If an alien came down to Earth and witnessed what the sold-out Belgrave Music Hall witnessed on Friday night, they would rightly be confused. The alien would see a man not dissimilar to Rumpelstiltskin using two or three microphones with a remarkably full head of hair, flanked by a few heavies on bass, drums and guitar, who look like they could be villains from a mafia flick. This is why The Fall are music’s greatest in-joke. They are (read as: Mark E Smith is) an uncompromising visionary whose mix of prose and post-punk have created one of music’s most original sounds. The Fall are, in short, the biggest band never to make it big.
Before The Fall came onstage the mood was tense and hushed. They are famed for their antics when playing live, arriving late, arriving early, and walking off in the middle of the set. On Friday night they arrived onstage punctually, although sans one member, Smith’s wife and Moog guru, Elena Poulou – hopefully she’s okay. The synth was on stage, already set up, which Smith demonstrated several times during the night by bashing some keys and leaning one elbow on it whilst looking out at the audience grimacing wryly but with a Salford twinkle in his eye. The Fall’s timeless quality was demonstrated by the range of ages present at the gig. Although predictably it was mainly middle-aged men, there were teenagers, twenty-somethings, middle-aged women, OAPs – a real cross-section.
They played an hour of taut, tight, post-punk at breakneck speed. I was disappointed they didn’t throw in ‘Squid Lord’ as a witty homage to the Stone Roses ripping them off – but to be honest I doubt Mark E Smith knows or cares. The best song they played that night was ‘Wise Ol’ Man’ from their latest EP. Like all Fall songs it has a savage guitar part, a brilliant bassline and lots of repetition. However, unlike most Fall songs, there is more than one singer, with guitarist Pete Greenway and bassist Dave Spurr’s aggressive backing vocals. The song was badly missing Poulou’s chanted refrains.
An understated part of The Fall is the current rhythm section of Keiron Melling and Dave Spurr who hold the sound together perfectly. Both are fantastic instrumentalists and there’s a reason they’ve both been in the band longer than most past members. It would be great if I could tell you that Smith’s delivery still retains bite and vigour which I’m sure it does, but to be honest I couldn’t understand what he was on about; but I bet it was something profound. Sure, when he said something in between songs and the bassist sniggered, I laughed along, desperate to be involved and pretending I understood what I can only assume was a wry observation that displayed his rapier wit. But if this proves anything, it is that we are all still living in Mark E Smith’s world.
Mark E Smith 5 March 1957 – 24 January 2018