City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Fall, HMV Picture House, Review

By Euan Andrews - Posted on 08 November 2011

The Fall
Show Details

Mark E Smith is unwell. Rumours of his illness circulate the bars and hostelries around Lothian Road in the hours leading up to the devoted pilgrimage to worship at the feet of the Salford Bard. Words are muttered of a disastrous Leeds gig the night before, during which Smith was apparently too drunkenly incapacitated to perform and was barely present onstage. Near riot levels escalate, it is heard.

That won’t happen in Edinburgh, we reassure ourselves. Mark’s one of us, after all. The Fall always play here and he loves this city, following his now near mythical residency here in the early nineties. Fond words are always spoken of how he looks forward to catching up with old mates here, of how many weeks/months/years he spent in old Edinburgh town, and of the many pubs which enjoyed his patronage. No, Mark’ll always put on a show for Edinburgh because we love him.

And so, the 8.45pm showtime comes and goes and we merely smile at each other. This is par for the course, after all. This is The Fall and we know it’s a gamble with chance as to what we will actually get. As their number one fan John Peel once said, they’re always different but always the same. Mark E Smith is the last remaining outlaw of the punk generation, a maverick genius, a renegade, to borrow the title of his autobiography.

All the same, as 9pm clicks past, and with the 10pm curfew fast approaching and the DJ wearing out his copy of The Clash’s Greatest Hits, a few worrying glances are beginning to look at the empty stage. Finally, the lights crash off and on walk the latest of god knows how many Fall line-ups. A three-piece guitar-bass-drums set-up headed up by the currently permanent addition of Smith’s wife Elena Poulou on vintage keyboards. Here we go. It’s all going to be fine.

They immediately crank up the swirling, krautrock garage frenzy that signals The Fall nowadays and suddenly there is Mark. Looking, frankly, awful but standing up, snarling, lurching and weaving his way between the four mikes out front all for him. He looks a bit ropey, but he’s going to make it for us, we feel assured.

And for ten, maybe fifteen, whole minutes all is well. Smith is clearly not feeling too great, but he doesn’t seem particularly pissed and while he is also clearly in full curmudgeon mode, he still manages a bit of trademark amp fiddling. Hell, he even takes his jacket off after a couple of songs!

Unfortunately, shortly after this he picks his jacket up and wanders offstage. His voice can still be heard for a short while declaiming unintelligibly over the relentless crash of the band. Then Smith goes silent. The band play on. And then the band play on some more. The bass player looks furiously off to the wings, as though seeking directions. A few pint glasses are lobbed onstage. Booing is heard. The band (it feels wrong by this point to describe them as The Fall) play for another twenty minutes or so, longer than they had with Smith actually present. Finally, they stop and hurriedly rush off to a chorus of boos.

Elena comes back on to attempt to explain that Mark is sick, he has bunions(!). It’s met with a chorus of abuse and heckling. People are walking out and mutiny is in the air. Mark has gone too far this time. Unbelievably, the band come back out (they must REALLY need to get paid for tonight) and crank up again, without their alleged master and leader. The feeling of frustration and downright pissed-offness in the Picture House is rank and rife.

A bloke at the front of the audience actually jumps onstage and starts ranting out Smith’s lyrics while pulling some serious shapes. He’s greeted like a conquering hero, even the band are clearly pleased to see him, perhaps just glad that they might salvage something from this debacle. Inevitably, he is swiftly led off by a burly security guard, but then a moment later comes back out hand-holding a sheepish-looking Smith.

Smith manages to make it to a microphone and summons any reserves or interest he has to plough into the old classic, “Mr Pharmacist”, before the spectacle finally collapses once and for all. Any audience applause is overwhelmed by the boos and jeers and Smith looks genuinely alarmed as he is led off by the band, appearing, like the Wizard of Oz, to be unmasked as a doddery old man who just can’t do it any more.

The mood outside is that Smith has finally pissed on his loyal fan base once and for all. That people have paid a good amount of money to see a disastrous performance. Smith’s own words come to mind: “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s still The Fall”. In which case, Mark, we didn’t see an awful lot of The Fall tonight because you just weren’t there.

It’s hard to even consider the show as a standard gig, as it played out more as some kind of Situationist Mark E Smith Experience that sought to confront the audience’s desire for performance and showmanship and how we are collectively indoctrinated by a Pavlovian response to musical spectacle.

Or perhaps Mark was just out of his face and didn’t give a shit. Sitting in a pub later on with a bunch of Fall fans, the general feeling is that Mark has definitely produced a real stinker of an off night, but they’ll still all be back next time for more. Including the fella who’s seen them 58 times now.

As a postscript to this review, it must be reported that the night after their Edinburgh show The Fall played Newcastle. They were apparently on blinding form with Smith never once leaving the stage. Ha ha. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

The Fall played 3 November at HMV Picturehouse

I hope people got their money back.