The Fall and Post War Glamour Girls @ Belgrave Music Hall, LeedsPosted by vibrations on 23-05-16
Towards the end of their set, Post War Glamour Girls’ James Smith observes that when they started out they wanted to achieve three things - put out a seven inch single, support The Fall and appear on Jools Holland. As a group they have now achieved this second long held ambition with their customary style. Smith has perfected his mad eyed, twitchy stage persona and the rest of the band whisper and thunder away beautifully. Oddly, there’s nothing from last year’s album ‘Feeling Strange’ but they opt instead to concentrate on delivering new material, at one point Smith screaming about being our ‘guiding light’ utterly convincingly. There’s a nod to their debut with ‘Jazz Funerals’ and ‘Little Land’ but, overwhelmingly, tonight bodes well for album number three. I realise I need to stop praising this band to high heaven but basically they make me wish that we were once again living in an age without the Internet; where we had only four television channels; where they could only be heard live and on John Peel and, ultimately, where their cultural impact would be almost equal to tonight’s headliners. They’re that good. Though, if they ever achieve their third aim and Jools Holland dribbles his boogie woogie piano all over them, I’ll do time.
As The Fall take to the stage, it’s clear that Mark E. Smith’s been handing out the P45s again. Down to one drummer and with keyboard player Elena Poulou, the current/former (?) Mrs Smith missing in action, this is a stripped down affair. Pete Greenway impresses, wringing out some wonderful noises from his guitar, ably backed up by the rhythm section. The material is strong. While they may never have the same impact as the band who produced Slates / Hex Enduction Hour / This Nation’s Saving Grace / Extricate (delete as applicable), the band have consistently produced great albums over the last decade or so with tonight being largely represented by last year’s Sub Lingual Tablet and current EP ‘Wise Old Man’. ‘Venice With the Girls’ and ‘Quit iPhone’ are particularly enjoyable with their repetitive driving grooves. For a moment I thought the latter, with the gnarled fury at modern smartphone obsession, was a lazy target unworthy of Smith’s ire, until I remembered my favourite Fall song tells of someone looking for a belt when the lightbulb’s blown. Sometimes the easy targets are the best.
And speaking of easy targets… Mark E Smith. The sole reason for anyone being here tonight. How does he fare? I was a little worried - a recent sighting of him on Channel Four news showed him to be almost incoherent and a little bit UKippy. One friend of mine, a long time fan, no longer goes to see him. Understandably, he points to early live recordings of the band as the reason. It’s there, he believes, that you can hear the wit, the intelligence and the sheer whip smart cussedness in his interactions with the audience that make you realise why he had the impact he did. That Mark E Smith has been gone a long time. Taking to the stage as a man in his mid to late fifties, he looks way, way older. Never a natural singer, his voice is a slurred slew of vowels with barely a consonant between them, so it’s nigh on impossible to follow what he’s singing about. God, I sound like my dad, but sometimes these things matter.
There’s a core group of the audience that clearly revel in every drunken shuffle, every grasp of crumpled A4 to read the lyrics off and every look of disdain. The ritual of fiddling with the musician’s monitors passes by with some unexpectedly pleasing results – enhancing rather than wrecking the songs. However, it’s hard to shake off the realisation that what you’re seeing on stage is someone struggling with advanced and ingrained alcoholism and it feels kind of exploitative. Most of the time at gigs I still look up at the stage and think, “I want to be you.” Not here though. I’m very glad I’m not Mark E Smith. And yet…Ok, despite all of this, there is something worth holding on to in him being nothing but himself and railing against modern life night after night in the only way he knows how. As the band launch into a final ‘Theme from Sparta FC’ I still come to the feeling that, whatever drives Smith to make his own personal nightmare pop, The Fall can still fascinate, intrigue, baffle and repel in equal measure.
The world of The Fall is still wonderful and frightening. Tonight was by turns inspiring and uncomfortable. Business as usual then.