YMGTA #24 – The Twenty-Seven Points

“Look at the red-purple vomit stream.”

Image result for the twenty seven points

Details
Recorded: Live 1991-95 (although the cover says 1992-95)
Released: 7 August 1995

  • Mark E Smith – vocals, tapes
  • Brix Smith – guitar, bass, vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar
  • Steve Hanley – bass, vocals
  • Simon Wolstencroft – drums
  • Karl Burns – drums, guitar, vocals
  • Julia Nagle – keyboards
    With:
  • Kenny Brady – fiddle (Prague ’91)
  • Simon Rogers – machines (Bill Is Dead)
  • Dave Bush – keyboards (tracks Big New PrinzParanoid ManBounces)
  • Robert Gordon – bass, keyboards (Cloud Of Black)

Background
Released six months after Cerebral Caustic, The “Twenty-Seven Points” was, like Seminal Live, a hybrid of live and studio tracks. However, 27 was a more complicated proposition compared to Seminal‘s studio side/live side approach, weaving studio out-takes, home recordings, intro tapes and live performances together in an often intriguing if not always entirely successful manner.

The album was John Lennard’s suggestion: Smith was at first sceptical, but he eventually declared that, ‘I think this LP is one of the best we’ve done, really fascinating’1. The music press, however, were not impressed. Ian Watson in Melody Maker described it as a ‘pointless exercise’; Vox thought it a sign of ‘the decline of The Fall’2.

The Album
One of the more intriguing aspects of the album is the derivation of its title. In a 2001 interview with Q magazine, Smith said that:

‘The 27 points are what the Nazis brought in to take away everybody’s freedom in Germany. And they’re all contradictory points as well. Very similar to our government now. You can drive, but you can’t own a car. Things like that. You can read books, but we’re going to burn them all.’

This may be an example of Smith mis-remembering his history, as the plan drawn up by Hitler and Anton Drexler in 1920 had 25 points. Other suggestions for its origins have included T E Lawrence’s guidelines on military leadership, 27 Articles, the Spanish Falangist 1934 fascist manifesto and the 27 ‘depravities‘ outlined in Don DeLillo’s 1982 novel The Names.

The album’s Wikipedia entry states that ‘credits on the album are sketchy’. This is rather an understatement: attempting to work out what might have been performed when and where is a nigh on impossible task. For a start, the phrases used on the cover, ‘Live ’92 – ’95’ and ‘Prague – Tel Aviv – London – Glasgow – N.Y.C. – M/er’ are both misleading. The sleeve itself identifies Mr Pharmacist as originating from a 1991 gig in Prague and Life Just Bounces from Leeds. Furthermore, the group only ever played in Tel Aviv three times – two of which took place many years after the album’s release (2011 and 2016). This means that any tracks that did come from Israel are from the performance in October 1990 (the Reformation site and thefall.org disagree as to whether it was the 1st or the 9th).

Even if one accepts that the recordings are, unless otherwise stated, from Prague, Tel Aviv, London, Glasgow, New York or Manchester as per the cover, the origins are still difficult to unearth. The group played 29 dates in the named cities in the 1992-95 time-frame. Some of the songs featured very regularly in those sets – Free Range, for example, was played at 23 of those gigs – and there are no known setlists or bootlegs for a few of the dates.

Thankfully, on the Fall Online Forum, j temperance (who I shall refer to as ‘JT’ hereinafter) trawled through his obviously impressive collection of bootlegs and was able to identify a substantial number of the tracks. Most of the dates and venues named below are as a result of his sterling work.

The dates and venues are not the only misleading aspects of the information on the sleeve. The personnel credits are more of a reflection of Smith’s attitude to his musicians in 1995 than a true record of who actually played on what. In particular, the accelerating fall from favour of Dave Bush is clearly shown by the nonsensical claim that he only contributed keyboards to three tracks; Julia Nagle, whose first gig with the group wasn’t until March 1995 and is unlikely to have played on more than half a dozen of the songs here, gets a full band credit.

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There is one other live release that contains performances from this period. Live At The Astoria 1995 was released in December 2018 as part of Set of Ten. Like most of this box set, I haven’t actually heard it, although it does have two five-star (if not terribly informative) reviews on Amazon. (The Idiot Joy Show and Live At The Phoenix Festival both also contain 1995 material, but in both cases it’s combined with 1996 performances so will be covered in the next post.)

The Songs
Mollusc In Tyrol
Mollusc first appeared on Seminal Live, but this is a very different version, being four minutes shorter and not featuring any Smith vocals. Here, it’s just a one minute intro tape, although it is based on the same music – Craig Leon’s Donkeys Bearing Cups from his 1981 album Nommus.

Return
A worthwhile version of the song: it has a great deal more vigour than the album recording; whilst the sound is nowhere near as clear as the version on Nottingham ’92, it’s rather suited by the ragged, indistinct thrashed-out approach here. Still not the strongest tune by The Fall’s standards, but this is one of the best versions of it you’ll hear. Hard to know when or where the performance is from: it apparently doesn’t match any of JT’s 30ish recordings.

Ladybird (Green Grass)
A much better song than Return, but a less satisfying version. Nothing especially wrong with it, but it feels a little ragged and lacking in focus; plus Smith seems rather off-hand and disengaged. According to JT, it comes from The Academy in New York on 17 September 1993.

flyer

Idiot – Walk Out / Ten Points / Idiot Joy Showland
Idiot Joy Showland sets off at a frantic pace, MES sounding energised and well up for it. But then it all grinds to a halt after thirty seconds, Smith ordering the group off stage saying they’ll be ‘back in two minutes’. Clearly he’s unhappy about the sound, as he tersely warns Rex Sargeant that he’d ‘better get this sorted out’. When the group return for a spirited romp through the song, the sound does seem to have been improved; in particular, Scanlon appears to have been turned down a little and Hanley turned up to create a much better balance.

In the midst of all of this, we get Ten Points. A bit of MES spoken word, made up of a fairly random list that references It’s A Curse and, in particular, deploys several snippets from Glam Racket‘s lyrics. Demonstrating a similar style to the solo album he would release three years later, The Post Nearly Manit’s a mildly diverting interlude, although Smith’s often faltering delivery makes it feel a little half-arsed.

The walk-out makes this one of the easier performances to identify: it’s from Kentish Town Forum, 19 October 1993.

Big New Prinz
Another one that’s hard to pin down in terms of date and venue, especially as it’s one of the group’s most frequently performed songs. Even if you assume that the parameters of the front cover are correct (which they clearly aren’t) then that still only narrows it down to fifteen possible gigs. JT, who doubtless has dozens of bootleg recording of the song, can’t match it, but proposes that it might be from The Fridge, Brixton on the 28 January 1994.

It’s a sound, if not especially remarkable stomp through one of the group’s finest songs.

Intro – Roadhouse
Ninety seconds worth of the theme from Zulu. Hard to see the point really – especially as it’s plonked towards the middle of the album – although MES did claim that one of his ancestors did fight at Rorke’s Drift. From one of the Manchester gigs 20-22 March 1995.

The Joke
A perennial favourite on the group’s live albums. Introduced by a distorted, lo-fi recording that soon morphs into a cleaner version (similar to Bury Pts. 1 + 3 fifteen years later), it’s an entertaining enough if oddly disjointed take that features some rather incongruous piano work that’s somewhere between Little Richard and Aladdin Sane. This was presumably contributed by Julia Nagle as – if JT is correct – it comes from one the Manchester Roadhouse gigs mentioned above.

M.H.’s Jokes / British People In Hot Weather
‘M.H.’ being ‘Mike The Haircut’, and old friend of Smith’s who acted as a roadie on the group’s 1994 US tour. It’s nearly two minutes of inconsequential and not especially entertaining chat, followed by two minutes of a poorly-recorded British People (from 3 September 1994 at Sheffield Leadmill, according to JT). Not a highlight.

Free Range
From the same Sheffield gig as above, according to JT. It sounds like a pretty strong performance, and is notable for the prominence of Bush’s sequencers, but overall it’s just too muffled to be of much interest.

Hi-Tension Line
JT identifies this as being from 17 October 1993 at Paradiso in Amsterdam. It’s a fair recording with a good amount of vigour and pleasingly distorted feel about it; Dave Bush’s prominence is again notable.

The League Of Bald-Headed Men
Most likely from 1993, although neither JT or I are clear about exactly when. Once again, Dave Bush’s contributions are a clear feature, but it’s rather sluggish and also another one where the sound is distinctly muffled.

95: Glam Racket/Star
After a run of rather mediocre recordings, this is at least a little more interesting. It’s clearly two different versions welded together: the edit between the two (at 2:24) is distinctly clumsy and jarring. The first part (according to JT) is from the same Sheffield gig as Hot Weather and Free Range; the second is likely from late 1994, as it features Brix and her new ‘Star’ section. But whilst it’s a little more diverting than the previous few tracks, it doesn’t really add anything especially significant to the song.

Lost In Music
According to JT, this is from the same 1993 Amsterdam gig as High Tension Line. Once again, there’s not a lot more to say other than Dave Bush is clearly audible, whatever the sleeve credits might say.

Prague ’91/Mr. Pharmacist
Opens with a gentle and rather engaging bit of country-folk led by Kenny Brady’s fiddle, backed with a few squiggles of Bush electronica, before launching into an energetic if by now rather predictable thrash through Mr P (from 16 May 1991). Features some nicely thick and flatulent Hanley bass.

Cloud Of Black
One of two studio out-takes on the album, a left-over from the Shift-Work sessions, with musical contributions from Robert Gordon, one that album’s producers. It’s dull, sluggish, uninspired and unmemorable.

Paranoid Man In Cheap Sh..t Room
JT identifies this as being from the same Amsterdam gig as Lost In Music and High Tension Line. Similar comments apply: Dave Bush makes a significant yet uncredited contribution, and it’s a sound enough if unremarkable version.

Bounces – Leeds
Possibly based on a recording from 6 June 1994 in Leeds, it starts off energetically enough before descending into a frankly irritating ‘p*ssing about’ version featuring (presumably) Karl Burns’ ‘comedy’ vocals. Its brevity (under two minutes) is its most positive feature.

Outro
One of the more interesting bits of the album. Presumably some sort of pre-recorded tape, it features a naggingly insistent keyboard figure backed by some gently distorted and delicate guitar work. It’s rather lovely and intriguing.

Passable
Another one that (according to JT) is from Amsterdam 1993, and also another one that the sleeve credits suggest ridiculously doesn’t involve Dave Bush. A clear and well-balanced recording, but yet another that doesn’t really add a huge deal to one’s appreciation of the song.

Glasgow Advice
A distorted and incoherent MES rant over the top of So What About It? A pleasing little fragment; one of the better ones on the album.

Middle Class Revolt – Simon, Dave & John
JT dates this to the last of the 1995 Manchester Roadhouse gigs. MCR is one of those songs that is often best-served by its live recordings, and this is certainly the case here. It clatters along with some vigour, and Steve Hanley and Simon Wolstencroft are both solidly outstanding throughout. The most interesting factor, however, is Brix’s contribution. She dominates the vocals here, with Smith only offering the odd interjection. Smith wandering off to leave her to hold the fort was, of course, something that she identified as a key feature of gigs of this period. Exactly who constitutes the ‘holy trinity’ of Simon, Dave and John is far from clear.

Bill Is Dead
A rather thin and insipid version that sounds as though it’s not being played at the right speed. Oddly, Simon Rogers is credited as contributing ‘machines’. Hard to say where it’s from, but December 18, 1992 in Glasgow is a possible candidate.

Strychnine
Another one whose origins are hard to pin down, although it’s most likely from 1993. An energetic thrash that includes some nice solo work from Scanlon and a few entertaining screeches from MES.

War!
Another that JT identifies as being from Amsterdam 1993; and another that’s a sound enough version that doesn’t really add much to your appreciation of the song.

Noel’s Chemical Effluence
The very definition of a hidden gem: a murky, psychedelic slab of proggish repetition driven by a jagged, insistent guitar. Whilst there’s a long tradition of rock ‘n’ roll songs about life on the road, there are not many about the sanitary facilities on the tour bus; here the lyrics capture the details in an uncompromising and rather uncomfortable fashion – the ‘red-purple vomit stream’, for example. Craig Scanlon’s ‘Oh, have we finished then?’ moment right at the end is rather a joy.

Three Points/Up Too Much
A track which only featured on the CD and cassette versions of the album. Three Points is another brief piece of Post Nearly Man-style spoken word. The version of You’re Not Up To Much is another that JT is unable to pin down, although it seems likely it’s from May-July 1994 (it was only played eleven times anyway.) It’s an interesting version; not terribly well recorded, but it has a swaggering, distorted charm.

Overall Verdict
It’s easy to see why The Twenty-Seven Points received such lukewarm reviews, as it’s rather a sprawling mess and verges on the self-indulgent and pointless in places. The ‘proper’ live tracks are fairly equally split between the interesting, the unenlightening and the poor. The ‘interludes’ give it an intriguing ‘collage’ feel, but are also very varied. The two studio out-takes are polar opposites in terms of quality. The decision to include the Idiot Joy Showland false start and walkout is – if not exactly a highlight – a documentation of an important aspect of The Fall live in the mid-90s.

Rankings
Worth owning, but not the best starting point for delving into the live material. Arguably worth buying for Noel’s Chemical Effluence alone, but as a live album it’s certainly mid-table material.

  1. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  2. In A Hole
  3. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  4. In The City…
  5. Nottingham ’92
  6. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  7. Totale’s Turns
  8. Live In Cambridge 1988
  9. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  10. Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  11. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  12. Live 1977
  13. The Twenty Seven Points
  14. Seminal Live
  15. Live In Zagreb
  16. Austurbaejarbio
  17. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  18. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  19. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  20. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  21. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  22. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  23. Liverpool 78
  24. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  25. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  26. Live At Deeply Vale

References
1-2Ford, p238

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