“I am Mark E Smith” goes the title of the fifth single from the Fat White Family both catnip and dog-whistle for the discerning music lover of a certain age and some younger but just as discerning. Well we all want to be Mark E Smith (though some won’t admit it – like me, he is the last person on Earth, I would wish to be-Ed) but who among us has put in the hard yards to earn that title, aside from Mark himself?
But that single did reel me in to ‘the Fat Whites’ (as we in the know call them) but should it have been a siren call to steer clear? Mark himself once said on a BBC 4 documentary “When they start saying they like The Fall, it’s usually that they’ve run out of ideas, I do remember Wet Wet Wet saying that” So on that recommendation I should have run a mile but on the basis that even Mark has to be wrong at some point, I didn’t.
First live contact came at Hebden Bridge in the Trades Club back in December. I went along with my fifteen year old, dropping the demographic of our party to 32 and a half years old. Before the gig we stood looking at a nowty River Calder, two weeks or so before it burst its banks. Hebden Bridge is perhaps now most famous for its floods but it should get more of a shout-out for the Trades Club, a “socialist members club” and marvellous sweaty box of a venue that attracts some eyebrow- raising names, including, of late, Lee Scratch Perry. http://thetradesclub.com/
The atmosphere was strawberry-scented (possibly from an e-cig) but as disagreeable as the Calder, threatening to burst over into violence, which it did at one point when a fight broke out in the small but serviceable mosh at the front of this tiny 200 capacity gig. Maybe I was feeling overly paternal, what with my lad in tow and the slightly lary edge to things but I did find myself worrying about lead singer Lias Kaci Saoudi: topless after half a song, shaven-headed somewhat emaciated and perhaps unnecessarily belligerent in his passion to communicate. The striking up of the mocking drone of Tinfoil Deathstar didn’t settle my nerves any but by the end of the night I still had the appetite for more of their sarcastic and, some say, knowing rock…electro-disco…psych- punk rock…? Any road up it’s got a good beat.
They’ve taken some flak, have the Fat Whites about their anger being synthetic and a little self-aware, it didn’t feel it that night. Anyway I’d be glad to see this generation get angry, even synthetically. With student loans, generation rent and the retirement age going up-a –year-every-year, I’m flabbergasted that they don’t riot a bit more; or at least key the odd Porsche in protest. The Fat Whites are also relentlessly political which will nark some but they happily confirm my bias every time they denounce the excesses of capitalism or, as in 2013, hang out a banner saying ‘The Witch is Dead’ on the day we lost Maggie but they also have a good groove which kept the gig boiling along. The good news (for me at least) was that by the time I saw them next at the Green Man Festival in August, in a large tent that could have accommodated a few Trade Clubs, the lead singer had grown his hair and looked better nourished
The Green Man is a 6 Music kind of festival which is no bad thing. If you’re not at a Fab Radio International festival you’d likely want to be at a 6 Music festival. So the crowd was clued-up enough not to be too easily impressed, especially a crowd that had stayed up past its bedtime for this post-headline, headline slot.
Soon enough somebody who could perhaps have done with an early night, stage-rushed the lead singer and both topless men were then locked in an embrace with Saoudi trying to up the ante by attempting to de-bag Joe Public whilst saying ‘where do these people come from’. It was a nice off the cuff (though he was of course cuff-less) admirable attitude but I do wonder why Saoudi bothers with tops at all, unless he has to wear one for at least one song to be able to claim them as stagewear on his tax return.
The whirl and the drone, the drone and the whirl; it all worked again and we all worked up a sweat that rendered tops unnecessary. That drone and Saoudi’s fidgety intensity perhaps don’t always come over on record. Auto Neutron (600,000 plays on Spotify / circa £50 beer money) from their first album Champagne Holocaust with its cult-inducing chorus of ‘we are, we are Auto Neutron’ pulls you in more live than on record but Whitest Boy On The Beach from their 2016 Songs From Our Mothers pulls you in, full stop.
A New Labour kind of Festival
The Leeds Festival is more of a New Labour festival; still in sight of its ideals but a little too much in hock to the mainstream and the market, necessitating a bit more of a pick-and-choose approach to the bands. Long after the Red Hot Chilli Peppers finished their bass-fixated mainstage headline and at midnight the Fat White Family picked up the remainder of the crowds in the unpromisingly titled Alternative Tent and didn’t drop them all set. I don’t know how much they do or don’t ‘mean it man’ and there is >artifice in all performance. I mean Mark doesn’t walk around Prestwich with a thousand yard stare all the time (does he?) but he/ they put on a performance and have the songs to back it up.
Yes they do go in for some attention-seeking, Daily Mail-baiting titles ‘. Lebensraum, Goodbye Goebbels and perhaps in another nod to The Fall (How About Us?) – When Shipman Decides. Titles not in the league of The Fall’s The League of Bald Headed Men or The Birmingham School of Business School but they’ve only been going three years, give them a break.
Oh and okay they aren’t my fave new band. The Fall are my fave new (and old) band, anything else would be ridiculous but they are well-worth backing for a long run-out.
If you’re still not convinced, then stop reading this right now and go and see them live and if you can’t do that listen to their latest single Breaking into Aldi. This Sean Lennon / Black Lips collaboration is rollicking and that word is rarely used deservedly. Although the song does reveal the typical lefty’s poor appreciation of the market-system which will probably condemn them to outsiderdom and penury. I mean you’d have to come out with some haul to make it worthwhile breaking into Aldi at those prices; surely you’d be better turning over a Waitrose. Perhaps they should have listened to Maggie before they danced on her grave.