Smith discusses The Fall past and present, America and art in this feature from September 2017
I’m still on the case with it. But they’ve been doing their new material lately. It annoyed me about a year ago, but not anymore. I’m glad you asked, ’cos people keep saying, ‘Give it up,’ but there was a genuine conspiracy there which nobody would believe. I knew it.
What kind of conspiracy?
They were delusional. It can only be proved by the fucking… it’s what I was saying, there are people who retire for 20 years and think they can just come back into it. The best bit was when Paul Hanley was on The Chase.
With Bradley Walsh?
[smiles] Bradley Walsh… He said, “What do you do, Paul?” He goes, “I used to drum for The Fall, but I’ve been an IT operator for 25 years. I’m doing an English Lit degree with another ex-member of The Fall.” And Bradley Walsh goes, “They’re still going, aren’t they?” [pauses] He went out the first fucking round. Who does an English degree with another ex-member of The Fall?! For a fella who was in the group for two years, it is very weird. Now they’re doing all whats-her-face’s material. I don’t gloat, ’cos it was serious at one point.
Does it make you think about playing more from older Fall albums?
Haha! [A man comes over, shakes Smith’s hand and offers him a drink. MES firmly but politely turns it down, then turns to Uncut wide-eyed] He’s another one. He’s the roadie for the Extricated.
That’s a bit weird.
He used to have really long hair. He was a roadie for The Fall about fucking 1999. I knew we should have moved on [to another pub]. Word’s got out, that’s how sad they are. Go on.
I guess it’s a compliment that the Extricated are playing old Fall…
[sharply] No, it’s not a fucking compliment. I would have gladly fucking exterminated them. My side of the story is so fucking truthful. The thing about me is I can remember everything. Everything in them books… when Brix was going on about the flat in Prestwich [in her 2016 book The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise], how it had no shower – people in Manchester do read that and think it’s hilarious, they don’t side with her. Who in Manchester, in any fucking flat of a 23-year-old person in the ’80s, had a shower? I mean, that fucking Steve Hanley’s book [2014’s The Big Midweek], it’s like the fucking memoirs of a psychopath. I can’t read it, it’s so funny. His new girlfriend who’s the co-writer, she’s met him at a Foxes gig, in the dressing room…
Foxes? [The pair met at a Fleet Foxes show]
The Fall is like a Nazi organisation, I’ve got my working-class people, they tell me everything. So I know it all. I knew by reading his book that her favourite book is Jane Austen, Mansfield Park… He’s fucking describing how we did a tour in France, and we’re at the fucking Port Of Calais – [Hanley says] we’ve booked the ferry, and we ran out of petrol a mile from the port. He said that I got out and got a fucking bus to the Port Of Calais – that’s impossible! And then they pushed the van, all five of ’em, from nowhere to the Port Of Calais. It’s straight out of Jane Austen! And I was waiting for them “red-faced” on the dock. “There we met Smith, shouting…” I mean, who would write that? So they said, “Can we have something to eat?” “‘You might as well, seeing as the next ferry isn’t for hours,’ Smith said, red-faced. So we went to the canteen.”
Despite the dissenting voices of former Fall members, Mark E Smith’s versions of events certainly seem plausible when he’s explained them in person. After all, the most prominent ex-members of the band can sometimes seem strangely preoccupied with a man they often portray as beastly. But perhaps Uncut’s willingness to believe Smith is just down to his still-powerful charisma; as The Fall’s cult leader, he remains seemingly all-seeing, all-knowing and all-remembering. So come on, Mark, are you really that horrible?
“We’re talking about six strapping 20-year-old lads with muscles there,” he laughs, suggesting they wouldn’t need to ask his permission to eat. “Where do these things come from?! And [Hanley writes] about how I made his child bring speed to Ireland. Nobody’s got that far in the book, nobody! We played Ireland, and his 11-year-old wanted to go to Dublin, so I said he could only come – [laughs] it’s like Mansfield Park! – he could only come if he loaded his pockets with speed and got on the plane on his own from Manchester. I mean, Penguin wouldn’t pass that nonsense!”
One more apocryphal tale to file alongside the others, perhaps: of verbal and physical violence, of Smith sacking a soundman for eating a salad (“the final straw,” he once explained), pouring a pint of beer over the head of a tourbus driver mid-journey, and generally controlling his band as firmly as some tyrannical despot. Whether it’s true or not, does all this stuff not add to the myth?
“Not particularly, no,” says Smith. “I know what you’re saying. You can’t rewrite history, my group have been with me longer and are fucking 18 times better than any of that crap were. They weren’t very good. It’s all right saying ‘Gross Chapel’ [was good], but it was hard work pulling them through that. What they also don’t know is the amount of hours I spent cleaning up their music with John Leckie and people like that. They actually think they played like that on the records. The amount of times John Leckie would get another musician in… I would never hurt them like that at the time, to say.”
As he’s been discussing The Fall’s many ex-members, Smith has been gradually shuffling along the long bench in the pub’s back room. He ends up practically at the next table. “In their own heads,” he says, “Mark’s just the drunken singer who didn’t know what he was doing – he just walked in, in some drunken shit, and they had to keep it up…
“They do seriously believe it! It is,” he concludes, with something uncharacteristically akin to understatement, “interesting.”