“I’m never getting on stage with you again.”
Recorded: Battery Studios, London late 1998/early 1999
Released: 19 April 1999
- Mark E Smith – vocals, keyboards, guitar
- Julia Nagle – keyboards, guitar, programming
- Tom Head – drums
- Neville Wilding – guitar, vocals
- Karen Leatham – bass
- Adam Helal – bass
- Steve Hitchcock – string arrangements
A brief glance at the personnel list above (with only Smith and Nagle remaining from the previous album) gives an indication of how tumultuous 1997-99 was in the wonderful and frightening world, although it doesn’t tell half the story…
After Levitate‘s release, the group headed to Ireland for a trio of gigs in November. The first two, in Cork and Dublin, passed without any particularly untoward incidents (Steve Hanley described the latter performance as a ‘great gig’1). Things started to go pear-shaped, however, once they headed north to Belfast.
The headline of the NME article that reported on events was ‘WHAT A CORK-UP!: TOUR FALLS APART. According to Mark Erskine, the stage manager at the venue, Smith had ‘walked off the tour bus, straight onto the stage, and started kicking stuff about. He sacked the band and they went away’. The article goes on to say that ‘Smith also upset the staff of the venue by flinging a bottle of ketchup against a backstage door.’ One fan account of events archived on thefall.org reports that Smith had got into a fight with a roadie and ‘was ranting with wild scary eyes and insanity… the management had locked themselves in a room to keep him away’.
Steve Hanley (who was at this stage acting as tour manager) doesn’t describe what happened as a sacking, however:
‘…as soon as he started, we walked off and called a strike by sitting in the bus and staying there’2.
In an NME interview the following February, Smith, inevitably, gave a very different account. Blaming his behaviour on a bout of the flu, he said:
‘You give musicians space, and trust them, then you come back and everything’s in complete bloody chaos… That’s what happened in Belfast. Someone kicked a guitar stand over at rehearsal, and it was like… open rebellion!’
Rumours circulated at the time that Smith had considered going ahead with the gig, playing with Nagle alone; the NME story (and an article in the Belfast Telegraph) even suggested that he proposed playing ‘an a cappella set of Beach Boys covers’ with the assistance of Terri Hooley, an old friend of his who had promoted some of The Fall’s early gigs in Ireland.
The 7 February interview with John Robinson from the NME (‘Narky Mark’) is the one that gave rise to one of the most (in)famous quotations about the group:
‘If it’s me and your granny on bongos, then it’s a Fall gig.’
This quip (the ending of which is often truncated to ‘…it’s The Fall’) was wheeled out in almost every MES obituary, and even features on the back cover of Dave Simpson’s The Fallen. Whilst there is undoubtedly some general truth in its sentiment, it’s unclear whether Smith himself actually said it. When asked (by dannyno on Twitter), Robinson said that the phrase was reported to him by a PR called Bernard, which may well have been Bernard MacMahon (who was credited as ‘associate producer’ on The Marshall Suite). However, in the retrospective article, The Fall: album by album in Uncut magazine, July 2019, Dave Bush suggested that he was the origin of the phrase:
‘I’d done back-line for The Fall and told Mark I could do some programming for them and make them sound brilliant. He asked me what I knew about the group and I said, “If it’s you and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.” He laughed so much he used that line himself.’
A group meeting shortly after the Belfast debacle did – in the short term at least – resolve the issues (Hanley claims3 that he negotiated ‘a blag of terms’) and the rest of the 1997 gigs proceeded without great incident.
January 1998 saw MES on stage in the unlikely setting of an awards ceremony. The ever-so-amusingly titled NME ‘Brat Awards’ bestowed upon him the title of ‘Godlike Genius’. The award was presented by Eddie Izzard, who launched into a eulogy about Smith’s work4 that was interrupted by the recipient – perhaps tiring of the protracted introduction – striding onto the stage in the middle of his speech. MES thanked a few people, including John Lennard, Steve Hanley and Julia Nagle, before wandering off stage leaving the trophy on the podium. The post-award interview saw the generally smooth and bland Jo Whiley express distinct irritation with Smith’s vague answers – see 2:35 in the video below:
The financial pressure surrounding the group was, by now, also having a significant impact on Steve Hanley. Just as Simon Wolstencroft had taken to taxi-driving to supplement his income, Hanley accepted a position as a school caretaker in early 19985.
In amongst all of the ongoing chaos, Fall Peel sessions remained a reassuring constant. Number 21 (Calendar / Touch Sensitive / Masquerade / Jungle Rock) was recorded on 3 February and broadcast a month later. Session 22 (Bound Soul One / Antidotes / Shake-Off / This Perfect Day) – featuring a very different line-up – was recorded on 18 October and broadcast on 4 November. February 1998 also saw the release of the three versions of the Masquerade single (see previous post).
At the end of March, the group flew to America for their first US tour for four years. The first two dates were at Coney Island High in New York, where Smith appeared on stage sporting a black eye, apparently caused by ‘an altercation between him, Nagle and a telephone reciever’6. Smith’s version was that he ‘had a heated argument with Julia about sharing a room and we knocked each other about’7. According to Ian Landau of Rolling Stone, there was an ‘impromptu 10-minute break just a few songs into the set’ on the first night, but the second ‘went off without a hitch’.
The group moved on to New Jersey, Massachusetts, Philadelphia and Washington (see Live section below). The New Jersey gig was another tense one, with Smith up to plenty of his usual antics, resulting in sporadic walk-offs and lots of (as one eyewitness described it) ‘near fisticuffs’. The next night’s gig at The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 3rd went more smoothly. It also featured the unusual sight of MES in a t-shirt.
Things took another downturn the next night in Philadelphia, however, with Smith apparently very drunk and indulging in his worst behaviour for much of the gig. Steve Hanley:
‘During the gig he tries to push me aside so he can f*ck with my amp. It is the first time he has laid a finger on it in years… I push him out of the way with the end of my bass and turn my back… I finish the song and walk off, to be joined shortly after by Tommy and Karl, leaving him with nothing else to do but to sing Everybody But Myself all by himself.’8
To add to the group’s woes, their tour van was broken into that night and several pieces of equipment, including Nagle’s keyboard and guitar, were stolen. Although the stolen items were recovered a couple of days later, this meant that the group had to borrow equipment for the next night’s gig at the Black Cat in Washington DC. The gig went ahead relatively smoothly, although Nagle, frustrated by the unfamiliar keyboard, walked off after a couple of songs9.
With all of the seething tension and bad feeling, it seemed inevitable that at some point things would reach breaking point. And that’s exactly what happened in New York on the 7th April 1998. The group were playing Brownies in Manhattan (the venue, after having been renamed The Hi-Fi Bar, closed in 2017) .
The night started cordially enough, with Hanley and Smith having a pre-gig drink together in the bar next to the group’s hotel10. However, whilst the rest of the group walked to the venue, Smith got a taxi and somehow managed to get into some form of altercation with the driver, who he claimed pulled a gun on him (Hanley’s account11 suggests that this might have been because MES opened a can of beer in the cab).
The whole sorry affair that was that night’s infamous performance can be seen here. The group open with Spencer Must Die; Smith enters at 0:57 (there seems to be some sort of cut in the video), clearly the worse for wear. After accepting a cigarette from someone in the front row, he snidely remarks (in a peculiar mock-American accent) that the group are going to ‘beat me up like the big men they are’. For the next few songs, the musicians plough on – with the Hanley/Burns rhythm section as tight as ever – whilst Smith spends much of his time crouched, back to the audience, in front of the drum riser, barking out the occasional lyric.
After a pretty horrendous version of Hip Priest (MES hands the mic over to the audience, Crooks contributes some tuneless thrash, Hanley keeps himself awake by fashioning a few jazzy bass solos) the group launch into a ragged Free Range. A couple of minutes in, Smith decides to amuse himself by chucking Burns’ spare drumsticks across the stage, at which point Burns decides he’s had enough. The drummer leaps out from behind his kit and wrestles Smith across the stage into Nagle’s keyboard. Hanley orders Burns back behind his kit, but shortly afterwards Smith tries to grab Crooks’ guitar, who promptly gives the singer a firm kick up the arse.
At the end of the song, Smith launches into rant about his fellow group members:
‘What we’ve got here is a Scottish man, a f*cking animal on drums and a f*cking idiot. I’ve been assaulted in public here, by two people, or three people; you be witness to this; bear witness laddies. They’re very big. I’ll tell you what – these three… I got a taxi, and some f*cker pulled a gun out on me, from f*cking Pakistan or someone [sic] … These three were cowering in the f*cking dressing room – as usual. They’re nowhere to be seen. They’re very hard, when they’re together.’
Meanwhile, Karl Burns is shouting ‘cock’ from behind his kit, and Hanley does a mocking ‘sad violin’ mime with his bass.
Remarkably, the group plough on once more, performing an energetic Levitate (sans MES) before Smith rejoins them for a rather disjointed and sludgy Lie Dream. An equally messy Behind The Counter (‘Get the f*cking song going, you f*cking c*nts! Can you manage it?’) is followed by a chaotic, desultory He Pep! At this point, Hanley, Burns and Crooks decide they’ve had enough. The last few minutes are painful: Smith and Nagle attempt Powderkeg, which consists of his incoherent ramblings accompanied by her occasional vague prods at the keyboard. During this, Smith picks up Hanley’s bass and tosses it casually across the stage; a symbolic and melancholy moment.
This video captures the main altercations:
Later that night, Smith was charged with third-degree assault and harassment charges relating to an argument that he and Nagle had had back at the hotel. A week later, he appeared in court and was ordered to undergo an alcohol treatment programme and anger-management counselling.
Smith’s version of events12) is typically flippant:
‘So, back in my room, I’m having a cigarette, and I just put it out on her trainer and went to sleep. Next, I’ve been reported by them and her, and handcuffed and put in jail.’
Nagle’s account, as given in Dave Simpson’s The Fallen13 doesn’t really clarify matters. She says that ‘the incident was distorted, and made out to be about Mark and myself, but there was a lot more to it’. Her version (according to Simpson) was that ‘he was lashing out angrily in all directions and it was unfortunate she was in the way.’ Simpson also points out that Nagle paid Smith’s bail.
Steve Hanley’s account of post-gig events describes Burns wrapping a guitar lead around Smith’s neck in an atmosphere of intense rowing, accusations and threats.
‘A line’s being crossed. Any remaining respect from either side is being lost. Him trashing the gear is him trashing the band, and the three of us have finally lost interest.’14
Hanley, sadly but understandably, had just had enough. After post-gig drinks with Burns in a bar near the venue, he witnessed Smith being arrested: ‘There’s Mark outside the hotel, whiter than ever, handcuffed in the back of a police car’15. Although Hanley did contact a lawyer to ask him to help Smith out, he refused to accompany him to the police station.
He had told Smith after the Brownies gig: ‘I’m never getting on stage with you again’16, and he was true to his word. On the 8th April 1998, Steve Hanley boarded a plane back to the UK.
‘As the plane heads up over New York, one thing’s certain: I’m never going to play bass with The Fall again.’17
On their return to England, Hanley, Burns and Crooks formed a band called Ark. An album called Brainsold eventually appeared in 2002. He currently performs with Brix and his brother in The Extricated.
If Simon Wolstencroft’s departure had been a shock, Hanley’s departure was a seismic event. Not only had he been in the group for a record-breaking nineteen years, he had defined The Fall sound more than anyone other than MES himself. Garden, Tempo House, Bombast, The Classical, New Big Prinz… you can easily list dozens of The Fall’s very best songs that would be critically diminished without his contribution. Always solid, deep and resonant; never unnecessarily showy, but sparingly flamboyant. To me, the greatest example of the wonder that is Hanley’s bass work is The Fall’s national TV debut on The Tube. Just watch 4:58-5:03.
Smith’s lukewarm, off-hand dismissal of Hanley’s contribution in Renegade is unsurprising but still disappointing:
‘He was always very loyal. Always gave a good performance, good at organising things. I think he just got fed up… pressure tells with some more than others. Eventually he said, “I can’t cope any more.” But this was before he bloody dumped me.’18
He had, however, recognised Hanley’s importance in a Melody Maker interview back in 1983:
‘The most original aspect of The Fall is Steve on the bass. I’ve never heard a bass player like him in my life. I don’t have to tell him what to play, he just knows. He is The Fall sound.’19
That last sentence is undeniably true.
His contribution was not just musical either: his organisational skills and – above all – his ability to mediate between irate group members and the irascible Smith were all that kept the group from disintegrating on many an occasion.
It is with great sorrow that YMGTA waves Steve goodbye. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for the rich source of evidence provided by his excellent book (please do buy it here if you haven’t already) as well as his likes and retweets that have helped hugely in promoting this blog and have, of course, been much appreciated.
The aftermath of the Brownies gig also saw the fourth and final departure of Karl Burns. Much of what has been written about him tends to focus on his off-stage antics, and no one would claim that he had anything like Hanley’s influence on the sound of the group. That said, his excellent drumming – particularly in tandem with Paul Hanley in the early part of his second stint – left a hugely positive mark on large parts of the group’s work – look no further than the Smile clip above for an outstanding example.
Rather enigmatically, Smith says this about him in Renegade: ‘In the end he became his own audience. He wasn’t sure of his role’, before remarking sourly, ‘I don’t miss him…’20. Burns’ current whereabouts remain – despite Dave Simpson’s best efforts – a mystery.
Burns’ sheer tenacity – a handful of musicians have at various times rejoined The Fall, but who else could have managed to do so three times? – makes him in some ways a symbolic group member, representing the stubborn refusal to quit and the capacity to launch a surprise comeback that runs deeply throughout the history of The Fall.
After the New York disaster, Smith’s immediate concern was the remaining April gigs – two dates at Camden Dingwalls and one in Reading. Remarkably, the group fulfilled their commitments and just about got away with it. Smith and Nagle were joined by Kate Methen, drummer with Polythene (who presumably had one of those infamous crash courses in the group’s back catalogue) and, aided considerably by backing tapes, stumbled through the three performances. Jonathan Romney of The Guardian described the first of the Camden gigs:
‘…what the partly-enraptured, partly aggrieved audience got was a subsistence-level Fall – Smith with Julia Nagle on keyboards, guitar and stacks of rough-and-ready pre-programmes, and a terrified-looking woman on drums. Sometimes it sounded like Suicide’s pared-down electronica, sometimes it harked back to the Xerox scrappiness of The Fall’s very early days on the Manchester punk scene. It was possibly in honour of those days that Smith revived their antique number Industrial Estate… a prospect as likely as David Bowie encoring with The Laughing Gnome.’
Over the next few months, Smith set about rebuilding the group. On bass, he recruited Karen Leatham, an acquaintance of Nagle’s who had played in a band called Wonky Alice. Tom Head (original name Thomas Murphy, younger brother of Smith’s friend Steve Evets and a part-time actor who had appeared in Emmerdale, Coronation Street and The League Of Gentlemen) became the new drummer. The Smith/Nagle/Leatham/Head line-up of The Fall played only two gigs, at Manchester University and London’s Astoria on 11-12 August.
By the time they played St. Bernadette’s Catholic Social Club in Whitefield on 21 October, the line-up had been augmented by guitarist Neville Wilding, who according to thefall.org used to play ‘in Rockin Gomez, Rhyl’s finest psychobilly act’.
Shortly afterwards, Leatham quit (apparently in response to bottles being thrown onstage at the 14 December Bristol gig21) and was replaced by Adam Helal (original surname Bromley), a friend of Wilding.
In amongst all of this chaos, MES somehow found time to record and release a spoken-word album, The Post Nearly Man. A determinedly inaccessible and fractured mix of Smith’s musings and snippets of Fall songs, it’s worth at least one listen. Johnny Cigarettes of the NME, however, was less than impressed. Awarding it 2/10, he declared that ‘you can count the substantial ideas here on the fingers of a Kit-Kat’.
[It contains the line, ‘Atlanta, Albania, whatever’, which I used as the title of this mix of instrumental outtakes and vocal samples.]
The first recorded product from the new incarnation of The Fall was the March 1999 single, Touch Sensitive.
The lead track is one of the most recognisable Fall songs to those generally unfamiliar with the group’s work, owing to its deployment in a car advert. In Renegade, Smith claimed that Nagle gets two-thirds of the royalties despite that fact that (according to him) he wrote the lyrics and the guitar part22. The CD and 12″ version both feature a fatuous remix of the title track.
Despite the catchy riff and chorus, it only crawled to number 90 in the singles chart.
Five months after The Marshall Suite‘s release, F-‘Oldin’ Money became the group’s 37th single. It features a frankly silly falsetto version of Perfect Day (that MES considered ‘a better version… but no one else liked it.’23) There’s also an interesting version of The Crying Marshal, entitled The REAL Life Of The Crying Marshal. While the album track sees The Fall veering into Prodigy territory, this sounds like a DJ Shadow remix of the song. Well worth a listen. Commercially, the single fared even worse than its predecessor, only managing a chart placing of 93.
In The Wider World…
The news in April 1999 was filled with acts of violence. Over three weekends, Neo-Nazi David Copeland planted nail bombs in London that were targeted at ethnic minority and LGBT communities. TV presenter Jill Dando was shot dead on her doorstep in what remains an unsolved murder. In Colorado, the Columbine massacre saw twelve students and a teacher shot dead by two disaffected teenagers.
Soap star Martine McCutcheon was in the first of her two weeks at number one with her syrupy ballad, Perfect Moment, having knocked Mr Oizo‘s novelty-techno Flat Beat from the top spot. Irish sibling band The Corrs had the number one album, having been preceded by The Stereophonics and Blur.
The most notable event of the year as far as music was concerned, however, came a couple of months later with the launch of peer-to-peer service Napster.
The Fall Live In 1997-99
In the same month as Levitate‘s release, Live Various Years became the twelfth Fall live album released in eighteen years. It was the first to feature the famous ‘MES flicks the Vs’ picture, variations on which would appear on half a dozen Cog Sinister/Voiceprint releases over the next three years (as well as all my Facebook and Twitter posts).
Cog Sinister had been set up by Smith in 1987 to re-release old Fall material and promote MES-approved new talent. It had little success with the latter aim, but it did at least result in the release of In: Palace of Swords Reversed, one of the best Fall compilations. When the group signed to Phonogram/Fontana in 1990, they used Cog Sinister as a ‘vanity label’; this continued until the group left Permanent records in 1995. In 1997, Smith signed a deal with Rob Ayling of Voiceprint (a label that specialised mainly in re-releasing prog-rock material) that allowed Ayling to release live Fall recordings using the Cog Sinister imprint.
The first of these, Live Various Years, contains a mix of recordings from 1988, 1993 and 1997. The first half a dozen are – according to the credits – from New York and Munich in Autumn 1993. (Whilst the group did play in Germany at the time, there seems to be no record of a Munich gig, however.) They’re sound enough, quite energetic performances, although the two New York tracks are of better sound quality than the other four. Dave Bush adds some rather superfluous squiggles (for example in Dead Beat Descendant), but the most notable moment comes when MES, apparently irritated by Bush’s sluggish intro to Strychnine, tries to gee up the group by calling them ‘f*cking pot heads’.
The six tracks from 1997’s first gig at Bristol Bierkeller are also reasonable in terms of sound quality. The (rather brief) Spinetrak, despite Smith and the group’s best efforts, feels distinctly empty without Brix; Behind The Counter is curiously flat; Interferance is just a tape of some of the random noises that found their way onto Hurricane Edward. The most notable aspect is the revival of Hip Priest after a nine-year absence from the set. Julia Nagle adds some interesting, if ultimately incongruous sequencer/keyboard work, and while it’s a long way from being the best live take on the song, it’s worth a listen out of curiosity. The album concludes with three pleasant enough but fairly unremarkable recordings from Vienna in April 1988.
After Levitate‘s release, the group played a further 18 dates in 1997, bringing the total for the year to 28 – better than they’d managed over the previous two years. After the ill-fated Irish venture in November, the remaining UK dates passed largely without incident, although on 27 November in Oxford, the venue’s management pulled the plug when the group played past the 10pm curfew. According to a review here, the group carried on with an improvised version of I’m A Mummy:
‘Karl and Mark just keep it going, while Julia and Steve mime sarcastically – and silently – Tommy joins in enthusiastically with b/vocs; altogether absolutely bloody hilarious.’
Three days later, Container Drivers was played for the first time in 13 years in Stoke. This gig is yet another one of those (that I don’t own) included in the 2018 box set, Set Of Ten.
In Cambridge on 7 December 1997, Steve Hanley experimented with the MES not-actually-performing approach:
‘For the duration of Hip Priest I sat on the monitor stack, bass in the stand next to me, not playing a single note. Nobody on stage took any notice, they just carried on regardless.’24
This very enthusiastic review of the gig suggests that he actually sat out Masquerade (which possibly makes more sense).
The last gig of 1997 took place at Bristol Bierkeller on 9 December. A bootleg recording is on YouTube that’s worth a listen: it’s an uneven and in places haphazard performance, but there are several highlights. The taut, energetic Lie Dream is one; the second and final outing for The Quartet Of Doc Shanley – which sounds nothing at all like the album version – is another.
1998 was relatively light on gigs, with only 17 being played. The first six were part of the infamous US tour, the first two of which took place at Coney Island High in New York on 30-31 March. The first night saw the only ever performance of Ivanhoe’s Two Pence, plus the first outings for Scareball and Calendar (although the latter was largely instrumental).
There is a good quality bootleg of the second night, and it sees the group in solid form, MES giving a relatively coherent performance. Crooks’ guitar playing is forceful, but his limited technique is exposed on occasion, most notably on Hip Priest.
After the tense New Jersey gig (see above), the 3 April gig in Cambridge, Massachusetts saw Touch Sensitive played for the first time.
There’s a bootleg of the next night’s gig, at the Trocadero in Philadelphia (see above) where Smith makes only sporadic, slurred appearances and the whole performance is an incoherent mess. The 5 April gig at The Black Cat, Washington, D.C. is on YouTube. Crooks’ performance on Hip Priest is much better here:
After the Brownies disaster, the group played three more UK dates in April (see above). The last of these, at Reading, saw long-time fan Stuart Estell briefly join the group from the audience to play a 5-string guitar25.
Their next performance (with the Smith/Nagle/Leatham/Head line-up) was in August at Manchester University, where F-‘Oldin’ Money and This Perfect Day were played for the first time.
The next night (12 August) saw the group play London’s Astoria (again with the Smith/Nagle/Leatham/Head line-up). This is yet another gig that has been released as part of the Set Of Ten. I don’t have that release, but I do have the bootleg, which is (presumably) the same recording. It’s pretty good quality, sound-wise (although there is a distracting level of audience chat), and features a rare performance of Calendar. The slurred lope of Spencer is also a highlight. Plug Myself In is oddly disjointed but seems to go down well with the audience (at least those near the mic – ‘F*cking brilliant, I can’t believe it; so focused; he’s totally sober…’).
After the Astoria gig, the group played two nights at the unlikely venue of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Social Club, Whitefield on the 21-22 October. Fan reviews suggest that the first night in particular was a bit of a disaster:
‘The version of Pharmacist ‘improvised’ at the end of the main set was so appalling it was almost funny. Almost. Can’t see any future for this band at present.’
The second night saw the first outings for Antidotes and Bound, although both were instrumentals. The Bristol gig on 14 December saw Anecdotes + Antidotes in B# and Shake-Off played for the first time. There were four 1999 performances before The Marshall Suite‘s release, now featuring the Smith/Nagle/Wilding/Halal/Head line-up. The first three were at Ashton Witchwood, where On My Own, Inevitable, Birthday Song and Mad.Men-Eng.Dog were debuted. On 15 (or possibly 14) April, the group played an afternoon gig sponsored by XFM Radio at Sound Republic in London which formed disc 3 of the 2011 reissue (see below), where they first played their less than distinguished cover of the New York Dolls’ Jet Boy.
The recording sessions began with The Fall reduced to the trio of Smith, Nagle and Head, but as time went on Leatham, Helal and Wilding also contributed. The album (once again on Artful Records) was released on vinyl as a three-sided affair – the fourth side was blank. (The only other album I knew of to take this format was Joe Jackson’s Big World, but there’s actually a list of several of them here.) In an interview with a Dutch magazine, Smith explained that he’d had this idea in mind from the very beginning:
‘I had the concept in my head, you know, the three sides. That was from the offset really… I’d always wanted to. And you couldn’t do it with the old group, you know. I wanted a straightforward side, a second side that was opening up and a third side that was like really off the wall.’
Pascal Le Gras returned – after a couple of album’s absence – to provide the cover artwork.
Smith himself was clearly (and perhaps understandably) defiantly proud of the album. In Renegade, he describes it as his ‘glorious return’26 and says that it ‘must have annoyed certain people when it was released, because the general consensus was I’d had it; no more comebacks for Mad Mark’27.
The critical response was guardedly warm. In the Guardian, Caroline Sullivan felt that the album’s ‘itchy garage rock and irascible shouting’ demonstrated that the turmoil of 1998 had ‘sparked a creative renaissance of sorts’ and there was ‘a sense of purpose that has long been missing’. Select took a similar view: ‘the upheaval has clearly spooked him into making a renewed effort… A varied and strange album, expected Fall requirements of tangential freakishness and nagging pop lucidity are at their highest levels for some time.’
In The Times, Mike Pattenden was a little more cautious, giving the album 6/10, although he acknowledged that the group could ‘still nail-down a groove with that same blend of ruthless precision and perverse amateurishness’. Uncut‘s Simon Goddard, however, gave the album five stars and declared that ‘The Fall have pulled it off again… The Marshall Suite sees Smith in his finest form in aeons’.
These positive words did not translate into sales, however. Whilst The Marshall Suite performed a little better than Levitate, it still only made number 84 in the album chart.
The album hits the ground running with an energetic slice of poppy rock ‘n’ roll. Head’s thumping drums, Wilding’s crafty little riff (which owes more than a little to Iggy Pop’s Girls) and the catchy ‘hey hey hey hey’ backing vocals combine to give the opener an infectious sense of exuberance. The touch of strings (from producer Steve Hitchcock) add welcome breadth and texture.
Smith’s performance seems to show him bearing few scars from the previous year’s trauma. There’s real bite to his delivery, the lyrics are sharp and funny and his off-kilter timing is impeccable: the way he phrases ‘and a Star Wars police vehicle pulls up / I say gimme a taxi!’ is simply perfection. The Annotated Fall points out that the phrase ‘vanity and presumption’ references both the Bible (Ecclesiastes 6:9) and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.
Regarding the song’s use on a car advert, Smith remarked drily, ‘I didn’t have full control over that. And at the time I needed the money. Sometimes that’s the sad case. We’re not all Elton John.’28
It was one of the group’s most often played songs: 161 outings 1998-2006. It also had an endearingly terrible promo video:
The album maintains its opening momentum with a lively, fuzzy cover of Tommy Blake‘s obscure 1959 rockabilly tune. (The original is well worth a listen, both for its outstanding bluesy guitar work and the strange, reverberating backing vocals.)
The group sound like they’re having a whale of a time, and there’s a joyous little handclap solo (not something you often hear) around the 2 minute mark. Like Touch Sensitive, it was a long-standing live favourite, being played 136 times 1998-2006.
Gladys Winthorpe’s Emporium Of Particularly Underacknowledged Fall Compositions (reproduced here) describes Shake-Off as a song ‘which begs to be played at excessive volume’, and truer words have never been spoken.
It opens with floating, portentous synths and reverb-heavy, random MES declamations –Give me the teachers who said if you deny the strong pot or ecstatic imbibed within you will be end up in eyeball-injecting – before a gloriously brash and jagged D&B rhythm kicks in at 0:33.
The combination of taut, crisp, angular rhythms and layers of Smith’s shouting and crooning is sublime. It’s full of playful moments too: ‘play guitars all night’ and the delicious reversal at 1:55. The crescendo of volume and intensity over the last thirty seconds is a lovely touch too. It is one of those ‘f*ck you, this is just what we do’ songs that the group produced from time to time and as such captures clearly the overall defiant attitude of the whole album. As Gladys says, it should always be played at full volume.
It was played live 34 times 1998-2002.
A curious one: a cover of a Northern Soul instrumental by The Audio Arts Strings called Love Bound with added lyrics from Smith. It’s a little slight and predictable, although Wilding does try to add some interesting variations on the chord progression as the song develops. It was played 14 times, all in 1999.
This Perfect Day
Another cover, this time of Australia’s The Saints (you can see an excellent Top Of The Pops performance of the track here.) The Fall’s version is appealingly distorted but feels rather flat compared to the original. It was played 37 times, 1998-2000.
(Jung Nev’s) Antidotes
After a slight dip in momentum, the album clicks back into gear here. It’s an aggressive, sweeping wave of noise, featuring multiple layers of heavy feedback, reverb and distortion. There are echoes of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (especially in the hefty drum track), as well as U2’s Bullet The Blue Sky. It was played live 84 times, 1998-2002.
A delicate and plaintive song based around a simplistic two-chord guitar part, hesitant piano and a melancholy oboe-sound keyboard line. Smith contributes an endearingly vulnerable performance, and the lyrics have a touching air, although they’re somewhat opaque: ‘The peculiar call in aquarium / In Burmese right on the call line’.
There’s a slightly unfinished feeling about it, but it’s still rather lovely and tender. It was only played nine times (three of those as an instrumental), all in 1999.
Anecdotes + Antidotes In B#
A companion song (although lighter in tone) to (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes, revisiting the ‘Mairzy doats and dozy doats‘ theme. The line ‘if chewing gum is chewed / the chewer is pursued’ (in both songs) is from the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.
It’s a loose-limbed, almost funky shuffle that meanders around aimlessly but pleasantly enough. And ‘B#’ is, of course, just ‘C’. It was played 22 times, 1998-99.
Early Life Of The Crying Marshal
A bit of casually entertaining silliness: 51 one seconds of tape collage, featuring strings (that sound like they may have come from a ballet), a spot of twangy guitar and a few random noises. Pointless but inoffensive.
The Crying Marshal
In which the group revisit the brutal, industrial sound of (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes. Reformation quite rightly describes it as ‘a veritable assault on the senses’. It throws everything at you – thumping, overloaded big beat drums; snaking, scuzzy guitar lines; strings, synths and liberal doses of distortion applied across the board. MES sneers across the whole thing to great effect. An unsubtle but highly successful slab of noise.
A fragile little composition by Julia Nagle that Smith (at her suggestion) added lyrics to. It aspires to being touching and delicate but ends up rather limp and wet, not helped by one of Smith’s more bland lyrical efforts: ‘and in dreams I stumble towards you’. Inoffensive but inconsequential. It was played live 23 times, 1999-2000.
Reformation describes this as an ‘experimental track, often lasting less than a minute on stage and consisting of MES shouting various repetitive seemingly nonsensical phrases
accompanied by various drum beats and other discordant sounds, often played on machines’.
It’s actually a quite interesting little interlude, although strangely placed as the album’s penultimate track. Played live 16 times, all in 1999.
On My Own
A rather pointless revisitation of Levitate‘s Everybody But Myself, which smooths out all of the original’s edges and replaces them with a bland house-style chug.
It was performed 24 times in 1999, then was played (not entirely successfully, it would seem) once more the year after.
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
Cherry Red reissued the album in 2003 as a 3 CD set. CD1 contained the bonus track from the original three-side vinyl version, Tom Raggazzi, a sluggish, dreary, half-arsed bit of reggae in which MES seems to have little interest. CD2 contains Peel sessions #21 and #22, plus the b-sides from the Touch Sensitive and F-‘Oldin’ Money singles.
CD3 consists of eight tracks recorded at an afternoon gig sponsored by XFM Radio in April 1999. It’s raw, unbalanced and generally all over the place; MES’s vocals are also slathered with unnecessary amounts of reverb. It’s a cracking listen nonetheless. (It seems, unfortunately, to have disappeared from YouTube.)
There’s a huge amount to admire about The Marshall Suite. Considering where the group were in Spring 1998, it’s incredible that they produced an album this good only a year later. It’s undoubtedly patchy and uneven, but it still contains some blistering and exciting moments; there’s an indefatigable, resilient spirit that runs through the whole thing.
Like all of the 90s albums, it has its weaker tracks, plus those that sound as if they could have been much much better with a bit more time spent on them. However, the lows are nowhere near as poor as, say, the worst moments on Light User Syndrome.
After the back-to-basics garage rock of Cerebral Caustic, the best moments on Light User Syndrome and Levitate saw the group find an effective blend of that no-nonsense approach and the early 90s dance-infused electronics supplied by Dave Bush. Many of the highlights of The Marshall Suite see The Fall strengthen and harden this sound. (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes, The Crying Marshal and Shake-Off see them add a grinding, industrial tone that’s hugely effective. Shake-Off in particular is a perfect storm of gritty, angular aggression that’s among their finest moments.
I don’t really have one, to be honest; there aren’t enough contemporary b-sides, etc. to produce a viable alternative.
Just about tops Cerebral Caustic for invention and aggression, although it’s similarly uneven; some way short of the top 7, obviously.
- This Nation’s Saving Grace
- Perverted By Language
- The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
- Hex Enduction Hour
- The Marshall Suite
- Cerebral Caustic
- I Am Kurious Oranj
- Room To Live
- The Infotainment Scan
- Bend Sinister
- The Light User Syndrome
- Middle Class Revolt
- Code: Selfish
- Live At The Witch Trials
- The Frenz Experiment
Live Various Years wouldn’t be a terrible purchase for those dipping their toe into Fall live albums, although perhaps not at the £17 average price indicated on Discogs. There’s a handful of interesting versions, but there’s also an air of shoddiness – Hip Priest is clumsily spliced in two for no apparent reason, most of the brief second section actually being a repeat of the Hurricane Edward/Interferance sound effects; the songs are also carelessly and inaccurately labelled, for example Why Are People Grudgeful? becomes ‘Grudgefull’.
Live 1998 Astoria 2 12 August is an interesting recording, especially as it captures the group at a particularity notable point in their career. There’s a slightly sluggish tone to it (possibly how it was recorded?) but it’s certainly worth owning.
- Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
- In A Hole
- A Part Of America Therein, 1981
- In The City…
- Nottingham ’92
- The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
- Totale’s Turns
- The Idiot Joy Show
- Live In Cambridge 1988
- I Am As Pure As Oranj
- Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
- Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
- Live 1977
- The Twenty Seven Points
- Seminal Live
- Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
- Live Various Years
- Live At The Phoenix Festival
- Live In Zagreb
- 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
- 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
Touch Sensitive is a strong A-side, although it falls a little short of The Chiselers‘ inventiveness; F-oldin’ Money is fun, if a little obvious.
- Living Too Late
- Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
- Kicker Conspiracy
- The Man Whose Head Expanded
- How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
- Totally Wired
- Free Range
- Behind The Counter
- Marquis Cha-Cha
- Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
- The Chiselers
- Touch Sensitive
- Cab It Up
- Cruiser’s Creek
- Hey! Luciani
- F-‘Oldin’ Money
- 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
- Ed’s Babe
- High Tension Line
- 15 Ways
- It’s The New Thing
- White Lightning
- Popcorn Double Feature
- Why Are People Grudgeful?
- Oh! Brother
1-2The Big Midweek, p424
3The Big Midweek, p426
5The Big Midweek, pp429-430
6NME 25/4/98, quoted in Ford, p257
8The Big Midweek, p439
9The Big Midweek, p440
10-11The Big Midweek, p441
13The Fallen, pp226-227
14The Big Midweek, p443
15The Big Midweek, p444
16The Big Midweek, p443
17The Big Midweek, p444
21The Fallen, p236
23The Wire, May 1993
24The Big Midweek, p428
25The Fallen, pp232-233