Thursday, 8 October 2009

Dave Simpson - The Fallen (Canongate 2009)

So many positive reviews of this book served to make me want to take a different tack in writing about it. Despite this, I warmed quickly to the way Simpson set about inviting the reader to join him on his quest to not only account for, but to archive the stories of every member of The Fall that ever there was.

Simpson’s reverence of the band’s music and the aura that surrounds the band oozes from the pages, occasionally getting carried away to the extent that tenuous links are forged to a psychic force wielded by singer Mark E Smith and odd coincidences offered as being somewhat more than that. This doesn’t detract from the story, with Simpson’s own role in it never being overblown or taking over from his obsessive focus of eking out lost band members and hearing their tales of what it was like to be found by The Fall, to work with the band, and to leave it. Simpson is a fan, and he weaves his story around what the band meant to him when growing up and throughout his life since then, through periods of not listening much to The Fall, but returning, always returning, over a period spanning more than 30 years.

The only constant in The Fall is Smith. It might not seem odd that a singer should be the one around which the band is shaped, but what makes The Fall so very different is the way the band’s music shapes itself, and the way that a particular sound, “always different, always the same” (John Peel), identifies itself to the listener as being The Fall without the listener having to hear the vocals, no matter who is in the band at the time, no matter what era the song is from. Smith doesn’t write the music or play any instruments, either. He often doesn’t turn up at rehearsals. Somehow, a band consisting of over 40 different individuals can make over 30 albums in as many years, all of them recognisably The Fall, but all ploughing their own furrow.

The geographical source of the music is explored, the tough landscapes surrounding Manchester, with the village/small town of Prestwich at its epicentre. Smith recruited a fair few members of his band through more-or-less literally approaching them on the street to somehow pressgang them into service.

Violent on-stage dissolutions of line-ups are explored, also off-stage formations of strong allegiances which appear to go against Smith’s philosophies of the tensions which provide the fertile ground for musical creativity, and which, it appears, Smith did his utmost to break down.

The story of The Fall is one of probably the last truly working class Northern rock band. Perhaps the last rock band of any significance. Over 40 members ex-members of the group were tracked down and talked to. Tales of extreme weirdness abound, but the sense of pride is palpable from all those people, and that nearly all of them would work again with The Fall, no matter the circumstances of their final departure from the band, is testament to the special nature of the music that the band has consistently produced since 1976.

by Pete Sottrel

No comments: