How the flip did I miss this?
Come the mid-70s, I was sharing a flat in Prestwich’s Kingswood Road with my girlfriend, Una Baines. I wasn’t in love with her, but you’re stuck when you’re on the dole - nowhere to go. We lived at the back of the mental hospital where Una worked. Biggest mental hospital in Europe; serious mental patients. I’d invite patients in for a cup of tea. Sit them down, play them some rock’n'roll, a bit of telly. Sometimes I think I did more good than all the nurses put together. They’d go out all cheerful.
Prestwich was quite a going place at the time. You could go in the Wilton, or the Priest’s Retreat as it’s called now, and you could get anything you wanted - acid, dope, anything. People talk about there being a lot of coke around now … they should have seen it then.
The Fall just came about, really, with four of us holed up in that flat, doing our thing. Martin Bramah was the singer because he had the looks, Tony Friel was the bass player, I played the guitar and Una had the keyboards, once she had saved up to buy them. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t about trying to get our pictures in some paper or magazine or other - like it is with a lot of bands nowadays - it was because of sounds, of wanting to make something, to combine primitive music with intelligent lyrics. The punk scene had just started, and when I first saw the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in ‘76, I thought, “My lot are not as bad as that. We’re better. We just need a drummer.” So we got one in: a little bald man from Stockport called Dave.
A lot of people have lumped us in with punk, but I’ve never aligned myself with it. I didn’t want to be part of a scene, never have. And I knew it wasn’t going to last. Once that quick statement was over, most of the main players couldn’t handle the fall-out: they were like a bunch of shell-shocked army majors stuck in time, endlessly repeating their once-successful war cries. When you’re dealing in slogans like the Clash and the Pistols, it’s hard to keep that shit fresh.
When the Fall played live it was: attack! People at the back of the room would be like, “Whoa! What the fuck is this?” Quite confrontational in a way … But the songs were more like short stories; unlike every fucker else, we didn’t just bark out wild generalisations. It was hardly surprising that nobody liked us.
To be honest, though, it wasn’t a happy time. I’ve never been matey with musicians, even then. I think that’s where I got off on the wrong foot. I’d had enough of gangs at school. That’s where they get upset. Musicians don’t like it if I spend time with other people, non-musicians. But who wants to hang around with the group all the time anyway? You spend enough time with them on the road, for fuck’s sake.
An extract in the Guardian from Mark. E. Smith’s autobiography Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E Smith, which is to be published by Viking tomorrow, April 24th.
Thanks to Stuart of From Dispair to Where?