Friends Of Mine Festival
May 22nd 2011
Me and the Fall have a lot of history.
Then again neatly everyone has a lot of history with The Fall.
I first saw them in Blackpool in the late seventies and since then must have seen them over a hundred times. I’ve supported them in my bands, Membranes and Goldblade, got on and fallen out with Mark Smith, once shared a house with Smith’s sister’s wild card boyfriend, been neighbours with the great Steve Trafford, known most of the ex members and still bump into Brix Smith now and then. I’ve interviewed Smith a few times, and I still own all their albums.
I’m baffled by their endless media love, not because they don’t deserve it but because plenty of other from the same timezone deserve the same attention.
And after all these years years I’m, still in love with their grouchy bass driven assault, their awkwardness and their obtuseness. Every now and then we meet again- nhem making their distinctive grouchy growl on stage and me standing their mesmerised by it.
Still the ultimate cult band, live on stage at Friends Of Mine festivals, all those Guardian spreads make little difference and it’s a tight knot core of fanatics at the front who welcome the band whose very misfit nature makes them even more loveable.
Loveable is not a word often banded about when people talk about the singer. Manchester is full of tales of run ins, fall outs and dark tales of madness- none of which deflect from his obstinate talent and his sheer bloody mindedness in running the band, the band that has become the platform for his brilliantly twisted assault on the world.
On the grapevine all I hear is snippets of Smith taking a swipe at me and, as people jovially pint out, he really does seem to be giving me a daggers stare from the stage during the set- all this is irrelevant, I’m not a fan of the band just so I can nod to him in the street. His opinion of me matters little and oddly for a band that get so much endless media love I’m usually the only person from that strange and cosy world who ever bothers to see him live at his home town shows.
I’ve always been a sucker for his band and respect his talent and his twisted, misanthropic worldview and his amazing imagination. Would I like to sit in a pub with him? Not really. Would I like to tour with him? Definitely not. I will love his band from a distance and get enthralled by his words and his surreal imagination and the band’s brilliantly catchy songs.
I have little interest in the soap opera of the Fall. The music is enough to wallow in.
The Fall can be hit or miss. You never know which Fall is going to turn up and there does seem to be some sort of tension going on on the stage which only adds to this, one of the best Fall performances for a long time.
The band, whoever the fuck they are these days, are tight and keep out of the way- like any able garage band in the world could do they have quickly nailed that Fall sound down- the deceptively simple, churning, warped, neo rockabilly, shuffle and the long, deranged Sister Ray hypotonic grooves.
They sound spellbinding. They have the correct intensity and right amount of keeping their music out of the way, with no showing off, that really suits this operation. Smith himself looks distinguished- he’s really growing into his older self. Looking dapper, looking angry- he seems focussed.
The set is a mix of old and new. No hits. Just obscurities and random songs. ”ËCan Can Summer’ is back into the set from 2008’s ”ËImperial Wax Solvent’ album as the set opener. There’s a new song that sounds very good, a cover of the Standells ”ËStrychnine’ and the instrumental ”ËChange’ which is stopped halfway through. They don’t play the hits, they don’t really have any. There are old songs like ”ËMuzorewi’s Daughter’ from and ”ËPsychic Dancehall’ and then ”ËHot Cake’, ”ËI’ve Seen Them’ and ”ËChino’ after which they wander off stage not arsed about what anyone thinks and then when they feel like it they saunter back on for the great ”ËI’ve Been Duped’ then an extended ”ËPsykick Dancehall’, it’s an extended version that slowly speeds up with added keyboard squelches from the moody looking Mrs Smith. The song lurches backwards and forwards and that early magic mushroom- plucked – from – the – Lancashire – dales Fall sound has never dated.
You realise Fall sound is so much part of the local DNA- the weird drugs, the weird scenes that existed after punk and what was called post punk, the Fall were there but not part of it. They were caustic commentators who offered no solutions, outsiders embraced by the press- a poison pen letter to anyone who cared to listen.
When they end the set with an hypnotic ”ËWolf Kidult Man’ before wandering off their statement has been made- part studied northern cool, part fuck you and part arrogance.
It really did sound good. Rare for a festival, the PA is crystal clear and the blustering winds cannot ruin it.
Many people wonder if the Fall are a festival band- the traditional mode of attack at a festival is to connect with the audience, wheel out the hits. The Fall make no effort to reach to anyone. The band look at the floor probably too sacred to reach to their boss. The man himself, either has his back to the audience, or is in his own nicotine stained pub world of weirdness, mumbling his genius lyrics into his mic, making anti music that is more musical than a whole conveyer belt of the polite dustbin indie that makes up these festivals.
The audience reaction is varied. There is a clutter of Fall fans at the front in rapture at the band’s unlikely appearance behind them music fanatics who know the band’s name and are attempting to nod along and behind them locals confused by the whole affair. The perfect reaction then.
And they are still at it now proving that being nice to people in rock n roll is a distraction. At Friends Of Mind they were at their hypnotic, satanic best. They made some great noises, made tunes that stuck in your head and still did that repetition thing that is so effective.
They didn’t bother with banter, chorus or cheery bonhomie they were a law unto themselves and were still fiendishly brilliant.