“Anyone who wants a fifty cents refund send an airmail letter to the Outer Hebrides”
Recorded: America May-July 1981 (see below)
Released: May 1982 (US only – see below)
- Mark E Smith – vocals
- Marc Riley – guitar, vocals
- Craig Scanlon – guitar
- Steve Hanley – bass
- Karl Burns – drums
Background / The Fall Live In 1981
After Slates‘ release, the group played a dozen gigs in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The setlists follow a broadly similar pattern to those earlier in the year, a mixture of Grotesque and Slates material, with a few outings for Hip Priest, Jawbone and Winter. Pre-Grotesque songs are scarce, although John Quays does get a handful of run-outs. Both Deer Park and Fortress made their first appearances on this mini-tour, although not, as yet, paired up.
The tenth date of the tour, at Hof in Northern Bavaria (22 May) did the rounds as a bootleg for many years before getting an official release in 2005 as part of the Live From The Vaults series. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany (Alter Banhof means ‘old train yard‘, apparently) consists of the ten songs from the Hof gig, plus five more from the following night’s performance in Berlin.
It’s the very definition of ‘historical interest only’, a truly ropy recording that would test the patience of even the most avid Fall bootleg collector. It does have some minor interesting features. It contains very early versions of Fantastic Life ( only its fifth performance), Fortress (third) and Hip Priest (seventh). But you don’t learn a great deal about these early incarnations, simply because you can’t really hear them properly (Hip Priest is especially wobbly). Fortress is paired up here with Totally Wired, as it was for most of its 1981 performances, and the transition doesn’t seem to work somehow; however, its segue into Deer Park on Hex is one of the most wondrous moments in Fall history so perhaps this is just the wisdom of hindsight talking. It also contains a rare recorded version of Session Musician, but I’ll come to that in the ‘reissues/bonus tracks’ section below.
Musically, the highlight is probably Prole Art Threat: live versions of this often sound a bit thin and anaemic, but here the overloaded distortion suits the track pretty well (I appreciate that this will give @VariousTimes more evidence that Prole is one of my ‘pet songs’!) Otherwise, the most interesting moment is in the intro to NWRA, when Smith asks for the lights to be dimmed because ‘we’ve lost enough weight as it is’, to which an English voice from the audience (thefall.org suggests that it might be Kay Carroll) responds, quite aggressively, ‘Well stop over-indulging, you wanker!’ If you’re thinking of investing in this one, I’d seriously recommend giving it a listen on Spotify before you decide to part with any cash.
Almost as soon as the European tour was finished, the group headed out to America. This involved a change in personnel: 17 year old Paul Hanley couldn’t get a work permit because of his age (and was in the middle of studying for his A levels anyway, so – not for the last time – one Mr K. Burns returned to the drum stool. The details of the tour are a little uncertain: both Simon Ford1 and Dave Thompson2 state that the tour started at the end of May in Oklahoma City, but thefall.org dates the Oklahoma gig to 29 June and Steve Hanley describes the tour as beginning in New York3.
What is without doubt is that the group worked hard that summer, packing in something like thirty gigs in around six weeks. Steve Hanley’s book4 describes the delights of touring in great detail: the distances (‘We’ve got two weeks to cover three and a half thousand miles?’), the tour bus music (‘Frank Zappa, that’s what you lot should be listening to. You might learn something.’), the drugs (‘Aided by a pair of invisible bellows stuck up his arse, [Burns] proceeds to finish all several remaining centimetres of the joint in one almighty suck.’) and the boredom of travel (‘Massive roads that go through nothing but desert for miles and miles.’)
EDIT: After I’d published YMGTA #11 (Perverted By Language) it was pointed out to me that in December 2018, the Set Of Ten box set was released, which includes three recordings that predate PBL. One of the discs contains a recording from June 23 1981 at Jimmy’s, New Orleans, which obviously fits in here. It’s a passable enough audience recording, but for the sake of completion (and to assuage my OCD) I thought I’d better add a note. It’ll be included in the rankings from YMGTA #12 onwards.
In The Wider World…
Bob Marley died on 11 May; two days later Pope John Paul II nearly met the same fate when Mehmet Ali Ağca shot him in St. Peter’s Square. Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of 13 counts of murder later that month. In the same month, the first AIDS cases were detected in Los Angeles. In slightly more cheerful news, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released on June 12, and a couple of weeks later, the first ever game of paintball took place in New Hampshire. Ricky Villa’s memorable goal won the FA Cup final replay for Spurs.
Adam & The Ants’ Stand And Deliver dominated the UK singles chart throughout May. The accompanying album, Kings of the Wild Frontier, was number one throughout March, April and most of May, before being replaced by the regrettable phenomenon that was Stars on 45 (referenced by MES on more than one occasion, of course, including this album).
The eight tracks on the original album came from five different performances on the US tour (see individual songs below). It was originally only released in America, not getting a proper UK release until 1992 (see Reissues below). Despite this, it reached number 9 on the UK Independent Albums Chart in 1983. The back cover commemorated a personal highlight for MES and Kay Carroll: a visit to Graceland.
Having never owned it on vinyl, I don’t know if this affected the sound, but it’s a pretty lengthy beast, both sides coming in at around 26 minutes.
The N.W.R.A. / Hip Priest
The opening pair of songs come from the group’s final American date at Tuts in Chicago on 16 July. They get a somewhat portentous introduction (‘From the riot-torn streets of Manchester, England…’) before starting NWRA, the kazoo very much to the forefront in the opening section. After a slightly hesitant start, it turns into a pretty powerful, confident version, especially after the ‘switch!’ instruction. The sound is crisp, clear and well balanced here, and with the absence of keyboards (they’ve ‘broke down’ Smith explains after the song finishes), it’s intriguing to hear the interplay two guitar parts in far more detail than is usually possible. ‘You’re getting something unique’, Smith remarks at the end, ‘anyone who wants a fifty cents refund send an airmail letter to the Outer Hebrides’.
It’s also a particularly strong version of Hip Priest. Still unreleased, but already making its 25th appearance (it was a frequent choice on the US tour), the group have already honed this into something remarkable. The sparse, dry sound of the recording really suits the song, again allowing you to pick out more detail than is possible on the much more dense-sounding studio album. Again, the contrasting guitars are fascinating to listen to (especially around the 4-5 minute mark): one murky and thrashy; the other scratchy and frantic. SH, as ever, underpins everything with solidity and flair in equal measure; Burns shows masterful control of mood and tempo throughout; and MES is on imperious form. An astonishing version of an astonishing song.
Totally Wired / Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
Both tracks are identified as being from New York, although I’m not sure which of the half a dozen NY gigs they come from (answers on a postcard please – to the Outer Hebrides, obviously). Wired is still paired with Fortress (as you can tell from the characteristically cack-handed editing at the beginning) and is a fizzing, energetic version, featuring some particularly vigorous bass from Mr Hanley (the little burst at 2:42-2:44 is a fine example) and some excellent slashing, distorted guitar. Some interesting extemporisation from MES as well: ‘You don’t have to be a dye-haired, punk-fuck-shit-pop-fuck-shut-tick-tock-pad(?)… You don’t have to be strange to be strangled’.
Lie Dream is similarly tight, focused and aggressive. I don’t know if it’s just that my tolerance levels for live recordings have been altered by such repeated exposure to these live albums, but the sound quality on these two is excellent as well.
Cash ‘n’ Carry
The Fall played three dates in San Francisco on 11-13 July in three different venues. They played C&C at all three, and it’s not immediately clear which one this recording comes from. However, the ending indicates that it was followed by Lie Dream, which rules out the 11 July gig at The Stone, where it was followed by Gramme Friday. Also the improvised lyrics used in the 12 July gig at the Indian Centre identified on thefall.org don’t appear here, so this version must be from the 13 July performance at I-Beam.
The sound is a little thin and grating compared to side 1, but that’s not necessarily a totally bad thing as far as C&C is concerned, it being a pretty harsh and grim song at the best of times (and regular readers will know that I mean that in no way as a negative comment). It’s bleak, relentless and monotonous; just how I like it.
An Older Lover / Deer Park
A little easier to pin down, as the group only played Houston once, on 24 June at The Island. The sound quality takes a notable downturn here; there’s quite a lot of hiss and distortion on both tracks. I would also wonder about the speed of the tracks; Lover in particular sounds sluggish (and is a bit of a trial to get through, to be honest). It’s only Deer Park‘s tenth outing, and already it sounds bitingly taut and aggressive – Scanlon’s frantic guitar is particularly impressive. But there are several better versions to listen to.
The Fall played Memphis on 20 June (probably), when presumably Smith and Carroll made their pilgrimage to the home of The King. It’s only the eleventh outing for the song, and whilst lots of the elements that made the studio version such a masterpiece are in place (SH’s rock solid bass line, the meandering guitar, MES’s intriguing story) they haven’t quite nailed this one in the way that they clearly had with Hip Priest. It’s not a bad version, it just hasn’t as yet coalesced into the wonder that it would become. Things are not helped by the ropy sound quality and the sense that the tape was running slightly too slowly (or should that be quickly? It sounds a bit lethargic, anyway).
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
A Part Of America Therein, 1981 didn’t get a UK release until 1992, when it was paired with a CD reissue of Slates. It didn’t get a separate UK release until 2004. This reissue added four other tracks from the US tour. Middle Mass and The Container Drivers (from Boston on 11 June) are both ok, but are not especially well-recorded or notable versions. The sound quality on Your Heart Out (from Palo Alto, California 8 July) is pretty grim and the song sounds a little bit old hat and simplistic by this point.
The most interesting addition is that of Session Musician. Never recorded in the studio, and only ever played 17 times (of which this version – from New Orleans on 23 June – is the eighth), it’s a lengthy, almost prog-like diatribe about (obviously) musicians. It’s not Smith’s most incisive lyric and feels rather awkward and ploddy in places. The sound quality (as is the case with all of the versions of this song that I’ve heard) is pretty dire too.
It’s a bit frustrating that the excellent performances and sound quality of the first (‘North’) side are let down by the slightly variable stuff on the rest of the album. Definitely a game of two halves, Brian. It does beg the question as to why the whole album wasn’t compiled from the Chicago / New York gigs. But that first 26 minutes really is top notch…
Whilst Therein does dip in quality in the second half, side 1’s excellence takes it to the top of the list. Alter Banhof‘s dodgy sound condemns it to mid-table mediocrity.
- A Part Of America Therein, 1981
- The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
- Totale’s Turns
- Live 1977
- Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
- Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
- Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
- Liverpool 78
- Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
- Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
- Live At Deeply Vale
3The Big Midweek, pp97-101
4The Big Midweek, pp103-110