Back in the late ’70s, I was still in the habit of picking up one of the weekly British music newspapers. I mainly picked up Melody Maker for many years and by the end of the ’70s, it would either be that or the New Musical Express. I can’t recall which one featured info about The Fall that piqued my interest back then. But, when I spotted the Canadian pressing of their debut LP Live at the Witch Trials at a record sop in 1979, I felt compelled to pick it up without having heard so much as one note.
Having already purchased many UK albums and singles through the preceding Punk Rock couple of years, I was quite versed in the sounds that had been coming out of England in recent times. However, The Fall seemed to be something different. It was the start of the Post-Punk era and The Fall seemed to represent something even more exciting and revelatory to these ears.
At the heart of this sound was the caustic, language-bending and often humourous words spewed by band founder, songwriter and vocalist Mark E. Smith. Over the years, Smith virtually WAS The Fall. He ruled the roost with an iron fist and the line-up of the group changed several dozen times over the many years of the band’s existence.
Dave Thompson’s essential 2003 book entitled A User’s Guide to The Fall covers the band’s history from their first line-up in 1977 up until their 39th(!) variation in 2002. Considering the fact that the band was active right until the latter part of 2017, I’m not even sure what number line-up that would be. 73rd? Dunno.
I followed the band with quite a bit of dedication until the end of the 1980s and still bought the odd release when I’d come across it over the subsequent years. During their long career, the band issued over 30 studio albums. I think that I’ve probably got about 20 or so. Plus live albums, compilations of singles and an impressive CD box set of all of their John Peel BBC Radio Sessions.
At the end of last year, The Fall played some gigs in the UK which featured Smith sitting in a wheelchair as he spouted his patented brand of vitriolic verbiage accompanied by the current line-up of the band.
Mark E. Smith was a one of a kind artist. For better or worse, a true original. You either got/enjoyed the sound of The Fall or you just simply could not stand them. For those of us who loved the sound, their albums will just have to keep us happy into the future. I have a feeling that there will soon be some archive releases in the offing as the years progress.