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The Fall are an English post-punk band, formed in 1976 in Prestwich, Greater Manchester. With an ever-changing line up, the Fall essentially consists of founder and only constant member, Mark E. Smith, who has quipped, "If it's me and your granny on bongos, then it's The Fall".
First associated with the late 1970s punk movement, the band's music has evolved through numerous stylistic changes, often concurrently with changes in the group's line-up. Nonetheless, the Fall's music is typically characterised by repetition and an abrasive guitar-driven sound, and is always underpinned by Smith's typically cryptic lyrics, described by Steve Huey as "abstract poetry filled with complicated wordplay, bone-dry wit, cutting social observations, and general misanthropy."
The Fall have been called "the most prolific band of the British post-punk movement." They have released thirty-one studio albums as of 2015, and more than three times that number when live albums and compilations (often released against Smith's wishes) are taken into account. While the Fall have never achieved widespread success beyond minor hit singles in the late 1980s, they have maintained a strong cult following. They were long associated with BBC disc jockey John Peel, who championed them from early on in their career. Peel described the Fall as his favourite band, famously explaining, "they are always different; they are always the same."
The Fall were formed in Prestwich, Greater Manchester in 1976 by Mark E. Smith, Martin Bramah, Una Baines and Tony Friel. The four friends would meet to read their writings to each other and take drugs. Their musical influences included Can, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and garage rock bands like The Monks and The Stooges. The members were devoted readers, with Smith citing H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Malcolm Lowry among his favourite writers. After seeing The Sex Pistols play Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, they decided to start a group. Smith wanted to name the group "The Outsiders", but Friel came up with the name "The Fall" after a 1956 novel by Albert Camus. Smith became the singer, Bramah the guitarist, Friel played bass guitar and Baines bashed biscuit tins instead of drums; unable to afford buying a drum kit, she then switched to keyboards.The Fall's music was intentionally raw and repetitive. The song "Repetition", declaring that "we've repetition in the music, and we're never going to lose it", served as a manifesto for the Fall's musical philosophy.
The group played its first concert on 23 May 1977 at the North West Arts basement. The band's first drummer was remembered only as "Dave" or "Steve" for thirty-four years, until music writer Dave Simpson discovered that he had almost certainly been a man named Steve Ormrod. Ormrod lasted just one show, at least in part due to political differences with the other members of the group. He was replaced by Karl Burns, whom Friel played with in a band Nuclear Angel. The Fall soon caught attention of Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon, who funded their first recording session. and in November 1977 they recorded material for their debut EP, Bingo-Master's Break-Out! Boon planned to release the EP on his New Hormones label, but after discovering that he could not afford to release the EP, he gave the tapes back to the group. Thus, The Fall's debut on vinyl came in June 1978 when "Stepping Out" and "Last Orders" were released by Virgin Records on Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus, a compilation of live recordings made at the Manchester venue The Electric Circus in October 1977 just before it was closed.
The Fall's line-up underwent first drastic changes in 1977-78. Kay Carroll, Una Baines's friend and colleague at the psychiatric hospital, became the group's manager and occasional backing vocalist, as well as Smith's girlfriend. Friel, unhappy with Carroll's management, left in December 1977 (he went on to form The Passage). He was briefly replaced by Jonnie Brown and later Eric McGann (aka Eric the Ferrett). The Fall were filmed on 13 February 1978 for the Granada TV show What's On, hosted by Tony Wilson, performing "Psycho Mafia", "Industrial Estate" and "Dresden Dolls", featuring the brief line up of Smith, Bramah, Burns, Baines and McGann. Baines left in March 1978 after a drug overdose and subsequent nervous breakdown, replaced by Ywonne Pawlett, while McGann quit in May, in disgust at the Fall's van driver Steve Davies wearing a Hawaiian shirt as the group were driving to record their first ever session for influential radio DJ John Peel. (The Fall would record a total of 24 sessions for Peel, who became a devoted fan of the group.) Martin Bramah blamed the dissolution of the original line-up on Smith's style of leadership, together with Carroll's favouring of her partner: "The break-up wasn't so much about the music, though; it was more how we were being treated as people on a daily basis. " 16-year-old Marc Riley, the group's roadie, was eventually recruited to the group to play bass guitar.
Bingo-Master's Break-Out! finally was released in August 1978 on Step Forward Records. The single "It's the New Thing" followed in November 1978, and in December The Fall recorded (in a single day) their debut album Live at the Witch Trials, which was released in March 1979. Burns quit the group shortly after the album was recorded, and was replaced by Mike Leigh from Rockin' Ricky, a cabaret band. In April 1979, Burns was followed by Martin Bramah, co-writer of most of the songs on Live at the Witch Trials and, according to Fall historian Daryl Eslea, "possibly the last true equal to Smith in the group"; he went on to form Blue Orchids with Una Baines. Marc Riley switched from bass guitar to guitar, and Craig Scanlon (guitar) and Steve Hanley (bass guitar), former bandmates of Riley and members of Fall support act Staff 9, joined the group. Hanley's melodic basslines became a vital part of The Fall's music for almost two decades. Smith praised his playing in Melody Maker: "The most original aspect of The Fall is Steve ... I've never heard a bass player like him ... I don't have to tell him what to play, he just knows. He is the Fall sound." Yvonne Pawlett left in July 1979 to look after her dog. She later appeared in a band called Shy Tots.
On 30 July 1979, "Rowche Rumble", the Fall's third single, was released featuring the line up of Smith, Scanlon, Riley, Hanley, Pawlett and Leigh. Pawlett left the group short after. Dragnet, the Fall's second album, was recorded in August 1979 at Cargo Studios, Rochdale, and was released on 26 October 1979. Dragnet signalled a sparser, more jagged feel in Fall's music compared to Live at the Witch Trials. The studio allegedly complained about the sound quality and protested against putting its name on the album sleeve, fearing it would put other artists off using the facilities.
The Fall released their fourth single "Fiery Jack", their last for Step Forward, on 13 January 1980. In March, Mike Leigh left the group and went back to the cabaret circuit. According to Leigh, the band would have to wait for weeks without work while Smith came up with new lyrics, as opposed to regular weekly gigs in cabaret. Leigh's replacement became Paul Hanley, Steve Hanley's younger brother. He first played live with The Fall on Friday 21 March at Electric Ballroom, London - he was only 16 and was actually still at school. Meanwhile, The Fall quit Step Forward and signed with Rough Trade; the first release on a new label became Totale's Turns in May 1980. This, with the exception of two tracks, was a live album documenting the band during various appearances in 1979, with Smith announcing last orders at the bar and berating band members and audience throughout.
In November 1980, The Fall released their third full-length Grotesque (After the Gramme). Preceded by a couple of acclaimed singles "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'" and "Totally Wired", the album went to #1 on the UK Indie Chart. It was co-produced by Rough Trade's Geoff Travis and Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola and showed a significant improvement in production, which was to continue throughout the period. Smith, however, was unhappy with Rough Trade's politics, which showed when Slates came out in April 1981. Intentionally made too long for a single and too short to be considered an album, it was released as a 10" EP for a price of just 2 pounds. The Fall eventually quit Rough Trade by the end of the year, and instead signed with a small indie label Kamera.
As The Fall were going to tour America after the release of Slates, Paul Hanley was denied a visa as he was too young to play American "21 and over" clubs, so Smith invited Karl Burns back into the group, initially as a temporary replacement. Select recordings from this tour were released in 1982 as A Part of America Therein, 1981. After their return to the UK, Burns stayed in the group as a second drummer alongside Hanley. The first record to feature both Burns and Hanley became "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul" single, produced by Richard Mazda and released in Australia and New Zealand in November 1981.
On 8 March 1982 Hex Enduction Hour, also produced by Mazda, was released on Kamera Records, The Fall's seventh single was released 19 April 1982 on Kamera. On 27 September the Room to Live album was released on Kamera.
Marc Riley's final appearance with the Fall was on 22 December at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester. He had fallen out with Smith during the Australian tour and was fired before the European tour of spring '83. Riley remains one of the fans' most popular ex-members.
1983 was a year of changes in the Fall camp and marked their return to Rough Trade Records, after being promised better treatment this time around.
On 7 June, Rough Trade Records issued The Fall's ninth single, "The Man Whose Head Expanded", and on 19 September issued the band's tenth single and double pack "Kicker Conspiracy". Bizarrely, in November Kamera Records issued around two- to three-thousand copies of the planned 1982 single "Marquis Cha Cha", the release date having been put back due to Kamera's financial troubles in late 1982, making it The Fall's eleventh single issue.
1983 heralded another dramatic change with the arrival of Smith's American girlfriend and later wife, Brix Smith, on guitar. Born Laura Elise Salenger, she was nicknamed after the track "The Guns of Brixton" by The Clash, a favourite song of hers. Brix's tenure in the group marked a shift towards the relatively conventional, with the songs she co-wrote often having strong pop hooks and more orthodox verse-chorus-verse structures. Additionally, Brix's keen sense of fashion gradually influenced the group's members to give more attention to their clothing and styling--but her platinum blonde hair and glamorous style were always somewhat at odds to the otherwise working class appearance of The Fall. Brix's first live appearance with the Fall was on Wednesday, 21 September 1983 at the Hellfire Club, Wakefield.
Perverted by Language, released 5 December, was the group's final album for Rough Trade Records, but the first to feature Brix. Also released in December was the live album In a Hole, recorded during The Fall's tour of New Zealand in 1982, on Flying Nun Records.
This era found The Fall scoring a few modest hits with singles from a string of highly acclaimed albums: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984), This Nation's Saving Grace (1985), Bend Sinister (1986) and The Frenz Experiment (1988). I Am Kurious, Oranj is notable as the fruit of a ballet project between Smith and dancer Michael Clark. Simon Rogers and later Marcia Schofield played keyboards, and Simon Wolstencroft replaced Burns on drums after This Nation's Saving Grace. Wolstencroft's playing also shifted the group's sound; his drumming was described as "nimble" and "funky" when compared to Burns. In 2014 Wolstencroft published a memoir You Can Drum But You Can't Hide about his 11-year stint in The Fall.
With Brix's departure in 1989 - both from the band and her marriage to Smith - Bramah returned briefly for 1990's Extricate, the first of The Fall's three albums for Phonogram Records. Bramah and Schofield left in advance of 1991's Shift-Work. Dave Bush joined on keyboards for 1992's Code: Selfish, followed by the band's return to an independent record label for The Infotainment Scan (1993), Middle Class Revolt (1994) and Cerebral Caustic (1995). These albums featured varying degrees of electronica and IDM, courtesy of Bush's keyboards and computers. Caustic saw the unexpected return of Smith's ex-wife Brix, who stayed long enough to record The Light User Syndrome before departing again in 1996. When Dave Bush went to join Elastica, Scanlon was sacked after sixteen years (an unpopular decision which Smith would later regret), 1996 saw the arrival on keyboards, guitars and computers of Julia Nagle for The Light User Syndrome. That year also saw the start of a torrent of compilations of live, demo and alternate versions of songs on The Fall's new label Receiver Records.
In 1994 and 1996, The Fall played at the Phoenix Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon, England - the 1996 appearance being one of much surprise to many fans as they were not scheduled to play. They followed novelty keyboardist, Margarita Pracatan. The next album, Levitate (1997), toyed with drum and bass and polarised opinion (long-serving drummer Simon Wolstencroft left halfway through the recording sessions, and was replaced - again - by Karl Burns). Steven Wells in the NME (11 October 1997) wrote, "Imagine pop without perimeters. Imagine rock without rules. Imagine art without the wank. If you've never heard The Fall then Levitate will be either the best or the worst record you've ever heard." The group was temporarily reduced to Smith and Nagle when a disastrous US tour ended in April 1998 with a violent onstage row in New York resulted in Smith unplugging the amps during songs and lashing out at the other members, leading Burns to physically shove him off stage. This led to the departure of Hanley (bassist of nineteen years), Burns and guitarist Tommy Crooks. The following day, Smith was arrested and charged with assaulting Nagle in their hotel.
The Fall achieved another comeback with Smith and Nagle being joined by Neville Wilding on guitar, Karen Leatham on bass guitar (quickly replaced by Adam Halal) and Tom Head on drums. This line-up made albums The Marshall Suite (1999) and The Unutterable (2000). Further rifts followed in 2001, in which the new line-up of Smith, Ben Pritchard (guitar), Ed Blaney (guitar), Jim Watts (bass) and Spencer Birtwistle (drums) released Are You Are Missing Winner to mixed reviews. Spencer Birtwistle was then replaced by Dave Milner on drums in November 2001. September 2002 saw Elena Poulou - Smith's third and current wife - fill the vacant position of keyboards player, and that year Q magazine named the Fall one of "50 Bands to See Before You Die". The Real New Fall LP (reputedly renamed from Country on the Click after an earlier mix of the album appeared on Internet file sharing networks) followed in 2003, with a slightly different mix and some extra tracks for the US version. In 2004 the band released its first career-spanning compilation to positive reviews in June, and a new album, Interim, in November.
In January 2005, The Fall, described as "one of the most enigmatic, idiosyncratic and chaotic garage bands of the last 30 years", were the subject of a BBC Four TV documentary, The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith. Later that year, a 97-song box set containing all of the sessions the group recorded for John Peel's BBC Radio 1 programme was issued to widespread acclaim. Their twenty-fifth studio album, entitled Fall Heads Roll, was issued on 3 October 2005, preceded by the single "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" (a cover of a song by The Move) on 6 September 2005 (US) and 19 September 2005 (UK). This was heralded as one of the best Fall albums in years, with the new line up being particularly acclaimed. Perhaps inevitably, Ben Pritchard (guitar), Steve Trafford (bass), Spencer Birtwistle (drums), all of whom played on Fall Heads Roll, left the group somewhat acrimoniously during the group's Summer 2006 tour of the US after just four dates. In a US radio interview, Smith described their departures as "the best thing that ever happened" to The Fall, although it was some months before he confirmed that they would not be returning to the group.
From 9 May 2006, Smith and Poulou were joined by Tim Presley (guitar), Rob Barbato (bass guitar) and Orpheo McCord (drums) who joined them for the remainder of the US tour, a flagship show at Manchester's New Century Hall in June 2006 and an appearance at the Øyafestivalen in Oslo, Norway in August 2006. Presley and Barbato are members of the band Darker My Love while McCord was one half of the experimental duo The Hill. With Barbato and Presley fulfilling Darker My Love commitments back in the US in late August, the first "squad rotation system" of Fall musicians emerged with new members Pete Greenway (guitar) of West Midlands group Pubic Fringe (more recently known as Das Fringe) and Dave Spurr (bass guitar) making their Fall debuts alongside Smith, Poulou and McCord at the Reading and Leeds festivals in August 2006. The musicians appeared in various configurations, usually with two bass players, although on occasion gigs were played with a double-drummer line-up. On 1 June 2007 Presley, Barbato and McCord played their most recent gig with the Fall. Although no official statement by the band was made, they are now assumed to have ceased being part of the band. The line-up of all gigs since has consisted of Smith, Poulou, Spurr, Greenway and Melling. Melling and Spurr played together in the group MotherJohn. In April 2009, The Fall signed with UK-based independent record label Domino Records. A new studio album, titled Your Future Our Clutter, was released on 26 April 2010. This was followed in November 2011 by the album Ersatz GB. In March 2012, the band were chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival he curated in Minehead, England.
On 11 October 2012, The Fall played with The Undertones at EPIC-TV in Norwich (Magdalen Street), launching the John Peel Festival of New Music as part of the Norwich Sound and Vision Festival 2012, a fundraiser for the John Peel Centre of Creative Arts in Stowmarket.
The Fall, now their longest-serving line-up in the group's history, released their thirtieth studio album, Re-Mit, on 13 May 2013. This was followed later in the year by a six-track EP of new material, The Remainderer. 2014 saw the release of a live album Live: Uurop VIII-XII Places in Sun & Winter, Son.
The group's 31st studio album Sub-Lingual Tablet was released on 25 May 2015 by Cherry Red.
On the group's influence, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote that "The Fall, like many cult bands, inspired a new generation of underground bands, ranging from waves of sound-alike indie rockers in the UK to acts in America and New Zealand, which is only one indication of the size and dedication of their small, devoted fan base."
The Fall have influenced groups and artists such as Pavement,Arctic Monkeys, Happy Mondays,Guided by Voices, Sonic Youth, Franz Ferdinand,Steve Albini,These New Puritans,LCD Soundsystem,The Long Blondes,Meat Puppets,Faith No More,Will Oldham, and Hole.,The Kills,Sonic Youth covered three Fall songs (and "Victoria" by The Kinks, also covered by the Fall) in a 1988 Peel Session, which was released in 1990 as an EP, 4 Tunna Brix, on Sonic Youth's own Goofin' label. The 1990s indie acts Pavement (who recorded a version of "The Classical") and Elastica (Smith contributed vocals to their final EP and album) showed an influence of The Fall, while Suede parodied the band with "Implement Yeah!", a song found on the cassette edition of their 1999 single "Electricity". Suede's frontman Brett Anderson subsequently described Mark E. Smith as a "huge, huge influence".
The Fall is referenced in the Jens Lekman song "Maple Leaves" with the lyrics "And when she talked about her fall, I thought she talked about Mark E. Smith". The Electric Soft Parade album No Need to Be Downhearted is named after a lyric from the Fall song "15 Ways". The German rock band Tocotronic has a song called "Ich hab geträumt ich wäre Pizza essen mit Mark E. Smith" (German for "I dreamt I ate pizza with Mark E. Smith"). Scottish band Belle and Sebastian also reference The Fall in their song "Nice Day for a Sulk". The Dutch indie band Seedling refers to The Fall in their song "The Upshot", singing, "You make it sound so sexy, as if you're Mark E. Smith from The Fall". US indie singer-songwriter Barbara Manning's song "Mark E. Smith & Brix" describes running into "the man of my dreams" (and his then-wife) while out walking. Homestead/Merge indie rock band Volcano Suns recorded a song called "Sea Cruise". The song is about The Fall attempting to sell records in America. It was written after touring with the Fall. The lyrics "why did the chicken cross the road when there ain't no other side?" refers to the This Nation's Saving Grace tour of 1985. The Jazz Butcher's first single in 1983 was the oxymoronic "Southern Mark Smith". Jeffrey Lewis wrote the song and comic The Legend of The Fall, which is a documentary of The Fall and features in The Fallen (Canongate), Dave Simpson's book tracking down all the ex-members of the group.
UK indie rock band The Wedding Present are clearly influenced by The Fall: in the song "Take Me!" (from 1989's Bizarro) Gedge explicitly name-drops the band as he recalls a perfect date: "And can you really have stayed till three/Orange slices and that Fall LP?"
In May 2008 the Communication, Cultural and Media Centre at the University of Salford hosted Messing Up the Paintwork: A Conference on the Aesthetics and Politics of Mark E. Smith and The Fall. Papers from the conference were published in 2010.