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Mark E. Smith - In Memoriam

I thought that I would get a few words in, before the inevitable deluge from the likes of Stewart Lee start pouring in, with endless lists of the number of  times seen and number of recordings owned, referring of course to The Fall, whose leader died today. For many of us, this is like the death of Bowie, the last man standing from The Punk Generation who was still largely active and creating good works, despite a year of ill-health in 2017. It’s a coincidence, given that I was writing about Shane MacGowan the other day, in connection with turning 60 years old and still being alive to tell, or rather to mumble incoherently, the tale.

A few random comments about my history with The Fall - there are going to be so many of these over the next week, so I’ll get mine in early:

I only saw them once: Hammersmith Palais, October 1985, on the Nations Saving Grace Tour (at their supposed height). A solid, if essentially unmemorable gig, mainly going down in history for me for the sight of my then-girlfriend, now-wife, fast asleep in the middle of the dance floor. She sometimes has difficulty in sleeping nowadays, incredibly enough.

First contact: buying Rowche Rumble on release in 1979. Never looked back, and The Fall provided me with ten tears of pretty much unbroken high quality music, a run broken only by The Frendz Experiment in 1988. I can’t think of another rock band with such an equivalently lengthy release schedule of incomparable music - Sonic Youth seem to be the only contenders, over roughly the same period of time.

Favourite album/single:  Grotesque/How I Wrote Elastic Man…no, The Weird and Frightening World Of/The Man Whose Head Expanded, no, hang on…this is a ridiculous exercise, there is far too much.

The later Fall - for me, the gradual rot it started after the great Cog Sinsister run, around the time of Middle Class Revolt (1995). The booze really wasn’t helping at this point, although Smiffy seemed to ride it for a lot longer than MacGowan did. I finally bowed out with Re-Mit (2013), although Istill  have at least a half dozen from the 21st.century, which, whilst having the old punkabilly riffage and drive, had lapsed lyrically and vocally (as had the album covers). Smith would sneer, but this long term fan felt that the soul of the group left with Steve Hanley (and perhaps even earlier, with Craig Scalon).

Summary - an incomparable loss, even with the wreckage of his later life and career. The Bowie comparison was not made lightly. Avant rock has lost perhaps its greatest avatar. I’ll never forget the anticipation, throughout the 80s, of getting hold of the latest Fall release, and, with age, have lost that sort of longing. I doubt if any other band will affect me in quite the same way, something in which I am in complete agreement with the late John Peel.

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