cover is a masterclass in minimalism: plain white with the title and venues (the ‘hilariously underwhelming tour itinerary’7) scrawled in the corner. As MES put it, ‘nobody played the sort of venues that you hear on it… the north was out of bounds; it might as well have been another country’8). The notes on the back cover emphasised the group’s uncompromising attitude: side one was ‘recorded in front of an 80% disco weekend mating audience, but we never liked preaching to the converted anyway’.

The album became the group’s first independent chart number one, and was generally well received. Dave McCullough (perhaps unsurprisingly) gave it a five star review in Sounds, describing The Fall as ‘a living reminder of the failure of punk and the almost solitary exponents of the directions in which it should have gone’.

back cover2

The Songs
Intro/Fiery Jack
The intro (a variation on Crap Rap) sees MES in playful and provocative mood: ‘The difference between you and us is that we have brains; The Fall – we are back, and this next number is Fiery Jack‘. A nimble run through Jack follows, the twin guitars working together to good effect; I probably prefer this marginally to the studio version.

Rowche Rumble
‘Last orders half past ten’, MES pronounces in the intro, and I am indeed old enough to remember when pubs closed at that time. ‘This is a groovy number’ he goes on to say, and it is indeed a fast, frenetic but tight version of the song. Slightly dodgy backing vocals, but I bet it was a lot of fun if you were there.

Muzorewi’s Daughter
There’s actually a little more colour and expression in Mike Leigh’s drumming here than there was on Dragnet, and there’s a slightly more pleasing balance to it overall (MES’s squawks being toned down a touch). I still think it’s a ropy song though.

In My Area
One of those ‘fine enough, but clearly a b-side’ tunes. Perfectly pleasant to listen to, just a bit flimsy. The dual guitar work is again quite nice at points, although MES contributes some dubious falsetto in places.

Choc-Stock
A spirited and lively enough version, but doesn’t really convince me any further regarding its merits. The most interesting part is MES’s introduction, responding to a shout from the crowd (presumably for an older number): ‘Are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don’t make a career out of it.’

Spectre vs. Rector 2
The highlight of the album for me – not just because the original is my favourite amongst the selection of songs, but also because it’s an intriguingly different take on the track.

Obviously it would be impossible to capture the sheer weirdness of the studio version’s opening in a live setting, but MES’s unearthly shriek of ‘unclean! unclean!’ provides a disturbing enough introduction. The group are a little ragged in places (e.g. the transition at 1:19; there’s also a hesitant section 2:05-2:06) but overall they show remarkably controlled aggression throughout a song that must have been rather a challenge to deliver on stage.

You also start to get a sense of Steve Hanley’s unique style that would in time come to underpin much of the group’s best work: he anchors the song throughout, but also contributes some lovely flourishes (even if he slightly fluffs one or two). I’d still rather listen to the studio version, but if you like Spectre and haven’t heard this, well, you should.

Cary Grant’s Wedding
This got rather a pasting on the Fi5 blog, although in retrospect it might have done better if it had had come in a later selection (it was in #004), after some of my prejudices against very early and/or live Fall recordings had been broken down a little. It would certainly get a better mark now. I even quite enjoyed the slower-tempo sections. The title refrain bit is still rather inane and obvious though.

That Man
Not a live track, but an outtake from the Fiery Jack sessions, where the group appear to be trying to impersonate The Beatles circa 1963. I would still stand by what I said on Fi5: they sound like they’re having a great time playing this, and the hilariously off-key backing vocals, random kazoo solo and lines like ‘sticky pants are ostracised’ all combine to produce a winning piece of silly, knockabout fun.

New Puritan
An intriguing little piece of home/demo recording that makes the rest of the album sound over-produced in comparison. Over a frantic, skittering and barely in tune guitar, MES launches into a monologue that was radically re-worked for the version that emerged as part of the third Peel session in September. I’m not much of a lyrical analyst (as those who’ve followed for a while know well by now) – go here for an extensive examination – but there’s an abundance of classic Smith lines here. I particularly like his acerbic take on the ‘modernisation’ of back-street boozers and the increasing prevalence of crap, gassy beer: ‘the scream of electric pumps in a renovated pub / your stomach swells up before you get drunk’.

Anyone who’s never heard the song should, of course, start with the magisterial Peel version; but this is still a fascinating little rough sketch that’s well worth a listen. That said, it does feel a little out of place here.

No Xmas For John Quays
I’ve already – both on here and on Fi5 – explained my misgivings regarding this song, so I shan’t repeat them. The interesting things to note about this version are its length (it stretches out to nearly eight minutes) and how MES castigates the group for perceived self-indulgence: ‘Will you f*ckin’ get it together instead of showing off?!?’ (5:24) His ire isn’t reserved for the group, though; whoever is on the sound desk gets a bollocking at 1:35 as well (‘F*cking put the monitors up for Christ’s sake!’)

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The album has been reissued four times between 1992-2004. Three of them are straight reissues of the original eleven tracks, but the Sanctuary 2004 reissue also includes the tracks from the third Peel session (Container Drivers/Jawbone/New Puritan/New Face in Hell). Whilst this is an excellent session, it feels a bit ‘bolted on’ here; a little out of context, even if it is contemporary.

Overall Verdict
Despite my oft-stated ambivalence regarding most live albums, this was another (like Live 77) that has grown on me a great deal after repeated listening. I think that listening regularly to all of these early live albums has really developed my tolerance for these lo-fi recordings. When I read Dave Thompson dismiss the comments on the Rough Trade compilation Totally Wired (‘one of the worst quality recordings ever committed to vinyl’9) I found myself nodding in agreement enthusiastically. Who’d have thought it?

In Renegade, MES suggests that Totale’s reminds some people of The Stooges’ Metallic KO10. I actually referenced this album when writing about Live 77, where the spitting and beer-chucking that the group refer to seemed to be akin (if nowhere near the same level) to the hostility that Iggy & co. faced in 1974 Detroit. It could also be argued, of course, that many of the spitters were only doing so as a gesture of appreciation, or – more likely – because it was simply the ‘in’ thing to do at the time. The crowd on Totale’s seems to me to be displaying indifference rather than aggression from what I can hear – although that may well be as much to do with the recording quality as anything else. Aside from the ‘we have brains’ and ‘two years ago’ remarks, there’s not much in the way of antagonism towards the audience – and even those two comments seem relatively light hearted. (There’s another, barely audible one between Rowche and Muzorewi, where someone from the crowd shouts for Bingo Master’s and MES responds with something like ‘we’re not doing that one either’ – but with the trace of a laugh in his voice.)

Totale’s feels like a consolidation rather than a departure, which you might expect from a (largely) live album (and let’s face it, the primary purpose of the release was to generate some much-needed income for the group). This is reinforced by the inclusion of two recent demos/outtakes, which gives it the flavour of a compilation; a round-up of where the group have got to.

The tight, solid versions of, for example, Fiery Jack and Rowche Rumble demonstrate that the group had by this stage a firm grip on the Dragnet-era tracks. However, it’s only really Spectre and Puritan that give any clue to the innovation that was to ensue when the group entered the studio later that year to record Grotesque

1Renegade, p89

2Ford, p78

3-4Thompson, p41

5Ford, p80

6Renegade, p90

7Ford, p80

8Renegade, p82

9Thompson, p45

10Renegade, p82

 

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One thought on “YMGTA #04: Totale’s Turns (It’s Now Or Never)

  1. Another good one, thanks; and I was there, and it was great – about 20 of us at the front and the rest hanging about the bar.

    It wasn’t really Doncaster either – I heard that they’d spent much of the day driving around looking for the venue, which was actually at Bircotes, about 10 miles away.

    Me and my brother recorded the Retford one as well, originally just for our own listening pleasure.

    I still love this record though; until 27 points it was the nearest you’d get to a accurate representation of the Fall live experience.

    Liked by 2 people

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