The Fall
The Nightingales
Ted Chippington
SWN Festival,
Cardiff,
22 October 2011
Live Review

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” 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”¦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?” shouted a man. We “good mates of Ted” 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” and other times I thought ”why is he acting a bit hard, what is that supposed to accomplish?”

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” 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” 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!” 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” 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!” 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

14 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a real shame to hear about people bottling Ted Chippington, when this account suggests he was out there trying to rescue a gig gone bad. No he’s not to everyone’s taste, and the “Stewart Lee’s dad” comment did admittedly raise a smile, but the guy was one of the oustanding pioneers of alternative comedy and was a huge influence on the wonderful work we see from the likes of Lee, Simon Munnery and Daniel Kitson today.

    It’s sad to hear that people are still saying to him “get out of my garden”.

  2. to me all fall gigs are amazing. smith can do a 20min set and walk off whenever he wants for me. its an occasion weather its a fantasic gig or a what the fuck just happened one. when he goes you will spend the rest of your life telling everyone how you saw the fall and mark was pissed, they will be in awe of you because you saw a fucking legend

  3. Nothing more needs be said about the morons throwing bottles at Ted – maybe it’s the audience who didn’t deserve a full set?
    Half an hour of MES is better than a 10 hour set by anyone. I thought they were great. Nightingales not bad, I suppose. Ted was brilliant, as usual.

  4. Got to agree that Smith could come on and fart for 5 minutes and some people would think it was the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. Lets live in the real world for once and see even the Fall can often be shite live these days. I’ll still listen to the records, but as for live no thanks any more.

  5. the Nightingales, and their drummer especially, saved the night & were well worth the effort. Fansatic stuff & no, the Fall were never going to come close. I hope he realised how up-staged he’d been, but I suspect he’d neither know nor care. Forget Fall gigs, go see the ‘gales.

  6. First saw the Fall in that venue back in 81 and seen them many times since…..more for the laughs in recent years. I personally felt Smiths disappearance was pretty hilarious but Chippington took the mic (literally!) at the end and started childishly abusing all things Welsh….the bottles being hurled at the stage seemed to be exactly the end result He was looking for…..I,m way too long in the tooth for His comments to kick in, but others were,nt…..

    • If Mark was ill, drunk, or decided to go and meditate it remains a crappy way to treat paying gig-goers and Fall fans are mugs if they put up with it because of a “legend.”

  7. I witnessed exactly the same spectacle in Edinburgh last night.

    Band come on, rip into the new material, it sounds fantastic. Incredible bass, drums & guitar. Brilliant lineup of The Fall just now. MES seems at his best, controlled chaos ensues (i.e.- usual fiddling with the amps, etc).

    Few songs in, MES ambles backstage- and stays there, continuing the vocals. The sight of a band playing with an invisible singer is pretty funny at first, especially as I can see MES sitting on a box flicking through various sheets of (possibly) lyrical screeds which he’s shouting out with gusto. But he stays backstage & the atmosphere slowly deflates.

    Then he comes back on, grabs his jacket & buggers off. The remaining band continues with his wife now on vocals, ending with “I’ve Been Duped”, after which they promptly exit the stage. This last song choice totally sours everyone against the rest of the band and pints start being hurled at them. They knew all along this was going to happen & are now just taking the piss.

    The wife then comes back on & mumbles a pathetic excuse about “Mark’s foot being sore”, then petulantly asks someone who calls this as bullshit if they’re a doctor, before leaving again. Many people up and leave when the lights come back on.

    Evening ends with the band coming back on whilst a pissed-up fan gets on the mic & slags Smith off in song form (actually pretty hilarious) before being removed by security. Then MES stumbles back on & belts out a rubbish version of “Mr. Pharmacist” before leaving for good.

    The fact that MES contributed a grand total of 15-20 mins in a gig that was only supposed to be an hour is beyond pathetic. It’s nothing but a barefaced swindling of the audience who’ve shelled out to see a band perform. If he was too ill to do the gig he should have rescheduled or cancelled. Going from town to town doing this at every venue is tantamount to fraud IMO.

    There’s nothing to intellectualise about any of this: MES is a great recording artist but a total burn-out of a live performer who couldn’t give a crap about swindling his audience. And who could blame him? Judging by some of the comments on The Fall message board from those fans lapping up this kind of behaviour, he’s right to think these people deserve nothing but contempt.

  8. If you have spare money to spend on watching pop groups you must be rich. If you voluntarily pay dosh to see any band you should accept whatever they do. If they walk onto the stage and do a fart you should be pleased. i would pay a hundred pounds to see Picasso do a fart but i can’t because i don’t got no money and he is dead. In 35 years i have never paid to see a group because i’m tight but if i had i still wouldn’t have gone. Pop music isn’t food. So many groups today are well rehearsed dullards. Playing a guitar is about as clever as eating your own poo. There’s only about two good musicians in england and i’m one of them. oh by the way hi carlt’ x Bren lol

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