Mark E. Smith on stage at the HMV Picturehouse, Edinburgh
I think anybody who knows me and/or reads this blog is probably aware that I really rate the Fall as a band, and go to a fair amount of gigs. However, last night’s Fall gig at the HMV Picturehouse was frankly, a travesty.
This was going to be a review. Thing is, nearly 24 hours later, I’m still so cross about so many things that I want to get off my chest.
First things first. The support act was Tragic O’Hara. He was brilliant. To come on stage with just your acoustic guitar when you’re supporting a guitar-driven band takes balls. To do stuff that’s a capella is risky and a risk that paid off. His voice and guitar medley of Cypress Hill’s ‘Hits From The Bong’ mixed with Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ was nothing less than sheer genius. I hope to be seeing more of Mr. O’Hara.
Now, the bit I’m dreading. The Fall. I last saw The Fall at The Queen’s Hall in 2008, and they were phenomenal that night. There was a gig at Edinburgh’s Studio 24 which has passed into notoriety around Edinburgh. That I wasn’t at, so I won’t repeat the stories here. The gig started off well, the band sounded tight and together (actually, they did the entire night). Mark E. Smith’s arrival on stage was greated rapturously. However, it quickly became apparent that something was not well. I was right down at the barrier for the entirety of the set, so while my version of events is only one perspective, it was not gleaned from the back of the hall or hearsay or YouTube.
Mr. Smith gave the impression of being drunk. I don’t know if this was actually the case but it seemed like it (part of the act? you say. What a load of crap). He staggered around the stage, altering the volume on the amps. Then he went off the stage to deliver his vocals from the side of the stage. After a few songs he re-appeared before leaving his mike in the bass drum and disappearing off stage. The band continued playing, at first filling in and then looking more and more worried, and the booing between songs got worse.
Eventually the band walked off. Elena Poulou (keyboardist, and for what it’s worth Mark’s wife) came back on stage to explain that Mark had really bad wounds on his feet, and that was why he had walked off. The way sections of the crowd behaved towards her was appalling, telling her to fuck off, in addition to the beer glasses (thankfully plastic) that were thrown in her direction.
The atmosphere became unpleasant in the hall for a while – some frustration, some people who clearly haven’t got a fucking clue how to behave in public. Clue: if you think it’s acceptable to go out in public and be drunk and abusive, then you need to go and see a Doctor and probably a psychiatrist. * Not a rock gig. The band came back on (still minus MES) who then started jamming. There was a slightly surreal part of the gig when one character got on stage and started doing a MES-style freestyle (according to the ‘net buzz, it was one of the tattooists from Red Hot and Blue Tattoo, which is close to 17 Seconds Towers). Though Elena was happy to pass him the mike, security were not having this and bundled him off (non-violently as far as I could tell.) Mark E Smith eventually returned to deliver an awesome version of ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ before the band finished for the night. See below
Most people so far as I could tell were pretty pissed off. There were some people who seemed to think Smith’s behaviour marked him out as a legend (probably the same people who go to see Pete Doherty’s gigs in the hope of seeing just how fucked up he is this time). There was a queue of people trying to get refunds, and all the poor staff at the box office could do was take email addresses. One person behind me had come all the way from Wigan and was not amused.
Now, invariably over on the Fall’s online Forum there has been much discussion. There are those who seem to think that it’s all part of what you pay for with The Fall. Some who seem to think that if Smith invaded another country he would be completely within his rights, and the bizarre assertion that anyone who criticised the gig doesn’t get what The Fall are about, and probably wrote the review before they went. If Sisyphus wants to push that rock up a hill for eternity and is happy to do it, good on him ** but ‘part of the act?’ Please: do not spit in my face and tell me it’s raining. I rang the NME to ask if there’d been any story about the meltdown. The person on the other end just said ‘well, he’s a bit of a character isn’t he?’ Prick.
Maybe he does have problems with his feet. Not comfortable to do a gig with. But: the sensible thing to do would be to:
a) postpone the gig and re-schedule
b) do the gig from a wheelchair (he has done a US tour from a wheelchair after breaking ribs before now
c) Cancel the gig and give us our money back
Whatever, an apology is due to us. Yes ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ was great and I moshed for the first time in years at a gig. It showed that MES could perform. I was pissed off at his lack of professionalism. I am still angry at the pathetic behaviour of some of the ‘fans’ at the gig last night. And yes, I want a refund (thus far, a fair amount of buck-passing is going on).
Thing is, there is an economic crisis on at the moment. To expect people to pay £20 for a gig is one thing -and people can chose not to go. But if you have saved up your money from your job -or your dole money- and you get a piss-poor performance form the frontman, that is an insult. There are rumours circulating that the band were not going to get paid. It would be grossly unfair on the other band members.
This morning, I went for a walk and listened to ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ and ‘Wings’ on my iPod. Still awesome, brilliant songs. The Fall have been great for over thirty years on record, and are still responsible for one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to. But last night, Mark E. Smith showed contempt for his audience, some of whom clearly have no respect for other people, especially women (no: that’s not political correctness, dickheads, it’s called RESPECT.)
It isn’t because I am a hater or I don’t ‘get’ The Fall that I write this. It’s because they’re one of my favourite bands. And that’s what leaves me feeling short-changed and very, VERY pissed off.
*I don’t drink at all, so…
** Maybe you should read more