RICHARD LOWE - our man in London with a tape recorder and a portion of chips - tracks the rise of THE FALL and captures some of the latest nuggets in that ever-expanding volume of work, The Thoughts Of Chairman Mark. Photographs by BEEZER.
MARK E SMITH is a happy man. His group The Fall's last single, Mr. Pharmacist, was their most successful ever.
It got to 75 in the charts. Their eight year career had hardly been a staggering commercial success, but The Fall have managed to
maintain a loyal and consistent audience for their
peculiar brand of rock' n ' rant music.
'We usually manage to sell about 20-40,000 copies
Of each record,' he says. 'We do all right. We're not
exactly in Rolls Royces yet, but we make a decent living.'
Indeed, The Fall's latest LP Bend Sinister entered
the charts at a respectable 34 at the time of writing,
and it's this august body of work that Mark is here to
discuss, particularly some of the more curious song
titles such as Shoulder Pads, Terry Waite Sez and
US Eighties And Nineties. Shoulder Pads is just
about a lot of different people and why I think
they're twats - there's two parts to the song, one
on each side of the LP, but really I could have written
about nine different songs on that subject. I suppose it
is an odd title; it' s an American football term and I can't
stand American football. It's so boring and complicated
-like a sort of moronic chess.
'Terry Waite Sez isn't about the Terry Waite,
although I do dislike him intensely; we were in this
pub in Stockport and there was this drunk there called
Terry Waite and I noted down all the things he was
saying and used them for the song.
'US Eighties And Nineties is about America
and how it's changed over the years. When I've been
there before it was the freest place I'd ever been to in
my life, but the last few times I've been it' s been a
very oppressed place – as bad as Russia or somewhere.
'Have you ever been behind the Iron Curtain? It
shits you up. I've been to East Germany and Yugoslavia
- horrible places. I suppose they have a better standard of living than we
do, but that standardisation of life is a danger.
Everybody wears brown pants and everybody wears
check shirts . That's why I don't agree with socialist
views. I don't think turning Britain into East Germany
is going to solve anything; it'll just make things worse.
'And those bands that go on about socialism, those
Red Wedge people, they don't really know anything
about politics - they don 't know anything about history
or 'owt and I think they do more harm than good.
And the way I see it , it's dangerous because next
year it could be the Nazi party and they wouldn't
know any different.'
The Fall, however are not averse to playing the odd benefit. They recently played an anti-apartheid gig at the Albert Hall with The Smiths and even played at a benefit for Derek Hatton's legal battle fund. 'We insisted on being paid for that. We're not tramps, we're working class people doing a job , so why shouldn't we be paid for it? I'm not a socialist but I think it's wrong the way that guy was persecuted, especially by the Labour Party, and he's only going to be replaced by some line toeing middle-aged guy who's not going to do anything for the working class people of Liverpool.' A staunch Mancunian and a man with such songs a s The North Will Rise Again and Lucifer Over Lancashire in his repertoire, Smith never the less refutes the suggestion that he's one of that most irritating of breeds - the Professional Northerner. 'I'm always accused of that, but it's just not true, it's just something that's been tagged on me over the years. I don't dislike people who come from the south. It's terrible to say things like that; all that northern thing is getting very tiresome. ' I thought what Edwina Currie said about northerners was outrageous, though. I mean just look at all these Londoners; they're knackered , aren't they? The water's shit and they live in horrible over crowded conditions. It's hilarious. And if you go to Newcastle they're all so revoltingly healthy it makes you sick, - they all go running and
everything. 'With 87 just round the corner, the media are getting starry-eyed and nostalgic about the 'heady days of punk rock' . Smith (a bit of a legendary punk veteran),has an interesting viewpoint. 'All this punk retrospective stuff is just a media hype - The Fall haven't been going for 10 years for a start, and nor have a lot of the other bands that are getting lumped into all that stuff. Like we did this Tenth Summer thing in Manchester, which was meant to celebrate the tenth anniversary of punk and there were bands like us, New Order, The Smiths, OMD, The Virgin Prunes none of those bands have been going ten years, it was all a bit off. It was a nice day though. 'People go on about it all now, but no-one cared about us when we were starting out; The Buzzcocks helped us out a real lot in them days but they're he only ones who did. I must admit I'm more into all those groups now than I was then, especially Sham 69 I saw them on the telly again and they were great, pure vaudeville, like a comedy act or something. But I'm not into all that glorifying of the past. I'm more interested in the present. 'The present for The Fall is a tour of Britain and America ('we're treated more like demagogues over there, it 's like doing a lecture tour or something'),and then this month a new single, as yet untitled, which will coincide with, and be based on, a play, written and performed by The Fall themselves. 'The single will be the same title as he play, and it's all about Pope John Paul I, the one who died after about 30 days. I wrote the play and we'll all be acting in it. It's based on this book I read about him which reckoned there was a conspiracy to murder him involving all these Italian fascist guys and this bishop from Chicago. Apparently the night before he died he'd made this list of people he wanted to get rid of in the Vatican. It's all contention of course, no-one really knows if it's true or not. Things like that fascinate me.'
Doubt if it'll make number one in Italy though.