Fibbers, York on Saturday 19th November 2016
“With The Fall you can never be absolutely certain what you’re gonna get…sometimes it may not be what you want— but— they’re The Fall and that’s all you need”
John Peel from the 2005 BBC 4 Documentary The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith
There are very few immutable laws of music but this is one of them. There are many more immutable laws of nature but even the toes of some of these are being nibbled away at, as physicists continue to try to come up with a “theory of everything” that will reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity and start to question even Einstein’s conclusions.
Now we’ve established that – Sounds Magazine contractually obliges me to score The Fall gig that I attended at Fibbers on 19th November out of 100 in the following ways: ‘expected , anticipated / actual, the reality of what you saw / recommended, whether you should go to see the band.
And so that’s: 100 / 99.95 (they didn’t have my favourite beer at the venue) and 101.
Not so great expectations
My expectations were though clearly below those of at least one other punter who I overheard saying ‘as long as he turns up and does more than one song’. They were relatively young and so I’m guessing that they had our Mark on a bucket-list, as they couldn’t feasibly have seen him during a period back in the 90’s when the burden of ‘casting his pearls’ took its toll on his health and his onstage behaviour and maybe his output. He’s putting in some rather long shifts these days, as this gig was to again prove.
Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with picking off legendary beasts of the musical jungle before they (or you) succumb to extinction (or entropy; one of those immutable laws of nature). A ‘kick-the-bucket’ list. In fact, after the sad loss of Leonard Cohen recently, I immediately thought back to that phone call when my friend Robert offered to get me a ticket to what turned out to be Leonard’s final gig in Manchester and I said “maybe next time”. There followed a mental face-palm, even bigger than the one that I’m indulging in now that I realise for the first time, writing this, that the phrase ‘bucket list’ comes from the phrase ‘kick the bucket’ – I know.
But Mark and The Fall, who are one-and-the same (a Holy Duality) are not a dusty antiquity, or a tribute act to former glories to be gawked at. Fibbers saw at least three songs new to me and nothing on the setlist older than about 7 years until, in a gracious concession to both a spirited mosh pit and the laws of showbiz, they returned to the stage to dispense the familiar repeat prescription of Mr Pharmacist. You feel that Mark would rather try one out he’s thought up in the pub before the gig than give people what they might expect and you’d give him a better than evens chance of pulling it off.
Like Cohen (but more so) The Fall were never just about the past and never relied on the ‘greatest hits’ alone. Did Leonard ever secretly tire of having to nail Hallelujah just one more time to make doubly sure that everyone went home happy, in the same way that Chesney Hawkes, with less justification, likely rails against trotting out The One and Only? A shark won’t die if it goes backwards but The Fall would.
The Prestwich Sinatra
‘Always different, always the same’ (copyright John Peel) has become clichéd through overuse but in a Newtonian musical universe it remains as rock-solid as ever and the Fall never give in to inertia. For example, the law in Fall stagecraft is that Mark always sends the band on alone for the overture before making a disinterested but somehow theatrical entrance to ignore the applause that he is milking. He knows it’s a show after all and his ‘anti-performance’ is a performance in itself. His entrance is just as much a part of the show as was James Brown’s theatrical way of leaving the stage in instalments, wrapped in a cape and feigning total exhaustion at the hands of his art.
But tonight, after the usual five minute industrial-noise-palate-cleanser had stopped rattling through the speakers, on he walked with a typically diffident-looking Pete Greenway to give us a new number consisting of just him and the guitar. It was called 9/10 and he’ll eventually get it to a 10 of out 10, if I know him
When the rest of the band join him and we get going, still another punter begins tittering away as Mark begins his usual ‘live mixing’ on stage, twiddling with amps, using two mics, grabbing mics randomly, putting them up against speakers. Okay it is amusing, if only to see the bewildered reactions of his young troupe, when on occasions their instruments are turned off altogether by accident or design. And okay, ‘live mixing’ gives it more gravitas than is merited and sometimes it works and other times, less so but the important thing is that, like all artists, Mark is trying to create something new and different in the moment.
If you want to hear a perfect rendition of the record then bloody well stay at home and listen to the record. There’s no more numpty- review to be heard of a gig than when people say ‘it was just like the record’. What was the point in going then?
I’ve heard some musicians say that his ‘antics’ disrespect musicians and yes he has a difficult reputation and maybe he is no Mandela but could Mandela have ever given us Spoilt Victorian Child? I’ve also never seen a frontman that gives his musicians so much license and so much of the spotlight, standing proudly as they play away and wandering about, and sometimes off, the stage to leave the musical spotlight to them.
He’s certainly never been quoted saying anything quite as crass as Morrissey did when he downgraded Joyce and Rourke’s musicianship by calling them ‘lawnmower parts’ but at the same time he does keep musicianship in perspective. Elena Poulou hasn’t been on keyboards for the last half dozen gigs (Fall cliché-lovers take note, the first departure in about a decade) and we can now assume that she will not be returning. The keyboard is still there though and Mark has a bash (quite literally); occasionally ‘playing’ it Hendrix-like behind his back. Then, at one point, leaning on it relaxedly, like a Prestwich Sinatra.
It is funny and Mark has more than enough of a sense of humour to know that it’s funny but it also strangely works by-and-large. As I said to my mate Tim (a trained ivory-tinkler) at the time, “you’ve wasted a lot of hours in lessons, that’s the way to do it.”
We do miss Elena’s distinctive backing vocals and her more conventional keyboard skills but it’s a typical Mark E Smith/ Fall attitude to take musicianship down a peg or two, to reduce the distance between the average punter and the ‘artiste.’ He’s saying ‘it’s not as hard as a proper job’ (although everyone in The Fall is on a zero hours contract).
What does Mondrian mean to you?
I’m supposed to go through the rest of the night now and compare and contrast tracks and recommend this-or-that and sell The Fall to the uninitiated and unsure. I know that we’re all supposed to be taking a breath these days and trying to empathise with those who don’t hold the same convictions, such as the Trump voter and those Brexiteers who “WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK!” – but balls to that, right IS right!
As for the misty-eyed Fall fans contingent from back in the day (the “look-back bores” as Mark calls them) who say ‘well…, it’s not as good... it’s not the same… you can’t hear the words.’ Look here: it’s different but just as good; you could hear Oasis’s words and they meant nothing (“sister, blister, missed her” anybody?). It’s proper creative, it’s The Fall. God almighty; the Rolling Stones release a blues cover album and hoo-ha breaks out; even though every Rolling Stones release has been a blues cover album. The Fall though power on relatively unnoticed and it shouldn’t take Einstein to realise that this is just as good a point in the space-time continuum to go and see them as any previous.
I will though say that the support band Soma Crew’s rotational grooves are well worth checking out, as is Fibbers as a venue; feel both the width and the quality of its roster at http://www.fibbers.co.uk/
Can I ask you something? What does Mondrian mean to you? He means shame to me. This is his Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow and I’m not feeling it (though it’s not looking its best here, in black and white). But I know that it is artistic genius and so if you similarly stand back and properly take in The Fall and think ‘umm—not really—is it me?’ rest assured that it is.
But then again if you’re standing back and weighing things up, you’re in the wrong place. Get into the mosh pit and feel the joy of the funkadelic rhythms of a band led by a man who never forgets that you are here for a show. The Fall is genius but genius that you can dance to. Why not try listening to Autochip 2014-16, whilst letting your backbone slip?
So don’t waste any more time with me, go and see The Fall. Or, don’t see them. Mark E Smith doesn’t care. Well, he probably does but less than you might expect. He is as uncompromising a performer as Trump and a similarly effective sloganeer but with so much more substance to back it up and he will keep making The Fall great with or without us. As he says at the end of that BBC 4 documentary
“I’ve got plenty to say you know and I’m going to keep saying it—okeydoke?”
Stephen G. Titley (@stevecomic) is an actor, standup comedian and writer and will be taking his show Falldamentalist or Markist (he’s not decided the title yet) about his life-changing love of The Fall to the Edinburgh Festival in August 2017 .
Check it out!
Check out The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith BBC 4 2005 below
Check out all things Fall at http://thefall.org/
Check out New Facts and Fol de Rol from the Fibbers gig at