Mark Edward Smith, born 5th March 1957 in Prestwich, wasn't allowed a record player until the age of fourteen and was actively discouraged from reading by his father, neither of which stopped him from building up a knowledge of the Stooges, the Groundhogs and Van Der Graaf Generator on one side and Philip K Dick, H P Lovecraft and Wyndham Lewis on the other. Although he'd already been formulating band ideas with girlfriend Una Baines and friends Martin Bramah and Tony Friel it was, like pretty much everyone else from Manchester who went on to record anything over the following ten years, seeing one of the two Sex Pistols gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in mid-1976 that convinced them to make a proper go of it. Taking their name from an Albert Camus book - Smith has claimed they were briefly considering becoming Flyman And The Fall, with him dressed as a fly and ending every sentence "bzzzz" - the Fall played their first gig in May 1977 in a musicians' collective rehearsal space. The stand-in drummer became the first man to be sacked by Smith before the second outing. Early on they were considered a political band, Tony Parsons and Paul Morley marking them out as such in the NME, and despite Friel, who'd suggested the name, leaving at the end of the year over the influence of manager Kay Carroll, who believes she was brought in to speed up that process, things were promising, not least when a feature article in the year's last Melody Maker emerged. Baines departed in April after two nervous breakdowns and a hospitalisation just after the band had been filmed by Granada TV as what we'd now call hype developed. Yvonne Pawlett joined on keyboard and a fourth bass player was found in sixteen year old roadie Marc Riley. After signing to Step Forward in mid-1978 an EP recorded a year earlier featuring Psycho Mafia, Bingo-Master's Break Out and Repetition was their first proper release. Adrian Thrills quite brilliantly described Smith's live vocal style at the time as a cross between Johnny Rotten and Eddie Waring.
A second single, It's The New Thing, railed, ironically, against the media chasing the latest craze before another member, drummer Karl Burns, departed. Rockabilly drummer Mike Leigh, who wore full Teddy Boy regalia onstage, came in. The first album, Live At The Witch Trials, was recorded in two days. Crap Rap 2 - Like To Blow set out their stall: "We are the Fall/Northern white crap that talks back", among the melodic cheap keyboards, scratchy guitars, jerky punk energy, guarded drug references, threatening and curious lyrical concerns and repetitive rhythms bordering on the avant-garde. They started, essentially, as they meant to go on.
Bramah left midway through the album's promo tour to join girlfriend Baines in the Blue Orchids after another falling out with Carroll. Smith, already the only original member two years into the Fall's life, pulled Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley out from the road crew. Pawlett then departed just before the band went back into the studio for three days to record Dragnet, mostly Smith/Riley co-writes and preceded by the spectacular careering valium dependency warning of a single Rowche Rumble. Dragnet, which features a thank you to the engineer "for his trust", is like a lo-fi Velvet Underground and in Spectre Vs Rector features the first lyrical flowerings of Smith's gothic horror obsession. The eighties opened with rockabilly post-punk single Fiery Jack ("the sort of guy I can see myself as in twenty years" averred Smith) before an ill-fated co-headlining tour with the Cramps convinced Leigh to go back to the cabaret bands from whence he came, replaced by Steve's brother Paul Hanley. Moving onto Rough Trade, live album Totales Turns (It's Now Or Never) became their first independent chart number one despite opening with the endearment "the difference between you and us is that we have brains" before two magisterial singles, July's How I Wrote Elastic Man, Smith's caustic portrayal of a writer torn apart by advancing fame, and September's ode to speed Totally Wired. Fourth album Grotesque (After The Gramme) came in November, refining what Smith was terming 'Country 'n' Northern' into furious rockabilly-influenced shouting of the odds, not least on nine minute closer The N.W.R.A., a cautionary tale about what might happen in the event of a northern uprising.
April 1981's six track mini-album Slates, co-produced by Adrian Sherwood, Geoff Travis and longtime contributor Grant Showbiz, filled the gap with a better quality and more abrasive sound. Leave The Capitol would later be played by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 to punctuate a debate on the congestion charge, forgetting about the swearing, Vine later reporting that a station production assistant pulled him aside after the show to mention "I think that was at the wilder shores of where we want to be musically". Arguments about promotion and distribution led to the band quitting Rough Trade afterwards for Kamera, a start-up of Saul Galpern, whose later label Nude handled Suede among others. Karl Burns then returned from session work for the likes of Public Image Ltd and John Cooper Clarke, primarily as a European tour stand-in for Paul Hanley and then as a second drummer. November single Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul was accompanied by Smith appearing on the NME cover photographed by Anton Corbijn. It didn't make him look a great deal better.
March 1982's Hex Enduction Hour had a cover festooned with cryptic one-liners and featured an improvised track recorded in a studio in a cave in Iceland. Remarkably, legend has it that Motown were interested in signing the group a couple of years later, until they heard the first thirty seconds of opener The Classical. An astounding work, difficult to get into but impossible to leave be, such is the intensity and the tightly wound lyricism. The first Fall album to break the top 75, many have this down as the masterwork, if probably not the place to start your Fall collection. Frank Skinner, who was converted a couple of years ago and famously aided David Baddiel in covering How I Wrote Elastic Man at the end of an Unplanned, seems to have adopted this as his theme tune.
Style cauterising single Look, Know followed a month later in the midst of a six month world tour of sorts that included a stopover in New Zealand, where Totally Wired had just gone top twenty. With little time to breathe, Room To Live emerged in October, a seven track mini-album that was heavily satirical, constructed in a more experimental way and didn't win a lot more fans. Smith had toyed with these being the last two Fall albums; they were definitely the last two with this line-up, as after a series of rows and a public fist fight in Australia Riley departed at the end of the year, releasing four albums with the quietly effective if not dissimilar Creepers before going into label running, plugging and finally radio tomfoolery.
Kamera went bankrupt early in 1984, the Fall returning tail between legs to Geoff Travis at Rough Trade. There was also a change at the top as the rarely to be messed with manager Carroll, the woman often credited as an equal driving force behind The Fall's inability to stand still, was unceremoniously left behind in America. Single The Man Whose Head Expanded, about a man who believes his life is being reused for soap opera scripts, and a couple of live albums filled time while another woman was entering the equation - Laura Elisse Salenger, Brix to one and all, a Chicago-based student who met Smith in April and married him in July. The great modern football evisceration Kicker Conspiracy came in October and an appearance on The Tube, a condition of John Peel's guest presenting slot, followed a month later before December saw Perverted By Language, featuring Brix on additional guitar and an unspoken effect on Smith's writing that diverted the band's sound bit by bit towards the mainstream. Smith has disowned the recording process and reviews were mixed, but Eat Y'self Fitter is one of the great Fall album openers. The accompanying longform video Perverted By Language Bis is mad. Rough Trade were soon Fall-less again, all band parties unhappy with the promo budget and promised bigger vistas by Beggars Banquet, kicking off with 1984 singles Oh! Brother and C.R.E.E.P., both produced by John Leckie, and in November a Whistle Test performance of Lay Of The Land accompanied by avant-garde dancer Michael Clark's company. These all came from The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall, their biggest chart hit to date (62) and ending with an almost proper ballad in Disney's Dream Debased. Smith's otherwise atypically reactionary hopes for 1985, as detailed to Melody Maker, included "twenty four hour TV", "friendly landlords" and "less careerists and more genuine purists". Instead he lost Paul Hanley - the usual reasons - which reduced the number of drummers back down to one but multi-instrumentalist Simon Rogers, who'd had a number 12 single in 1982 as part of panpipe-friendly outfit Incantation, kept the headcount steady. Odds and sods compendium Hip Priest And Kamerads filled the gap before another Fall landmark, This Nation's Saving Grace. With Leckie again at the controls, this is as accessible as they'd ever get, that is to say not very. As if to demonstrate, the accompanying single Cruiser's Creek's video featured Leigh Bowery.
Brix's own band The Adult Net (taken from Wonderful And Frightening World's Stephen Song) started in the same year, four poppy singles in two years featuring assorted Fall members, chiefly Rogers, and friends under pseudonyms. Karl Burns left again in June 1986, supposedly because Mark disapproved of his girlfriend, and was replaced by Simon Wolstencroft, who had previously been in The Colourfield with Terry Hall and non-recording outfits The Patrol with Ian Brown and John Squire and Freak Party with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke. July's Living Too Late was an odd choice of single, obscure US garage cover Mr Pharmacist two months later more sure-footed, putting them into the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles with a number 75 smash. Bend Sinister cracked the album top 40 in October but nobody involved looks back on it fondly, Leckie jumping ship afterwards claiming that the album's muffled sound was due to Mark insisting that the mastertape be a proper chrome Dolby C90. It's got US 80's-90's and Bournemouth Runner on it, so it's not a washout by any means. Simon Rogers also left shortly afterwards to embark on a career that enveloped Boy George's E-Zee Possee project, the Lightning Seeds, Terry Hall and Ibiza house production, Marcia Schofield promoted from the Adult Net as replacement just in time to see Mark and Brix participate in Michael Clark's 'fantasy documentary' Hail The New Puritan and then be given a role in the former's near impenetrable and not tremendously well received play Hey! Luciani, about the conspiracies surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I. Smith wrote part of the script on beer mats and delivered the final draft in a shoebox. Mark Lawson, reviewing it for the Independent, chose to compare it unfavourably to Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, but then that's Mark Lawson for you.
Something big nearly happened in April 1987 when a cover of R Dean Taylor's There's A Ghost In My House made it to number 30. It didn't get them on Top Of The Pops, but ITV's The Roxy came calling for storming October follow-up Hit The North, even if it didn't get past number 57. Mark's own label Cog Sinister was formed at the end of the year primarily for reissues, kicking off with 1980-1983 grab-bag Palace Of Swords Reversed, while a version of the Kinks' Victoria became a second top 40 breakthrough single the following January, followed by a number 19 album in the uneven The Frenz Experiment. Pretension be damned, Smith and Clark now collaborated on a full blown ballet, I Am Curious, Orange, taking the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as a very loose start point and performed in full in Amsterdam, the Edinburgh Festival and Sadler's Wells. The dance establishment hated it, the music press lapped it up. The Ian Broudie-produced I Am Kurious Oranj failed to make the top 40 or a lot of sense, a cover of William Blake's Jerusalem being the single, but was the better of the year's two albums despite its necessarily piecemeal origins. This track is as close as they come to an anthemic set closer these days.
It was during the I Am Curious, Orange performances that cracks emerged in Mark and Brix's marriage, the pair seperating in January, although she didn't officially leave the band for another six months, the same month the Adult Net's bubblegum summer pop album The Honey Tangle was finally released after being re-recorded under Ramones and Blondie producer Craig Leon with a band including Blondie's Clem Burke and fifth Smith Craig Gannon. Back at the Fall, the band's contract with Beggars Banquet ended as they stepped up to Phonogram. Back came Martin Bramah on guitar, Smith moving back to Manchester after spending much of the year finding himself in Edinburgh, and the nineties opened with a Coldcut collaboration single that found the groove in the Fall Sound and included a namecheck that Mark has since said he didn't realise was that of an Eastenders actress until much later.
Extricate, produced by Coldcut, Adrian Sherwood and Craig Leon, was the major label debut, full of subtlety and piledriving alike, the genuinely emotion wringing Bill Is Dead ending up top of John Peel's Festive 50. So obviously it was time to tear things apart again, new partners Bramah and Schofield were thrown out after Mark and Marcia fell out. The underrated High Tension Line followed a couple more covers as a Christmas single, accompanied by Beggars Banquet's 458489 A-Sides and B-Sides compilations. Next up, give or take Hip Priest's curious appearance in Silence Of The Lambs, was Shift-Work in April 1991, seeing Dave Bush join on programming, but the long hinted at dancier direction didn't yet come to pass, instead overall as tender as the band would ever be, Edinburgh Man especially. It made number 17, a best to date. "Notebooks out, plagiarists" Smith suggested in the sleevenotes, a year ahead of Pavement's Slanted And Enchanted. April 1992's Code:Selfish was previewed by the dance beats and trouble in free Europe hypothesising lyrics of Free Range, the Fall's third and last to date top 40 single, and was generally influenced by Bush's programming, opening with splenetic ex-manager attack The Birmingham School Of Business School. A first Glastonbury in ten years followed, accompanied by single Ed's Babe, before Phonogram were cast aside in a dispute over the schedule for the next album and failure to act on US releases, all but ending Mark E's lasting hopes of pop crossover success. Permanent Records' first release was Lee Perry-derived cover Why Are People Grudgeful? in April 1993, followed by The Infotainment Scan. Remarkably, the electro-intricate stew, including a cover of Lost In Music, a returning Karl Burns and on A Past Gone Mad the declaration "if I ever end up like Ian McShane/cut my throat with a garden tool", made number 9, the last Fall entry into the top 40. At the end of the year Behind The Counter made it to Radio 1's playlist, if not the large end of the chart. Smith was becoming ever more erratic live by now, except in March 1994 he got the opportunity to show off to a national prime-time audience, guesting on the Inspiral Carpets' thunderous number 17 single I Want You (another Festive 50 topper) in tuxedo reading the lyrics badly off a crumpled sheet of A4 on Top Of The Pops. 1994 also saw Smith's second divorce, women's magazine critique single 15 Ways, the not tremendously great Middle Class Revolt in May, a series of onstage fights and in August the last thing anyone expected, Brix Smith's return.
Cerebral Caustic is another one Mark doesn't have much time for, feeling it too reflective of his own troubled life at the time. It was less technologically minded then the recent output, which led to Dave Bush's departure, joining Elastica for the tortured last few years of their existence (Mark later contributed to their comeback How He Wrote Elastica Man EP). He was replaced by Julia Nagle, who had previously been a sound engineer tutored by Martin Hannett and who'd worked on Bend Sinister. The Twenty Seven Points was, of all things, a double live CD, plus home demos and out-takes, apparently not enough for Mark, who led the band off Permanent and onto Receiver Records after a dispute over the volume of releases. As if to prove the point 1996 opened with four seperate live/rarity albums in four months, none of much use, and Smith would later disown the idea. By this time Scanlon had already walked out after being singled out for Mark E's own special relationship, the press release claiming it was for "failure to maintain amps and slovenly appearance". Mark E Smith, as Mark Radcliffe noted at the time, sacking a band member for their slovenly appearance. Smith would later admit that Scanlon is the only ex-member he regrets losing. Somewhere amid all this was the underrated if all over the shop The Chiselers single, followed by The Light User Syndrome in June, another mish-mash with only Cheetham Hill really worth the journey apart from the single. An October tour saw Brix quit after a fight during a soundcheck (she returned for the tour closer in London before permanently resigning), two last minute cancellations and a show in Worthing that led to the fee being withheld, the PA company withdrawing its products and the tour promoters abandoning involvement after Smith threw the mike and stand into the audience, disappeared for a stretch and then collapsed two songs after reappearing.
1997 started better, Brix replaced first by Adrian Flanagan (now electropop loon Kings Have Long Arms) and then Tommy Crooks, who'd also designed the work The Twenty Seven Points' cover was based on. Burns quit again and then returned again after Wolstencroft quit for good. Artful Records, home of many an amateurish live album, was new home for Levitate, which saw the return of lead keyboards and even the odd breakbeat, becoming the first in a long line of albums to be described as "the best Fall album since Extricate". The year's only complete band temporary sacking came in Belfast in November. The NME Brat Awards, which younger readers may like to know did once mean something, gave him the Godlike Genius gong the following February, the same month as the single of Masquerade featured a B-side co-written by and featuring on guitar an unknown Damon Gough, who Smith had met while drunk thinking Gough's car was a taxi and leaving a jacket and false teeth behind. Then, in a March/April 1998 US tour, it fell apart, Smith receiving a black eye after an altercation with Nagle and a phone receiver on the day of the first gig, being abandoned mid-song by his band in Philadelphia and then in New York picking fights with Burns and Crooks onstage. The following morning Smith was arrested on third degree assault and harrassment charges relating to Nagle, eventually bound over for anger management and alcohol treatment programmes. Burns (supposedly at the ninth time of asking), Crooks and Hanley (the longest serving Fall musician ever, at 19 years) all cut their losses, later forming Ark with Paul Hanley, the brothers last seen together in ex-Inspiral Carpets singer Tom Hingley's band The Lovers. A London Dingwalls gig went ahead with Nagle, who had attempted to get the New York charges dropped, drummer Kate Themen and backing tapes, Smith having shortly beforehand coined the famous quote "if it's me and your granny on bongos it's a Fall gig". Guitarist Neville Wilding, bassist Adam Helal and full-time drummer Tom Head filled out the ranks (Smith in the Guardian: "I can walk down the street in Glasgow and get nineteen year olds...I don't go through the chords with them, I just brainwash 'em") while Smith released spoken word album The Post-Nearly Man. The new line-up made its debut with pounding future Vauxhall Corsa advert soundtrack Touch Sensitive followed by The Marshall Suite, both transitional and better than most of the recent output. Plain sailing? Of course not - Smith appeared at the Reading festival with a bloodied nose after fighting with Wilding and with Chemical Brothers co-manager Nick Dewey an emergency replacement behind the drumkit after Head was 'dropped off' on the way (he rejoined a day later). Grant Showbiz returned for the first time since Grotesque for 2000's The Unutterable, a return to proper form with furious riffing, inventive twists and turns and prime oddball lyricism.
Head's acting commitments meant he had to sit out for a while, replaced by Intastella's Spencer Birtwistle, before Wilding and Helal left over money disputes, replaced respectively by Ben Pritchard, the first Fall member not to have been born when Live At The Witch Trials was released, and Jim Watts. This led Nagle to resign, Birtwistle following her out just after hugely underwhelming Are You Are Missing Winner, outdone by A World Bewitched, a compilation of singles, rarities, B-sides and Mark's work with others. 2002 was quieter - Totally Wired - The Rough Trade Anthology compiled the best of some of the band's best moments, a US tour was cancelled when the manager forgot to renew the band's passports in time, Pander! Panda! Panzer! was Smith's second entry in the spoken word market, and the present Mrs Smith Elena Poulou joined on keyboards. Jim Watts was sacked for the usual lack of a decent reason in March 2003, replaced by Simon Archer, just before the release of Country On The Click. Or not - after it leaked onto the Internet a furious Smith re-recorded and remixed part of the album and retitled it The Real New Fall LP, another recent high water mark. A re-recorded Theme From Sparta FC came out as a single the following spring, the accompanying tour seeing Smith break his hip slipping on ice in Newcastle, performing some gigs from a wheelchair and some sat behind a table. Archer left to join PJ Harvey's band, Steven Trafford coming in, while Pritchard was busying himself - after Smith walked out of a US tour blaming the band and tour management he got sacked, then reinstated, then resigned due to "irreconcilable differences", then reconciled them. Somewhere in the middle Jim Watts returned on guitar rather than bass, only to depart again six months later, while Spencer Birtwistle returned to the drumkit. Somewhere in the middle the Smith-curated 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats, the cover also spoofing the similarly titled Elvis compilation, drew everything released on every label together for the first time.
The Fall's biggest fan passed away in October 2004, and all 97 tracks from 24 sessions were compiled the following April on The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004. October saw the first new material release on Sanctuary records, home of the travelling showmen, Fall Heads Roll, another strong set buzzing with energy and, well, buzzing guitars. It earned them a spot on Later With Jools Holland, Smith and co choosing to wave at the camera rather than participate in the opening jam. More bizarrely, Smith would later turn up on the BBC's Score Interactive to relay the final scores of November 19th, Sparta FC, which had been the final Peel Festive 50 winner, having been co-opted as its theme. Even the musical trends of the day seemed to be turning their way, although Smith cautioned "If I could afford a lawyer, I just might pull an injunction on them mentioning our name". Then, inevitably, it all collapsed again. During a gig in Phoenix, Arizona in May the singer with openers The Talk got into a fight with Smith after throwing a banana peel at him during a song, Mark deciding to settle matters in the car park regardless of the inconvenience of his being halfway through a song. Pritchard, Birtwistle and Trafford all resigned in protest, their American label hiring a set of labelmates for the rest of the tour who Smith decided to take on permanently - Tim Presley and Rob Barbato of Darker My Love and Orpheo McCord of The Hill. It is this version, the 53rd lineup incorporating 56 members by one count, that appears on the new album. This almost certainly will not be the end of the matter.