Monday, 19 February 2018


 by Steve Watson (Eastern Correspondent)*
EACH generation carries those special dates with them as they age. Dancing in the street on VE day, Manchester Woolworths grand opening and a fairly obscure date of a concert held on 4th June 1976 with hardly anyone in the audience.

Anarchy came to Manchester, the Lesser Free Trade Hall to be precise, and apart from the Sex Pistols entertaining a sparse crowd the date has also gone down in legend because if you tot up all the people who claim to have been present on the night the floor would have collapsed under the weight. In fairness the follow up gig, same band same venue six weeks later on (20th July) was quite popular with more paying public, more spitting and bottles being lobbed at the band as a show of affection so its quite possible that many of those claiming to have been at the first gig were confusing the two or just making things up for affect.

One person who was most certainly at the first gig was one Mark E Smith who along with a smattering of others that were genuinely there went on to pick up cheap instruments from Johnny Roadhouse or Mazel Radio and by a combination of luck and hard work ended up in famous or almost famous bands.

Mark E Smith was a quintessential northerner in every sense of the word and apart from what amounts to an extended holiday in Edinburgh whilst he attempted to sort his head out he lived in Prestwich for all but the first six months of his life. While his contemporaries ‘bought’ out of the North or moved to Alderley Edge, Smith stayed put and as an adult trod the same streets that he played in decades earlier.

Leaving school at 16, following a stint in a meat processing factory Smith graduated to the Docks, then a hive of industry and employment now a mix of gentrification behind security fencing, plush shopping with the odd surviving bit of the past including kids throwing stones at cars. Whether Smith had read it or not isn’t known but he quit the docks to form The Fall from the Albert Camus novel, and then set about redefining the terms ‘abrasive, curmudgeon, irritating, shambolic and literary genius’ to name but a few!

Mark E Smith died on 24th January this year. For an admittedly limited number of people it was one of those shock moments filtering through on BBC News late at night. Not his actual demise as he’d looked closed to the grave exponentially over his final years more for the fact that this anti hero, argumentative Rottweiler with a unique wit was no longer able to reignite that spirit of the late 1970s with his drunken outbursts and spectacular stage presence. Described as ‘a strange kind of ant-matter national treasure’ Smith’s slurred lyrics were rarely printed on The Fall’s many albums, and even though their output followed the standard pop pattern of having maybe two or three catchy dance tunes on each offering then eight so so’s to fill up space you were drawn in just wondering what the hell he was on about and eventually obscure tracks became favourites.

A Fall gig became over 40 years something of an event to witness not for the music, but his on stage presence, would he turn up, would there be an on stage fight or would he wander off and perform vocals from the dressing room? It really was a lucky dip helped by a constantly changing line up (over 60 Fall members came and went over the years with the longest, bassist Steve Hanley quitting after putting up with Smith for nineteen years following a real fisticuffs scrum on stage in New York in 1998!
He hated London and seemingly most other places apart from North Manchester so he lived in Prestwich, shopped in Prestwich with the odd foray into Whitefield, and would insist that journalists from the music industry meet him in either his local The Woodthorpe Hotel or somewhere in the urban oasis of Manchester. Often drinking the journalist under the table at their expense! A not infrequent shopper in Whitefield’s very own Willy Wonka cake shop Slattery’s he was one of an elite group of musicians to purchase iced buns on Bury Old Road, a list that included Nico from the Velvet Underground and John Cooper Clarke, who likewise lived in Prestwich before sodding off to Colchester, various members of Elbow and more!

Described as a ‘a kind of northern English magic realism that mixed industrial grime with the unearthly uncanny’, which sounds pretty heavy going and probably the better tribute came from Smiths ex wife, but one who put it much simpler on hearing of his death and said he was ‘defiantly Northern England’.

A drinker of Olympic standards as the band’s finances ebbed, and flowed his main problem as far as alcohol went was that he couldn’t afford it, but with a long list of hacks prepared to foot the bill as the band floundered Smith’s presence in print gave him the chance to keep things ticking over until he reinvented himself with another set of musicians ‘falling’ into the line up and reinvigorating The Fall brand! The last eight years of The Fall were a renaissance with sell out gigs, and a mix of all ages watching the spectacle, and proving the point that while Smith was the key the musicians deserved as much praise for their tight playing if not putting up with him!

Last appearing on stage in November confined to a wheelchair and looking as grim as he had for the past few years the only positive was that his days of kicking the drum kit over and twiddling with the amps had passed. His funeral was held last week at Blackley Crem or Crematorium as outsiders call it followed by a final knees up at The Woodthorpe near Heaton Park where if The Daily Mirror is to be believed bottles were thrown and beer generally thrown about at random. Other less reputable sources simply say it was fitting for Mark E Smith and all he embodied!

*  Watson is very much a hypocrite and sodded off from Manchester in 1991 first to Bedford and then Norwich.  He returns several times yearly to visit various Watsons around North Manchester and Oldham.  The Beatles played the Co-op Hall in Middleton, April 1963.  His 88 year old Auntie swears she was there!)

1 comment:

Gill McClinton said...

Hit The North by The Fall! Brilliant video available on YouTube with the band performing to an appreciative Bingo Hall audience.....Nico? The Nico from Velvet Underground with Lou Prestwich? Really?