It says something for the late hours kept by Mark E Smith & co that before this concert I managed to fit in the Paul Sandby Exhibition at the RA and a couple of pints in a Mayfair pub, despite finishing work at 8.00pm. The Fall group came on at 10.00 just as I arrived. This is something the long-term Fall fan learns: never turn up before 9.30pm – I even succeeded in missing video mangler Safi Sniper.
The joint was packed. As has been common for some years now at standing gigs the volume of conversation almost drowned out the band. After biding my time for a couple of songs near the bar at the back I realised two things: I was missing out on the ‘energy’ of the group positioned here and the man standing in front of me with [I assumed] a very attractive woman was Frank Skinner.
London appears to be inhabited by a race of giants. Despite being 6ft I felt distinctly dwarfish in this crowd when I got down onto the ‘dance floor’. The sound was much better and by this time things seemed to be happening onstage and a krautrock-style groove was emerging. The musicians were interlocking well, the drummer was giving it a lot of stick. Unusually long set – just over an hour – apparently at one of the early gigs on this tour MES had stormed off after a handful of songs, not to return. This was one of the best I have seen for a long time, another couple of good recent ones for me were in Hove and at the De la Warr Pavilion. Hardly knew any of the songs but that doesn’t really matter; I haven’t bought one of their new records for some years now but still go and see them at least once a year. I love the fact that every time you see them the set list will be different and very few old songs are played.
On my way out I walked past Graham Linehan of Father Ted fame (I had also seen him at a Guided By Voices gig at the Garage some years before). I’d heard him being patronised by Neil Innes on a Radio 4 show where ‘celebrities’ choose a song that means a lot to them – speaking ‘as a musician’ Innes pointed out that the chord sequence used in the GBV song Linehan chose was very simple, but that’s the point Neil, it’s supposed to be basic and crude. God knows what he must think of The Fall. What is it with The Fall and comedians? Stewart Lee – also a Friend of Arthur Machen – has championed them for ages and compiled a best-of a while back. Didn't spot Neil Innes.
I’ve probably seen The Fall over fifty times by now – first time was at the Lyceum around the time of ‘Slates’ - luckily I’ve rarely seen a really bad show. There was a particularly cacophonous and chaotic gig at Dingwall’s which must have been just before the notorious on-stage punch up in New York, where the band deserted their führer. There was a violent vibe in the air that night and the songs were barely recognisable: at one point I realised that they had been playing ‘Jungle Rock’, although Hank Mizell would have been hard pressed to sing along. A friend who was there said that Michael Clark came on to the stage and threw a chair into the audience, but I don’t recall that incident.
One of the best was at Heaven in the mid-80s when there were two drummers and they did a mesmerising version of ‘Garden’, one of my favourites. The support act was Swans – I had been told they were the ‘next big thing’ so I turned up earlier than usual. The spectacle that greeted me was intimidating to say the least: it was VERY LOUD and VERY SLOW - what seemed to be one chord stretched out ad infinitum like a bell tolling with a maniac singer screaming into the microphone in time with the slowly slashing guitarist and a metronomic thumping drum. They looked extremely scary. I remember thinking, as I cowered about half way back by a staircase, that rock music could not possibly get any more brutal and primitive than this, and it probably hasn’t. I can’t say I liked it, but it was a memorable experience. Including me there couldn’t have been more than about twenty people there, everyone else had repaired to the upstairs bars, a few brave souls were actually standing right in front of the stage, but the punishing wall of noise was literally preventing me from moving any further forward, not that I wanted to. It can truthfully be said that at this concert the sound of the chattering crowd was not going to drown out the band. A friend told me that he went to see them a few months after this and that when they came onstage and played the first deafening note the crowd leapt back about six feet.
I saw them again a few years later at the Astoria and by that time they had learned to control the dynamics of their sound – they had actual songs – and the whole experience was very powerful and impressive; as time went by they got quieter and more acoustic – interesting group.