Manchester, England is my home time. A rainy, grimy, miserable place half an hour from Liverpool which fancies inself a major player and isn’t at all except musically it’s a frontier of sound that seems to rise every decade or so and take over the music scene. Considering its size the amount of major league rock stars it has thrown up is ridiculous. From Graham Nash thru the Buzzcocks to the Stone Roses and Oasis, Manchester was a scenes definition of a scene.
So this could be about the Smiths if I placed this blog ten years later and it isn’t because I am back in the musical watershed 1979 and “Factory Records” (Joy Division’s label, the Fall’s label was “Rough Trade” both indie giants in a small country).
In a small country a phenomenon can consume the culture as happened with punk and in a medium sized city it can become the heartbeat.
The Fall, or, if you prefer, Mark E. Smith and whoever is playing with him, have been together since 77 and in all those years their music has neither moved forward nor moved backwards: it has remained the consistent snarl of discording guitars under Smiths polysyllabic roar of misathropic disgust. “There are only eight real people,” Smith once noted, “all the rest are paste.”
I interviewed Smith in the early-80s (around the time of the terrific “Hip Priest” single) and thought he was a great guy but his reputation was that of a very strange, very angry man and not to be crossed. i saw them at the Peppermint Longe on that tour and they were excellent.
So I hope he doesn’t read this but I’m going to risk it: if you buy the Fall’s first three albums (from 77 to 79) you can skip the next 30 year. Those albums are:
“Live At The Witchtrials” – a statement of intent on great songs like “Rebellious Jukebox” and “No Xmas for John Quays,” it sounded punk amateur at first but the lyric was NOT Sham 69 and the sound was not Slaughter and the Dogs” -it seems simple but it isn’t loud fast -its like a fretless hum.
“Dragnet” – A very important album for me (I named my first novel “A Shadow Walks” -a play on “A figure Walks” on this album.). “Psyckick Dancehall” is a deeply challenging masterpiece that gets to the heart of all recorded music, of all “vibrations living on” and both “Diceman” and “Choc Stock” are awful close to pop songs!!!
“Totale Turns” On a tour of discos and wine bars (“Last call” you can hear Smith shout at one point) the band plays to weekend drivers and drunk wallflowers. A great glimpse of the theatre of the real rock bands always promise. Includes “Rowche Rumble” (a real chemistry class)
And then pick and choose, I say “Hex Enduction Hour”, you say “Bend Senister” and we’re both right.
Joy Division are a different kind of tension -they are the missing link between punk and new wave and a serious dance music that is a truer rock-disco than “Heart Of Glass” ever could imagine being.
I saw them when they were called “Warsaw” and thought they were OK (Shows you what I know) and I interviewed New Order (the band they became after Ian Curtis suicide) but was so drunk all I did was make an ass out of myself.
I had a tix to see Joy Division at New York’s “Palladium” but they never made it.
That leaves me with only half the story but the half of the story i have is unreal. “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer”. Both albums are perfect, every song a masterpiece of drum machine, atmosphere, and an attempt to form a rock ambient sound in the heart of darkness. They are both must buys for the serious rock (indeed: you must own the 2 cd out take versions of them and also the 4 cd every recording “Heart And Soul”.
Today this is as modern as Art Brut (bad example, Art Brut are more like the Fall) or Interpol (another bad example, Interpol sound dated). It has lasted better than New Order have. It has outlasted factory records and the Hacienda and Tony Wilson.
The Fall are from Prestwich and Prestwich borders Salford where Joy Division are from. Members of both bands are proles by definition but, and here lies the move from punk to new wave, the punks revelled in their working class roots and new wave saw itself as an art school culture run amuck. Smith was indicting and dictating of his class roots and his class warfare. Joy Division (and I mean Ian Curtis -who wrote the lyric content) couldn’t find a way out of the bleakness of times: the railing at class, the political discontent, was implied and not stated.
Salford has high unemployment and low income: it has been in perpetual decline for decades and in the middle of the 70s recession was a wasteland where opportunity to get a job, let alone move out of your class structure, was none existent.
In at least one way the Fall and Joy Division are flip sides of the same coin. The Fall are a rhythm guitar rush to class freedom, Joy Division were a lean back into a metal netherland. The Fall screamed in hatred and Joy Division fainted in loss. Mark rushed out, Ian disappeared in; but both started from the same point, literally across a divide from each other: the cultural and social distortions that began the journeys were very similar.
All these kids were on the dole, broke, grammer school lads with, as somebody else once noted, “No future”. In the deafening silence of 70s England they rose the way the black kids were rising in the Bronx and the politics, the importance, the common empathy for then and now, was in bathing in and fighting out of the darkness visible. not everybody managed to do it.
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