“Extraordinary happenings” at The Fall gig

A mellow Mark E Smith returns to Clitheroe for a gig at The Grand. (s)
A mellow Mark E Smith returns to Clitheroe for a gig at The Grand. (s)

The Fall last played Clitheroe in 1985, at an open-air gig in the castle grounds writes Simon Wood.

Since then, the band have ploughed on relentlessly, releasing a new album with ceaseless regularity, while losing and gaining band members with such frequency that ex-members are themselves the subject of a book (The Fallen).

Of course, the one constant in the Fall is front man Mark E Smith, a man who whose reputation for not taking fools gladly precedes him.

He does, apparently, have a soft spot for East Lancashire. From the first album, Live at The Witch Trials, with its nod at the Pendle Witches, the local area has intrigued Smith and informed a good many of The Fall’s songs.

Given main man Mark E Smith’s recent declaration of fondness for Clitheroe, a show at The Grand seemed long-overdue.

The Fall opened in fine style with Blindness, arguably their finest song of the past 10 years and definitely a firm live favourite. Often played late in the set, this has the effect of immediately getting the crowd on their side. They sound fresh and invigorated after recording their latest album, Re-Mit, and are the last band that could be accused of cashing in on the aging punk nostalgia boom.

Though borne out of the very early punk scene in Manchester, they have absorbed influences as disparate as The Monks, Can, and Captain Beefheart to an ever-evolving sound that is uniquely their own.

Never a band to sit on the laurels or revisit past glories, the majority of the set consists of new songs, and these sound extraordinarily fresh for a band fronted by a man who is on his way to being 60 years old.

He’s helped no end by a band who add muscle to the tunes and are comfortable enough to enjoy themselves on stage. Previous band members have often looked like the occupants of a ducking stool, waiting for the inevitable plunge.

Halfway through the set, an extraordinary thing happens. Smith, who usually restricts his audience interactions to

the odd growl, strides towards The Grand’s crowd, and says, “I embrace you all”, and then proceeds to chat with the front row, off-mic for a minute between songs. This is possibly the first time this is happened at a Fall gig. Has Mark E Smith suddenly mellowed, or does he just enjoy being in Clitheroe?

As the show goes on, Smith grimaces occasionally, still apparently suffering the effects of a broken hip that put him

on stage in a wheelchair a few years back. Later songs are delivered from a chair next to some amps, while the last few are actually sung by Smith from the comfort of the dressing room!

As the show draws to a close, there are mutterings from a few who wanted a longer set, but The Fall were never going to do a Springsteenesque three hour set of hits. What they have done is perplex, entertain, surprise and leave everyone wanting to get their hands on the new album.