The eighth in a series of posts about the Fall’s Peel Sessions.
Recorded 14th May 1985, broadcast 3 June 1985
- “Cruiser’s Creek”
- “Couldn’t Get Ahead”
- “Spoilt Victorian Child”
- “Gut of the Quantifier”
“Gut of the Quantifier” and “Spoilt Victorian Child” appeared on “This Nation’s Saving Grace”, released on 23rd September 1985. “Cruiser’s Creek’ and “Couldn’t Get Ahead” were both A-sides of 1985 singles.
Most Mark E Smith Lyric
“Gut of the Quantifier” (Needs to be spoken in a MES Voice):
I’m telling you now
And I’m telling you this,
Life can be a downward chip
At the time of recording:
- UK Number 1 Single: Paul Hardcastle “19”
- UK Number 1 LP: Various Artists “Hits 2”
- UK Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher
- Historical event around the time of recording: May 11 Bradford City Football Stadium fire/May 29 Heysel Stadium disaster
- Mark E Smith – vocals (eighth session)
- Craig Scanlon- guitar (sixth session)
- Steve Hanley – bass (sixth session)
- Karl Burns – drums (fourth session)
- Brix Smith – guitar (second session)
- Simon Rogers – guitar and keyboards (first session)
These remained dark times. As a football fan, the Bradford stadium fire was an accident waiting to happen, swiftly followed by the Heysel stadium disaster in May 1985. The toxic cocktail of a lack of duty of care by the authorities and clubs, crumbling infrastructure and hooliganism would continue for years to come, through to Hillsborough and beyond. Political agendas masked the real issues. The Kicker Conspiracy remained.
18 months into the supposed commercial rise of the Fall and where had they got? Their last three singles had all charted but north of #90, hardly the stuff of Radio 1 daytime playlists. After appearing on The Tube at the end of 1983, the exposure of appearing on mainstream TV was though having some effect. My mates and I were aware of them, a coincidence of our relative coming of age with the availability of more accessible material. Simon, one of my best mates who lived a few doors down from me, had a cassette version of Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, which filled an entire C90 when I copied it across on my Aiwa tape to tape deck. This was due to the accompanying Escape Route bonus material. It was somewhat ironic that the most approachable album by the band to date was also effectively the longest.
My recollection was that it was still pretty unpenetrable but individual tracks got my attention. It would transpire in years to come that those songs which clicked with me first would be those that Brix Smith had a greater hand in. Released in October 1984, this was the brief interlude that I was effectively listening to the Fall contemporaneously to the sessions being broadcast. Twelve months later and I’d bought the next album, This Nation’s Saving Grace, to play on the same Aiwa tape deck in my digs in Liverpool, having enrolled at the city’s Polytechnic.
Listening again now, the session definitely has an increased degree of professionalism to it. Gut of the Quantifier still has some fleshing out, the introduction about the Kane Gang and Einstein chip’s absent at this stage of the song’s development. There is though a wry chuckle from MES as the song begins. It betrays a seldom seen happiness, with the Fall’s profile rising and he and Brix enjoying marital stability. The interview below belies the tension between Smith’s desire to follow his muse and the perception of commerciality. He’s sufficiently self-aware to recognise that whilst their sales may have been growing, they were still relatively minor when viewed through the lens of post Live Aid pop life.
Spoilt Victorian Child remains one of my favourite Fall songs, the angular riff benefiting from effectively three guitarists interlocking and providing a depth to support the relative melodicism. The version is very similar to the one that ended up on the next album, with the final version’s treble eased down a notch.
Simon Rogers was a key part in this increased level of musicality. A graduate of the Royal College of Music, the band’s music now had a broader palette. Steve Hanley, in particular, was suspicious of Rogers’ unannounced arrival at an Old Grey Whistle Test appearance with his friend dancer Michael Clark, describing him in the Big Midweek as:
A poncy-fingered, violin-hugging, classically-trained bastard musician mate of his. He can play any instrument on the planet, including the Peruvian pan pipes. I’m sure the bass guitar wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Why’s he here? To watch me and then take over most probably.
This illustrates Hanley’s perpetual paranoia, a constant fear of redundancy, a life led on permanently on his toes. Hanley was teetering on the brink of leaving the Fall at this point, following the birth of his son. Rogers ended up standing in for him on an American tour, just a month before the Peel session. In the interim, Hanley needed some cash so worked at his family’s pie shop, literally putting some food on the table.
Back from the American tour, MES has Hanley pick Rogers up at Manchester’s Picadilly station. He barely recognises Rogers who has morphed into a typical Fall member, leather kecks and half drunk bottle of JD’s by his side. Hanley’s paranoia as to his perceived difficulty of Spoilt Victorian Child diminishes as Rogers patiently teaches him the bass parts. Quickly, Hanley relaxes, happier in the band with Rogers concentrating predominantly on keyboards.
Here’s a link to the Whistle Test programme – note presenter Andy Kershaw’s provocative wearing of a Marc Riley and the Creeper’s t-shirt:
Whilst I loved Couldn’t Get Ahead at the time, now it feels a little slight, the rockabilly rhythm and riff carrying along a sharp blast of energy. The session is more immediate but Brix’s backing vocals less evident. It feels a little throwaway now.
This brings us to the crowning glory of the session, Cruiser’s Creek. According to Brix’s autobiography, the song was inspired by a cruise hosted by her wealthy grandparents, the Salengers. The boat sailed from LA to Acapulco, a traditional affair with the captain hosting cocktail evenings. The cruise was full of octogenarians, who were expiring by the day and this combined with Smith’s fear of drowning, made for a heady brew. He escaped to the library which was given the nickname of Cruiser’s Creek. The geniuses over at Annotated Fall have even managed to identify the cruise liner, the Royal Viking Sky as photographed in the blog header.
Brix wrote the catchy riff and Mark expanded the lyrics to cover office parties which he attended during his brief stint of working in the offices in the docks. Brix memorably describes him as an on top of the photocopier type of guy rather than stockings and garters. The song is catchy as hell and I recall at the time thinking that this would crack the top 40 when it was released in October, following the album. How wrong was I? As per the band’s most recent singles, it didn’t make it out of the 90s, still some distance from an appearance on a Thursday night episode of Top of the Pops.
This was a start for me though. For a while, the band and I were on the same path. There was more to follow.