Saturday, 27 January 2018
Oliver!: The Fall - Married, 2 Kids (6 April 1992)
I only had 2 more selections to cover from Peel’s Nachtexpress show of 6/4/92, and this was to have been the last of them, only for events to force a reorganisation.
Mark E Smith’s death, announced on Wednesday 24 January, came both as a bolt from the blue and a progressive inevitability. In the latter half of 2017, my Twitter feed had become virtually a live feed of Smith’s health and its effect on Fall gigs. One night a cancellation, the next night a stunning show. The next week, Smith would look frail and unwell; the next night back to his old self - albeit singing from a seated position. As worrying as it sounded - and I’ve read stories since Wednesday of people who knew Smith was unwell to the extent that he had suggested (possibly in jest) that he may have taken an artistic director role in future projects - Smith seemed like he would have gone on forever. Considering, he’d sung and performed while hungover, having fights, nursing a broken leg and from the dressing room, he could very well have gone full George Melly had he needed to and performed sitting down. The people would still have come.
His death has provoked a reaction comparable to that of the passings Bowie, Prince and George Michael - it’s clear that he was an inspiration and a hero to so many people. Like those previously mentioned, his musical gift/style was unquestionably unique - maybe more so even than Bowie and like them, he was an enigma - albeit the only one you could expect to find in your local pub at 1:30 in the afternoon. People are instinctively drawn to artists that lead you to ask, “Who are they really? What do they really think?” Nobody doubted that Smith was the grumpy misanthrope that his work and antics in interviews suggested - though in his 2008 autobiography, Renegade, he suggested that “malevolent Mark” was a screen, a protection to be used if people tried to force themselves on to him. He never came across as someone who was on your side or who could be relied upon to be there for you, and yet....people remained drawn to him and interested in what he had to say because if life was as shit as he seemed to suggest that he was, then no one was better qualified in pop music to encapsulate it. Life was shit and turgid and disappointing. Relationships were inevitably doomed. The city was bleak and fun was a deception. Smith touched on all of this and met the gloom and doom head on. He couldn’t inspire optimism, but he faced despair down. You can’t beat it, he seemed to say but neither do you have to succumb to it. You can face it down into stalemate and if you have enough about you for drink, cigarettes and a good book that will do to be going on with. That was all the comfort Smith could offer you, but it resonated and people went back to it every time.
I was not a Fall fan in John Peel’s lifetime. Whenever I heard them while driving back from a rehearsal, I was at best, indifferent and I have no Fall tracks on any of the 2002 mixtapes I made. Indeed it wasn’t until Rob Da Bank on OneMusic played What About Us that I willingly taped a Fall track. I should have got on board sooner, after all Smith liked The Move and, although I wasn’t to
learn it until this week, we both shared a liking for Malcolm Allison’s autobiography - a copy of which The Fall gave to Peel on his 50th birthday.
When I started this blog, I hoped it would give me an opportunity to appreciate The Fall more than I had previously done. By and large this has happened. I wouldn’t call myself a Fall convert by any means, but I see more readily what Peel meant by statements like “Always different, always the same”. Not only that, but out of the near 400 selections that have been put on this blog so far, if you were to ask me, which opening most readily comes to my mind out of all of them, then it’s this. The opportunity to learn more about them will always be there given that there are another 12 years’ worth of Peel shows to work through and Peel was playing them all the way up to and including his last show.
After all that, it feels quite mundane in the circumstances to come back to a single song, but Peel had this track lined up for his Nachtexpress listeners, hoping that the 03 DJs had been giving plenty of exposure to the Code:Selfish album. It may be my favourite of all those that Peel played from it. Smith had recently married Saffron Prior, the head of The Fall’s official fan club but this bluesy lament didn’t augur well for a blissful union. Smith’s protagonist is exhausted, jaded, defeated and “abject”. We learn nothing about the spouse and children, but they’ve driven the protagonist back to a hotel in Notting Hill Gate - either due to separation or perhaps as a venue for extra-marital activity. Marital responsibility is presented here as a sickness leading to loss of appetite (an inability to commit to work), stress (too busy to think/too busy to work), exhaustion (knocked out after 2 pints), an inability to make rational choices (mustard aftershave) and senility (“I’m a long winded article” implying that the freedom to talk outside the marital home leads to turning into a reactionary blowhard. One can picture Smith, sat in the pub in the afternoon, watching the schlubs he has critiqued here, propping up the bar during an extended lunch opening up their latest ramble with, “As a father and husband...”). The Spirit Of Man being the name of a pub is one of those laugh out loud lines that characterise great Fall songs though Peel said afterwards that the line, “I have a peculiar
goatish smell” was the one that most people drew his attention to in their letters to him.
Video courtesy of Kevin Kriel.