Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy holidays and many thanks to all who have supported this blog over the past year. Fresh posts both from me and new contributor Hannah will be forthcoming in the new year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

THE FALL- ICE MOUNTAIN (CDR, unreleased, UK, 2005)

For those expecting The Fall's tour in support of "Fall Heads Roll" to adhere strictly to the buffed, chrome-plated peaks and valleys of the LP, the loose-limbed and altogether less insular approach of the group in a live setting was nothing short of eye-opening. Far more earthbound in their constructs than the psychotropic inclinations of their successors, Pritchard, Trafford and Birtwistle's familiarity with the material (some of which had been in the woodshed for nearly two years) allowed Smith to unfurl his distilled post-avant-garde lyrics against a stiff backdrop of confident indierock and surprisingly effective genre pieces.

While the sound quality of the recordings on this disc doesn't reach the crystalline heights of recent audience captures, the variegated aural palette mostly works to the material's advantage. The true gems here are the FHR tracks that benefit the most from this re-jiggering: a mono-bricked and Black Ark-infused "Ride Away," a snow-covered and crepuscular "Early Days of Channel Fuhrer," possibly the group's most purely beautiful piece; a pastoral and propulsive "Midnight in Aspen," with a midnight cowboy bass motif from Trafford; and Pritchard's limber and lubricious lead guitar lines on "Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy," which comes close to the careening chaos of that song's studio incarnation.

And while there are surely any number of performances that one might classify as "the best version of 'Blindness" ever," surely the version included here (from Southampton) should be included in the canon. Taken at more of a sprint than a marathon, the intensity never dissipates. Incandescent and thrilling, turn it up and prepare to be blown away.


01 Pacifying Joint
02 I Can Hear the Grass Grow
03 Bo Demmick
04 Breaking the Rules
05 Early Days of Channel Fuhrer
06 What About Us?
07 Midnight in Aspen
08 Blindness
09 Assume
10 Ride Away
11 Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy
12 Clasp Hands

(Source gigs in comments)(unofficial audience recording)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Due to the recent collapse of the Massmirror file sharing site, the links for the first three titles posted here (San Rococco, Mud On The Ground and Lotus/Cactus) were no longer functional. These links have been removed and, for now, will not be replaced.

Fresh posts will resume shortly, with a compilation of live material circa "Fall Heads Roll." Also under consideration is the addition of a new contributor who will focus on noteworthy single-gig recordings.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


The Fall's March 2008 UK tour was something of a strange affair. Supporting an album that had yet to be released, the Greenway-Spurr-Melling lineup didn't really coalesce until the later gigs, finally acheiving a sui generis hybrid of metallic-pop and hard rock that was closer to the hi-octane approach of the Pritchard group than the heavy, acid-peak remit of their predecessors. Greenway's freeform tendencies on display during the early gigs were eventually reigned in and his skittery guitar constructs, along with Spurr's monstrously huge, percussive bass sound, provided the framework for disciplined readings of catalogue material from the two previous studio LPs. On the new "Imperial Wax Solvent" tunes, the recorded takes were the starting points for live versions that were both expansive and focused, with Elena Poulou's tart elektro-synth pop motifs the cherries in the custard. Aside from some head-scratching vocal interjections from a member of the road crew (such as the untitled spoken-word piece that typically opened each performance), on most nights Smith plumbed a loose but brilliant idiosyncratic lyrical trajectory. Among the many high points on this disc are a cavernous, atmospheric "Alton Towers;" a very loud and percolating "I've Been Duped;" "Totally Wired" reconfigured as glam stomp; and "Tommy Shooter" featuring lead vocals from both Poulou and Smith.

01 Latch Key Kid
02 Strangetown
03 Alton Towers
04 I've Been Duped
05 Totally Wired
06 Exploding Chimney
07 Pacifying Joint
08 Wolf Kidult Man
09 "The Empresario of The Fall"
10 50 Year-Old Man
11 Is This New?
12 Mountain Energie
13 Tommy Shooter
(Many thanks as always to The Consortium, and Pike1957 for the absolutely superb live recordings)
(Source gigs in comments)

Saturday, May 17, 2008


The re-addition of Martin Bramah to The Fall in mid-1989 meant the group's sound would subtly shift, with many of the aesthetics espoused by Bramah's own project The Blue Orchids reflected both in Fall vinyl product (now being issued by Phonogram) and in live performances from the period. Smith's "snap-together surrealism" was augmented by Bramah's thick, impasto slabs of lead guitar (a rarity for the group) and Marcia Schofield's synth-string orchestrations. At gigs, as an ensemble they were "post-punk neurodelica" given a veneer of bitter, contemporary pop. Also involved was Charlotte Bill, who added baroque oboe and flute ornamentation. Grittily brooding, unexpectedly labrynthine, and gleamingly commercial--thanks in no small measure to Smith's Velvety crooning--their full-length studio piece, "Extricate," was a rich though decidedly overground affair. These live tracks evince a decidedly heavier methodology, beginning with a blistering, pre-release "The Littlest Rebel." Elsewhere, the focus is on the considerable heap of quality non-LP material from this period, such as a brittle and queasy "Arms Control Poseur," featuring 70's cheeseburger guitar leads from Bramah, and a primordially oozing "Error Orror."

01 The Littlest Rebel
02 Butterflies 4 Brains
03 And Therein
04 Arms Control Poseur
05 Popcorn Double Feature
06 I'm Frank
07 Black Monk Theme Part 1
08 Zagreb
09 Bill Is Dead
10 British People In Hot Weather
11 Telephone Thing
12 Hilary
13 Error Orror
14 White Lightning
15 Sing! Harpy

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Fall- Cyber Insekt (demo), Midwatch (demo) (cassette tape, unreleased, 1999)

These two brief instrumental tracks were included on a work tape given to Mark E. Smith by Fall keyboardist Julia Nagle in late 1999. The first is a sketch for "Cyber Insekt," one of the centerpieces of "The Unutterable" LP released the following year. Furious, buzzsaw punk-guitar-and-drums with sporadic synthesizer bursts, it is the sound of the group stripped to its essence. The second would have a suitably enigmatic and sparse vocal added by Smith in its finished studio version, but here is an aphotic experimental piece, comprised of submerged sonar pulses and melancholic keyboard overlays, similar in approach to both dark wave and the later bloopbeat extravaganza "Das Boat."

(Julia Nagle has kindly permitted these demo recordings to be posted here. More of her gems can be found at

(Painting by Joy Garnett)

Monday, April 7, 2008


Blasting into the stratosphere at full throttle, on the night of Mark E. Smith's fiftieth birthday, the "American lineup" of The Fall began a series of twenty dates across the UK to promote the kaleidoscopic and brilliant Reformation Post-TLC album. Creating a massive, swirling sound that incorporated huge washes of reverbed guitar, and a thick gauze of continuous bass fuzz, all marbled with spiky, avant minimal synth squalls from Elena Poulou and Tim Presley's pure, glistening higher-key leads, the performances reached a heady peak early on and never relented. This was a band that, simply put, understood how to make bracingly modern and compelling sounds, with each of the participants bringing a deft touch to the proceedings. Barbato's work is never less than astounding, with a fusillade of bass effects driving the ferocious acid groove, and occasional second keyboard adding warmth and complexity. McCord's drumming is pure genius, superbly employing the cymbals to signal propulsive shifts. Smith, as well, is engaged and inspired throughout, offering a fresh set of lyric motifs (the "victory roundabout," "Green/grey mountains"), his bent poetic recitations beaming quasar-like from beneath the furiously charged canopy. Half of the gigs are represented on this disc, and the quality never drops below the transcendent, from a slow-rising and definitive "Senior Twilight Stock Replacer," with its deft sense of momentum and suspense, to "Systematic Abuse" reshaped as spacerock, and an exhuberant, brainwarping "My Door." Also included are the one-off Bilston performance of "Wolve Kidult Man," featuring a stone heavy bass riff and unheard Smith lyric referencing the "Seattle Six," and a skewed, churning "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" incorporating a vocal drop-in from Beefheart's "Plastic Factory."

01. Senior Twilight Stock Replacer
02. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
03. Fall Sound
04. White Lightning
05. My Door Is Never
06. The Wright Stuff
07. Over! Over!
08. Wolve Kidult Man
09. Insult Song > The Bad Stuff
10. Systematic Abuse
11. Reformation
12. Just Step S'Ways

Source gigs in comments. Thanks to the Consortium for the magnificent audience recordings, and to Mike Cotgreave for the photograph.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


When Ben Pritchard, Steve Trafford and Spencer Birtwistle acrimoniously departed The Fall in Arizona in May 2006, to be replaced the next day with young Americans Tim Presley, Rob Barbato and Orpheo McCord, the sound of the group was almost completely reconfigured. Gone was the mechanical, ramrod-straight alternarock (which in retrospect seems to have run its course), supplanted with a remarkably fluid yet precise psychedelic-flavored approach, full of syrupy atmospherics and potent electric kool-aid punch.

This disc captures both phases of this transition, beginning with an oddity: an audience recording of an intro tape--an instrumental version of "Coming Down," chock-full of slicing hi-end electro percussion and an aggressively repeating guitar riff. Presumably a demo but perhaps one of the unreleased tracks recorded at Chapel Studios in April 2006. The first half also includes a revelatory reading of the "The Boss," performed at Phoenix with a full set of lyrics. The second half focuses on the latter stages of the US tour, as Presley et al explode out of the gate with both new material ("Reformation", "Scenario") and expansive, thrillingly psychotropic takes on previous gems like "What About Us?"


01 Coming Down (intro tape)
02 Youwanner
03 Clasp Hands
04 Systematic Abuse
05 The Boss
06 White Line Fever
07 Coming Down > Scenario
08 Pacifying Joint
09 Reformation
10 Midnight In Oldham
11 Mountain Energie
12 What About Us?
13 Bo D

Tracks 01-06: Smith/Poulou/Pritchard/Trafford/Birtwistle
Tracks 08-13: Smith/Poulou/Presley/Barbato/McCord

(all unofficial audience recordings)

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Fresh from the final studio sessions for Reformation Post TLC, The Fall lineup of Presley-Barbato-McCord descended upon Britain for a blistering series of autumn dates. Tight, fierce and inspired, this was a group firing on all cylinders, rhythmically assured and unleashing a thick, dense sheen of opalescent shoegazer-inspired distortion and waves of reverb-imbedded heaviness. The pre-release material, in particular, glows with sheer, propulsive energy, the twin bass throb of Barbato and Spurr (recruited to provide a conventional bass sound to compliment Barbato's more expansive audio palette), garlanded by Presley's sparkling, lysergically frothy guitar. This is English post-punk dipped in a molten bath of West Coast psychedelia and motorik, frequently breaking off into exhilarating tangents of adrenaline-laced space rock that never lose their pummelling intensity or interest. In many ways it is the sound the group has always been trying to achieve, and Smith responds with a set of growling, knotty vocals, brilliantly punctuating the massive musical storm raging around him, which at times threatens to literally blow the roof off the building.

Highlights on this disc, capturing the best performances from July to November 2006, include "Scenario," one of two new pieces derived from The United States of America's "Coming Down," a finely textured and wistful affair (and subsequently dropped from the setlist in favor of the other song based on the same motif, "Over Over"), and the only performance of "60's Pop CIS," officially listed as "Coach & Horses" but featuring a wholly different lyric and melody than the LP track. Despite the level of sheer genius on display, this lineup would not truly reach its peak until the spring tour the following year, in support of the by-then-released album.


01. Fall Sound
02. Reformation
03. My Door
04. White Line Fever
05. Scenario
06. 60's Pop CIS
07. The Wright Stuff
08. Systematic Abuse
09. Reformation (alternate)
10. Systematic Abuse (alternate version
11. Scenario (intro version)
12. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
13. Fall Sound (alternate)
14. Reformation (long version)
(these are unofficial audience recordings)

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Comprised mostly of fresh material from the forthcoming "Imperial Wax Solvent" LP, these live performances culled from a sporadic series of gigs in the latter-half of 2007 unfortunately tend towards the one-dimensional. The blurry rumble of bassist Dave Spurr and sturdy drumming of Keiron Melling underpin the terse scratchings of often-inaudible guitarist Pete Greenway. The resultant stew is frequently rescued from blandness by Elena Poulou's NDW-influenced minimal synth sheen. Lacking the glistening acid glaze imparted by the previous line-up of Presley-Barbato-McCord, the new songs come off as monolithic yet ramshackle, densely flat and abstract despite their steadfast simplicity. Lyrically, they are all-too-obviously works-in-progress, with Smith proferring only the sketchiest of lyric phrases, absent melody lines or vocal hooks to impart some desperately-needed identity. The exceptions are the Presley/Barbato-composed "Senior Twilight Stock Replacer," a choice slab of propulsive acid thunder (superior in its earlier incarnation, to be included in a future compilation covering the March 2007 UK tour), and "Can Can Summer," gauzy and lightweight pseudo-pop that recalls (perhaps intentionally) the creamy groove of late-period Can.


01. Wolf Kidult
02. Can Can Summer
03. I've Been Duped
04. 50 Year-Old Man
05. Ponto
06. Systematic Abuse
07. Senior Twilight Stock Replacer
08. Tommy Shooter
09. Alton Towers
10. Strangetown
Bonus material:
11. I Am Me, Mark
12. Wings > Wolf Kidult Man

(Note: these are audience recordings supplied by the ever-resourceful Consortium)

Friday, February 29, 2008

This space is intended as a platform for music, writing and other ephemera related to Mark E. Smith and The Fall. The first offering should be up within the next few days. Contributions of uncirculated or unpublished material and comments are always welcome.