THE-FALL-Witch-Trials-CDAlbum Review

The Fall: Live At The Witch Trials 

(Cherry Red/Fall Sound Archive)

3CD Boxset / Limited edition red vinyl

Out 24 May 2019

The original album, a disc of singles & session tracks and a live show from  Liverpool in 1978 on the third disc – remastered by long-term Fall engineer Andy Pearce. The only Fall album you really ever need?  Ged Babey tries to convince us. 

I spoke to Martin Bramah back in March –the interview is here – and the original Fall guitarist and founder member confirmed everything I thought I knew about the Fall (1977-79).

A gang of like minded delinquents,… Books, records and LSD were very important…. Manchester in the 1970’s was like a cultural vacuum… we were able to drink in all the latest music, all the latest books and magazines, the movies, politics…. and puke it all up in what turned out to be a very Mancunian fashion.  We didn’t take any of it seriously but it was deadly serious. Speed and weed were for fun or an aid to meditation…. We were equals, with a lot rivalry and name calling thrown in – and then Punk Rock hit the UK and we were on it like we owned it.

The two singles, Peel sessions and the Witch Trials album itself collected together here are the most important and influential music to come out of the North of England during the timeframe, aside from Spiral Scratch.

(Yeah, more so than Joy Division – there are more artists worldwide inspired by the Fall. – Have you counted them? Yes. If you don’t like the fact that I tap-dance on the fine line between fact and opinion, then go and read Q magazine. )

No-one sounded quite like the Fall in 1977/79.  No other  band defined themselves in the same way – Oppositional, defiant and deadpan: We are the Fall / Northern white crap that talks back… Arrogant and self-aware:  We’re still one step ahead of you.   Comedic and surreal:  Found talking to the cigarette machine, 

The were everything they said they were from the start –  We were early and we were late. –In the space of less than two years from formation to Witch Trials release they had achieved more than most of their contemporaries ever did and laid the foundations for everything that followed under the name The Fall.

Mark E Smith was great with words, ideas and his unique delivery. Bramah was a brilliant, inventive guitar-player, Karl Burns an absolutely fantastic drummer and young novice Marc Riley holding his own on bass (under the tutelage of Bramah it seems)  following on from Tony Friel.  Yvonne Pawletts (& Una Baines before her) simple but effective keyboards were vital to the sound. Never did a band sound so uniquely identifiable from the start as the Fall.

The production was clean and airy with each instrument clearly distinct and defined -almost a gloss finish when compared to the grubby murkiness of Dragnet a year later (and a whole different line-up).  It is as if Live At the Witch Trials sounded too polished for Smith, too perfect.

Most Fall fans will have all of this material already in some form or other. Original vinyl.  Previously re-issued CD. Compilations and bootleg -in the case of the live set.  But fuck it, this is the lot in one box at a reasonable price …

Every one has a personal relationship with the Fall… they remember the first time they heard them – the friends who were obsessed with them  The anticipation of Peel having a new session from the Fall and trying to stay awake  til midnight  to tape all 4 tracks off the programme…

Disc Two (the singles, the Electric Circus/Short Circuit live tracks, the Dresden Dolls  semi-legal EP of demos and Peel sessions) are arguably more important / more influential than the actual debut LP – featuring Repetition, Various Times and It’s The New Thing : three era-defining songs, each absolute perfection, which, even after 40 (fucking) years sound as inspirational. baffling and exciting as ever.

The Fall were always odd: different to everyone else.  To us Southerners they came to personify a distinctly Northern attitude.  All we knew about the North were the football teams, Coronation Street and Buzzcocks.

Bingo Masters Breakout seemed like a weird, discordant fuck you to Ena Sharples & co. Psycho Mafia was Lowry goes punk rock and mentioned pubs and drugs!  Repetition was an untutored punk musicians dream. You didn’t need ‘fancy music’, just repetition to be a too-late-for-punk band.  Mark E Smiths non-singing vocal also was (unspoken) permission-given to not try to be anything other than yourself.

Disc Three’s live set is an old-fashioned thru-the-mixing desk bootleg recording which captures the bass (too loud) the guitar (too tinny)and the vocals (clearly audible) but barely ANY drums or keyboards.  It is (fkin) awful but still of enormous interest for the version of Mess Of My (Abba, DLT and a drink with some terrorists never made the Peel session version)  and the between song banter.   Smith baits the audience constantly by promising the next song is “Another slow one  ha-ha-ha-ha!” . It is a taste of how they sounded – but not something you are gonna want to play on a regular basis.  (Whereas the other two discs are something you will play until your dying day as a measure of what a new young band should sound like in terms of lyrical cynicism and musical dynamism.

The only thing which dates the album are little period details like currency and opening hours: Oh you’re such a good lad. Here a is a pound note…   the pubs were closed it was three o’clock…

Witch Trials creates a whole world of drugs and drudgery, grudges, lost childhoods and ‘searching for the now’.  Mark E Smith was a genius somehow but the more he was told, the bigger his ego grew.  But he wouldn’t’ve got anywhere without the musicians and co-writers on these songs.  The Fall were a fully inter-dependent co-operative of a band for the time up until Bramah left.  After that the auto-hobgoblinisation of Mark E Smith began and granny had a look in the loft for those old bongos.

Of course there were some quite brilliant albums by other worthy & talented versions of the Fall but Live At The Witch Trials was never bettered to my mind. Every element and aspect locked together tightly and in perfect sync. Yet at the same time it was free of all restrictions.  It mocked and snarled and snaked and snarked. It was and still is the first post-punk foray into a kind of musical magic realism.

Sitting atop the huge Fall discography in a pyramid formation, Witch Trials, anthropomorphized, made flesh, would look down on all the others and say..

I’m better than them, and I think I’m the best …

and would be dead right.



The Fall website


All words by Ged Babey


See Also Blue Orchids to release ‘concept covers album’ which includes Mark E Smith unseen lyric

and   “I am The Fall” Martin Bramah interviewed about ‘Live At The Witch Trials’

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Ged Babey is 56. from Southampton, has written since 1985 for Sound Info, Due South, various fanzines and websites, contributed to Record Collector magazine and was sole author of 'Punk Throwback' fanzine -the name of which was taken from an insult hurled at him by the singer with a young band he managed for a while. Ged believes that all good music and art has a connection with punk rock.


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