The sixth in a series of blog posts on the Fall Peel Sessions.
Recorded 21st March 1983, broadcast 23rd March 1983
- “Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot”
- “Eat Y’self Fitter”
All tracks appeared on “Perverted By Language”, released on 12 December 1983.
Most Mark E Smith Lyric
“Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot” (Needs to be spoken in an MES Voice):
Businessman hits train
His veiled sex seeps through his management sloth
The journey takes one hour
At the time of recording:
- UK Number 1 Single: Bonnie Tyler “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
- UK Number 1 LP: Michael Jackson “Thriller”
- UK Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher
- Historical event around the time of recording: David Bowie announces the Serious Moonlight Tour in London Press Conference on 17 March 1983
- Mark E Smith – vocals (sixth session)
- Craig Scanlon- guitar (fourth session)
- Steve Hanley – bass (fourth session)
- Paul Hanley – drums (fourth session)
- Karl Burns – drums (third session)
We are well and truly into the imperial pop era of the eighties. Michael Jackson performed his moonwalk at the Motown 25 celebration, days after the Fall laid down this session. David Bowie had well and truly arrived on my horizon, with the press conference to launch the Serious Moonlight tour happening in the swanky environs of Claridges the previous week.
In the MTV era, there was serious money to be made, if you were willing to play the game. Bowie was up for it, the previous critical acclaim not bearing the financial fruit that it was due.
The Fall was showing signs of stability too. Everything is relative though. The line up was experienced as far as Peel sessions were concerned – MES, Scanlon and the two Hanley brothers with Karl Burns back for the first time since session two, We’re dealing with two drummers now, a la Glitter Band. The four tracks that were recorded would appear on Perverted by Language, nine months later – no rogue material, only to be released as a b-side to a non-album single. Session number six was broadcast two days after the session was recorded. Musicians that knew there way around the Maida Vale studios. There was a clear sense of urgency on both the band and the BBC’s behalf.
Except we were betwixt and between. Longtime cohort Marc Riley was gone, accused by MES of only wanting to play the hits (as Steve Hanley says in the Big Midweek; “What hits?“). The future Mrs Smith was still in Chicago, oblivious to the seismic change coming in her life and the band’s trajectory. Hanley felt the band were getting looser and weirder without the grounding influence of Riley. The session seems to bear witness to this. It was relatively short-lived with Brix’s imminent arrival and the pop smarts she would bring.
Behind the console was John Porter, six months before he fatefully bumped into the Smiths at a Kid Jensen session and ended up producing their debut album. He oversaw two epic tracks in Garden at ten minutes long and Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot at just over nine minutes. You can hear the same dryness of production that some believe tainted the Smiths’ album. Something was clicking with Peel’s audience too. In the 1983 Festive Fifty chart, opening session track Eat Y’self Fitter clocked in at #8, by some distance the best performance by a Fall track to date in the Peel audience annual roundup. It was joined by The Man Whose Head Expanded (#21), Kicker Conspiracy (#35) and Wings (#40). It wasn’t just quality – it was quantity too.
Yet there was still no intersection with the mainstream. A top 100 single was still way over the horizon. Hex Enduction Hour had spent three weeks in the charts, twelve months earlier, peaking at #71. The band had left Rough Trade, where the band felt undervalued and were now at Kamera. Any significant commercial breakthrough still seemed a distance away.
Smile was the shortest of the four tracks performed but that didn’t make it the most accessible. A thunderous backbeat with Smith’s vocals buried beneath the guitar, the repeated exhortation of Smile felt like something that a torturer would command of his victim. The terror was there from the start of the song, not building as the Perverted version did.
Garden is up next with the Burundi beats created by Burns and Paul Hanley to the fore. A circular groove with a repetitive guitar riff is created only broken by a chorus (of sorts) whereby Smith’s declaims “he’s there! I saw him! Down on the second floor! A jew on a motorbike“. Again, it’s a denser version of the eventual album track.
The combined near twenty minutes of Garden and Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot reveal why commerciality was an issue for the Fall. There’s sufficient evidence in the many books that have been written by the members to demonstrate that Smith cared about how many records the Fall sold, if only as a basis to generate some cash. Back to back, the two session tracks are challenging for the casual fan. Neither song shows a great deal of development, this feels like the Fall at their most willfully obtuse. They weren’t going to encourage the curious to dip their toe in.
Which makes the final track of the session all the more startling. The Ant Music drums are there again but this feels like the start of accessibility. Eat Y’self Fitter was a Peel favourite, literally a desert island disc, a song that allegedly caused him to faint on first hearing. Again a more forceful version that the Perverted track, the point where everything stops for the call and response of “Pick the fleas mister! Eat y’self fitter” was the hook. And it worked. A few years later, this was one of the tracks that we would play back and forth on the old sixth form tape machine.
With what we know now about what happened next i.e. the Brix years, this session feels like a subconscious fork in the road. Turn left into a potential cul-de-sac with repetitive ten-minute groove based material. Turn right for teatime TV performances and pop hits.
Fashion – turn to the right!