INTERVIEW! in depth interview with drummer Paul Hanley on his days in the Fall
Paul Hanley, along with his brother Steve, is part of one of the great rhythm sections. For years they were the backbone of The Fall and are currently part of Brix Smith and The Extricated who play with the Membranes, Evil Blizzard, the Nightingales, Dub Sex, The Blinders at a big new festival at Manchester Ritz on Saturday April 29th – all details about the gig here
Paul Hanley and a Hip Priest Join the Fall in Iceland in 1982
Paul Hanley is the stentorian timekeeping half of the Hanley Rhythm Collision, his bass playing brother Steve being the other. Steve is the four stringed ‘yin’ to Paul’s perfectly timed ‘yang’, and together their innate and ‘simpatico’, syncopated stylings have been a constant and consistent influence on the British independent music scene since 1979.
Some have opined (and rightly so in my opinion) that the Fall albums, singles, gigs and radio sessions that the Hanley brothers have graced as a consistently tight & muscular unit, are demonstrably some of the finest moments in the Fall’s constantly morphing œuvre.
In 1991, ‘Hip Priest’, featuring Paul’s ominous, creeping beats and one of the Fall’s most eerie and sidewinding compositions, was earmarked by American auteur and uber Fall- fan Jonathan Demme to provide the appropriate musical colouration for the climactic ‘Clarice- versus- Buffalo- Bill’ scene in the hit film ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Imagine for a second the ‘power meeting’ between Demme and the Orion Pictures ‘higher ups’, Demme outlining his grand vision of how a relatively obscure British ‘indie’ band with its curmudgeonly and irascible non-singer, would be providing the musical backdrop for the denouement of a film he wanted them to commit millions of dollars to!
Paul recounts for us now, with an extraordinary eye for detail, how ‘Hip Priest’ evolved in Iceland, and how in 1983 the then new Fall recruit Brix Smith would, through his brother writing and releasing his *memoir in 2015, start a new musical chapter for the HRC in the same momentous year…Paul currently drums with Brix and the Extricated who are working on a new album and playing the big festival at Manchester Ritz on Saturday April 29th with the Membranes, The Nightingales, Dub Sex and many more – details here.
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There’s a Bob Dylan song you’re probably acquainted with called ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’. Bearing this in mind, which piece of work that you have produced’ it could be an album, a gig or a musical composition for example; are you most proud of and why?
The song ‘Hip Priest’ would have to be a defining moment and indeed a high watermark of my time as a member of the Fall.
How did the song evolve exactly?
It actually started as a sound-check jam, although Smith claims in his autobiography ‘Renegade’ that he wrote every single note of it, that’s about as true and accurate as him saying he wrote every word of the book itself!
It certainly started with the drums and the rest of the band felt their way through the changes to an arrangement which ended up being remarkably cohesive. That was because it was given proper time to bed in, we played it loads of times live. If you listen to the early John Peel session version, you can see how much it had progressed by the time we came to record it for Hex Enduction Hour.
So once the arrangement had been finalised, what was the process you adopted in the studio to actually commit it to tape?
The actual recording of ‘Hip Priest’ was during a quite stressful period for me with the band, which accounts for much of my pride in the finished article. It was recorded in Iceland during a short tour. The Fall had just finished a colossal US tour, with Karl Burns, who was one of my absolute idols in terms of drumming, along with the Buzzcocks’ John Maher. Mark and ** Kay thought they’d have issues with some of the venues, me being only 17.
Looking back I reckon he thought I wasn’t up to it – he may have been right! In any case I was back on board, and I had to adjust to playing with a band who were absolutely razor-sharp – they’d played 35 dates while I’d been sat at home somewhat frustrated sat at home in South Manchester.
Did the band accept the (understandable) fact that you might be a little ‘rusty’ after you had made the journey over to join them?
The first night in Iceland me, Marc, Steve and Craig had to transport and build the stage for our first gig! Then, fatally we went for a drink in the hotel bar and in those days Iceland only sold spirits- wine and beer were banned. I can’t drink spirits even now all these years later, let alone when I was 17, so I was dying at the matinee the next day!
I’m pretty sure Mark was already itching for an excuse to ditch me and get Karl back in full time, so after the gig he ripped me to shreds about being so monumentally hungover ‘These lads are used to Karl Burns’ kind of thing. Then he announced that we were going into the studio the next day so I’d better get my shit together.
At this point, had you done much ‘studio’ work to speak of, or was it all a little daunting and new?
I’d done a fair bit of recording in Cargo which is in Rochdale: the ‘Elastic Man’ & ‘Totally Wired’ singles, and most of Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980). ‘Pay Yer Rates’ and ‘Container Drivers’ were recorded at Grant Showbiz’s ‘Street Level’ studios, which was a tiny 8 track in Ladbroke Grove. It was so small that once they’d placed the guitar amps where they wanted them, there wasn’t room to move the ‘baffles’ round the kit, so I had to sit there for the whole session! We also recorded ‘Slates’ somewhere in London with Grant and Adrian Sherwood- but I cannot for the life remember the name of the studio!
Thanks for the ‘backstory’, which I’m sure will be factual manna for some Fall obsessives! Can we go back to the recording studio in Iceland?
So that’s where I was at recording-wise when we went in the studio to record the following day! It was a really strange recording studio called ‘Hljóðriti’, which was literally dug into volcanic rock! All of the ‘back line’ was unfamiliar to us, I had to use a hired drum kit, so I had to get used to that quickly. We recorded ‘Look, Know’, which the band had written with Karl Burns in the US, and then ‘Hip Priest’ – which to my ears, and if you’ll pardon my hubris ,still sounds amazing.
The dynamics and emphasis go up and down in conjunction with the lyric. It’s odd because the Fall were a big ‘riff’ band, and a lot of our songs at that time tended to be either structured, where the song sections provided the contrasts, or built round recurrent riffs that rise and err fall, but Hip Priest is neither really, the music is really quite subtle. I’ll say it again: I still think it sounds great!
I reacquainted myself with ‘Hip Priest’ via ‘Beats by Dre’ headphones which are designed specifically for electronic music, house and hip hop as opposed to ‘rock’, which sounds just terrible on them; but ‘Priest’ sounds amazing and the drums in particular sound incredible! By accident or design?
I think a lot of its ‘presence’ is due to the room it was recorded in, which was as I said before ‘hewn from the living rock’ to quote Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap! It was recorded pretty much live, though I think Mark re-did the vocals and then Kay’s marimba was dubbed onto it.
It’s interesting that you should mention the drums as sounding especially good because the bass/kick drum had to be redone because Mark believed I’d played it badly the first time round – which was bollocks! However, this did mean it could be treated differently from the rest of the kit. So ultimately it was produced by Grant Showbiz and then mixed by him, Mark and Kay .
This retouching/extra overdubbing must have added to the cost of recording the song. Did Mark’s legendary parsimony appear during this Icelandic jaunt; particularly so because everything is so prohibitively expensive in Iceland?
Yes! Mark famously announced ‘Right! We’ve wasted enough money! We’re going to do a new song now!’ We’d only been in there about half a day at this point! Because of the way it evolved, ‘Iceland’ had Marc Riley on Banjo, Craig on grand piano and a tape of the winds howling outside Smith’s hotel window. It took me ages to put appropriate drumming on -it just sounded so unusual that I didn’t want to spoil it with anything too normal! The lyrics were unusually sensitive for Mark as well, they’re quite touching at some points which was a first. He wasn’t ‘humble’ very often!
This kind of ‘experimental’ approach is artistically laudable but must have been difficult to replicate live?
I don’t think we ever attempted it live which is a brilliant thing, the one time the five of us played it together, captured forever…
How does it feel now reappraising and re-evaluating your ‘finest hour’, particularly considering all the time that’s elapsed?
All things considered that session is definitely my proudest achievement and ‘finest hour’ – I actually got my name on the credits of a major Hollywood film, for a start- which is pretty amazing when you think about it!
Absolutely! You then left Iceland and returned to the UK – surely there was now an issue drummer-wise that needed resolving before you could finish the suite of songs that would eventually become ‘Hex Enduction Hour’?
Mark was now in a double-bind because he had assumed that I would not be able to ‘cut it’ in Iceland and so I would then be jettisoned once we were back in the UK. In his mind Karl would then take his ‘rightful’ place next to the King as it were. However, the gigs had been great, and the results from the recording were self-evidently great. Plus, if I’m honest I don’t think the rest of the band would have stood for it.
So now with Karl back the Fall now had two drummers and we completed the rest of album at a converted Cinema in Hitchen -which was great as we could set up on the stage as we would play live.
So – the ‘two drummer thing’ came together quite organically – essentially we worked it out between us. Mark did his usual jiggery-pokery where he could, like having Karl play ‘Lie-Dream’ which was written with me, and then me playing ‘Look-Know’ which was Karl’s drum part! Looking back at it now, some of the ‘two drummer stuff’ we did was amongst the Fall’s best work, which is incredible when you think about it!
The Fall are a band that seems to have always had the smoke of rumour and speculation permanently swirling around it. Can you give a brief description of the albums you did post-Iceland, leading up to why you eventually left as it’s not really been documented properly; in terms of Fall history as it were?
We did the ‘Room to Live’ EP at Cargo, which was a fucking nightmare. You’d turn up and find Smith had only invited half the band, or brought in other musicians without telling anyone! In the end Marc Riley had had enough and went, which I still feel guilty about, and then we recorded the Perverted By Language LP at Pluto in Manchester. Only having one guitar and no keyboards really gave Craig room to soar, which he duly did. ‘Garden’, in particular, was wonderful. Brix had arrived at this point, and came on board at the end, armed with her song ‘Hotel Blodel’. We could have been a bit arsey about her joining and proffering her song , but no-one was overly concerned which I think she probably appreciated; and it turned out great!
We then did The Wonderful and Frightening World Of and Call for Escape Route back-to-back with John Leckie at Focus, again in London. A brilliant experience. John was really encouraging, particularly of my keyboard playing – I wasn’t exactly Liberace but he convinced me to get on the grand piano!
For some strange reason I started getting a bit antsy about the whole thing at this point– I told Mark I was thinking of leaving and he said I was insane, but he convinced me to stay. Then we did the tour and right at the end all the gear got nicked and Mark went absolutely bonkers, blaming me (amongst others) for getting ideas above my station and waving this big stick around!. So I left completely independent of Steve, who’d also had exactly the same conversation and he too arrived at the same conclusion. We both left in Brighton completely unaware that the other had done the same!
Thing is I still had this naive vision of a band of four or five (or six, in our case at that time) equals, and so I thought : I should start a band with my mates; which was naive, to the point of stupidity. A band is whatever works, and at that time the Fall was working fantastically but I chose to leave…
In the intervening decades the Hanley Rhythm Collision have provided rhythmic rumble for several ‘almost’ bands. One was Ark who were about as musically enticing as their knotty nomenclature, and a brief liaison with another early doors ex-Fall-er Martin Brahmah, as Factory Star, but there has been one on/off musical dalliance has certainly been more than worthwhile. In 2002 the HRC joined forces with, and brought their cavernous musical colour to, ex-Inspiral Carpet Tom Hingley -in the guise of Tom Hingley and The Lovers. The resulting gigs and *** albums of co-written/produced material have been consistently excellent and well worth investing your time and ‘hard earned’ in.
More recently, either through happy happenstance or fate, the HRC reunited with Brix Smith, now Smith-Start.
What were the circumstances that led to you & Steve joining up with Brix again?
That was down to Steve’s book launch. It’s a mark of his character that so many ex-members came. Brix told him she would have happily got up with the house band we’d put together; but realistically and unfortunately it was too late to arrange. I don’t think that that scenario had occurred to Steve. Then Jay from the ***Ruby Lounge offered us a gig, and that was it really, we’d become a band again; but this time under the banner of Brix and the Extricated …. and onwards we go!
Brix and the Extricated are gigging regularly and putting the final flourishes and to an album of new original material as I write and you read.
The HRC clearly have no intention of slowing down anytime soon, which will please no end of people who like a little grit, ribald rhythms and a soupçon of low end melody in their music.
© 2016 Rahman the Writer
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* ‘The Big Midweek: (Life Inside the Fall)’ by Steve Hanley & Olivia Piekarski
** Kay Carroll – the Fall’s redoubtable ex-manager & MES’s ‘partner’ in 1982
*** ‘Abba Are the Enemy’ (2004) & ‘Highlights’ (2008)
**** The Ruby Lounge-a Manchester nightclub/ music venue
www.thefall.xyz (official website)
www.thefall.org (excellent ‘unofficial’ site)
Brix and the Extricated
The unexpurgated and immersive story of how uber drummer Paul Hanley joined the Fall in Iceland in 1982
to record ‘Hip Priest’, one of the band’s finest moments and a song which Jonathan Demme would use in 1991
to soundtrack the climactic denouement of ‘the Silence of the Lambs’ !
Brix & The Extricated & guest!
L to R back : Steve Hanley (bass) , Paul Hanley (drums) and Steve Trafford (gtr)
L to R front: Brix Smith-Start (gtr & voc), Jason Brown (lead gtr) and Marc ‘Lard’ Riley (BBC 6 Music DJ)