Recorded 24th March 1981, broadcast 31st March 1981:
- “Middle Mass”
- “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul”
- “Hip Priest”
- “C’n’C – Hassle Schmuck”
“Middle Mass” appeared on the “Slates E.P.” recorded a month prior to the session and released a month later. “Lie Dream” emerged as a single in November ’81. “Hip Priest” was recorded in the Summer of ’81 but wouldn’t see the light of day until “Hex Enduction Hour” was released 12 months after the session was broadcast. “C’n’C – Hassle Schmuck” had appeared on the preceding year’s “Grotesque” LP in a different form as “C’n’C Mithering”.
Most Mark E Smith Lyric:
From “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul” (Needs to be song/spoken in a MES voice):
And our kid got back from Munich
He didn’t like it much
Most Fall-like Song Title
“C’n’C – Hassle Schmuck” – well, you just give up, don’t you?
At the time of recording:
- UK Number 1 Single: “Jealous Guy” by Roxy Music
- UK Number 1 LP: “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” by Adam And The Ants
- UK Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher
- Historical event on the day of recording: The FDR aka West Germany aka “Nice Germany” carried out the largest raid of Neo-Nazis since the country was founded in 1981. Who makes the Nazis, indeed?
- Mark E Smith – vocals (4th session)
- Mark Riley – guitar (3rd session)
- Craig Scanlon- guitar (2nd session)
- Steve Hanley – bass (2nd session)
- Paul Hanley – drums (2nd session)
- Dave Tucker – clarinet (1st session)
From an ongoing series of blog posts
Death stalks us. Assassination especially so.
IRA Hunger Prisoner Striker and future MP Bobby Sands had started his hunger strike earlier in March. He would die in May. John Hinckley Jr was about to attempt to shoot American President Ronald Reagan, unsuccessful but killing Reagan’s press secretary James Brady in the crossfire.
In the UK, we seemed to be in the midst of a protracted period of mourning for the death of John Lennon. Having lived through the musical havoc of 2016, where Bowie, Prince and George Michael died, the aftermath of Lennon’s shooting seemed to be endless in retrospect. Maybe in 2016, people were dying so regularly that we didn’t get time to draw breath. Back in the first few months of 1981, we’d had an endless succession of Lennon songs on constant rotation. “(Just Like) Starting Over”, “Imagine”, “Woman” and Roxy’s cover of “Jealous Guy” had notched up 9 weeks at number one, interrupted by “There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma” and “Shaddup Your Face”. Adam and the Ants were ruling the remainder of the roost (bands with two drummers – I ask you!).
Lord only knows what this sequence of record buying milestones says about our nation’s psyche at that point in time – John Lennon to Adam and the Ants via Joe Dolce and St Winifred’s School Choir.
I recall Lennon’s death as being personally significant. I’m not entirely certain why. I wasn’t particularly a Lennon fan. My aunt and uncle had the “Shaved Fish” compilation which I’d play if I was around their house and I enjoyed.
I bought a copy of the transcript of Lennon’s final interview with middling Radio DJ Andy Peebles and devoured it. At that age (13), if you had asked me my favourite Beatle I would have said “Paul”, based on Wings (“the band the Beatles could have been” in the words of Alan Partridge). Lennon’s death resonated me for reason’s that I’m at a loss to contextualise. I bought “Double Fantasy” and after listening to the opening track, was confronted by the aural image of Yoko bringing herself to orgasm on “Kiss Kiss Kiss”. In the pre-internet days when records were bought without endless reviews or previews, it wasn’t wanted I expected when I handed over my £5 note in Goulds in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre.
Meanwhile, back in Manchester, life in the Fall was achieving a relative level of stability. Mark E Smith was commuting over to Wythenshawe from Prestwich to write songs with the remainder of the band. The journey was just over 15 miles and given that Smith famously didn’t drive, this demonstrates a hitherto unseen commitment to working with his bandmates. Smith’s previous threat of drafting in session musicians appeared to have receded.
After the resounding success of the 3rd session, the same five members returned to Maida Vale supplemented by Dave Tucker and his clarinet. There were, however, underlying issues. “Middle Mass” had already caused ructions, Marc Riley believing it to be a negative critique on his keyboard playing by Smith (“The boy is like a tape loop”), which none of the other members of the band picked up on.
The session clocks in at twenty minutes long, five minutes over the usual allotted time. Peel played the full session, unedited as Steve Hanley notes in his memoir.
What he doesn’t mention though was how quickly the sessions were broadcast. Both were played within a week or so of being recorded, as if Peel and Walters knew what they had and couldn’t wait to get it out there (more on that on a later blog). I say Walters, but at this point he was moving into the realms of a radio presenter on his own merits (“Walter’s Weekly”) and Chris Lycett took over as Peel’s producer between 1981 and 1983. It must have been thrilling for the band to head back up North and tell their mates to stand by their transistors in a week’s time. Remember this is pre-internet. Nobody was going to tweet that the Fall were in session on a given evening. The sooner the session was broadcast, the greater the momentum for a band, especially when the release cycle for new material was much longer – there was no leaking new tracks on Soundcloud in 1981.
We are starting to build up a Fall canon. “Hip Priest” was one for the future but its spindly, scratchy, spidery approach was absolutely a case of less is more. Listening to it now, the space that it moves within comes from a “Metal Box”-era Public Image Limited. There’s barely a song there at all with the guitars entering a minute into the song, just adding colours to the backbeat and bass line that the Hanley brothers are pushing along. It does though indicate that the band had places to go musically in the future, especially drawing on the Can/Faust/Neu German sound.
For all of the inter-band controversy around “Middle Mass”, it actually doesn’t do much for me as a song. It doesn’t quite have the sense of invention or adventure of the other songs in the session.
“Lie Dream Of The Casino Soul” is a different matter. An affectionate commentary on the life of a Northern Soul fan, this was years before the Fall covered perennial school disco dancefloor filler R.Dean Taylor’s “There’s A Ghost In My House”. Starting with a Northern Soul drum intro, it has a real sense of zip about it and even includes a clarinet solo from Dave Tucker. Tucker was a short term addition to the band, playing on “Slates” and joining them for a few gigs. Tucker was a beneficiary/victim of Smith’s penchant for live “remixing”, especially vulnerable with an instrument that you can’t simply plug in with a jack lead, as this interview from the Pseud Mag website illustrates:
The sound engineers never took anyone that seriously. They did not have a clue how to deal with sound. They just stuck an SM 58 in front of me. They always made sure Mark sounded loud and clear and drums mixes are something that engineers can usually do but anything else was pot luck. It did not help that Mark would fuck all your amp settings up on stage when you played and that Kay (Carroll) would sometimes tell the soundman what to turn up and down.
The final song, “C’n’C – Hassle Schmuck”, starts as a fairly stand issue Fall song before breaking into a pastiche of “Do The Hucklebuck”, a recent hit for Coast to Coast. This rock’n’roll cover was part of a vogue for fifties revival doing the rounds in the late 70s and early 80s from the likes of Showaddywaddy and Darts. I still quite fathom why this nostalgia trip became popular. It was possibly linked to a desire by the Conservatives to take us back a couple of decades but who knows? The rock’n’roll to Krautrock via the Fall circle was squared somewhat six years later when Showaddywaddy opened for German Industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten in London.
Talking about circle squaring, MES’s pronouncement that “Arthur Askey has just been shot” in the session’s last song brings us back to the assassination and death theme. It was a lie, albeit twelve months later a nation mourned as the old music hall star Askey passed away, working well up to his death from gangrene.
Dying with your showbiz boots on. Something that Mark E Smith should surely have recognised in the last couple of years as an admirable quality.
And thus concludes the first CD of this epic box set. I’ve fallen behind my one session a month target but please don’t hate me for it.
Onwards and upwards……..
Great stuff 🙂
I remember being slightly baffled by all the fuss over Lennon’s death. I knew how famous he was, but I don’t think I really grasped his cultural significance at the time. To me, The Beatles were one of those ‘old time’ groups that you heard on R2 and your mum & dad liked. But I was only 11…
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Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve just commented to someone else that other than Elvis, established older rock stars weren’t expected to die in their 40s. 2016 was an odd mix of the older generation dying (Bowie) and other stars passing prematurely (Prince, George Michael).
Lennon’s death still feels extraordinary in retrospect.
Some fine reading here. The summaries of the period add some great colouring. I was 16 in 1981 and distinctly remember Lennon’s assassination because it was the first death I’d really experienced. The first time somebody I looked up to had passed. I was shaken.
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Thanks for reading and commenting. I think looking back now it was unusual in so much. as Elvis aside, that established rock stars dying in the 1980s wasn’t a thing. They were in their 30s and 40s and once passed the “27 club” age, they were expected to effectively be immortal.