Pounds and pennies aren’t the only kind of capital!


Spring’s a-coming!


Friday week to be exact…

Thought brought the drought about

A fortnight on and I’m still struggling to say anything sensible about Mark E Smith’s passing… (I’ve agonised about this post – I wanted to get it right – but in the end…)

There have been a slew of farewells, reminiscences, funny stories and “life of a Fall fan” pieces, most of them heart-felt, most of them well worth reading. The radio tributes have been genuinely good and I particularly enjoyed the Radcliffe and Gideon Coe programs. And there’s quite a bunch of stuff on the BBC that I’m yet to go through.

One of the things I read was by Stewart Lee, who talked about how it was important not to make tributes all about yourself (before he went on to do so) but it’s hard not to, really. Smith’s legacy differs from person to person, and I think is probably more personal than most others. Although not always a die-hard fan (I have friends who can – and do – measure the passing of their years in Fall concerts), Fall records have always been there… What are we going to do now?

I’m quite surprised how much of a surprise it has actually been – even though his waning was clear for even the dopiest to see, his lifestyle hardly suggesting he’d be around for ever… I did kind of think he would be.


Another thing that I wasn’t expecting was quite how little people would care about it. Although there has been plenty of media coverage, and my own close buddies and everyone I follow on Twitter were all appropriately stunned, not one of my various work colleagues was remotely bothered (and only a few knew who he was). I’m living in a bubble, clearly.

So anyway, Josie in bed with flu, I found myself in the spare room that night and drifted off to sleep listening to the radio, playing sundry Fall pieces, including “Middlemass” from one of the Peel sessions, and it occurred to me that, winding back a fair few years, the first time I’d actually heard the track, from that session had been in similar beneath-the-bedclothes circumstances back on the day of transmission. Hmm… My Peel Sessions boxset has been in the car ever since. So Peel and Smith being forever linked, and in the absence of anything clever to say, let’s do one of these…

Lucky Seven – The Fall: Seven Peel tracks that made you glad to be alive.

Lucky Seven – Mark E Smith

I’m not sure I’d ever read them before but the liner notes for the boxset by Daryl Easlea are very good. Apart from the session details (interesting in themselves), the main notes are a great read. And it is hard not to see the following lines (about Peel) in particular without a sense of gloomy prescience…

“Hearing the music he played for the first time was a dramatic, life-changing experience. Everyone has memories of hearing their first Peel session. It was a drifting off to sleep moment, awaiting the next school day…”

So I’ll start with this one.

Middlemass – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“The boy is like a tape loop”

Picture if you will a green youth who should’ve been working on his Hardy essay, furtively abed, puzzling over the dark, compact sounds of this 1981 session. As ever, I’d not quite listened properly and went off to school the next day, vaguely impressed that Smith was apparently a George Elliot fan – I’d no doubt have been disappointed by the suggestion of it being about football fans (although Marc Riley was convinced it was about him).

Steve Hanley’s loping bassline impels the song onward while Riley and Scanlon’s scratchy guitar lines add venomous colour to Smith’s words. I had no idea what he was on about and am only a little clearer these days. The sense of the oddness of it all and the befuddlement that I was left with as I drifted off that night is something I’ve grown to cherish.

Garden – Session 6 (23/3/83)

“He’s here! I swear! I saw him! He’s on the second floor!”

I think this is the first of the two-drummer line-up’s sessions, and the doubled down intensity of the drumming that opens the track leads us into ten fun-filled minutes of unyielding obscurity. Craig Scanlon is particularly unforgiving. I only really discovered this song a couple of years ago, and it’s one of Smith’s denser and more intimidating lyrics, which I’ve returned to again and again. Again, I’ve still little idea what’s going on here, but I love it and I love the fact that I’ll be gnawing on these and other Smith lyrics for years to come.

(I’ve always thought it a shame that the similarly impenetrable “Spector Vs Rector” never made it onto a Peel session reel…)

Dead Beat Descendant – Session 12 (31/10/88)

“Take five dead beat steps”

I remember a friend playing me the Mr Pharmacist cover when I first left Gloucester for London. I’d knew they’d recorded it and being a self-styled garage punk fiend by this time, I’d imagined it’d not be a patch on the Other Half original. As ever, I was knocked sideways by what a stonking great romp it was and it opened a door to how much Smith loved a good Nuggety riff – a now obvious fact I’d somehow not twigged. The twangy guitar for DBD was straight off a Seeds (or even Link Wray) record and I’m guessing must’ve triggered mayhem on the floors of student unions and workingmen’s clubs up and down the country.

I could’ve chosen “Cab It Up” for all the same reasons.

New Puritan – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“Hail the new puritan! Righteous maelstrom! Cook one”

This scarcely believable version of an already released song is an example of how Peel Session versions were sometimes really different to the ones that emerged on vinyl, and sometimes even better. Easlea refers to Peel versions as “news bulletins and work in progress from Planet Fall” except this one has become pretty much definitive. The lyrics are feverishly spat out and Smith seems at times to leave Riley and Scanlon playing an uneasy game of catch up.

I know there’s a whole thing about it being a savage tilt at music-consuming elitism and as such the “puritans” are the target of his bile but I much prefer to take it as a hairshirt-wearing Smith’s own crack at a post punk Opus Dei. Paul Hanley’s drums are particularly damaging, and as it plays out each brutal thud, now that I’ve started to think of it as some sort of self-mortification, is making me flinch…

(Also I love the Beeheart thing in the introduction…)

Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones – Session 20 (18/8/96)

“The strawberry mouth, the strawberry cloth, strawberry cratten-killer, strawberry butterfly, strawberry fields forever”

The Fall were always good for a few unlikely covers, and there were some truly great ones – “Mr Pharmacist”, “Ghost in my House” and “Victoria” all leap to mind – but today I’m going for a cover of the good Captain. I’d venture that for all that Smith was a great original, he couldn’t have gone to half the strange and illicit places he did without some help from Beefheart. Unsurprisingly, the Fall make a deeply spirited stab at an obdurate classic with Brix going over all Antennae Jimmy Semens (recently passed away, too…) and Smith giving the cement mixer to a ragbag of already pretty impressionistic lyrics.

I can’t think of another band whose covers sounded as good as the Fall’s…

New Face in Hell – Session 3 (24/9/80)

“… uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions.”

Easlea’s liner notes suggest that this session might be the best one of all and it’s hard to argue with that when you consider that the other two songs are a sheet-lightning “Container Drivers” and “Jawbone + the Air Rifle”,

I’m choosing this one though because it showcases the man’s incredible, eccentric shrieking delivery – truly a frontman who “sung” like no other. The “new face in hell!” here is a sound from a scary, scary place, as troubling as it is thrilling. He of course made it clear that he didn’t sing at all (hard not to argue with that) but from the distinctive Gallic –uhs added to the end of lines to the astonishing squeals and high-pitched battle yells, his is one of my favourite voices in music. And that’s before he got the megaphone out (an iconic stroke of weird genius that, by the way)

C ‘n’ C / Hassle Schmuk – Session 3 (31/3/81)

“Oh dear friends, I can’t continue this…”

The seventh one I’ve chosen is again quite different from the record version that turned up on, in this case, the Grotesque album. At the “mithering” point in this version, the band careen off instead into a mickey take of Coast to Coast’s silly “Hucklebuck” song (at the time of the session, sitting at number three in the charts).

The Arthur Askey line is just plain funny – and I wouldn’t ever want to forget that the man was genuinely witty. Nasty, maybe, but always able to make you laugh. (At this point, I should direct you to this page on the NME site for a nice collection of MES savageries – I know, I know, I won’t do it again, but seeing as I’ve borrowed the photo from their site…)

So, there you are. Seven Peel tracks I particularly treasure, in no particular order and each one of them damn lucky to be there – if you’d caught me on another day, there’d be seven other buggers there…