22 October 2011
Last month we saw The Fall play one of their best gigs for years, Colin B Morton saw the opposite in Wales.
At the foot of the steps outside Cardiff University a dumpy bespectacled fellow in an ill-considered quiff was bragging about throwing stuff at Ted Chippington. Thus ended the worst Fall gig I have ever seen. I have seen many great Fall gigs and some lesser ones, but have always wanted to see a terrible one, like the Brownies debacle of the late 90s that informed mine and Camden Joy’s (Observer book of the year- nominated) novella Pan. One where an erratic Mark E. Smith splattered the concert-going experience into the faces of an unprepared and baffled audience. Honey, this wasn’t one of those.
The concert was the purported pinnacle of the Cardiff SWN festival, a city-wide indie binge. You pay plenty quid and see plenty bands. I hadn’t bothered overmuch with the rest of it, but there was the stellar-looking finale of Ted Chippington, The Nightingales, and the Fall. When I saw it advertised back in June I thought “wow that is for me”Â and bought a limited one-gig-only ticket.
Earlier in the day I had been treated to another SWN event. Richard Parfitt, former 60ft Doll and now a university lecturer, on the subject of myth and story in the making of rock’s rich tapestry, Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil and how stars become their stories, and these stories recur down the ages. Pondering Parfitt’s wise words in the light of subsequent events, I realise that Mark E Smith is associated with the tradition of the heroic literary drunk. Dylan Thomas, Oliver Reed, Bukowski….but have you ever known, in real life, an heroic drunk? Thought not.
This was also a night of would-be hard men in shirts. Ted Chippington used to have but one basic joke, a man meets another man walking down the road and there is a misunderstanding. It was never that the joke was funny, more about him endeavouring to cope with the fact that it wasn’t. In the 80s age of alternative vs. mainstream comedy, he was years ahead of his time. Ten years later he would have cleaned up. Twentyplus years later”Â¦what? Now he has no jokes whatsoever, his sole concession to performance consisting of being onstage and talking abstractly. “Are you Stewart Lee’s dad?”Â shouted a man. We “good mates of Ted”Â had got there early, and as the hall gradually filled (the nature of the event being that persons with SWN wristbands can attend anything on a whim) the fun resided in looking at the faces of these baffled incomers.
After 20 or so minutes, Ted was edged off by Robert Lloyd. Whereas Ted was a whimsical hard man in a shirt, Lloyd was more a bitterman in a shirt. The Nightingales were very good and occasionally great. Sometimes I thought “the Fall are going to have to go some to beat this”Â and other times I thought ”Âwhy is he acting a bit hard, what is that supposed to accomplish?”Â
Then they were gone and with little further ado The Fall were on. Persons nearer the front later claimed Smith to be much sozzled. Yet they made an impressive din, initially banishing fears of the Nightingales upstaging. Though the new songs all sound much of a muchness, “Strychnine”Â was quite something, and he seemed focused enough from where I stood. But a mere 25-30 minutes in, Smith went off and didn’t come back. It is an article of faith amongst Fall fans that “if it is me and your granny on bongos it is The Fall”Â so for the remaining half hour or so, while his wife sang the bits of songs she knew the words to, it was not, by that definition, The Fall. It is a bit of a shitty trick – when the main guy goes off, the butt-end of the band chunters on, a lacklustre, contract-fulfilling performance. It is not the first time I have seen it done (though not by The Fall). It is a contemptible way to treat paying customers, and it should no way be tolerated, as it surely wouldn’t in other branches of showbiz. Whatever fate befell Mr Smith, whether the heroic drunk act became less heroic and more drunk, whether something less of his doing befell him, when it was clear that he wasn’t coming back on we should have been told so, not simply left to work it out for ourselves and dwindle off into the disappointed night.
And at the very end, as the chants of “MARK! MARK! MARK!”Â became ugly, as Ted Chippington came back on and valiantly tried to give us a little more value for money, bottles were hurled. Ferociously, with genuine intent to hurt and “security”Â did not intervene. People are always complaining about over-zealous bouncers, yet these were under-zealous bouncers, just people in yellow t-shirts hanging about.
I am ashamed now, that I ever wanted to see a Heroic Drunk Act. I should never have wanted to see such a thing. An audience should not be treated this way. They should not have to stand by while one of the acts is subjected to missiles and abuse, nor have to stand about outside masochistically proclaiming “what do you expect? It’s the Fall!”Â I suspect that few of the casual curious wristband-wearing SWN-goers will make much effort to see that legendary group again.
Colin B Morton