“We didn’t look baggy. We didn’t sound baggy. We were The Fall.”
Recorded: London, Oxfordshire and Somerset mid-late 1989
Released: 19 February 1990
- Mark E Smith – vocals
- Martin Bramah – guitar, vocals
- Craig Scanlon – guitar
- Steve Hanley – bass
- Marcia Schofield – keyboards, percussion
- Simon Wolstencroft – drums
- Charlotte Bill – flute, oboe
- Kenny Brady – fiddle
- Craig Leon – vocals, organ
- Cassell Webb – vocals
- Mike Edwards – guitar
The saga of The Fall’s ever-changing membership took a surprising twist in 1989, when Martin Bramah rejoined the group after a ten-year absence. Bramah had achieved some critical acclaim and modest commercial success with The Blue Orchids; he had also briefly formed a band called Thirst with Karl Burns in 1987 who released one EP, Riding The Times. In Simon Ford’s Hip Priest1, Bramah suggests that he offered his services to Smith directly, although Steve Hanley claims that it was initiated by himself and Craig Scanlon2.
Whichever was the case, Bramah seems to have made a remarkably smooth transition back into the group. Marcia Schofield was initially sceptical (‘Who’s that? Oh no! He’s one of Mark’s friends from down the pub’) but was soon won over by the songs that he’d brought with him – ‘Fucking hell, this guy can actually write’3.
In December, the new line-up recorded The Fall’s 13th Peel session. Augmented by Kenny Brady on violin, they performed forthcoming album tracks Chicago Now, Black Monk Theme and Hilary, plus Whizz Bang, which was not broadcast at the time. Their first single, released in January 1990, was Telephone Thing. Produced by Matt Black and Jonathan More of Coldcut (for whose debut album Smith had recently provided a guest vocal), its funky wah-wah guitar and cut-up vocals (very much de rigueur in a lot of contemporary music) marked a striking departure in sound for the group, although it still retained an essential Fall-ness.
It sounds a little dated now, but its slightly shambolic funk-shuffle does still have a certain ragged charm. Plus, it features one of Smith’s more memorable lines: ‘How dare you assume I want to parlez-vous with you, Gretchen Franklin nosey matron thing!’ (Smith made the unlikely claim that he didn’t know that Gretchen Franklin was the actress who played Ethel in Eastenders.) The 12″ also contained two distinctly inessential alternative versions of the lead song. It made it to number 58 in the charts. A regular feature on the setlist from late 1989 to summer 1990, after a ten-year break it was frequently played 2002-04, clocking up 87 appearances overall.
The b-side was British People In Hot Weather. MES’s take on Mad Dogs and Englishmen, this mocking take on how the British behave on the rare occasions that the sun comes out contains some great lines, such as ‘Beached whale in Wapping / his armpit hairs are sprouting’. Whilst Smith’s mixture of disdainful sneer and levity (he even sounds on the verge of laughter on a couple of occasions – e.g. ‘Serpentine’ at 1:14-1:18) is effective, it’s dated by its production: the hollow, reverb-heavy drum sound, the scratchy pseudo-funk guitar and, above all, those Art of Noise-style keyboard stabs. It was played live throughout much of 1990, and then made a handful of appearances in 1991 and 1994, appearing 35 times altogether.
A month after the album’s release, Popcorn Double Feature was the somewhat unlikely choice for the next single (see ‘the songs’ below). As was the prevailing trend, the single was released in multiple formats which included four b-sides of highly variable quality. Pick of the bunch was Arms Control Poseur. A lurching, swampy slab of gloriously ramshackle yet controlled noise, everything from the startling blast of harmonica to the raw, distorted randomly soloing guitar to the depth-charge keyboard effects meshes together perfectly. MES is in fine form: a reserved, deadpan delivery, with some of his most enigmatic lines – ‘Parliament connives a diseased access company’; ‘I made a calendar that wasn’t there/to find whether it was the first of December/or not’. It was only played 17 times, the last of which was in December 1990.
Butterflies 4 Brains (a retitled version of Whizz Bang) is a lazy, dreamy, woozy piece of psychedelia, featuring a gentle and understated MES performance. It was only played live six times, all in 1990.
Zandra (which was never played live) has a few positive features: the understated 60s garage riff is pleasing enough; the ‘drop-out’ (at 1:04) – consisting of the rhythm section plus a shrill but delicate organ – is a nice diversion; there’s also a bit of bluesy lead guitar over the last thirty seconds or so that threatens to elevate the song a little. But overall, it’s all just a bit mundane; not helped by MES’s contribution, which is both phoned-in and buried in the mix.
As for Black Monk Theme Pt. II… Whatever made the group think that giving the song a hi-NRG/Eurovision treatment, complete with manic Casio keyboard handclap effects and tortuous key changes was a good idea, God only knows.
In The Wider World…
Shortly before the album’s release, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. Polls showed that Neil Kinnock’s Labour had a 17-point lead over the Conservatives. Rioting against the new Community Charge (Poll Tax) led to 37 arrests in Brixton. The UK and Argentina resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since the Falklands conflict eight years earlier.
On TV, the Mitchell brothers made their screen debut in Eastenders (in an episode that one presumes featured Gretchen Franklin). In the singles chart, Sinéad O’Connor was in the middle of a month-long run at number one with her tearful rendition of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. Phil Collins’ …But Seriously was in the third week of its seven-week stay at the top of the album charts. The Top Of The Pops chart rundown from the week of Extricate‘s release is still full of dross, but there were some brighter spots: The House of Love were at number 28 with Shine On and The Wedding Present actually appeared on the show with the excellent Steve Albini-produced Brassneck (although David Gedge looks less than enthused about having to mime).
The Fall Live In 1989-90
The new Fall line-up played its first gig on 12 July 1989 at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange, where Bill Is Dead, The Littlest Rebel and Pinball Machine were debuted. After playing Manchester Free Trade Hall the following night (where I’m Frank got its first outing), the group’s next two performances were at the Tucano Artes Festival in Brazil.
On the 29 August 1989, The Fall played at John Peel’s surprise 50th birthday party at London’s Subterrania, alongside The House of Love and The Wedding Present. They resurrected Mere Pseud Mag Ed (a Peel favourite) and also played a cover of Gene Vincent’s Race with the Devil (‘we learned this especially for John’s birthday’) which would eventually appear on The Remainderer.
Five days later, at Bradford, Sing! Harpy, Black Monk Theme and And Therein… were played for the first time; Telephone Thing and Hilary followed the next night in Aberdeen. After Extricate‘s release the Fall played a further 75 gigs in 1990.
The group in this period are captured in Live In Zagreb, released in June 2001. They played Zagreb on 15 April, although there is some doubt as to whether this recording is actually from that show (Dave Thompson asserts4 that it’s from a German gig on the same tour). It’s a fairly ‘clean’ soundboard recording, although it suffers (as these things often do) from the vocals and drums being overly prominent at the expense of the bass and guitar. This results in I’m Frank, for example, sounding rather odd, as the absence of the driving fuzz guitar gives it a distinctly different feel. Another notable moment is MES instructing the group to pick up the pace with Hit The North: ‘faster, faster!’
The bulk of the album was produced by either Craig Leon (whose Donkeys Bearing Cups had formed the basis of Mollusc In Tyrol) or Adrian Sherwood (of On-U and Tackhead fame). Craig Leon’s wife Cassell Webb also contributed backing vocals/keyboards. The cover was a piece by Anthony Frost, who had been writing to Smith since the release of Dragnet5.
The dawn of the twentieth century’s final decade saw the music industry and press obsessed with ‘Madchester‘ and all things ‘baggy‘. Phonogram, the group’s new label, may well have thought that The Fall’s Manchester background (‘from Salford, Mark would say to any journalist trying to lump us into Madchester’6)would enable them to cash in on the The Fall’s NW credentials. Simon Wolstencroft hoped that they would ‘get swept along on Madchester’s coat tails’7. However, despite the wah-wah funk of Telephone Thing, the group clearly resisted the temptation to align themselves to the ‘Madchester’ scene:
‘We weren’t ever going to be baggy. We didn’t look baggy. We didn’t sound baggy. We were The Fall. And Mark was right in seeing Madchester as a fleeting fad.’8
After their lukewarm (if relatively kind) reviews of Seminal Live, the music press breathed a sigh of relief at being able to get back to showering The Fall with praise. In Melody Maker, Jon Wilde extolled their ‘extraordinary… regenerative energies’; ‘They seem to possess this enormous power of renewal.’ He described Extricate as ‘another magnificent Fall LP. Possibly their finest yet.’ In the NME, James Brown awarded it 10/10 – declaring its diversity to be its main strength, he proclaimed it to be:
‘…a fine album glittering with brilliance. Mark E Smith may have been resting on his reputation and experimenting with tutus for a while but once again his music and not his conversation has delivered the strongest statement possible.’
Extricate saw the group achieve their second highest UK chart placing so far, the album peaking at number 31.
The opening, dominated by Kenny Brady’s piercing violin, provides a creepy and foreboding introduction which is followed by a stealthy, lethargic swamp-blues swagger that suits MES’s cynical drawl well. There’s a clear ‘borrow’ here, this time from The Stooges’ Little Doll (if you’ve never heard it, then you really should give it a spin, if only to hear the astonishingly blistering solo that takes up most of the second half of the song.)
Whatever Smith might have said, it’s pretty clear that this is about Brix: ‘She gripped me like a hawk/her talons were quite famished’; the notably prominent violin (given that Brix was at the time dating Nigel Kennedy) seems unlikely to be a complete coincidence.
It suffers a little (in retrospect) from the dated production; the drums in particular have that tinny, reverb-heavy sound so prevalent at the time. But there’s an impressively dark and sinister tone to it, despite the arid production. Plus, it contains some choice MES enunciation – can-ab-is (2:13) – and some entertaining Elvis-style ‘uh-huh’s.
It was credited to ‘Beddington/Smith’ – Beddington being Bramah’s ‘official’ surname. Harpy was regular feature in the setlist throughout the first half of 1990, but its 42nd performance in July of that year was its last.
A rather slight song, but one that sports a memorable and impressively fuzzy guitar line that just about cuts across the tootling flute and (once again) echo-laden drums. It’s endearing and catchy without having much depth. Apparently a tribute to Frank Zappa, although it’s hard to spot any sort of direct connection.
It’s not clear whether MES contributed anything other than vocals to the studio recording, but you can see him playing (if that’s the right word) some guitar in this video clip of the song. It was performed 66 times, lasting on the setlist until 1994.
Bill Is Dead
As I covered in the previous post, MES had recently been through a very difficult time, partly due to the death of his father. This song was clearly borne from this period, although ‘Bill’ was actually a friend of his father. A gentle, melancholy Scanlon tune is backed by a surprisingly melodic(ish) and sensitive vocal. It’s an undoubtedly notable song in the group’s canon, featuring a delicate melodicism that hadn’t really been heard from The Fall up to this point. As such, it’s obvious why many Fall fans rate it highly.
And yet… I have tried to be objective throughout these posts, but I have to confess that Bill isn’t really to my taste. I find it a bit mawkish and saccharine; and the ‘Came twice / You thrice’ line is embarrassingly nauseating.
It stayed in the setlist as far as 1995, making 59 appearances altogether.
Black Monk Theme Part I
The Monks were a somewhat unhinged 60s garage rock band who had previously gone under the unlikely moniker of The Torquays. And if you listen to any of their back catalogue, they are clearly the sort of band that you can easily imagine MES liking. Theme is basically a cover of I Hate You, a song from The Monks’ 1966 album Black Monk Time.
It has a loping, lethargic groove that is supported well by Brady’s keening violin and the slightly cheesy organ breaks. Smith’s stuttering vocals add to the manic atmosphere that treads a skilful line between daft and intense. Not the group’s creative peak, but lots of fun nonetheless. It was played regularly throughout late 1989 and 1990, before bowing out in December 1990 on its 53rd performance.
Popcorn Double Feature
One of the group’s less satisfying covers, Popcorn is a pretty straight rendition of The Searchers’ 1967 single. The original isn’t an especially inspiring song, and the group’s take is not unpleasant but is generally half-arsed and frankly rather dull. MES’s contribution is particularly ‘phoned-in’.
‘I didn’t like it. The singing was terrible and I just thought: what a waste. We had the backing of a major label, Madchester was at its peak, and this was what we gave them as a single. It bombed.’9
Indeed it did, reaching only number 84 in the charts. It made 33 live appearances, all in 1990, before disappearing.
Credited to Smith alone, but most likely a Bramah-inspired tune, there’s something ineffably 80s about Hilary. Partly, it’s the lyrics – ‘Hilary, where’s the sixty quid you borrowed off me’; I’m sure it was you in the new Audi / outside Sainsbury’s’ – which are reminiscent of any number of C86-style shamblers. But there’s also Bramah’s twangy, reverb-laden lead line which brings Lloyd Cole & The Commotions to mind.
Smith’s off-kilter phrasing is particularly pleasing (for example in the way that he squeezes the line about ‘bull’s blood’ into a space it has no right to inhabit), although his frequent uh-uh-uh-uhs are somewhat off-putting, and Marcia’s backing vocals are just the wrong side of twee. Still, it’s an enjoyable tune, although very much of its time. Played 37 times 1989-91.
A dark and atmospheric track with deep, sinister guitar and bass lines and malevolent keyboard flourishes. Quite a tuneful (relatively speaking) croon from MES as well. Not sure what any of the lyrics have to do with Chicago, but the hi-de-hi part towards the end is an entertaining diversion (perhaps MES is an admirer of Gladys Pugh?) Played only 13 times, all in 1990.
The Littlest Rebel
Solid if unspectacular, although MES’s vocal emphasis is a little odd and grating in places (‘little-EST reb-ELL’) and there’s a touch of rhyming dictionary about the lyrics. The insistent drumbeat and harmonica blasts provide an American railroads atmosphere, and there’s an interesting 60s psychedelica vibe going on in the chorus. Played 31 times, the last time in December 1990.
A sprightly, skiffle-ish feel (one of Bramah’s riffs) that contrasts nicely with MES’s somewhat dolorous vocals. A bit one-dimensional, although pleasant enough.
Smith was clearly fond of it:
‘Martin Bramah wrote a good tune and it conjured up the Salvation Army to me. It was quasi-religious and country-and-western, which I’d always wanted to do. I love the way they give a message over, these stories. Get to the beat of it, that’s what I wanted to do. Great guitars and a bit of sixth-form poetry cobbled together!’ 10
As a result, it had a long shelf-life, being performed 155 times 1989-2003.
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The original CD and cassette contained Arms Control Poseur, Black Monk Theme Part II and British People In Hot Weather (all discussed above). It also featured Extricate, like Perverted By Language a title track that never made it to its own album. Extricate features a looping, driving riff and a sprightly MES vocal that works well, although it has a definite unfinished feel about it.
It was reissued in 2007. This re-release features all of the b-sides mentioned above. It also contains Theme From Error-Orrori This originally appeared on a 1990 compilation called Home and wasn’t even credited as The Fall – it was listed as being by Mark Smith, M. Beddington, S. Hanley, S. Wolstencroft (M.Beddington being Martin Bramah, of course). It has a Slint/Fugazi atmosphere to it: dominated by a heavy, ponderous bass and drums pattern, with Bramah contributing the occasional bit of understated bluesy soloing. It does have the overall feel of an unfinished idea, but there’s still a lot to like about its heavy, doomy shuffle.
To some extent, Extricate feels like a step backwards: after the strange and wild (if patchy) inventiveness of Oranj, it harks back to the clean, clinical sound of Frenz. In addition, it certainly suffers in a similar way from the production values of the late 80s/early 90s, especially in the drum sound. But it is more satisfying, as overall the quality of the songwriting is much better than Frenz. That said, it does lack a bit of edge; overall it’s just a little too polite, even in its best songs.
It’s an album that definitely benefits from a bit of shuffling and adding b-sides…
Side 1: Sing! Harpy / Hilary / Butterflies 4 Brains / Black Monk Theme Part I / Chicago, Now! (22:27)
Side 2: I’m Frank / Extricate / The Littlest Rebel / Theme from Error-Orrori / Arms Control Poseur / And Therein… (22:36)
Very hard to separate Extricate from Bend Sinister. The former just about gets the nod as the songwriting is more consistent. Just.
- This Nation’s Saving Grace
- Perverted By Language
- The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
- Hex Enduction Hour
- I Am Kurious Oranj
- Room To Live
- Bend Sinister
- Live At The Witch Trials
- The Frenz Experiment
With the singles. Telephone Thing gets marks for inventiveness and is ahead of some of the well-known covers. Popcorn, unsurprisingly finds itself in a relegation spot.
- Living Too Late
- Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
- Kicker Conspiracy
- The Man Whose Head Expanded
- How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
- Totally Wired
- Marquis Cha-Cha
- Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
- Cab It Up
- Cruiser’s Creek
- Hey! Luciani
- Mr. Pharmacist
- Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
- Look, Know
- Telephone Thing
- There’s A Ghost In My House
- Hit The North
- Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
- Rowche Rumble
- Fiery Jack
- It’s The New Thing
- Popcorn Double Feature
- Oh! Brother
Live In Zagreb is one of those pleasant if inessential Fall live albums, the very definition of mid-table.
- Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
- In A Hole
- A Part Of America Therein, 1981
- The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
- Totale’s Turns
- Live In Cambridge 1988
- I Am As Pure As Oranj
- Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
- Live 1977
- Seminal Live
- Live In Zagreb
- BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
- Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
- Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
- 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
2The Big Midweek, p311
6-7You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p135
8 You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p136
9 You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p143
10 Q magazine, May 1992