2 weeks ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
FOOTNOTES # 11
JUST STEP SIDEWAYS
The Fall, Joy Division and the Manchester Scene
(CHAPTER 7 in the American edition)
(For the benefit of non-UK readers), ‘grammar school’ is a handy signifier for that amorphous British greyzone where upper working class blurs into petit bourgeois. The brighter offspring of the proletariat would be creamed off (if they passed the eleven-plus test) for the grammar school system, a drastic form of educational streaming; grammar schools were like state-run private schools, the students typically wearing uniforms. (Private schools, confusingly, are known in the UK as public schools for reasons I’ve never quite grasped, something to do with some of them being charitable foundations or endowed by benefactors in the past maybe; what’s called public schools in America are known as state schools in the UK). If regular state-schools were training camps churning out cannon-fodder for the trenches of industrialism, grammar schools were in the business of training the non-commissioned officers of Britain’s mixed economy: office workers and junior managers in private companies, nationalized industries, social services, local government. The most promising of the grammar school kids got shunted in the direction of higher education, to polytechnics and universities, but most were destined for white-collar work at eighteen. Mark E. Smith left grammar school early to attend the same college of further education as Baines, where he studied for A-Levels then quit in order to earn a bit of money, taking a job as a shipping clerk. All four members of Joy Division went to grammar school and three of them held down jobs as low-level civil servants: guitarist Barney Sumner and bassist Peter Hook did clerical work for Salford Town Hall and Manchester Town Hall respectively, while singer Ian Curtis was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer.
Grammar schools were controversial institutions in the Seventies; the Labour Party was committed to getting rid of them, on the grounds that they were elitist, and replacing them with more egalitarian “comprehensive” schools, where children of all different abilities would be educated together rather than streamed (with more resources and better teachers inevitably going to the grammar schools).
>rehearsing in the same building
Owned by a character called Tony Davidson, this rehearsal complex (knowns as TJM?) was in Little Peter Street-- a once bustling street of warehouses now stranded in an area of clearances and rubble strewn lots--and it was where most of the bands in Manchester rehearsed. One of its grubby, dusty rooms is shown in the video for “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Little Peter Street is a stone’s throw from where the Hacienda was later built, although now it’s been replaced by a block of apartments cheekily named the Hacienda.
>gloom and decay
Bernard Sumner has described Joy Division’s music as a semi-conscious response to the deteriorating cityscape and the uncertain future that loomed ahead. “The old factories were coming down,” he recalled in 1997. “Unoccupied buildings, all the windows smashed in. It was virtually a ghost town. You left school and went, ‘Oh, God. This is it.’” In Dave Haslam’s history of Manchester pop, Sumner talks about growing up in Lower Broughton in Salford,
with the polluted and malodorous Irwell river nearby and a massive chemical factory at the bottom of the street. “All my childhood memories were wiped away when they cleared out the old Salford…. By the age of 22 I’d had quite a lot of loss in my life. The place where I used to live, where I had my happiest memories, all that had gone… I realised then that I could never go back to that happiness. So there’s this void. For me Joy Division was about the death of my community and my childhood.”
Factory, initially a club and then a label, took its name not from the Warhol arts laboratory but a sign that read ‘Factory Clearance’
>Mechanized cotton manufacture
Because its infamously damp climate was ideal for mechanized cotton manufacture, Manchester was the engine of the Industrial Revolution. Expanding rapidly from the late 18th Century onward, the city concentrated staggering extremes of wealth and impoverishment, with workers freshly drawn from the countryside confronted by appalling working conditions, squalid accommodation, excessively long working hours, and a lifestyle utterly severed from natural rhythms.
>Frank Owen/Manicured Noise
Then going by the name Gavin Owen (a reversal of his real name, Owen Gavin, if memory serves -- and then the journalistic pen name he adopted used his middle name, Francis). Taking their name from a Buzzcocks single designed by Linder Sterling and featuring the slogan “manicured noise and cosmetic metal music”, Owen’s group were admired and supported by famous peers like Wire and the Banshees, but their early experimental sound is undocumented. More’s the pity judging by his description of their sound: “military beats, over which we’d recite poetry by Mayakovsky”, combined with film soundtrack elements and primitive funk learned by copying Chic singles played at 33 rpm. Alongside the Pop Group Manicured Noise are considered one of the very first postpunk groups to “go funk”. Owen was displaced in a band coup (he retaliated with legal action) and guitarist Steve Walsh (formerly of Flowers of Romance, which included Viv Albertine and Sid Vicious; also an excellent journalist, contributing mainl to ZigZag) steered the group in a more accessible pop-funk direction, as captured on two likeable if Talking Heads-indebted singles: “Metronome” (Pre, 1980) and “Faith” (Pre, 1980). There was a Steve Walsh solo record trailed with adverts with the singer looking all neat-freak in a Haircut 100 meets Style Council meets Gary Kemp of Spands Anglo-whiteboy funkateer stylee.
An interview with Steve Walsh at Pennyblackmusic website
Profile of Steve Walsh by John Carney (aka Kevin Pearce) at Tangents
A Manicured Noise compilation, Northern Stories 1978/80, came out in 2006, a mixed bag but definitely of historical interest
>“there was really nothing going on until punk”
Morley from his July 30 77 NME report on punk in Manchester:
“Manchester as a Rock and Roll town just didn’t use to exist. It fed dutifully off London, and there were frequent visits from groups to the big halls; Free Trade, Belle Vue and Hardrock.” In other words, Manchester was a prime stop on the provincial tour lists, but there was little grass roots activity.
Evoking what it was like growing up in Manchester and its even drabber satellites like Stockport and Macclesfield, Paul Morley wrote in the booklet to the Joy Division Heart and Soul box set : “You had to dream your way out of such a tranquilised, inert stretch of land/mind scape. You had to use your imagination to believe that there was anything else but nothing else”.
Manchester was yet another major fanbase for Roxy and Bowie c.f. Sheffield and Liverpool
This mindfood-hunger nourished by “headshops” and radical bookstores with their leftwing magazines, or by hours spent in Manchester’s beautiful Central Library.
Frank Owen: “I would just spend a lot of time there. And Linder used to spend lots of time there...In fact, in that Morrissey interview for Melody Maker I did, I remember I mentioned Central Library to him and he said ‘ah yes, I was born in the crime section there’.
Ken Loach’s classic black-and-white social realist film about a boy, neglected by his mother and bullied at school by pupils and teachers alike, who dreams of soaring above his coal-miner town like the hawk he’s captured and painstakingly trained.
in Kingswood Road
>Camus… The Fall
Tony Friel’s suggestion thankfully prevailed over Smith’s idea, Master Race and the Deathshead, which might have condemned the group to obscurity.
“head music with energy”
--Smith, NME 4/7/79.
In the interview a glassy-eyed Bramah says the music they make is drug music, but people today don’t take drugs like they used to. Smith qualifies this (at the time quite against-the-grain) statement: “It's more because of the paths which have been taken by drug music, which is good stuff. The Doors were a lot like that, and the Velvets. I'd prefer to call ours 'head music with energy'"
Especially the dark tension of Ege Bamyasi and the shamanistic/atavistic hypno-grooves of Tago Mago
Other things Smith dug: Van Der Graaf Generator (there was later talk of him collaborating with Peter Hamill), “weirdo music” of the Seventies (Black Sabbath, The Groundhogs, Jethro Tull), and Captain Beefheart.
We're gonna get real speedy
We're gonna wear black all the time
You're gonna make it on your own.
Cos we dig
Cos we dig
We dig repetition
We dig repetition
We dig repetition in the music
And we're never going to lose it.
All you daughters and sons
who are sick of fancy music
We dig repetition
Repetition in the drums
and we're never going to lose it.
This is the three R's
The three R's:
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Oh mental hospitals
Oh mental hospitals
They put electrodes in your brain
And you're never the same
You don't dig repetition
You don't love repetition
Repetition in the music and we're never going to loose it
President Carter loves repetition
Chairman Mao he dug repetition
Repetition in China
Repetition in America
Repetition in West Germany
We dig it, we dig it,
we dig it, we dig it
Repetition, repetition, repetition
There is no hesitation
This is your situation
Continue a blank generation
Same old blank generation
Grooving blank generation
Swinging blank generation
Repetition, repetition, repetition....”
>”fancy music”… “raw music”
Smith, to NME, 1979: "Rock'n'roll isn't even music really. It's a mistreating of instruments to get feelings over."
>Heaton Park and shrooms
Manchester’s rainy climate is ideal for magic mushrooms (c.f. Washington State and British Columbia). Some years ago a friend of mine who moved to Manchester told me about going shroom-picking in Heaton Park: “You take a few before you go foraging. It sharpens your senses, so you can spot the mushrooms easier. One time I could tell it worked because there was some people also looking for mushrooms and they missed some that I spotted. It’s like the mushrooms want you to find them.”
“We're gonna get real speedy” declares Smith at the start of “Repetition.”
During a gig in Eindhoven in June 1980, Smith asked,- "Why doesn't the government subsidize amphetamine?"
That’s probably what he’s referring to in the song title “Crap Rap 2”although some have actually argued that Smith’s unique style of half-spoken delivery is an authentic English equivalent to rapping!
Michael Bracewell on the Smith style: “his plosive, side-of-mouth delivery”
> occult connections
There’s a latent paranoid edge to this gnostic mania for detecting hidden patterns and links (see chronic stimulant abuser Philip K. Dick, a Smith favorite), a sense that nothing is meaningless, the most trivial and lowly things are charged with uncanny significance and apocalyptic portent.
Someone’s always on my tracks
In a dark room you see more than you think
I’m out of my place, got to get back
I sweated a lot, you could feel the violence
I’ve got shears pointed straight at my chest
And time moves slow when you count it
I’m better than them, and I think I’m the best
But I’ll appear at midnight when the films close
Cause I’m in a trance
And I sweat
I don’t want to dance
I want to go home.
I couldn’t live in those peephole places
They might get to know my actions
I’d run away from toilets and faeces
I’d run away to a non-date on the street
Cause I’m in a trance
And I sweat
I don’t want to dance
I want to go home.
I feel trapped by mutual affection
And I don’t know how to use freedom
I spend hours looking sideways
To the time when I was sixteen
Cause I’m in a trance.
I go to the top of the street
I go to the bottom of the street
I look to the sky, my lips are dry....
“Mr Pharmacist” was by The Other Half. Other examples include
The Sonics’s “Strychnine” and, on the other side of the Atlantic, The Small Faces’ “Here Comes The Nice”
>nurse at mental hospital
Baines experiences at mental hospital as a nurse, the abuse of patients and use of medication to control and subdue the inmates, informed the early Fall song “Psycho Mafia”
Talking to New Musical Express, August 19th 1978, Smith said "It's about the psycho mafia, which is a chemical mafia - the way mental hospitals are run, that whole thing..."
C.f. Rolling Stones’ “Mothers Little Helper” where the housewives go running for the shelter of tranks and downers. According to Mark E. Smith “menopause wives” were no better than junkies, according to Smith, ‘cos they all “got an addiction like a hole in the ass” (“Rowche Rumble”)
Another Fall drug song was “No Xmas for John Quays”, the title a pun on junkies.
> Hulme Crescents
For a picture of the deck-access flats, go here http://society.guardian.co.uk/urbandesign/image/0,11200,765689,00.html
The Crescents rapidly became a warren of graffiti-scarred and piss-stained walkways, a mugger’s paradise of shadowy stairwells suitable for ambush. As one article notes, “
The inherent faults of industrial slab construction techniques - failed jointing, lack of insulation, and early failure of membrane roofing within 20 years - lead to chronic damp, and vermin infestation.” As well as rats and dry rot, the Crescents was also an environment conducive to bohemia, with squatters, impoverished students, and postpunk musicians (like A Certain Ratio) moving there because nobody else (especially not families) wanted to. The Factory Club was located nearby at the Russell Club in Royce Road, and deep in the Crescents was located an underground cinema called Aaben, said to be the only place in town apart from the university film society that showed art movies, foreign films, and non-Hollywood fare. During the Madchester rave era, the Crescents was where pill monsters trekked to one of the city’s edgier clubs, The Kitchen: a murky, multi-tiered warren of rooms created by knocking through the walls between three squatted apartments. (More here on Hulme and the Kitchen, http://www.playlouder.com/feature/+hulmeiswheretheh/)
Hulme as a whole is an interzone between the sprawling campus of Manchester University and Moss Side, supposedly a ghetto, but to the naked eye it seems more like suburbia gone to serious seed, all frumpy semi-detached houses and redbrick one-story pubs, characterless on the outside, cheerless inside.
In the mid-90s, the Crescents were gradually knocked down and then replaced by featureless plantations of maisonettes, along with the huge “privatized space” of a shopping center. A vast, baleful multi-lane motorway cuts through the area’s bleak vistas.
From Haslam’s book on Manchester pop, “In 1977 the six doctors in Hulme House Group Health Practise prescribed a (literally mind-numbing) quarter of a million tranquilisers and anti-depressants per month”
> Bingo-Master's Break-Out!
>“It wasn’t like a place… from work”
-- Smith, Sounds 4/8/78.
Originally titled “Hey Student,” its attitude typifying Smith & Co’s enmity to middle class denizens of higher education institutions, as much for their crap taste in music as for their privilege. Bramah: “Mark hated all the students in Manchester, we had the biggest student population in Europe at that point.”
In a November 1981 NME piece, Smith declared, “”when the students got hold of rock’n’roll, that’s when it started going downhill”; in other pieces, he singled out The Soft Machine and the Canterbury scene as the sort of college gig circuit/student audience targeted progressive pre-punk fare he detested (overly “fancy music” in other words). In interviews, he enthused about the potent primitivism of Fifties rockabilly and claimed that heavy metal was a healthier subculture than post-punk, because the metal kids didn’t spend all their time thinking about music. As early as April 1978, in a Sounds interview, Smith claimed that The Fall wanted to bypass or bridge the split in punk/New Wave between arty intellectual bands (like Magazine) and “your headbanger bands for ordinary people.”
According to Baines, though, Smith changed the title to “Hey, Fascist” when “he realized that his audience was mainly students!”
Smith was anti-academic but not anti-intellectual. According to Bramah, they all believed that university was not a place that would encourage original thought, quite the opposite. They were fervent auto-didacts and bookworms.
The song was later recorded, with updated lyrics, on the album Middle Class Revolt (1994)
Ah-well I'm walking down the street/It's always students that I meet/Long hair down and sneakers on your feet/Write your letters to the Evening News/I clench my fist and sing this tune/I said Hey student, hey student, hey student/You're gonna get it through the head/I said Hey student, hey student, hey student/You're gonna get it through the head, I said...Well, walking to work/It's always students that I meet/Henna in your hair… Long hair down and sneakers on your feet/As you listen to Pear Jam in your room…
Long hair down and sneakers on your feet/As you stare in your room at Shaun Ryder's face… The dead brains of class A-D/Born to live in Leigh-on-Sea/Twin swastikas, court, swimming pool…”
>New wave commies
In one early piece, they were described as a punk Henry Cow, after the didactic left-wing prog rock group. Although musically The Fall seem light-years away from Henry Cow’s complex structures, much later on Smith & Co covered HC’s “War” on their 1994 album Middle Class Revolt.
>disenchanted with RAR
Smith, Printed Noises zine, 1980: “Rock Against Racism, I’m sort of for that, but it’s a revolution, right, so if you’re going to have a revolution against racism, you want a revolutionary music, which didn’t happen.” For RAR, he argued, “it didn’t matter what the entertainment was, as long as the proletariat was there, which is not what our fuckin’ attitude is.”
And Smith, New Musical Express, August 19th 1978: “We did a lot of gigs for Rock Against Racism, and what happens is before you go on they say, 'Will you hold this poster up?' - And it's a picture of Belsen, 'DON'T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN'... And I would say - we're a political band, that's what we sing about. But they want you to make announcements between songs; they see you as an entertainment--you might as well be singing Country and Western.”
And in Melody Maker 26 Sept 1981, re. left-wing politics, “That sort of mass equality thing freaks me out, after a while you end up not being a person. Crass reminds me of when I was very heavily into left wing politics when I was about 17. I got really psychotic about it, about sexism and all that. Anybody who doesn’t agree with you is like a fucking lackey. You realize in the end it’s your own inadequacies that gear you towards that in the first place.”
Not forgetting Fall mission-statement anthems like “Repetition” and “Live at the Witch Trials,” the latter proclaiming “I still believe in the R and R dream/R and R as primal scream.”
We're still one step ahead of youI still believe in the R and R dreamR and R as primal screamTied to the Puritan EthicNonsympathetic to spasticsAfter all this, still a lonely bastard.Eggheads, boneheads, queueQueue for themWe were early and we were lateBut, still, live at the witch trials....”
“I don’t fully… mystical”
--Smith. Sounds 11/4/78.
He also claimed that “I’m not attacking southern people, it’s northern people I’m attacking in that.” Which I think means he’s critiquing the attitude of inverted snobbery, or defensive superiority complex. He further clarified, or muddied the waters, in a later interview (January 1980 NME), saying 'the 'white crap that talks back' thing was due to people in London being told that people in the North are thick, or warm, friendly people. A lot of bands masquerade, pretend that they're the 'Northern thing'.... We're neither white crap, nor like 'We're talking about Art here, aren't we?'"
No British city has a greater sense of self-mystique than Manchester. Populous enough to swagger convincingly as a counter-capital to London, yet still eclipsed by the latter’s concentration of political, financical, and media power, Manchester developed a retaliatory superiority complex: Northern suss and spirit versus those smug, effete "Southern wankers." Near the close of 24 Hour Party People--Michael Winterbottom’s lightly fictionalized movie about Factory, Tony Wilson explains his motivation for everything as "civic pride"; the ultimate humiliation for Factory comes later when they have to be sold to a label from down south that’s actually called London.
Such sentiments were the norm in Manchester. "Leave The Capitol," exhorted a track on Slates, the 1981 10-inch that is arguably The Fall's most concentrated spurt of coruscating brilliance. On “Lon Don”, tThe Passage sneered "too many peacocks in one part/they must be very dull in London".
>folk memory survival from the city’s industrial heyday
The antagonism to London could stem from the fact that it figures as the capital of Capital, the uber-Boss that needs to be cheeked and kept in check.
The song seems distantly descended from Johnny and the Pirates’ UK rock’n’roll classic “Shakin’ All Over”. I picture Jack as Arthur Seaton, the young firebrand played by the Salford-born Albert Finney in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, twenty years on: middle-aged now but indomitable as ever, still living according to the maxim "All I want is a good time. The rest is propaganda," his liver and kidneys just about hanging in there.
Another Arthur Seaton declaration--“whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not”--could serve as a life-stance crystallizing motto for Mark E. Smith (see footnote to “contrarian” on page 197) . Seaton’s utterance became, of course, the title of the monstrously successful debut album by Sheffield, Yorkshire band Arctic Monkeys: same sort of Northern bloodymindedness, but on t’other side of the Pennines,
Fiery Jack: Mark E. Smith at 50
“The sort of guy…will ever have”
--Smith. Sounds 6/21/80.
Sabbath and Joy Divison both came from infamously grey cities (Birmingham, in Sabbath’s case) scarred by heavy industry and misguided post-War redevelopment; in both groups, the “heavy” feeling seeps through every pore of the music. See Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic, for an amazing anatomy of the way in which Sabbath’s rhythms-and-riffs dramatize the songs’ non-specific scenarios of trial, endurance, struggle, doubt, despair.
“most people live… for people”--Ward, quoted in Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic (see bibliography). P. 22.
> Hook's bass carries the melody
Jon Savage points out the debt owed to the dark probing yet melodic bass style of Tony Maimone for Pere Ubu on their Hearthan singles and The Modern Dance.
Peter Hook also mentioned to me that he also admired and was influenced by the gnarly, burly, huge-in-the-mix bass-playing of Jean-Jacques Burnel in the Stranglers (where he supplied the melody-riff function while Hugh Cornwell's splintery rhythm guitar was a much more subudued and intermittent presence).
And Wire's Graham Lewis was keen to point out his influence on Hook's style.
All that said it's quite hard to define (for me as a non-musician) what's so unique about Hook's signature -- something about the way the basslines are melodic but only just barely (they are not quite reggae-level tuneful or even Wobble-level catchy), creating a kind of drone effect; they nagged into your brain with their hypno-power but by holding back from outright melodic loveliness they retain a spartan quality that's quite desolating.)
The other obvious point to make -- so obvious I didn't notice until the Joy Division documentary alerted it to me -- is that they're high basslines ("high-lying" as I think Iain MacDonald terms it in his Beatles book), so they don't have the booming low-end subliminal effect but push insistently into the forefront of the mix/your awareness.
An incisive description of the different roles adopted by Peter Hook and Barney Sumner in this essay on Joy Division posted at Blogarhythm by Tom Jackson:
"One of the notable stylistic aspects of post-August 1977 Joy Division is that of Peter Hook's basslines. These basslines were often high up on the fretboard, one or two octaves higher than a traditional bass plater might compose in around that time. According to guitarist Bernard Sumner, Hook's unique playing style came about as a direct result of him not having a powerful enough amplifier to be able to hear lower frequency notes during practice: “I'm more rhythm and chords, and Hooky was melody. He used to play high lead bass because I liked my guitar to sound distorted, and the amplifier I had would only work when it was at full volume. When Hooky played low, he couldn't hear himself.”4 These high-range basslines became more prominent towards the end of Joy Division's career, with Hook eventually purchasing a six-string bass which allowed for an even higher range of notes. Somewhat counteracting Hook's predominant basslines, Sumner tended to use sparse, often single-note guitar melodies and riffs, which were so radically different from the punk 'powerchord'5 distorted guitar techniques at the time. The explanation for this phenomenon again may lie in Hook's poor amplification equipment, i.e. that, in trying to maintain his intended and preferred distorted tone, Sumner had few options but to resort to playing sparser guitar melodies and chords (than those which he previously used when mimicking a punk guitarist style), in order to still be able to hear Hook's contribution to the music."
>Rim of a crater
But Steve Morris, the hippest member of the group in terms of music-taste, got this from Can’s Jaki Liebezeit rather than the Sabs’s Bill Ward. Peter Hook had a hard rock background, however.
Morris was into Krautrock, Van der Graaf Generator, Soft Machine, free jazz like Derek Bailey, as well as things the rest of the group liked such as The Stooges and John Cale. Morris also did some reviews for Record Mirror.
>Certain words and images
Coldness: “living in the Ice Age”, “standing cold here in this colony.” Pressure: “pressure unknown”, “young hearts fail/any time, pressurized”. Struggle: countless sentences featuring the words “tried” and “trying,”
Great description of Curtis’ vocal by Barney Hoskyns into a fantastic piece he did on voices and singers,
NME January 12 1985: “the sheer alienness of the voice/coldness of Northern England but with parodic American inflection/a voice only implying, never embodying passion/depth yet sparseness, hollow vowels and bitter consonants falling flat with despair at a line’s end… Curtis, so old and grave and shadowy, a voice straining to get across to its mate, its female Other: the eternal ‘weeeeeee’…. Such determinedly humourless music is spooky, for more than any human sound what this voice intimates its silence itself”
>Ballard and urban space
For J.G., the urban landscape and the inner mindscape were eerily reflective of one another and inseparable. The collective unconscious was projected outwards in the form of the brutally carved-up and rearranged post-War cities, with their flyovers and spaghetti junctions, tower blocks and underpasses, all of which seemed to testify mutely to late 20th Century traumas. The new urban spaces in turn invaded and reconstructed the consciousness of those who moved among them, creating new fears and tensions.
>“Interzone” and “Wilderness”
See also Curtis’s lyrical invitations to “step outside” or “take a ride out”--c.f. Jim Morrison’s “break on through” but without the ecstastic/Romantic charge, drained of libido.
Various stories have it that they also thought of calling themselves Gdansk and Pogrom!
Peter Hook on the Warsaw name: “As naive as it sounds, it had to do with image. It had to do with something that sounded cool, and stark, and really filmic.”
>House of Dolls
The girls are identified by a number tattooed above their breasts; if they do not fake enjoying their “work”, the soldier can report them by this “feld-hure” [field-whore] number. Failure to smile means death.
> Keeping alive memories of World War Two
Barney Sumner has repeatedly use this defence. The war was a big part of any kid’s life growing up in the Sixties and Seventies: endless war films on TV, the gas masks and war-time paraphernalia that Barney found in his grandparents’s spare room, the bomb-sites still uncleared in many UK cities right through to the 1960s. In one interview, Sumner recalled occasions where the occasional unexploded bomb would be discovered by kids playing in the rubble, requiring the street to be evacuated and cordoned off.
The words are actually “You all forgot Rudolf Hess” (thanks to Christian Holler for pointing this out to me) or is it "You all forget Rudolf Hess?". There’s some dispute over whether it’s Ian Curtis or Bernard Sumner who shouts this at the end of the song, most accounts saying Sumner.
Hess was Hitler’s Deputy leader in the Nazi Party but an increasingly marginalized and powerless figure. In May 1941, on the even of the German invasion of Russia, Hess famously flew a Messerschmidt 110 to Scotland where he crash-landed near the estate of the Duke of Hamilton. His intention was to negotiate a peace between the UK government and Germany. Many in the Nazi Party admired the British Empire and were chagrined that the Anglo-Saxon people were at war with their should-be Teutonic brothers. This was an initiative of his own barmy devising (Hitler was furious and immediately stripped him of all ranks, and arrested Hess’s staff in Berlin), based on the belief that many in Britain’s ruling class did not want war, were sympathetic to Nazism, and that Churchill could be ousted easily. Hess was interned for the duration of the war, then tried at Nuremberg, and sent to Spandau Prison for life. After 1966 (when Baldur Von Schirach and Albert Speer were set free) Hess was the only occupant of this purpose-built prison; hence perhaps the notion that “you all forgot Rudolf Hess”, the lonely relic of long-ago war languishing in his gigantic solitary confinement. Indeed quite a few people (among them Churchill) thought his long imprisonment an injustice. Hess committed suicide in 1987, using the electric cord of a reading lamp.
The provocation of invoking Rudolf Hess’s name--something of an icon for the neo-Nazi movement, perhaps because of the alternate history his peace initiative suggests (the Third Reich and the British Empire reconciled and conjoined in Nordic harmony), perhaps because of the idea that he was unjustly treated by the Allies--in 1977, the year of the National Front marches through ethnic neighbourhoods etc, doesn’t need to be pointed out.
>An Ideal For Living…
Not attributed to Warsaw but self released (on their own Enigma label) shortly after the group changed name to Joy Division. But ‘Warsaw’ is the title of the first track. And song “No Love Lost” borrowed some imagery from House of Dolls
The drummer boy on the sleeve was a drawing by Bernard Sumner inspired by a book on German history by Paul Grey and Rosemarie little, Germany 1918-1945
“all that hate… dominance”
--Sumner. Quoted in Charles Neal’s Tape Delay (see bibliography). P. 247
The Sumner quote in full: “I think Nazism is the biggest thing that has happened to this world in the last half century, and it was interesting at the time when we started out because everyone was spouting about anarchy, so, in a way, you felt you could do whatever you wanted to do, so that’s what we did…. The interesting thing about fascism or Nazism was that out of all that hate and all that dominance came art that was brilliant. Like the uniforms they used to wear and the architecture. Out of all that came something that was good. It’s interesting, and it’s another example that out of all hate comes something really beautiful. It’s fascinating. But it doesn’t mean with agree with all of their policies. We don’t.”
“a certain physical sensation… strong feeling”
--Hook. Ibid. P. 247
>obsession with Germany
According to Deborah Curtis, the two of them watched Cabaret at least a dozen times; he read books on Nazism and avidly watched a documentary on the Nuremberg trials. In mitigation, this is a pretty standard male adolescent syndrome, a morbid interest in the most evil fuckers there ever were.
The Stooges, too, were a shared favorite of the band members. Early versions of ‘Interzone’ and ‘Shadowplay’ are pure Detroit rock. But c.f. their libido-drained version of The Doors, the sound of Joy Division is The Stooges leashed and inhibited--the cock-in-my-pocket swagger replaced by restless neurosis. As Joy Division developed they would owe more to the remote-control coldness of Iggy solo, especially The Idiot, Bowie-produced and steeped in the Germanic robo-motorik of Kraftwerk and Neu!
The Stooges also had their flirtations with their militaristic--Ron Asheton collected (and sometimes wore onstage) Nazi memorabilia. From my interview with Ashton circa the Stooges Deluxe Editions Reissues in 2005: “I wrote a song with Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman called “Rock’n’Roll Soldiers”. I always felt that being in a band was a military operation. You get your transport to the area and you carry out the mission. I’m like the medic on our tour, I’ve got all the vitamins, the sinutis pills, the anti-diarrhoea medicine! When we play London this year I’m looking forward to visiting the Imperial War Museum. I used to go there all the time when we lived there, recording Raw Power. There’s all these things that aren’t on display that you can only see on appointment--like Herman Goering’s uniform. I’d put my name down but never managed to see them. Maybe this time.”
“It struck me… human suffering”
--Curtis. Deborah Curtis’ Touching from a Distance (see bibliography). P. 90
According to Deborah Curtis, part of Ian’s obsession with Jim Morrison related to the notion of dying while in your artistic prime.
>In a big hall
Martin Hannett similarly was first attracted to the group when he saw them play a relatively large venue in Salford: “It was a very big room, they were badly equipped [but] they were still working into this space, making sure they got into the corners.” [source unknown]
Tony Wilson, meanwhile, always talks about how he saw Joy Division growing into a post-punk Pink Floyd playing massive arenas (i.e what U2 actually became)
>Boxy, in your face sound
Reverb was widely deemed a no-no on New Wave/punk records, because that was a throwback to the grandiose production of Seventies mega-rock (think of the roomy, echoey sound of Led Zep’s albums, some of them recorded in their mansions). For punk bands, energy and catchiness were valued over texture and depth of sound. With Joy Division, Hannett went the opposite direction. But ironically he had earlier produced the archetypally tinny near-mono punk classic Spiral Scratch and a bunch of Manchester punk bands whose records came out on the local indie label he was involved in, Rabid. (See the compilation Punk Singles Collection, featuring Manc legends Slaughter & The Dogs, The Nosebleeds (featuring Viny Reilly sounding not the least bit Durutti-like), Frantic Elevators (Mick Hucknall from Simply Red’s first band), Jilted John and John Cooper Clarke). In those days Hannett went by the name Martin Zero.
Produced by Martin Hannett, John Cooper Clark'es debut EP Innocents, 1977, for the Rabid label
“He could see… don’t have”--Wilson . Quoted in Middles, Mick. From Joy Division to New Order (see bibliography). P. 111.
Hmm, what do you think, maybe the massive quantities of cannabis Hannett smoked had something to do with this “visual sense”
“Good for the ears”
--Hannett. Muziekkrant Oor, September 1981.
>fan of psychedelia
Hannett had a scholarly knowledge of the history of record production and would enthuse about specific studio sound that certain labels like Columbia or Elektra had in the Sixties.
Like John Cooper Clarke (who recorded for Hannett’s label Rabid and whose CBS records Hannett worked on) Hannett was a bit of a Sixties character. He was associated with the bohemian scene based in Didsbury.
The rock parody band Alberto Los Trios Paranoias was in the thick of this Didsbury scene. There was a sort of Time Out equivalent community newspaper/listings mag called Brass Eye that Hannett was involved with. Rabid itself grew out of a promotions company/booking agency/fly-postering company called Music Force, a musicians collective. During this period Hannett booked bands and produced a record by the Brecht-influenced outfit Belts and Braces.
CP Lee of Alberto Los Trios, source unknown,: “The idea behind Music Force for bands to control their own destinies, promote their own gigs, pool equipment, etc. One of the spin offs from this was a fly posting service that began to generate quite a lot of money… Tosh [Ryan, future co-founder of Rabid) and Martin took over the fly posting, sending unemployed musicians all over the country sticking up posters for promoters. With the money from this they were able to buy an old shop premises in Cotton Lane, Withington, and Martin was then able to do what he'd wanted to do for a long time, which was produce in a studio.” That, I’m guessing, was Strawberry Studios, which I believe was actually built by 10 CC.
“deserted public… a rush”
--Hannett, NME 7/19/80. Hannett interview.
Hannett also talked about enjoying the city’s “science-fiction industrial landscape”. Jon Savage use to hang out with Hannett and says a typical evening would involve getting really stoned and then going for a drive. “One time we visited this big gas terminal to the West of Manchester, and it was night so it was pretty psychedelic. And then, what really blew my mind, we drove through Trafford Park, this derelict village in the middle of this huge industrial estate. And all the while we were listening to Pere Ubu, PiL, and Joy Division on the car’s cassette player, and it just sounded fantastic with that backdrop.”
>AMS digital delay
The company was based in Burnley, and famously Hannett would drive out to meet with the AMS folk and discuss what he was looking for in terms of music technology.
“I can take it down from a cardboard tube to a cathedral,” Hannett boasted in one interview, about his ability to control a sense of spatial perspective during recording. C.f. Eno’s concept of “fictional acoustic space”
"Confused? you will be, when you get to the imaginary room"--Tony Wilson. That's from this fascinating Granada TV via of Martin Hannett at work at Strawberry Studio (interviewed by Tony Wilson; the silent youth next to Hannett is apparently engineer Chris Nagle).
Maybe he's behaving himself cos he's on TV but has to be said the Hannett here -- low-key, soft-spoken, dryly sardonic -- could not be further from the belligerent off-his-face caricature in 24 Hour Party People.
“Sonic holograms… reverbs”
--Hannett. Quoted in Uncut December 1997. Joy Division feature.
Engineer Chris Nagle on Hannett from Torn Apart' Joy Divison article in Uncut No.7. December 1997:. "His 'plan' as he used to call it, was a 'sonic hologram'. It was something he was developing, layering sounds and reverbs."
There’s a lot of unidentifiable sounds in the deeper recesses of Joy Division’s music--ectoplasmic wooshes, gauzy after-images, wraithe-like palimpsests --that contribute to what Hannett felt was his hallmark, “a certain disorder in the treble range”.
Like the dub producers, Hannett enjoyed throwing in “explosions, huge fucking coast-guard marine flares and industrial bangs.”
Tony Wilson: “Whether there actually was one is moot. The idea was to put everyone under psychological stress. Martin’s attitude was ‘fuck em, fuck their heads.’”
Morris says this famous incident of being order to dismantle the drum kit actually took place during the early days of New Order, during the ill-fated Movement. He also said that the incident where he was told to drum on the roof, as depicted in 24 Hour Party People, was a total myth, “a load of bollocks.”
“create a state… wound up”
> Unknown Pleasures cover
Jon Wozencroft on this talismanic album sleeve (and Peter Saville's contribution to Joy Division's mythic-ness generally)
Apparently it was Steve Morris who found the image of Pulsar CP 1919 in the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy
>matt black void
But almost imperceptibly striated with cross-hatched ridges
< Pulsar CP1919
The first of these mysterious stars to be discovered, back in 1967.
more info on pulsars here
Erratum: Joy Division did not in fact headline, but were high up on the bill, maybe fourth from the top.
More info on this esoteric label here, http://www.eoipso.net/the_network/index.html?sord_sent1.html
>a snow-covered Alpine peak
While down below clouds surge in between the mountains,
the full gorge-ous gatefold image from the Sordide Sentimentale release Licht Und Blindheit (March 1980) featuring 'Atmosphere' and 'Dead Souls. Erm, not actually snow-covered as it turns out. But definitely a kind of Also Sprach Zarusthra type mise en scene, the prophet in the Alpine wilderness
“It was me who… lightning conductor”
--Hannett. Vagabond #1, 1992. Interview by Jon Savage.
She was the co-founder of the Brussels label Les Disques Du Crepuscule, which was basically a Factory-wannabe operation. Annik Honoré and Michel Duval promoted a series of postpunk events, starting--on October 16th 1979--with a triple bill of Joy Divison, Cabaret Voltaire, and William Burroughs, at the famous Plan K club.
The first records Honore and Duval put out--A Certain Ratio’s “Shack Up” and The Durutti Column’s “Lips That Would Kiss”--were joint releases by Factory Benelux/Les Disques Du Crepuscule. The first proper Crepuscule release, the cassette compilation From Brussels With Love, came housed in a transparent PVC wallet and accompanied with a 16 page booklet and featured a wonderfully arty line up: Gavin Bryars and Harold Budd, Factory’s Martin Hannett (a rare solo track), ACR, and Vini Reilly, tracks by John Foxx and Gilbert & Lewis, an interview with Eno. From Brussels was just the first of a series of exquisitely designed (Benoit Hennebert served as Crepuscule’s Peter Saville) compilations, such as The Fruit Of The Original Sin, wherein DNA, Arthur Russell and Winston Tong jostled with Belgian talent and an interviewed Marguerite Duras. Crepuscule also put out a 7 inch single by then-unknown systems music composer Michael Nyman and a book of poetry by ex-Skids singer Richard Jobson, along with more dancefloor-oriented releases by Rhythm Of Life (Paul Haig from Josef K’s solo operation, Cabaret Voltaire’s Three Crepuscule Tracks EP, Ike Yard (a US-based group released on Factory’s US imprint), plus Belgian outfits like The Names and Marine.
“strange social climate”--Hannett. NME 7/19/80.
Rest of the quote: “It took 13 days and 13 nights, hard work. Ian wasn’t very well.”
--Hannett. Muziekkrant Oor, September 1981
He also described it as “the most mysterious” of his production, adding “That album was made as closed as possible.”
“At night… atmosphere”
--Sumner. Uncut December 1997.
>”The Atrocity Exhibition”
Erratum: should be “Atrocity Exhibition”.
The lyrics suggest that Curtis had a sense of himself as someone prostituting his own neurosis for an audience.
“Asylum with doors open wide/where people had paid to see inside/for entertainment they watch his body twist/behind his eyes he says, ‘I still exist’
Most harrowed lyric: “Mother I tried please believe me/I’m doing the best that I can/I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through/I’m ashamed of the person I am”
I’m curious about this song’s relationship to Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, following the last of the Jehovah-sent plagues that afflicted the Pharaoh’s people, in which the firstborn of every household was slain. The line about “Left with a mark on the door” clearly refers to the scriptural story of the Lord telling Moses to instruct the Jews to put the blood of a lamb on the doorways of their houses, so that the angel of death would know that their house was to be spared and "pass over" it. I wonder why this resonated with Curtis at this point in his life.
This is a crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around,
Wondering what will come next.
Is this the role that you wanted to live?
I was foolish to ask for so much.
Without the protection and infancy’s guard,
It all falls apart at first touch.
Watching the reel as it comes to a close,
Brutally taking it’s time,
People who change for no reason at all,
It’s happening all of the time.
Can I go on with this train of events?
Disturbing and purging my mind,
Back out of my duties, when all’s said and done,
I know that I’ll lose every time.
Moving along in our God given ways,
Safety is sat by the fire,
Sanctuary from these feverish smiles,
Left with a mark on the door,
Is this the gift that I wanted to give?
Forgive and forget’s what they teach,
Or pass through the deserts and wastelands once more,
And watch as they drop by the beach.
This is the crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept,
Turning around to the next set of lives,
Wondering what will come next.
Most harrowed lyrics: ‘‘a cry for help, a hint of anesthesia/the sound from broken homes” and “I can’t see why all these confrontations/I can’t see why all these dislocations/no family life, this makes me feel uneasy/stood alone here in this colony”
Most famous lyric: “Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders/Here are the young men, well where have they been?/We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber”
“I feel like… I can do”
--Curtis. Quoted by Sumner, Uncut December 1997
“The barbs…get back”
For the narcotized Nico and the downered-and-out Curtis, eros has been totally supplanted by thanatos. The third album in her deathwishful Desertshore and Marble Index trilogy was The End, with a cover of The Doors song.
More on Nico’s The Marble Index and Desertshore from The Sex Revolts:
On The Marble Index, Nico is singing religious music for nihilists. Her
collaborator, ex-Velvet John Cale, constructs a shimmering, reverberant ice palace for her out of harmonium, celesta and other non-rock textures. The Ice Queen's autonomy becomes autism ('No One Is There'). She fetishises disconnection as a safeguard against the thawing warmth of messy intimacy. Nico longs to be beyond desire, to reach the numbed stillness of entropy (heat-death). She dreams of a sort of negative nirvana; to lie in state at Time's 'undead end', immaculate and inorganic. 'Nibelungen' describes a world drained of affect, bleached of colour; again, she longs to be 'asleep'. While it may be a reductive interpretation to regard The Marble Index as the ultimate heroin album, its hunger for narcosis, its frigid expanses, recalls William Burroughs' description of the junkie's quest for a metabolic 'Absolute Zero'. The only way to erase doubt and kill pain completely is to enter a living death. Desertshore (1971), the sequel to The Marble Index, saw Nico once again working in collaboration with Cale. The title and songs like 'Janitor of Lunacy' suggests that Nico felt herself stranded, incapable of taking the plunge into oceanic feelings, banished to a bleak and lifeless zone on the periphery of the 'real world'. Nothing can shatter Nico's splendid ice-olation; she longs for someone to 'erase my empty pages'. On 'Mutterlien', a hymn adrift in an ambient Antarctic, Cale's reverbed piano makes sound shiver and shudder, like the throes of hypothermia.
>”In a Lonely Place”
Also seems to anticipate his demise: “ Hangman looks round as he waits/cord stretches tight then it breaks/someday we will die in your dreams.”
The movie was Stroszek
>Curtis’s crooning vocal
Tony Wilson had given Curtis a copy of Sinatra’s 40 Greatest anthology and he’d learned to croon.
That sense of discomfort in the drumming was physical and real as Hannett forced Morris to record each element of the drum kit separately. Mixing the track was equally fraught, and the single was released (in the UK at least) as a three track 7 inch: two different mixes of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (quite hard to tell apart) and the amazing, flayed-sounding “These Days”
>two kinds of Factory
actual Smith quote is a lyric from “C'n'c” from Grotesque (After the Gramme)
“There's two types of factory there. One makes old corpses. Theystumble round like rust dogs. One lives off old dying men. Onelives off the back of a dead man. You know which one. You know
which FACTORY I mean.”
Vini Reilly in his punky pre-Factory band the Nosebleeds
>The Return of the Durutti Column
In a frame from this Situationist comic strip, two cowboys discuss reification and the psychogeographical practise of derive (or drifting). More homage came with Saville’s sleeve for Return of the Durutti Column, which recreated another feat of Situationist mischief: Memories, a 1957 book by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn,
had sandpaper covers, so that the volume damaged anything else it was stacked with. The sandpaper album had also been a pet project of Jamie Reid, the Sex Pistols designer, but never came to fruition.
Note that the author of the cartoon, Andre Bertrand, mis-spelled Durrutti’s name.
>played with the fingertips
I.e. never with a plectrum--too hard and plucky a sound. Vini Reilly’s influences were as un-rock as you can get; flamenco guitarists like Paco Peno, guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Ollie Halsall (who played with Kevin Ayers and Mike Patto) .
Reilly quote from an interview in the zine Space Age Bachelor Pad:
“My influences are not guitarists at all. They're actually pianists. People like Art Tatum and Fats Waller and people like that, or Oscar Peterson, and even Albert Ammons
and Pete Johnson, all the old black blues boogie-woogie. They're all piano players not guitarists."
There’s an exquisitiness verging on the vulgar to Reilly’s playing. Just check “Never Known” on LC, quite the most shatteringly beautiful music Reilly ever made.
Short for the Italian phrase ‘Lotta Continua’--the struggle goes on. As Tony Wilson relates in the sleevenotes to the reissue of LC, they got the name from a TV documentary: “We called it 'LC' after a moment in an Anthony Burgess documentary on Rome in which the great Mancunian explained that "The Romans have enjoyed bad government for 2,000 years and looked forward to enjoying it for many more" and then turned approvingly to a piece of wall graffiti; 'LC' -- Lotta Continua, the struggle goes on, it does, you know.” Neither Burgess nor Wilson appear to be aware that Lotta Continua was the name of an Italian far left-wing movement that favored direct action. From http://www.libcom.org/hosted/af/org/issue54/dissent3.html
“Initially a loose coalition of radicals from a variety of ‘left’ groups and splinters who rejected the positions taken by the organisations they belonged to on questions of the vanguard, autonomy and working class orientations. Chiefly, militant workers and students in North Italy (especially Turin), they coalesced around the slogan "The Struggle Continues" through a series of strikes (especially the 1969 FIAT strike) and ‘encounters’ and rejected the idea that it was chiefly or only within the factory that the working class became revolutionaries. For them, what was important was not where the class struggle took place or over what issue but what the working class learned about the class struggle and itself and the development of the working class through struggle. In its finest moments Lotta Continua not only told people where the action was, it was part of the action and most closely resembles groups today such as Earth First! and RTS. Lotta Continua attempted to broaden the base of the struggle through its slogan "Take the city!", opposing urban oppressions and exploitations as well as industrial ones with new tactics (the rent strike, can’t-pay campaigns and so on), unifying them into one agenda and programme in a highly successful way. But Lotta Continua adopted a movementist strategy rather than staying on in the unions or forming an electorally-based party. From then on it had to generalise its ideas and tactics or lose its one advantage - the capacity for disruption - that could bring it new support and continue to challenge existing institutions. Its movementist principles and tactics led it to seek an explosion, not mobilisation and organisation of the masses.”
Presumably, the “struggle” that Reilly is referencing is more exsistential in nature--in his case, the struggle not to fade away to zero. As he put it in a City Life interview from 1989: “There is no other record company that would have let me make a record in 1979. Not one. Because I was suicidal, and I was seriously and dangerously ill. I was totally anti-social and a complete wreck. My band had disintegrated, and I had retreated. Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus made constant journeys to my house to persuade me to make a record. No other record company would have done that.” The illness was anorexia nervosa
“Lips That Would Kiss” was an earlier instrumental elegy for Curtis. Also heard that “Sleep Will Come” ( it appeared on a Disques du crepuscule compilation cassette “FromBrussels With Love", later on the expanded CD version of LC) was also about Curtis.
“Missing Boy” lyrics
There was a boy
I almost knew him
A glance exchanged
Made me feel good
Leaving some signs
Now a legend
The dream was wrought
Where thoughts were heard
Love is reserved
From previous times
[chorus]Like a dead bird in the dirt
Like a rusty can on the ground
I don't believe in stardom
Machinery in action
Full of experts
Full of experts
Same old order
Same old order
Same old order
Watch with obsession
Some accident of beauty
Try to capture
As the light begins to fail
Shapes to compose
Shadows of frailty
The dream is better
Dissolves into softness
But the end
The end is always the same
>funk noir… strongly influenced by the Pop Group
Simon Topping, singer of A Certain Ratio, once angrily dismissed the idea they were Joy Division-like by saying: "We are nothing like Joy Division. We are a funk band, truly... I mean , that is why we were formed. We would all be down at the best Manchester clubs, listening to Funkadelic, Parliament, Bootsy... these are our roots. Not fucking Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground."
Martin Moscrop, bless him, told me, more or less, that this was bollocks. Apart from anything else, they were too young to get into clubs. Rather, it was all about rock, pre-punk, and the kind of thing they’d have gone to see at gigs was groups like…. wait for it, it’s worth it… Uriah Heep!
Moscrop: “Hawkwind were another band, very early ACR, like 'All Night Party', and the other side of that [single], 'The Thin Boys' is very very Hawkwind influenced.”
Moscrop: “We were all punks when it started, but only for a period of maybe six months to a year, until it became commercial. And then we were just as individuals probably looking for other things, and then when we formed as a band, we wouldn't listen to anything that had anything to do with punk. So we would go opposite to that, and listen to Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk, and stuff like that, you know, more electronic-based stuff. And it was at that point as well that we started listening to funk music.”
As well as being influenced by The Pop Group in that respect, he said that
“Cabaret Voltaire was a quite big influence on us. Especially the using tapes and mad noises in tunes. The industrial side of it was from the Cabs really, and when we started to get a bit funky we'd be mixing that industrial side with the American stuff.”
>The Graveyard and the Ballroom
Originally this was a cassette-only release sold in green translucent plastic pouch with gold lettering, available only via mail order. I ordered one! The Ballroom side was the live side (supporting Talking Heads at the Electric Ballroom), and superb; the Graveyard side was recorded at Graveyard studio* in Manchester and is pretty good too, if a little demo-y and dry. But overall the release is much superior to To Each… the disappointing, Hannett-produced, Hannett-ruined debut.
My very own copy of The Graveyard and the Ballroom.
* Dick Witt on the Graveyard studio: “There was a musician who was adept at engineering and he turned his basement into a 4 track and then an 8 track studio. That’s the Graveyard, where A Certain Ratio did that record. It was in Prestwich.”
A Certain Ratio playing live, presumably at the Ballroom as this is the insert that came with The Graveyard and the Ballroom cassette pouch
>baggy kkaki shorts
Moscrop describes their look pre-shorts in terms that recalls the Pop Group’s “kit chaps”:
“Before the shorts, we used to wear demob suits, like '50s, '40s film noir sort of suits, double breasted, wide lapels, really baggy pants and white shirts, and haircuts like we were from the '40s. And the military thing came as sort of an extension from that.”
Famously Tony Wilson is supposed to have rubbed fake tan on the group’s legs before a gig, to complete the Englishmen-abroad, colonial image
Wilson also helped give ACR more of an arty image than they actually would have had otherwise. They had a song called “Do the Do”, and when it was released as a single, the title was altered at Wilson’s request to “Do the Du(casse)”: a reference to Isidore Ducasse, also known as Lautreamont, author of the proto-Surrealist Gothick prose poem Maldoror and regarded by the Situationist Internationale as an illustrious ancestor.
>ACR… Dave Haslam
Author of Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop Cult City among other books, Haslam is reknowned for his DJing at the New Order-founded club the Hacienda from the mid-to-late Eighties onwards. He also started and edited the fine mid-Eighties Manchester zine Debris. Of ACR, Haslam further notes: “they were part of what I always think of as a Red Stripe and dope crowd, shebeen heads.” In an ACR cover story for NME, Morley visits the band in their Hulme Crescent flat and notes (with feigned perplexity?) the presence of a partly disintegrated cigarette on an album cover.
The “shebeen” and “weed” comment was corroborated by Moscrop:
“We got into acid early on, taking acid and smoking weed. We used to just smoke loads of weed constantly. We lived in Hulme, we all lived in Hulme,. which is like, next to Moss side, and all the shebeens were in Hulme, so, we used to go out to a lot of shebeens. So that's where our sort of dub influence came from, listening to sound systems and stuff.”
>flirting with fascism
For years the rumour circulated that the name “A Certain Ratio” was a reference to the "blood percentage" that the Nazis measured to establish racial ancestry--specifically Jewishness. This is a myth: it actually comes from a line, “looking for a certain ratio” in the Brian Eno song “The True Wheel” (from Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy)
Another perversely provocative name choice, the most obvious referent being Hitler’s dream of a New Order for Europe, administered by the Third Reich. Various other interpretations were offered by apologists: that it came from Antonio Gramsci’s Ordine Nuovo, a Communist newspaper established in 1923; that if came from a Paul Valery quote about how if you heard a “pure and exceptional noise that cannot be confused with others, you would at once have the feeling of a beginning of a new world… a new order would arise, and you yourselves would unconsciously organize yourselves to receive it” (that one from Barney Hoskyns); that it actually came from reading Christopher Gray’s Leaving the 20th Century where one of the Situationists, most likely Ivan Chtcheglov in his “Formulary for a New Urbanism” (source of the equally famous nightclub-naming “The hacienda must be built”), proposed a “new order of architecture”. Actually the truth is almost as bad as the Hitler notion. Steve Morris: “It was a reference to the New Order of Kampuchea. At least it was better than us being called Khmer Rouge-- that was another idea.” Supposedly Rob Gretton got the phrase from seeing a documentary about Pol Pot.
Hannett’s other half was keyboardist Steve Hopkins; the group also featured a floating a cast of celebrity guests like Pete Shelley and Bill Nelson. They also did a fine album with ex-Penetration singer Pauline Murray:. On The album Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls (Illusive, 1980), the group’s lighter-than-air sound is perfect for Murray’s piercing vocal purity. Hopkins had a side project called Arcadian Research Authority who did an album that Barney Hoskyns rated among his favourites of whatever year (1981?) it came out.
>the main alternative
After Curtis’s death, Factory was in a bit of a shellshocked lull and the energy dipped in Manchester. As Hannett noted in July 1980 in an NME piece, “Manchester is dead at the moment, venues problems, the Rafters and the Factory are closed… it’s all disintegrated, the last three years of continuous energy.” He said that Liverpool was where the vibe is “at the moment” and noted acerbically that “Wilson spends his time making up catalogue numbers.”
In addition to the well-established Manchester Musicians Collective, The Beach Club stepped into the breach as a focus-locus for arty postpunk activity. Jon Savage: “There was this little group in the middle of all this rock, this weird kind of sexually indeterminate, mostly working-class intellectual lot, and they kind of very fierce as well, which I liked. I thought this was actually really interesting.” The Beach Club was based in a lesbian venue called Oozits; Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll of City Fun zine (see below), Richard Boon, and various other figures were involved; New Hormones groups like Biting Tongues, Ludus, and Eric Random played there, along with junior Fac bands like Section 25. New Order also played their first gig at the Beach Club, July 29th 1980.
>Manchester Musicians Collective
Witts: “Collectives were very much a Seventies idea. They’d recently started a musician’s one in London and we wanted to see if one could be organized in Manchester”.
>colleague of Tony wilson’s at granada tv
And thus a colleague of Jon Savage’s. Who reports that he and Margi Clarke nicknamed the band the Back Passage. Richard Boon: Boon: “Penis-Brain, that was his nickname locally--dick, wits, get it? An affectionate thing, I hasten to add.”
>The Fall played their first gig there
Witts: “That’s where the the Fall did their first gig. Una said she was completely shocked because the group had never heard each other properly before and suddenly Mark was screaming and doing these elongated vowel sounds. It just came out of nowhere”.
“It gave us… front of people”--Curtis. NME 1/13/79. Manchester scene profile.
The rest of the quote: “The Collective was a really good thing for Joy Division. It gave us somewhere to play, we met other musicians, talked, swapped ideas. Also it gave us a chance to experiment in front of people. We were allowed to take risks---the Collective isn't about music that needs to draw an audience."
Gay Animals was Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll who did the Manchester zine called City Fun. Carroll went on to front Miaow and recorded a solo album for Factory in the late Eighties.
“sad punk” is how Richard Boon describes their sound
>classically trained percussionist
Witts had been the percussionist in orchestras while also involved with radical politics. Bored with modern classical and the experimental fringe (“all the balls had gone out of it”, post-WW2, he says), Witts was spurred into action by punk.
> Thematic loftiness verging on the didactic
The overtly political approach of The Passage was pretty unusual in Manchester, where speaking out or preaching was not looked highly on. Too much specificity and you lost the mystery, the ability of music to work on the imagination; an evocative vagueness was preferred, especially at Factory. Tony Wilson’s definition of post-punk is a world away from groups like Gang of Four, avoiding the political as a category altogether in favour of interior emotions and existensial quandaries; society’s not to blame, it’s the human condition.
See also the debut Passage EP New Love Songs with its abrasively demystifactory lyric e.g. “I love you/Cos I need a cunt”
>third studio album
I’ve skipped one in between Witch Trials and Grotesque, of course: Dragnet, famous for its lo-fi sound on tracks like “Spectre Versus Rector”. In an approximately 1500 word review in Sounds, Dave McCullough exalted the ‘flattened and narrow’ production, ‘virtually mono’ on the opener ‘Psykick Dancehall’, “with bits and pieces of fragmented stereo suddenly crop up from nowhere’ as the album proceeds.
>Grotesque (after the gramme)
Now I would never say that lyrical exegesis was my strong suit, but I’d always thought the gramme referred to what UK was like after decimalization--the loss of the old quaint charming currency of half-crowns, guineas, shillings, thruppeny bits etc, of pounds, ounces, stones, etc etc, with the more logical, utilitarian metric measurements (twenty pee, 100 grams, a liter, etc). This shift from the old quaint Britain occurring at the tail-end of the Sixties and heading into the grimness of Seventies Britain. An idea semi-substantiated by the line in “New Puritan” that goes: “The whole country is post-gramme (Echoes of the past)”
But now I’m wondering if it’s a drug reference. This would be possibly semi-substantiated by the lyric to “Gramme Friday” with its references to speedfreak Hitler and the fuehrer’s personal physician Theodore Gilbert Morell who gave him injections of amphetamine and administered cocaine via eye-drops, along with many other substances and quack-ish alternative medicines.
The people I like live
in kitchens and halls.
I can't reach a decision on this.
Can I come back to you on this?
Hitler lost his nerve on it.
Dr. Morel prescribed it well
It's fast debts.
I am Robertson Speedo
and this is my Gramme Friday.
Skin drops slow to the bones
But I've got my hunger anyway.
I'm on Gramme Friday.
Work and eat spontaneous
Enter the house of weariness.
>caricatures of the English lower classes
Smiths’ sense of the antique absurdity of the British class system was heightened when The Fall visited America for the first time: with uncharacteristic naivete, Smith was impressed by America’s “classless society” (always a myth and today, hah, an utterly grotesque one: research has shown there’s less social mobility in the USA than there is Europe nowadays). Hence came the line “if we were smart we’d emigrate” on Grotesque’s “English Scheme”. (Emigration was a big thing in the 70s, a reversal of immigration: white working class and petit bourgeois, frustrated by lack of opportunities in the UK, moving lock stock and barrel to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada, or even to South Africa).
In the song “New Puritan” (not on the album but released as a single during this intense period of the newborn Fall Mark II) he refers to “grotesque peasants”, meaning perhaps proles who are content with their lot and don’t have the outsider clairvoyance of yer Mark E. Smith
“New Puritan” lyric The grotesque peasants stalk the land And deep down inside you know Everybody wants to like big companies. Bands send tapes to famous apes Male slags, male slates, famous apes. K Walter Keaton, now grey thoughts. The whole country is post-gramme (Echoes of the past) Hail the new puritan! Righteous maelstrom Cook one! And all hardcore fiends will die by me And all decadent sins will reap discipline New puritan. This is the grim reefer The smack at the end of the straw with a high grim quota Your star Karma Jim New Puritan. The conventional is now experimental The experimental is now conventional It's a dinosaur cackle A pterodactyl cackle In LA, a drunk is sick on Gene Vincent's star On Hollywood Boulevard. Ha ha ha ha Stripping takes off in Britain's black spots The Kensington white rastas run for cabs. This i've seen New puritan In Britain the stream electric pumps in a renovated pub. Your stomach swells up before you get drunk The bars are full of male slags At 10:35 they play "Send In The Clo w ns" Why don't you ask your local record dealer How many bribes he took today? What do you mean "What's It Mean? What's It Mean"? What's it mean? What's it mean? New puritan New puritan Hail the new puritan Out of hovel-cum-coven-cum-oven And all hardcore fiends will guide by me And all decadent sins will reap discipline New puritan. I curse your self-copulation of your lousy record collection. New Puritan says, "Coffee Table LPs never [breathe]" New Puritan.
>”I’m Into C.B.”
The protagonist, Happy Harry, has “never been near a lorry”. On a similar theme, the later single “Kicker Conspiracy” concerned football fans, while another singleof this era “Lie Dream of A Casino Soul” punctured the myths of Northern Soul, Wigan Casino, the (Northern and Midlands) mod fantasy of escaping England through uptempo black dance music and black style. And amphetamines, which must have struck a chord with Smith even if he preferred Can and the Velvets. In the NME in November 1981, he said the song was about “these kids who are not interested in rock at all, it’s fuckin’ tragic.” And in a later interview, he said, "That song actually did create quite a bit of resentment in the North because people thought it was being snobby and horrible about the old soul boys, which it was never about anyway. Because I was brought up with people that were into Northern Soul five years before anybody down here had even heard about it. But they've all grown out of it, which is what the song is about, but it wasn't putting them down at all. If anything, it was glorifying them, but not in the format of, where are those soul boys that used to be here?”
“wastelands of sound… deep cultural revolution”
-- Hoskyns, NME 11/14/81.
A totally classic piece--best ever on the Fall?--that really influenced my thinking about the band.
You can read it, at a pinch (it’s totally legible but the order’s scrambled) in scanned form, here
ad for Slates, http://www.visi.com/fall/gigography/image/81_slates_nmead.jpg
I didn’t have the space to lavish Slates with the attention or exaltation it deserves; possibly their best-recorded and most concentratedly brilliant record, this six track mini-LP-or-is-it-a-maxi-EP, a striking-looking yellow-hued 10 inch single, performs that Fall magic trick of sounding primordial and sophisticated, timelessly atavistic and innovative. Right up there with “Fiery Jack”, Hex Enduction Hour, and side two of The Wonderful and Frightening World as essential Fallmusic.
It’s also perhaps their most mysterious and exegesis-defying record. I’ve no idea what “Middle Mass” is about and doubt you ever will either, but the “chorus” --“The boy is like a tape loop”--once heard will etch itself into yours and my brain for ever, like the hypno-drone locked grooves of the track itself. Likewise the “Doctor annabel lies!” refrain-shriek that rises up like a whiplash in “An Older Lover”. “Leave the Capitol” I’ve always assumed was an anti-metropolitan anthem (the sleevenotes clarifies by saying you should quit any and all capitals--a manifesto of permament opposition, eternal marginality, stalking the periphery of all power hubs?), but ooh I dunno really. And “Fit and Working Again” I took as a sardonic portrait of a prole returning to labour after a prolonged period of work-related illness, although lines like “I just ate eight sheets of blotting paper/And I chucked out the alka seltzer” suggest it might actually be about Smith himself returning to full creative powers after a period of… what, self-abuse related stagnation.
As for “Prole Art Threat”, it’s clearly meant to be a kind of manifesto for the Fall’s brand of avant-primitivism versus all forms of wet-liberal sophisto-rock. But the lyric is as an impossibly ciphered and compressed script for a mini-play or micro-movie:
Pink press threat!
Man with chip: I’m riding third class on a one-class train. I’m cranked at nought like a wimpey crane. I’m a pink prole threat.
Gent in safe-house: get out the pink press threat file And brrrptzzap* the subject. (* = scrambled)
Man with chip: it’s de-louse, safe-house time (now v. bitter) when I get to the safe house
Hang this crummy blitz trad. by it’s neck
Pink press threat
I escaped the pink prole effect
Gent in safe-house: it’s a new prole art threat
It’s recluse, safehouse time
Narrator: then the clan began
Agenda item one
Scene: safe-house give them nail files, soon
Gent and staff- and looking at this agenda, we have a bit of
Now revealed a problem here
To be m.i.9 get out the pink press threat file
New prole art threat the subject
It’s safehouse, safehouse time
(all: everybody hears the hum at 3:00 a.m.)
But in the safehouse, it’s not around
Pink press threat
Gent: get out and apply the wet lib file Vs. this new prole art threat
Safehouse, safehouse tone
Man with chip, that clan has gotten away with 100 years
Dissipated and knacked, of sheer brilliance
At home, video reach, --up till now
Stereo bog etc.
Here’s just one persons’s response to the record
Full quote from NME, NME, January 10, 1981
"I mean, everybody knows about the split between the north and the south in England, but 'The North Will Rise Again' isn't a political statement, it's a story, like a science-fiction story. The way I wrote it was from a few dreams I had after playing the north a lot - it's about what would happen if there was a revolution. It's purely fantasy, science-fiction stuff.
"But of course, everybody's gonna go 'Huh? The North? Here we go again -- Smith talking about flat caps', and all that cliched rubbish. Actually, the message in it is that if the north did rise again, they would fuck it up. Not that they ever rose before... It's just like a sort of document of a revolution that could happen - like somebody writing a book about what would have happened if the Nazis had invaded Britain. It's the same concept as that. Not a lot of people have gleaned that, probably because it's the last track on the LP.”
Whole feature, and it’s a real good one, by Andy Gill,
“It’s just… invaded Britain”
--Smith. NME 1/10/81.
>Country and Northern… Fall as retrogressive
This was connected to Smith’s feeling that many postpunk groups had gone up their own arses in the struggle to out-innovate everybody else. “The conventional is now experimental/The experimental is now conventional” was Smiths’ mantra in “New Puritan”, a single from around this time. He enthused about rockabilly, both revivalists like The Cramps and untamed originators like Charlie Feathers. And he told Printed Noises. I believe that you can't sit down and say "This record is going to be really weird, nothing else is ever going to sound like this", `cause that's crap.“
There was a desire also to reach out to a more non-intellectual “ordinary kids” audience, the kind who might be into Oi! or heavy metal but only because no one cared to provide them with music that aggressive-primitive but intelligent. Smith had also got a bit tired of the following the group had, as he said in another NME interview, "The band was attracting a lot of elitists, a lot of Eno-orientated crapheads,”
“We are… lot of ways”
--Smith, Printed Noises, 1980
>tabloids were a favourite source of inanities
Hence the Fall album a few years later titled Perverted By Language. This “turn to language” was a common postpunk preoccupation ( from Gang of Four and Scritti Politti right across to the pun-crazy Elvis Costello of Armed Forces/Trust/Imperial Bedroom), and showed that the Fall, as much as they came across and liked to think of themselves as a force unto themselves, were neither immune to fashion nor operating completely outside the discourse of the day.
>The Fall’s sleeves
The hand-scribbled look of their record covers made the Fall “the anti-Factory”, as Michael Bracewell put it
“underground being… leaking… I am a dreamer… realist bands”
--Smith. Sounds 1/31/81. Fall interview.
A short story genre Smith had a few stabs at himself.
More on H.P. Lovecraft, http://www.hplovecraft.com/
“I used to… out of it”
--Smith. The Wire, September 1996.
>bumping into ghosts
Including a friar’s phantom!
>Hex Enduction Hour
for a good piece on the Fall in Iceland, for Melody Maker, by Colin Irwin, briefly (and much later) a colleague of mine, but in earlier days the folk expert at MM.
>classic British contrarian
Smith goaded the liberal readership and writership of the NME etc with his contrarian take on everything, talking of how he’d voted Tory for a while because he couldn’t abide his local Labour candidate, supporting the Falklands War, and claiming he was in favour of the H-Bomb because conscription was worse ( “where I live you see all the villages that were decapitated by the First World War”). Aggravated by all things politically-correct and Green-conscious, he championed a man’s right to kill himself with cigarettes and alcohol, and described wholemeal bread as inedible--“it tastes like dust.”
Smith’s contrarian and illiberal streak usually created some friction in the relationship between The Fall and the right-on Rough Trade. In an early Nineties interview with Volume, Smith recalled caustically: “Rough Trade were soft, boring hippies. They’d go,‘ Er, the tea boy doesn’t like the fact that you’ve slagged off Wah! Heat on this number… the girl who cooks the fuckin’ rice in the canteen doesn’t like the fact you’ve used the word ‘slags’. They had a whole meeting over the fact that we mentioned guns in one song. Y’know… it is not the policy of Rough Trade to be supporting fuckin’…. And I’d go, what the fuck has it got to do with you? Just fuckin’ sell the record you fuckin’ hippy.”
FURTHER READING AND VIEWING
interview with me about the Fall and Manchester at Fall fan webzine Reformation
Images of Manchester urban environment over the last century
Thorough The Fall discography
Linder of Ludus interviewed by Morrissey
Long, detailed, insightful article on Factory, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the entire Fac-Hannett aesthetic, also goes into the whole Situationist influence. By the great Howard Slater of break/flow etc etc
Perfect Sound Forever celebration of the Fall with pieces by individual writers on their favourite Fall albums
Extract from Mark E. Smith's autobiography Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith (Viking), detailing his childhood and the early days of the band.
Piece by Dave Simpson tracking down Fall members who fell by the wayside (and giving a glimpse into M.E. Smith’s treatment of musicians), http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,,1678307,00.html
Tony Friel's website with stuff on the Fall and The Passage amongst other things
Paul Morley's obituary for Tony Wilson
and his more personal-toned eulogy
Anthony H. Wilson's gravestone as designed by Peter Saville
Article on Peter Saville’s graphic design
Kpunk’s interview with Peter Saville
SR blog entry on Joy Division
picking up from this great Kpunk piece on Joy Division
another top K-punk piece on Joy Division this time concentrating on depression
a female perspective on Joy Division and the male deathwish/self destruction syndrome from the excellent Fangirl
excellent piece by James Parker on Joy Division and Control, with special attention to "the aura of fascism" and why it attracted Ian Curtis
Jon Savage on Ian Curtis's reading habits
Info on the compilation Zero, A Martin Hannett Story (1977-1991)
Pitchfork review of the Martin Hannett compilation
John McCready piece on the influence of Situationism on the Factory milieu
Durutti Column article from Record Collector
A Certain Ratio discography
Extensive website by Justin Toland on New Hormones label that also covers much of the non-Factory activity in the city (Manchester Music Collective, The Beach Club etc etc)
A great piece on The Fall and "pulp modernism" by K-punk's Mark Fisher, written as a paper for the Fall conference of 2008 in Salford but never delivered.
Website for the Manchester Musicians Collective with stuff on its founding as told by Trevor Wishart
Treasure trove of Factory material at unofficial Fac-fan blog Cerysmatic Factory
FURTHER PIECES BY ME ON THE FALL AND THE FACTORY BANDS
Me on A Certain Ratio’s records when they were first reissued by Creation in I guess it must have been 1995?
A rather caustic take; my “true” feelings are probably a little fonder and more generous: on the lines of “a group who never quite delivered on their promise/mystique, an only partially realized idea but a great idea nonetheless”. Still, it’s true, when we’re talking about recorded “moments”, the ACR legacy boils down to about a dozen songs. Some of the later heading-towards-jazz-funk-but-not-there-yet-thank-God songs like “Knife Slits Water,” “Guess Who” and “Life’s A Scream” are better than I acknowledge here. But a funny thing happened to a lot of the postpunk (and New Pop) bands circa 82/83, they suddenly realized that their attempts at funk/soul just didn’t cut the mustard compared with their black sources, they sounded gawky and not-quite-swinging and un-phat compared with Michael Jackson/Chic/Yarborough & Peoples/whoever they were trying to be like. But instead of realizing that was their authentic contribution and only reason for doing it--to do it wrong, do it insufficient-but-therefore different--that made them all try even harder to be black, which they understood to be slick, super-proficient, glossy, etc. And that was the downfall of A Certain Ratio, amongst others.
This appeared in the Wire.
A CERTAIN RATIO
The Graveyard and the Ballroom
The Old and The New
A CERTAIN RATIO were one of those bands who seem monstrously significant at the time, but then fade away, leaving little in the way of legacy and nary a trace in the folk-memory. There was a lot of it about in the post-punk 'anti-rockist' era (see also The Pop Group, Gang Of Four, Magazine). All this makes it both touching and puzzling that Creation, that most rockist of labels, was sufficiently fond of ACR to reissue their Factory oeuvre.
Perhaps one indicator of the sheer speed with which ACR's moment was eclipsed (after New Pop, their angst-funk seemed like no fun) is the fact that the only thing of theirs I ever acquired is 1979's "The Graveyard and The Ballroom". Originally a cassette-only release in a nifty translucent green plastic pouch, it's still the most appealing document of ACR's peculiar project: draining all the joy, sexuality and
ecstatic release out of black dance pop, transforming funk into a grimly addictive rhythmic metaphor for control and obsession. Factory's house producer Martin Hannett lent his deathly-dry touch to the 'Graveyard' tracks, his trademark vaulted sound turning the discotheque into a mausoleum. It's perfect for ACR's skeletal garage funk (on the sick-joke 'Crippled Child' they actually sound like a sub-'Nuggets' '60s punk band). Musically primitivist, maybe, but ACR were far from ignorant: "Do The Du" refers to Isidore Ducasse, a.k.a. Lautreamont, author of the awesome proto-surrealist prose-poem "Maldoror".
The live "Ballroom" side sounds more full-bodied and texturally brimming (despite the lo-fi, virtually hand-held sound quality, which makes a mockery of the CD reissue format). On "The Fox", "Oceans" and "The Choir", the miasma of echoed falsetto, background whispers and sub-Miles trumpet-in-fog is nicely mesmeric, kinda like Joy Division getting on the good foot. (Mid-song Simon Topping piss-takes Ian Curtis with a burst of "I was waiting for a guy to come and take me by the hand").
"Ballroom" was probably as good as ACR got. Perhaps if they'd hooked up with Grace Jones to cover Talking Heads' "Houses In Motion", as was once mooted, they'd have injected some soul or at least personality into their ghost-funk. As it is, the official studio debut "To Each..." (1981) is as obtuse and intransitive as its title. Hannett shrouds every instrument with gauzy condensation, so that only the superior rhythm section (dig Donald Johnson's restless hi-hat and crisp snare-cracks!) keeps the fog of avant-funk anaemia moving. "Sextet" (1981) is marginally less muffled-sounding, but this is still disco for dead souls. Bustling drum & bass grooves are wreathed in wisps of Martha Tilson's affectless vocal alienation, while the horns sound winded and wan, like an existensialist Beggar & Co. Still "Knife Slits Water" is dankly compelling, urgent slap-bass slicing through aqueous ambience.
"The Old and The New", a 1985 compilation that swept up some 12 inch semi-precious gems, is probably your second-best bet after "Graveyard". The cold-fever fatback shuffle and lunar gyrations of "Flight", with its distantjazz-funk whistles (ghosts of Caister weekenders?) still sounds fab, as does the dessicated cover of "Shack Up". And "Thin Boys", a Hannett-produced early track,is a dirge-in-a-catacomb worthy of US hardcore ban Flipper, with comically grave lines like "clinging to each other like magnetised leeches". Tres 1979.
By the 1983 Simon Topping had departed (to study Latin percussion in New York, if memory serves), resurfacing at decade's end as a mainstay of house group T-Coy and the De-Construction label, just at the point when avant-funk ideas were filtering into popular consciousness via acid house. With Donald Johnson at the helm, ACR honed their jazz-funk chops and turned into Level 42.
review by me of The Fall’s Bend Sinister
from Melody Maker October 4th 1986
THE Fall have not stopped being The Fall. It's all here, on this their 26th long playing record the wizened sneer, the unforgiving beat, the haggard guitar. The Fall roll on.
A vast body of work, around which a million words have been split, and still I don't feel nearer a notion of what they're about. The Fall don't represent or propose anything. They cannot be recruited to any scheme, clarified or filed away. They are this stubborn thing.
What spikes the lumbering wrath of The Fall is the vehemence of Mark E. Smith's invective. But these days even his targets remain shrouded and unclear. While The Fall's music has grown steadily more vivacious and approachable, Smith's writing has folded in on itself in an ever denser scrawl, beyond decipherment, let alone understanding. Sometimes the obscure object of his derision is recognisable as ... people like me, and then I'm suitably, pleasurably, chastened. The Fall, on leash, as periodic flagellation: "Who makes the Nazis? intellectual halfwits." Ouch. I needed that. Perhaps that was the only thing I ever learned from Mark E. Smith.
The Fall are an example of the extent to which indie music has become a kind of commentary on pop - a system which purports to represent us, but in fact excludes most of our experience. Indie-pop is a kind of parallel system, unacknowledged by POP, but bound in reaction. Like, say The Smiths, The Fall write about all the matter - squalor, maladjustment, antagonism - written out of pop's script. If Mark E. Smith represents anything it is bloodymindedness, a recalcitrance towards those who would improve us out of our bad habits and prejudices.
They've been a bad influence. Groups like The Membranes and Age Of Chance think that anyone with "attitude" can get up and do it. The upshot of this is a kind of bolshiness without manifesto, an aimless spite: musically, a narrow interpretation of The Fall - beauty is a lie. These groups consist of nothing but anti-pop gesture.
The Fall are un-pop, too anti-dance, anti-spectacle, unsensual but they have carved out a rival territory of alien beauty that they can exploit indefinitely. If the broad sweep of this music: has been established there's still endless scope for growth through internal complication.
"Bend Sinister", their thirty-third album, shows that the Fall have a long way to go before they're exhausted. You've probably heard their version of "Mr Pharmacist", with Mark's great slovenly delivery, like his mouth was half-full of mushy peas. There are other indications that The Fall have been steeping themselves in Sixties garage music of late. Tracks like "Gross Chapel" sound as though The Fall have taken the wiry truculence of garage punk and bloated it into a juggernaut sprawl. "Shoulder Pads" is driven along by an absurdly jaunty keyboard riff that makes me think of Question Mark And The Mysterians.
As it becomes less and less clear what Mark E. Smith is on about, so The Fall noise has come to seem more and more unearthly. When I listen I don't think of grime and rubble and delapidation, like I used to. I don't think of much at all. It's a noise to lose yourself in, something that clouds the mind, roughs you up a bit and leaves you a little deranged.
Another piece by me on The Fall
THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 11, 1993
The Fall is one of England's enduring cult bands. Formed In 1976 by the singer and lyricist Mark E. Smith, it evolved into one of the most critically acclaimed and influential groups of the post-punk era. In the mid-8O's, the Fall was the prototype for the abrasive British genre of "shambling bands." More recently, its coruscatlng sound and cryptic lyrics have been a major influence on the "indie" scene. In the United States Pavement, the most prominent band in the burgeoning American lo-fi underground, is indebted to the Fall, as are other up-and-coming groups like Truman's Water, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and God Is My Co Pilot.
The Fall has signed with the hip independent label Matador and the band's new album is its first for some while to be widely distributed in the United States. "The Infotainment Scan" (Matador/Atlantic 92263; all three formats), the Fall's 16th studio album, is one of the group's most accessible, so it may be that the band will reach a whole new audience, primed by Pavement, et al.
In its early days, the Fall was infamous for being listener-unfriendly. The second-album, "Dragnet" plumbed new depths of bargain-basement recording. On subsequent landmark albums like "Grotesque (After the Gramme)," "Slates" and "Hex Enduction Hour," the Fall wove a dense, forbidding but -- for those who persevered -- captivating trance rock over implacable rockabilly rhythms, the band layered a thick wall of droning, distorted guitars in the tradition of minimalists like the Velvet Underground and the German band Can.
The Fall also experimented with techniques that involved degrading the guitar textures and distorting the human voice; one of Mr. Smith's favorite tricks was to feed his voice through a megaphone. He dubbed the band's style "country-and-northern," making a link between the raw primitivism of the Fall's sound and the surly attitude that's often attributed to the natives of Manchester, his hometown in the north of England.
Lyrically, he offered a bilious, withering dissection of British society. But instead of sloganeering, his songs immersed the listener in the grimy textures of working class life. A self-educated avant-gardist from the wrong side of the tracks, Mr. Smith devised a distinctive fractured style that recalls the cut-up prose of William Burroughs.
As the 80's progressed, the Fall veered closer to pop with albums like "The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall" and "This Nation's Saving Grace," and even scored a number of chart hits. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith became a reliably controversial interviewee for the music press. His persona remains that of the classic British misanthrope, who scorns humbug and political cant whether it comes from the left or right. Mr. Smith's intransigence is best exemplified by his fervent belief in a man's right to kill himself smoking.
Musically, "The Infotainment Scan" may be one of the Fall's more approachable records, but Mr. Smith's lyrics are as caustic as ever, while his wizened sneer of a voice will always be jarring. Not for the first time, he alms his ire at what he regards as fatuous or regressive tendencies in pop culture. "Glam-Racket No. 3" takes a potshot at the current British youth trend of 70's revivalism. Over a fuzz-drenched riff and a stomping beat that's pure homage to glitter rock circa 1972, Mr. Smith decries nostalgia and makes a pointed jibe at the nouveau glam rock band Suede, which is hugely popular in Britain.
The Fall's version of the Sister Sledge disco classic "Lost In Music" may also conceal a pop-culture critique. The song was always an ironic commentary on dance culture's escapism, and Mr. Smith is probably using it to deride the British rave scene, which -- like disco -- is "caught in a trap" of druggy hedonism and mass amnesia. Paradoxically, the Fall's version retains much of the shimmering fleetness that made the original so enchanting.
The album's second side sees the Fall continue the flirtation with rave rhythms and the squelchy synthesizer textures of techno that it has indulged in on recent albums. Contemporary trance-dance has an obvious fit with Mr. Smith's early creed: "repetition in the music, and we're never gonna lose It." The song "Service" layers an eerie mesh of vocal harmonics over a limber, shuffling funk groove, "The League of Bald-Headed Men" seems to be a diatribe against gerontocracy, although it's hard to decipher whether its target is the decrepit fogies who rule Britain or the baby-boomer superstars who dominate international pop.
"A Past Gone Mad" is an anti-nostalgia rant layered over state-of-art techno squiggles and a hyped-up hiphop beat, as if to proclaim that the Fall isn't afraid to move with the times. The band never has been, but the secret of its continued relevance is that The Fall never bends with the times. Mr. Smith and his band absorb whatever in the cultural climate is worth bothering with (what's not, he invariably scorns in song or interview) and make it swing re a rollicking remorseless beat. Here's to the next 17 years of the Fall.
me on the Factory Benelux/Crepuscule DVD Umbrellas in the Sun (originally written for The Wire)
UMBRELLAS IN THE SUN: A CREPUSCULE/FACTORY BENELUX DVD 1979-1987
Founded in Brussels at the dawn of the Eighties, Les Disques Du Crepuscule was operated by a clutch of Belgian aesthetes suffering from an unhealthy infatuation with Factory Records. They swiftly formed an alliance with their Manchester idols and jointly released records by the likes of A Certain Ratio in the Low Countries (hence Factory Benelux). Now the equally Fac-obsessed reissue label LTM-- not content with echoing the Belgian imprint in its very name, an acronym for Les Temps Modernes--is paying tribute with this splendid DVD of promos and live footage of Crepuscule/Benelux acts. Vintage videos can be embarrassingly dated, but the bulk of the material on Umbrellas gives off a sense of “limited means, effectively used.” ACR’s “Back To The Start” is a case in point, juxtaposing murky hand-held film of the band shaking their stuff in a field after nightfall with scenes of children dancing on the edge of an indoor swimming pool. The sallow lighting, oddly angled shots, and strange bodily geometries perfectly suit the group’s dislocated disco, its parched percussion draped with the bled-like-veal vocal pallor of Martha Tilson. Josef K--like ACR, Northern punk-funkers with cropped hair and very clean ears--appear here performing “Sorry For Laughing” on a television pop show. The simple but clever twist is that the TV footage intermittently appears projected, bluescreen-style, onto a lump of Gak nestling on a girl’s bare stomach. Manipulating the goo, she distends the images of the band as they bob on her belly. On a purely sonic level, Umbrellas’ highlight is Cabaret Voltaire’s “Sluggin’ For Jesus,” the lead track off 1981’s Three Crepuscule Tracks EP (arguably the group’s peak). Laced with American televangelist prattle, the entrancing Karoli-funk groove is accompanied by light-flickered images of the guys fondling their synths and, in Richard Kirk’s case, scritching away at a violin. Close behind “Sluggin’” is the exquisitely plangent threnody for Ian Curtis that is The Durutti Column’s “Never Known” (although, for mystifying reasons, the track is here titled “Marie Louise Gardens”). With Vini Reilly generating such agonizing beauty of sound, all that’s required is the sparest of visuals, and that's what we get: the “missing boy” alone in a deserted public park at twilight, caressing the guitar strings with his finger-tips. In scarcity terms, though, the gems here comprise the fabulous monochrome footage of Malaria! onstage performing “White Sky, White Sea;” Tuxedomoon’s “Litebulb Overkill,” also live, but juxtaposed with Eurail travelogue footage (what looks like France seen from a moving train); and the 23 minute long film of a performance by Belgian funkateers Marine live juxtaposed with arty, kaleidoscopic visuals. Most known for the existensialist Chic of “Life In Reverse”, Marine’s entire aesthetic was based on the debut Benelux release, ACR’s emaciated cover of “Shack Up”. This DVD sags somewhat near its end as we enter the undistinguished and rudderless mid-80s phase of Factory output (the sub-Sade café bleu-isms of Kalima, anybody? I didn’t think so). But overall Umbrellas In the Sun is a wonderful document that conveys Crepuscule’s ultra-refined Euro-vision while also capturing captures a lost moment of art-into-pop infusion.
me on The Factory Box Set and some of Anthony H. Wilson's sillier opinions
The Factory Box Set
The Word, February 2009
by Simon Reynolds
Not long before his untimely death, Anthony H. Wilson opined: "In the North-west it rains and it rains and yet we managed to produce the industrial revolution, the trade union movement, the Communist Manifesto and even the goddam computer. Down south, where the sun never sets, you took all our money and what did you produce? Chas and fucking Dave." It's a snappy little put-down, its well-executed formal structure of build-up and punch-line triggering a chuckle even from a Home Counties boy like myself. A second's scrutiny, of course, and the edifice of argument collapses in a cloud of brick dust. (Put aside the specious Manchester versus London music/culture comparisons… the remark isn't even meteorologically accurate). Just one of countless classic quips from A.H.W, the comment cuts to the essence of the man and the record label made in his image. Full of shit (80 percent of the time, anyway) but always stylishly so. Electronic's "Getting Away With It (All My Life)" --a song whose can't-be-arsed enervation enacts its title perfectly--really was Factory's national anthem.
Let's get indisputable truth out of the way first: Joy Division, one of the greatest rock groups of all time, seals Factory's place in History. Furthermore, late Seventies Manchester, like other Northern cities of the era, roiled with so much postpunk talent that a fair amount plopped into Wilson's lap. I tend to see A Certain Ratio as more of a sketch towards a great idea than the fully realized thing, but their finest four moments--the drummerless "All Night Party", their emaciated version of funk obscurity "Shack Up", the dankly miasmic disco noir of "Flight" and "Knife Slits Water"--are all present on this four-disc box. Then there's Durutti Column, a vehicle for the spidery virtuosity of Viny Reilly, the most gifted guitarist Morrissey would ever work with and someone who could have had a long, productive career at ECM if he'd refrained from (occasionally) singing on his own records.
But even during the postpunk wonder years Factory also housed such enduring legends as John Dowie (present here with "It's Hard To Be An Egg"), X-O-Dus (a decent-enough local reggae band whose "English Black Boys" is really only of historical-sociological interest), and Crispy Ambulance (bizarrely over-rated--by Factory cultists, anyway--but a classic instance of that label syndrome of signing up acts who sound like your most successful act but aren't one tenth as good.) One wonders too about the missed opportunity of that long gap where The Fall didn't have anybody prepared to put out their music (until London hippies Rough Trade scooped up Manchester's equal-first group of the era and released their most sustained stretch of recorded genius). There's likeable moments and compelling curios all across the Early Years of Disc One: pleasing power pop from The Distractions, Crawling Chaos's hysterically lewd "Sex Machine," and Section 25's "Girls Don’t Count," which grinds and pummels like the rockier first side of Closer. But overall, you can see exactly why it was that, at Factory's London showcase of 1980 at the Moonlight Club, Joy Division headlined every bleedin' night.
Factory grew steadily out of step with the times in the early Eighties, when one half of postpunk crossed over into the mainstream as New Pop, while the other half turned into "indie". Failing to talent-spot The Smiths, the label instead issued a long grey streak of what could charitably be described as "late postpunk": Tunnel Vision, The Wake, Stockholm Monsters, Biting Tongues, Royal Family and the Poor. The few bright spots on Disc 2 and 3 stem from the label's unlikely infatuation with New York club culture: New Order, obviously, but also Quando Quango's gawky but boisterously percussive "Love Tempo" and the thrilling synth-shimmers of "Cool As Ice" by local black electrofunk outfit 52nd Street. Cabaret Voltaire, who cropped up first on this box with The Factory Sample's creepy "Baader Meinhof," reappear with a "Yashar" retooled by Manhattan mixologist John Robie. (Then again, they're another Northern band whose classic releases came out on a--spit--Southern label, Rough Trade once more.)
By mid-decade the Factory aesthetic is all over the shop: Wilson's A&R ear fastening one minute on jazzy-souly-Latiny duffers like Swamp Children and Kalima (bands just made for a half-page featurette in The Face circa 1984), the next on shandy-weak C86 also-rans Miaow and Railway Children. To be fair, Wilson did shrewdly see seeds of some sort of greatness in two local oddities. James, in their early days far more intriguing than their later stadium-singalong incarnation, plied a semi-improvised folk-pop of delicate but diamond-hard purity, heard here with "Hymn From a Village." And Happy Mondays: "Freaky Dancing" and "24 Hour Party People" can hardly be said to prophesy rave, but their cack-handed lumpen-funk, midway between Can and Bohannon, does entrance.
And then came Ecstasy and house music to fill up the hitherto deserted dancefloor of the Hacienda. While the Mondays built an audience for their hypno-grooves by peddling pills to the punters, Wilson peddled ideology: a distinctly slanted version of recent pop history in which Manchester invented rave culture (try telling that to the London deejays who holidayed in Ibiza in '86/'87, to the M25 orbital ravers and East End warehouse bods). Even dafter was the notion that "Ecstasy got the white man to dance" for the first time, a Factory party-line touted by everyone from New Order to Stone Roses in blithe disregard of discrepant precedents like jazz funk, Northern Soul, the mods, and trad jazz (whose beery middle class student fans had actually been the first to be slurred "ravers," by the Daily Mail, back in 1962). What the absurd claim really meant was that a certain coterie of grey, overcoat-clad Fac-heads had finally gotten on the good foot.
Yet strangely the label didn't sign up any of Manchester's house music talent, like A Guy Called Gerald or 808 State. As a result, apart from the Happy Mondays tunes that make up a full third of its contents, the post-Ecstasy Factory of Disc Four is a dead zone: a once-great label puttering into insolvent oblivion with New Order side projects Revenge and The Other Two plus the band proper's desperately unmemorable "Fine Time" and cheesy chart-topper "World In Motion', the sub-EMF nothingness of Northside, a Cath Carroll remix… "Sadchester" is more like it. No doubt every ounce of the label's energy was being swallowed by the black hole of the increasingly troubled Hacienda.
I've deliberately exaggerated my opinion here, just like A.H.W would do. But I do genuinely think it's a peculiar thing, this mystique surrounding Factory. You can't imagine anyone making a movie about Rough Trade or 4AD, labels whose respective bosses were never as colourful or charismatic or relentlessly quotable as Wilson for sure, but whose actual output outclasses the Facc lads over the long haul. Still, the sleeves always did look really, really nice.
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated