Smith discusses The Fall past and present, America and art in this feature from September 2017
Not at all, no. But I played Live At The Witch Trials recently, the American version, I haven’t played it before. They took all the good stuff off it, made it into a rock album. It sounded fucking awful. They got rid of most of the first side and put a long version of “Various Times” on. If you fucking hear that, you’ll never wanna hear it again. So I got the original out, and it didn’t sound too bad at all.
A song I’ve been into recently is “Gross Chapel/British Grenadiers” [from 1986’s Bend Sinister].
Fucking hell, you’re going weird with The Fall, aren’t you?
[Julian Cope’s Sunspots plays] I went past Tamworth on the way up here, and I thought about Julian. You two were close, weren’t you?
Around Live At The Witch Trials – it’s been that long. Sad, isn’t it? For him…
What was he like back then?
A fucking nobody [laughs]. He was our roadie, with Ian out of the Bunnymen. I haven’t seen Julian since… My sister bought me an Uncut yesterday to check you out. She says, “He’s interviewed Jah Wobble in there.”
Wobble mentioned The Fall, actually. He said “Kicker Conspiracy” reminded him of the Kickers that studio engineers used to wear in the ’70s. Is that right?
It can be read like that, yeah. But it’s also a big Dusseldorf/Cologne hooligans’ magazine, Kicker. I’ve always liked Jah Wobble. We were doing this Peel Session [in 2004] and he was next door. He walked in and said, “Why don’t I get a job with The Fall? I can do better than that cunt over there.” And he pointed at our fucking bass player. And you know what, he was right, ’cos six months later that fucking cunt left me in Arizona. But [Wobble] spotted it straight away – he was a cunt. Fucking Steve Trafford.
Wobble also told me he mugged John Leckie back in his more violent days.
He mugged John Leckie?! They are funny, aren’t they… It’s not the hardest thing in the world to mug John Leckie, though, is it?
Have you got any plans after America?
I’m doing this Wyndham Lewis thing with the Imperial War Museum. There’s an exhibition, this collection they’ve discovered. I’ve been asked to do a speech. Captain Beefheart was a big Lewis fan, can you believe that? Then there was David Bowie, who said he liked everything. But of course, [now] nobody likes Lewis, ’cos he was a fascist, apparently. So [starting] from a big collection of people doing this exhibition on Lewis and the rebel art of the Vorticists in London and Manchester, there’s no fucker left, they’ve all dropped out [laughs]. So I got the Manchester Imperial War Museum. It’s old Dockland, I used to work there when I was doing …Witch Trials. I’m gonna try and make a fucking hour and a half out of it, ’cos I do like Wyndham Lewis.
That’s my favourite era of art: people like Max Ernst or Paul Nash.
Me, too. This is all these Lewis World War I paintings, no-one’s ever fucking seen them. And some of ’em knock the shit out of that World War I crap that was pushed as art. I’m a bit fucking fascinated by the First World War. What I didn’t like was the anniversary a few years back. I thought it was handled very poorly. The parks near me, they had fucking choirs singing about the dead, and they don’t know anything about it! Then you have all these BBC programmes and it’s all about the Salford lads, and it’s all these actors, these big, healthy fucking fellas. And they’re all laughing and joking, and then they get in the trenches and they’re all shitting themselves – with music from PJ Harvey over it, by the fucking way! I found that grossly insulting. I don’t think it was like that at all: if you look at the old film, those fucking lads were glad to get out of the factories in Salford – in the trenches, they’re like [grinning], with no arms. They were brave men. Then you have these fucking programmes, ‘Who Are Ya?’ [Who Do You Think You Are?], and it’s some fucking actor whose fucking great-great-grandfather fought for the fucking IRA. You just have to hold your tongue. So when I saw this Wyndham Lewis thing, I thought it’d be good. Picasso was a devout Communist, he supported Stalin who murdered millions, and no-one says, “Don’t fucking show him.” Lewis was just winding people up, that’s fucking obvious to me.
So the group now…
It’s turning into an Uncut interview this, isn’t it? The past… working through to the present.
Well, it doesn’t have to be…
I know, I’m only kidding.
We can talk more about the Vorticists, if you like.
We share another passion – The World At War.
The TV programme?
I heard you’re into it.
I’d use it to get rid of people who came round to my house, especially stoners. I have a video set of it. It’s good. It is mad, if you compare it to that BBC shit. It’s all free trips. It’s a training school for idiots. And they have these documentaries, like Country At The BBC, and it’s fucking criminal, really. I’m fucking quite into my country, and [that programme] has like the worst country.
I guess it’s the only footage they have access to.
If they show The Fall, it’s always just Michael Clark with the bare bottoms [from a one-off performance of “Lay Of The Land”]. That …Jools Holland show, I watched it the other week, and it was appalling. It was like the shit you see in a wine bar, some old boy from South America, and these fellas pretending to be African, and they’re not! It’s obvious they’re not. The white ones are even worse. What are those ones, with the little fella who goes, [high-pitched] “Ooh-wee/I am creepy”? And this tall guy with glasses who goes, [deep] “creepy creepy”? He looks like the guy off Pointless. I wanna go and see them. We used to look at groups that were bad and fucking go and see ’em, just to heckle them. There are no groups crap enough to go and watch now. They’re all too proficient these days. Who wants to see that?