Sunday, 28 January 2018

Mark E Smith - Totally Wired

Mark Edward Smith, who died aged 60 from a combination of bizarre and mundane illnesses that apparently baffled his doctors, a fact his ghost is no doubt cackling away at as I type, would of course take exception at yet another splurge of verbosity in his honour, such as this. Among the many things he professed to hate was "soft lads who blab." Oh well, he was the bloke who epitomised the old adage "never meet your heroes" after all, so being a mild irritant to his ghost is no skin off my hooter.

I first came across The Fall sometime in 1979 when subjected to their debut album Live At The Witch Trials round a mate's house. I remember thinking to myself "what a dumb racket this is", and me au fait with the punk ethos too. It's still not an album I can listen to, to be honest, although I appreciate its ramshackle DIY art terror. In those pre-interweb days it took years before my young naive self twigged what "No Xmas For John Quays" actually meant, by which time I was long a convert, my Damascene moment occurring seconds into my first hearing of  the single Rowche Rumble on the John Peel Show, probably sometime in July 1979, not more than a month or two on from that first encounter.

Rowche Rumble is four minutes of primitive glam-punk perfection with a subversive scat from Mark concerning ethical and moral corruption within government, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry. And he named his band after a Camus novel, one that I bet was read by a fair number of us spotty oiks who may never otherwise have been aware of its existence. Like the band the book is hard work but ultimately rewarding.

How dare they fling this filth at our pop kids! Well they didn't because only us few wise young/old heads bought Rowche Rumble, but it started a run of four perfect anti-pop blasts from Manchester's finest that would see me well and truly submerged into the murky depths of Fall Sound, and the joy of Repetition, a tenet carved in vinyl as the third track of the same name on their debut single released on 11th August 1978.

John Peel famously said of his favourite band "always different, always the same". The glittering likes of  Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, How I Wrote Elastic Man, and the fabulous speedfreak anthem Totally Wired  were meat and drink to the Peel disciples, but The Fall were at their best when subverting the mainstream with covers of Ghost In My House and Victoria, which saw them make two minor dents on the real Top 40, and thereby the subconscious of the wider audience of pop pickers.

Mark's observations on life peppered with his cut'n'paste surrealism made for lyrics that were truly unique. These were delivered in his trademark drawl that as the years progressed became the often unintelligible but undoubtedly dyspeptic bark of the mad old bloke sat on his own in the corner of the pub, but we wouldn't have had it any other way. Thankfully the marvellous fan resource takes the hard work out of deciphering Smith's more mangled blasts.

"I wrote about what was around me, but some people are so daft they don't understand that writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his Inferno"

As a live act they were gloriously unpredictable, often veering from the sublime to the ridiculous within the same song, particularly in later years as Mark prowled the stage, fiddling with his musician's amps. Being a soundman for The Fall must have been a nightmare, which is probably why, as legend has it, they designed an on-stage monitor especially for Mark called the "DFA Amp" that the irascible frontman could muck about with to his heart's content. It didn't take him long to twig what "DFA" stood for!

The musical legacy Mark has left us with is a wonderfully primitive, visceral thing, topped off with his often incisive and frequently impenetrable stream of consciousness verbiage, and as such it has stood the test of time better than that of most of his punk contemporaries, partly because he never stopped until nature stopped him.

RIP Mark E Smith, now fiddling with Jimi's amp on the great stage in the far beyond...

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