“Evidently recorded in a tin filled with seagulls.“
Recorded: Noise Box, Manchester mid-2001
Released: 5 November 2001
- Mark E Smith – vocals
- Ben Pritchard – guitar
- Jim Watts – bass, guitar, vocals
- Spencer Birtwistle – drums
- Brian Fanning – guitar, vocals
- Ed Blaney – guitar, vocals
- Julia Nagle – keyboards (live excerpt of Ibis-Afro Man only; not credited on the album)
As the line-up above indicates – with four new faces, Ben Pritchard now a full-time member, Julia Nagle only making a fleeting, historical appearance, and the disappearance of Helal, Wilding and Head – 2000-01 was another period of turbulence in the wonderful and frightening world; a pattern that was to be repeated for much of the decade.
The Fall’s first performance following the November 2000 release of The Unutterable was an in-store appearance at Oxford Street’s HMV. The group played drummer-less, the official reason given for Head’s non-appearance being his acting commitments1. However, a few days later, Spencer Birtwistle (previously a member of Manchester bands Laugh, The Bodines, and Intastella) replaced Head behind the drum kit. In typical fashion, his first rehearsal was at the soundcheck for his debut gig in Nottingham on the 21 November.
The following month Smith met up with the woman who would become his third wife. Eleni Poulou (her first name seems to get spelled a multitude of different ways, but Eleni was what was on the later Fall album sleeves) had performed with Shizuo and Zen-Faschisten. The two were both in Berlin when Smith was helping out his old collaborator Michael Clark2.
Smith proposed to Eleni before the end of 2000 and they were married the following year. According to Smith’s own account in Renegade3, he had known her since 1996, although several sources – including Simon Ford – state that the two first met in December 2000. However, this interview with Poulou confirms that they had known each other for five years before they married.
By the end of 2000, Wilding and Helal had also gone. Their exit was undoubtedly linked to arguments over royalties from Unutterable, although it’s not entirely clear as to whether their dispute was with Smith himself or the record label (in The Fallen, Helal asserts the latter version4, but Jim Watts5 supports the former).
Of the new recruits, Ben Pritchard had been known to Smith the longest. A native of Prestwich, MES had known him ‘since he was a lad‘. At the beginning of 2001, Jim Watts was in the band Trigger Happy with Dave Milner and Ed Blaney. They were due to support The Fall, but following Helal and Wilding’s departure, Watts was drafted into the group. The Smith/Nagle/Pritchard/Watts/Birtwistle line-up played throughout most of 2001. Ed Blaney – who would become The Fall’s manager- added extra vocals at a few gigs.
In May, Smith managed to injure himself at a Great Yarmouth rockabilly festival, falling and hurting his leg on a concrete post. Despite being on crutches, he travelled with the group to Greece in July for a festival date, but it was cancelled due to a thunderstorm.
By the summer of 2001, Nagle had ended her six year stint in the group. According to her interview with Dave Simpson6, she ‘deliberately priced herself out of being in The Fall because she needed a break and to spend time with her son’. According to Simon Ford, her reasons for leaving were:
‘…continuing contract problems (i.e. the lack of one) relating to The Unutterable and the mistreatment of Helal and Wilding. She also had little stomach for the hard slog of breaking in another transitional line-up.’7
In August, the group gained another guitarist. Brian Fanning had previously worked as a guitar technician and made his debut at the 2001 ‘Bulldog Bash‘ (he had been due to play at the cancelled Greek festival gig in July). He played on Are You Are Missing Winner, but was only in the group for three months overall (and only got a ‘with’ credit on the album), leaving because of the pressures of touring8.
The group’s first single for two years was released in August 2001. Rude (All The Time), recorded at Ed Blaney’s home studio, came out on Flitwick Records, a label that specialised in limited-edition releases. It was limited to 500 copies (according to Discogs, a copy will set you back around £120.)
Rude (All The Time), originally a Trigger Happy song (from a 1997 EP), here featured a minimal line-up of Smith/Blaney/Watts/Birtwistle. It is, frankly, bloody awful: a lazy, half-arsed strum through a vague and not very inspiring idea.
The b-side, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. I Wake Up In The City is a companion piece to My Ex-Classmates’ Kids – different lyrics, but they share the same primitive three-chord riff – and is an absolutely blistering piece of scuzzy garage rock. The completely overloaded and distorted guitars are a joy (there are particularly fine moments at 2:31-2:44 and 4:01-4:13), as is the biting snarl of Smith’s vocal; he even manages a cough at 1:15-1:20 that is simultaneously comical, sneering and menacing.
Despite its similarities to My Ex-Classmates’ Kids, both songs were on the setlist whenever the group played I Wake Up In The City in late 2001; at its final three outings in 2002, City was played as part of a medley with Kids.
In the UK charts, Afroman’s stoner-rap Because I Got High was at number one, having succeeded Kylie’s million-selling and critically-acclaimed pop classic Can’t Get You Out of My Head. Steps’ greatest hits collection, Gold, was the number one album.
The Fall Live In 2000-2001
2000 was slightly lighter on gigs than 1999 (26, compared to 32) but 2001 was a little busier, with 44 dates.
The first gig following The Unutterable‘s release was at HMV in Oxford Street on 15 November 2000 (see above). Chris Hopkins’ review (on thefall.org) described the experience as ‘very strange’ –
‘…the stage was set up at the end of the aisles which were still in place, covered in tarpaulin and protected by crowd control barriers. The overall effect was therefore like standing in a queue, with no moshpit in sight. “I’m going to Spain” was the worst I’ve ever heard… Adam appeared to forget the notes halfway through (or maybe he’d just lost the will to live -it’s a possibility that MES includes it in the set purely to piss the musicians off).’
Six days later, Spencer Birtwhistle made his debut at Nottingham’s Rock City. On thefall.org, Ian Leaver posted this entertaining review:
‘Sometimes it’s hard to explain why The Fall will always be the best band in the world but last night summed it up. Shambolic, drunken, bad tempered at times, funny at others but not for one second dull.
He doesn’t look a well man and was pretty p*ssed (in the UK rather than USA sense), although I’ve seen him worse. Made Adam go and stand at the front instead of lurking by the amp, pulled Nev over who landed on top of him and continued to play while lying on the floor. Smith himself got up about three songs later. Seen to be smiling on more than one occasion which is always nice. Finished with a whimper rather than a bang as they finally gave up. F*cking great night though.’
The next night in London saw Paintwork‘s first performance for 14 years. The following day, Smith pulled the band off-stage halfway through for a pep talk after an aborted Sons of Temperance. Reviews of the remaining seven 2000 gigs can be found at the fall.org page linked to above.
The first gig of 2001 was in Dublin on 24 February. The new line-up was, to put it mildly, under-rehearsed. Ben Pritchard had only rehearsed four songs; Jim Watts had to be cajoled by Smith into even travelling to Ireland and his only rehearsal, inevitably, was just a ‘short strum’. Fan reviews confirm that, in the end, ‘Smith was literally shouting out titles and the band were making it up as they went along’9. One notable feature of the gig was that it saw the first performance of Midwatch 1953.
The group played three Dutch dates in April, which seem to have gone much more successfully. Ibis-Afro Man was debuted on the second night. Shortly afterwards, MES performed a well-received spoken-word set in Dublin.
The Fall played a further ten UK gigs in April 2001. There’s a bootleg of the first of these, at Newport in Wales. It’s of no better than average sound quality, but the group have clearly gelled since February and it has a couple of interesting features. It includes a rare performance of Devolute (Smith had also included it in his recent spoken-word performance): it’s rather haphazard, though – Smith apparently loses track of what he’s saying in several places – and is much less effective without the double-tracked vocals.
The group also played I Am Damo Suzuki for the first time in 14 years. Stretching to seven minutes, it features some effective sustained guitar work from Pritchard and sees MES in invigorated form. The song would be played regularly throughout 2001-04, often in this extended fashion.
This gig is another that was released as part of the Set of Ten in 2018. Presuming that it’s the same recording as the bootleg that I have, it’s a solid enough mid-table affair.
There’s another bootleg of the date six days later in Oxford, and it has a far brighter, cleaner sound than the Newport one. It’s notable that by this stage Ben Pritchard is confident enough to add quite a few showy rock ‘n’ roll flourishes (for example the little solo in F-‘Oldin’ Money) that Smith wouldn’t have put up with twenty years earlier. Ibis-Afro Man is a model of coherence compared to the album version.
The last of the April dates, in Macclesfield, saw Bourgeois Town played for the first time.
After the ‘Bulldog Bash’ (see above) The Fall played another ten UK/Ireland dates in October, followed by ten European gigs. The first night at Leeds Cockpit saw several new songs debuted: Crop Dust, Jim’s “The Fall”, Kick The Can and My Ex-Classmates’ Kids. What was at the time known as Bastardo was played for the first time in Dublin.
There’s a bootleg of the 17 October Bristol gig (of pretty reasonable quality). Bourgeois Town sees Ben Pritchard in full-on Eric Clapton mode; Kick The Can and F-‘Oldin’ Money are played as a medley (as they often were at the time); Dr Bucks’ Letter is performed as a heavy, messy stoner-rock instrumental. Bastardo is fast-paced and features more bluesy soloing from Pritchard; it’s followed by the first ever performance of Gotta See Jane.
The group spent the last part of October in Europe, playing ten dates in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. Reviews suggest the gigs generally went well.
In July 2003, Castle/Sanctuary released Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set, a five-CD collection of 2001 live recordings: Haarlem, Amsterdam and Brighton from April; Seattle and New York (the first night) from November. It’s a mixed bag. The sound quality is generally ok – pretty standard audience recordings – and there are a few gems (the version of Crop Dust from New York is a cracker, for example). However, you might find yourself tiring just a little of the F-‘Oldin’ Money/Kick The Can medley, MES repeatedly saying ‘moderninity’ and the group trundling endlessly through Mr Pharmacist.
The album wasn’t recorded under the easiest of conditions. Ben Pritchard recalls:
‘The studio we were recording it in was still being built it was damp and dark and we were directly underneath a body builders’ gym. We had to keep deleting takes because you could hear the clanging of dumbbell weights being dropped on the recordings!’
Although Are You Are Missing Winner was officially released on the 5 November, it was available at gigs from the Leeds date on the 8 October onward (you can hear it being advertised in an announcement at the end of the Bristol bootleg). This may well have had an impact on official sales figures: whilst the previous three LPs had achieved only lowly placings, AYAMW didn’t even trouble the chart at all.
Like the ruck of MES-flicks-the-Vs live albums that emerged throughout 1998-2001, Are You Are Missing Winner came out on Cog Sinister/Voiceprint. The cover is widely regarded as the worst of all the Fall’s LP covers: a blurred negative image of Smith and his new wife is surrounded by cheap and nasty lettering and ugly splotches of pink and purple. There’s almost (almost) something winning (pardon the pun) about its unapologetic hideousness.
The first editions of the CD contained typos, incorrect titles and were poorly mastered (with lots of skips and inexplicable gaps). As to the origins of the album’s title, Ben Pritchard says:
‘There was an article at the time about the national lottery, someone had won and didn’t come forward to claim the prize. It’s as simple as that. Mark took his inspiration for lyrics and titles from anywhere he could find. Are you ‘our’ missing winner, he just spelt it wrong.’
The album was not received very positively, either by fans or by the music press. In Q, Ian Harrison described it as sounding like ‘wildly variable fragments recorded in Smith’s shed’ that at their worst were ‘bemusingly thin’. He thought it ‘strictly for the kind of fans keen to display levels of dutiful devotion last seen at the Charge Of The Light Brigade.’ Edwin Pouncey, writing in The Wire, described it as a ‘rockabilly racket which makes no apparent sense at all’, although he did recommend playing it ‘loud enough to wake the dead’.
Jim’s “The Fall”
A brash, non-nonsense opener in the tradition of The Joke and D.I.Y. Meat that Dave Thompson describes10 as ‘a gnarly statement of intent for the latest line-up’, it being named after new recruit Jim Watts, who wrote the tune.
It’s tidy enough, if perhaps verging on the pedestrian; not quite breaking out into the abandoned thrash that you might expect or want it to. Played 17 times, 2001-02.
A cover of Lead Belly’s The Bourgeois Blues, it doesn’t really do much exciting with the song, translating it into a rather bog-standard pub-rock trundle. Not that it’s entirely without appeal, however; there’s some nicely scuffed-up riffing lurking behind the main guitar line and Smith’s slurred growl is fairly affecting.
According to Reformation, MES quoted the song in performances as far back as 1985. It got 73 outings, 2001-04.
One of the group’s most blatant ‘borrows’, being lifted from The Trogg’s I Just Sing, it’s a scarred and venomous piece of warped psych-garage-punk, led by a twisted, snake-charming lead guitar fuzz and underpinned by a galloping, distorted drone-clatter rhythm section. It’s not as extreme as Ibis-Afro Man (see below), but is similar in its stitching together of several brutally-edited segments. The transitions between these sections are unsettling and compelling: there are wonderfully discordant overlaps at 1:18, 1:42 and 2:30 (the last of which leads into a woozy descent in tempo).
Besides the hypnotic lead part, there’s a shedload of excellent guitar here: the cracked, hesitant chords that emerge at 0:07; the wavering feedback that cuts in and out from 0:57; the atonal drone at 1:13; the sharp, tinny fuzz at 4:30.
As for the lyrics, Reformation suggests it’s about the gentrification of Manchester; The Annotated Fall that it’s about post-9/11 terrorist paranoia. The latter interpretation is supported by a Record Collector interview from February 2002, which says that the song was ‘inspired by a dream Smith had about two towers and office executives running from a building’.
Whatever the meaning, it’s a fine example of Smith’s use of language:
‘The editor bedraggled, stumbled
Some hurt, some dazed with film crew
Their equipment strewn on the new development
As the rain tumbles down over the riverside complex
Still not covering up the ominous thunder of the hymn.’
It was played 23 times, 22 in 2001 plus a final performance in Milan in 2002.
My Ex-Classmates’ Kids
A swinging, energetic bit of blues-rock that echoes the sentiments of Married, 2 Kids. Smith’s distorted vocal works particularity well, but overall it has a slightly thin feel, especially when compared to its ‘sister’ song, I Wake Up In The City. It was performed 29 times between 2001 and 2003.
Kick The Can
The song opens with a guitar part so heavily flanged and distorted that it sounds like it’s being played underwater; two minutes in it kicks into a clean and taut groove that shimmies along for the remaining three minutes.
Lyrically, it’s a rather minimal effort; live versions often saw MES just bark out the refrain whilst the group repeated the riff. Not unpleasant, but not especially inspiring either. It was played 57 times 2001-03, often as part of a medley with F-‘Oldin Money.
Gotta See Jane
The Fall had secured their highest ever chart position with R D Taylor’s There’s A Ghost In My House back in 1987; here they cover another Taylor song, originally released in 1967.
It’s one where the group really don’t do the original justice. Taylor’s original has a keening, desperate tone that’s touching and emotionally involving; The Fall’s take is a little plodding and lazy in comparison. Not entirely unpleasant, but one that leaves you shrugging your shoulders. It only got four live outings, all in October 2001.
One of the more divisive tracks in the group’s history, one that City Life magazine called ‘the worst song in The Fall’s 25-year old career’. It’s based loosely around Iggy Pop’s (racially dubious – ‘I live in the bush and I’m going to stomp like a gorilla / Here I beat my chest’) African Man, from his 1979 album New Values.
It’s an unholy mess and a terrible racket throughout. In style, it’s a close relation of Hurricane Edward, in that it sounds like several unfinished versions of the same track edited together by chopping the tapes up with blunt scissors and binding them with Sellotape. Stewart Lee commented that it was ‘evidently recorded in a tin filled with seagulls’.
The live section at the end is taken from the 23 April 2001 gig at The Mean Fiddler; it contains some of the lyrics from Race With The Devil, a Gene Vincent song that the group played at John Peel’s 50th birthday celebration in 1989 (and was included on 2013’s The Remainderer). The keyboard squiggles mark Julia Nagle’s final contribution to The Fall.
There’s something both ridiculous and exhilarating about the wilfully ham-fisted way the different versions of its thumping, primal stomp barge into each other from either side of the stereo. It’s an acquired taste, undoubtedly (the ‘chattering monkey’ section is rather trying to even the most open-minded listener), but you can’t imagine anyone else but The Fall recording it. It was played 19 times 2000-01.
A little simplistic and obvious, The Acute is a country-ish toe-tapper where no chord change is ever a surprise. However, the Pixies/Violent Femmes-esque skittering guitar at 2:43 is a nice touch. Smith’s vocals straddle precariously the line between ‘idiosyncratic delivery’ and ‘unlistenably tuneless’ and are almost uncomfortably forward in the mix.
The line regarding ‘the motive of this film’ may possibly refer to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; according to The Annotated Fall, Jim Watts suggested (via the Fall Online Forum) that there was an alternative version of the song that included lyrics referring to Frank Skinner. It was never played live.
Another fairly simplistic tune, based around a straightforward (mainly) two chord pattern played on a scratchy acoustic accompanied by a pretty bog standard root note bass line. The melody is not a million miles away from Jerusalem.
Although it’s quite slight, it has a certain ramshackle charm, and the gnarly fuzz of the electric guitar that emerges over the last third peps it up a bit with a little rickety thrash. The almost comically deep backing vocal (possibly supplied by Ed Blaney) gives it a bit more body as well.
The target of Smith’s derision (‘You don’t know f*ck sh*t’) is unclear. It was never played live.
Reprise: Jane – Prof Mick – Ey Bastardo
The album’s closer revisits a couple of Fall tropes: experimental p*ss-taking (the lengthy ‘is there something wrong with my CD player?’ gaps) and the roll-call roasting of group members (cf North West Fashion Show).
As the title suggests, it’s a mix of the loose jam Bastardo that was played a few times in 2001 and a reprise of the cover of Gotta See Jane. It’s unclear who ‘Prof Mick’ might be, but Mick Middles is an obvious candidate.
An interview with Brian Fanning in The Fallen contains a description of the song’s recording:
‘When they were recording… Gotta See Jane… Smith suddenly started shouting at the drummer, Spencer Birtwistle, that the music was all wrong… Smith suggested a ten minute break, during which Birtwistle started playing a different beat. Fanning picked up the bass and played along. Then Smith started rapping over the top – ‘Spencer is a bastardo, he needs to go back to Rusholme’ – before going on to sing the same song as before over a completely new rhythm.’11
It’s not without its charms – the group sound like they’re having a great time (Smith in particular) and Pritchard contributes some nifty guitar work – but its seven minute length is rather indulgent for a novelty interlude. It was played (albeit in a fairly different form) half a dozen times in autumn 2001.
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
A remastered (the mastering on the original was notoriously poor) version of the album was reissued in 2006 on Castle Music, a subsidiary of Sanctuary. It included six bonus tracks: both sides of the 2001 Rude (All The Time) single, two studio tracks from 2001 (New Formation Sermon and Distilled Mug Art – see next post), a live version (with considerably more gusto than the album take) of My Ex-Classmates’ Kids, recorded in Cologne on 23 October 2001 and Where’s The F***in Taxi? C**t.
Taxi was recorded at the same session as Rude (All The Time) and I Wake Up In The City, and was released as part of the EP version of Rude (All The Time) that came out in 2005.
It’s a waste of five minutes of your life: Smith, Blaney, et al wittering drunkenly while someone tortures an acoustic guitar. Supremely self-indulgent. If you have nothing better to do, it’s transcribed here.
Cerebral Caustic saw Smith attempting to drag The Fall away from its dance/electronica-tinged early 90s incarnation and establish a stripped-down, back to basics approach. And yet, that album was still infused with electronic effects amongst the primal garage rock. Are You Are Missing Winner represents a much purer take on the guitar-bass-drums ethos. Nagle’s departure, which left the group without a keyboard player, means that Winner is almost entirely devoid of electronic sounds.
This minimalist approach is not in itself a problem. Where the group demonstrate strong levels of innovation and invention (Crop Dust, Ibis-Afro Man), it makes sense, even if the results don’t always represent easy listening. But overall, the song-writing is just not strong enough to sustain the ‘back to basics’ ethos. Whilst many of the songs contain some pleasing guitar work, too many of them (The Acute and Hollow Mind, for example) feel like thin and underdeveloped ideas; and the covers are workable but uninspiring.
It’s not a terrible album by any means – several others have low points that are lower than the weaker songs here – but overall it’s just too ragged and disjointed to be entirely satisfying.
I’ve included a couple of tracks (Formation and Distilled) that I haven’t written about yet – they’ll be covered in the next post. The minimal length (35:38 – just within the minimum limit) says a lot…
Side 1: Jim’s “The Fall” / Gotta See Jane / I Wake Up in the City / New Formation Sermon / Kick the Can (17:02)
Side 2: Crop-Dust / Distilled Mug Art / Ibis-Afro Man (18:36)
I’ve always had rather a soft spot for the album, and have often defended it. This comes from an admiration for its perversity and also my love of Crop Dust and Ibis. However, the intense process involved in doing this blog has undoubtedly exposed its flaws, and even as an admirer I have to confess that it comes nowhere near to standing up to the top half of the rankings so far.
Light User Syndrome and Middle Class Revolt are similarly flawed albums. The former has a greater number of highlights; the latter has a flat and samey atmosphere that isn’t the case with Winner. So it goes between the two of them.
- This Nation’s Saving Grace
- Perverted By Language
- The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
- Hex Enduction Hour
- The Unutterable
- The Marshall Suite
- Cerebral Caustic
- I Am Kurious Oranj
- Room To Live
- The Infotainment Scan
- Bend Sinister
- The Light User Syndrome
- Are You Are Missing Winner
- Middle Class Revolt
- Code: Selfish
- Live At The Witch Trials
- The Frenz Experiment
As far as singles go, I decided at the outset that I would only consider A-sides, as to include other tracks would complicate things horrendously. So, despite its excellent b-side, Rude find itself in grave danger of relegation…
- 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
- Rude (All The Time)
Live At TJ’s is fine, if unremarkable. The Bootleg Box Set has its ups and downs, but does capture a specific period of the group’s work very well; plus, at an average price of around £25 for a five-disc set, it does represent pretty good value.
- 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
- Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
- 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 2001 – TJ’s Newport
- 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
4The Fallen, p245
5The Fallen, p255
6The Fallen, p227
8The Fallen, p250
9The Fallen, p254
11The Fallen, p250