Mark E Smith – The Art of Music
Mark E Smith – The Art of Music
Music is art and can be as vibrant, thought provoking, colourful or simply not to your taste as much as art in all other forms. Mark E Smith could be described as all of the above and more…..
Mark E Smith, the irascible frontman of Manchester post-punk band The Fall died 24 January 2018 at the age of 60 following a year of poor health related to his throat, mouth and respiratory system.
The cantankerous and single-minded Mark E Smith, the only constant leader of the band for over 40 years was a rock hero and a legend.
Over the last 40 years great bands have come and gone as musical trends have changed. The Fall however, which has always basically been Mark E Smith and whoever he had not sacked, has belligerently remained as the immovable and unfashionable mob in the shadows of the music scene, belligerent to the end.
Mark E Smith was born in Salford in 1957 and formed The Fall with friends Martin Bramah and Tony Friel as a teenager. Smith grew up with a love of literature and named his band after a Albert Camus novel.
He began his working life as a shipping clerk at Salford docks but was inspired to take music seriously after watching what is now considered a legendary gig by The Sex Pistols in Manchester.
“When I first saw The Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 76, I thought, my lot are not as bad as that,” he wrote in his 2008 autobiography Renegade, ‘The Life and tales of Mark E Smith’ “We’re better.”
In his determination to succeed Smith paid for his band’s rehearsal space by using his diverse skills – playing pool and doing tarot readings, which resulted in their debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, being released in 1979.
It got good reviews, but Smith thought it had been misunderstood. “They thought it was too serious, overlooking the humour of it all,” he said. “That’s the story of my life, actually.”
The band’s output of 30 albums in total included 11 top 40 albums, including 1993’s The Infotainment Scan, which reached No 9. Smith has also collaborated with artists including Gorillaz, Inspiral Carpets and Elastica.
Smith was famously known as a prolific musician. Last year The Fall released their 32nd studio album ‘New Facts Emerge’ and had been fitfully touring in recent months when Smith’s health would allow. The band played London’s 100 Club in July, while Smith performed from a wheelchair in Wakefield in October.
His music has been described as frayed, repetitive guitars and his legendary caustic stream of semi-consciousness which produced a sing-slur making him unlike any other frontman. Despite this he inspired devotion among fans who were drawn to his singular presence and rambling poetry.
The poet Ian McMillan said Smith was the “spiky poet of every awkward moment any of us ever lived through, lit by the metallic glow of the ship canal.”
Between 1984 and 2004, 27 songs by The Fall reached the top 100 of the UK singles chart only 2 of which went higher than number 40 which were ironically both cover versions –‘There’s a Ghost in My House’ and ‘Victoria’.16
However some of their songs reached mainstream consciousness, such as 1988’s Hit ‘The North’, the lyrics and sound is about as catchy as The Fall got and made it a sort of anthem being played at the home of Smith’s beloved Manchester City FC.
The track ‘Theme from Sparta FC’ was used to introduce the football scores on BBC television – leading Smith to be invited to read the classified results in his distinctive drawl one Saturday afternoon.
And ‘Hip Priest’ which featured the repeated wailed lyric “he-ee-ee’s not appreciated” was used in the soundtrack of The Silence of the Lambs.
But perhaps more famous than any of their songs is the fact that Smith got through so many band members over the years, he hired and fired 66 band members, a third of which lasted less than 1 year.
He was the only constant member and Wikipedia has an intricate graph showing the tenures of all the musicians who came and went over four decades.
Explaining that it mattered little who else was in the group, he once said: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.”
Smith can be described as both an autocrat as well as an auteur. “It’s a bit like a football team,” he once said of his management style. “Every so often you have to get rid of the centre-forward.”
Famously or infamously Smith was known to be argumentative and disagreeable, even quarrelling and fighting on stage
At an infamous show in New York in 1998, there was another “onstage disagreement” – as Smith put it – with the band.
“They all started throwing punches,” he wrote in his book. “But I gave them a few left hooks back. They got worse than they gave me.” The singer ended the night in jail.
Even if he did end up on the losing side, that didn’t alter the fact that, in his eyes, whatever the quarrel, he was always right.
So he didn’t see anything wrong with his lifelong heavy drinking.
If anybody says to me I’ve got a problem with the drink, I tell them I do have a problem – like where to get it from after 11 o’clock,” he once said.
“I’ve stopped drinking anyway – stopped half an hour ago.”
News of his death was reported on the Fall’s Twitter page and on the website of the band’s record label Cherry Red Records.
In August, the band cancelled shows in New York and Louisville, Kentucky, after Smith was hospitalised for issues relating to his throat, mouth and respiratory system. At the time the Fall’s manager, Pamela Vander, issued a statement saying: “Unfortunately, it would be a gamble on his health to fly anywhere over the next couple of months.” It would have been the Fall’s first US dates in a decade. In late December further US dates were cancelled, with Vander citing “a full year of bad health” as the reason.
His former wife Brix Smith Start, who played guitar in the Fall from 1983 to 1989, made a statement on Twitter. “Mark defied convention and definition – he was a true artist. When I arrived in Manchester – a young American – he introduced me to pickled onions, pubs and punk. He was my music mentor, my cultural anchor, and my first love. I feel deeply saddened by his passing, but I feel greater joy for having shared his journey.”
Mark E Smith in his final interview ‘I can clear a pub when I want to’
A legend in the British music industry the unique and original Mark E Smith.