Friday, 24 March 2017

My Big Midweek

I only tend to remember this once a year, when Mark E. Smith has a new album out, but The Fall really are the greatest music I've ever heard. 

There's an episode in Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall where Craig Scanlon, The Fall's longest running guitarist, comes up with this verbal perversity:

'The worse the atmosphere in the band, the better music they make'.

You may think this is absurd, or else a bad joke, but no: it really is what he thought at that point in the 90s when the group ('the band is what plays in Blackpool') was still going strong. I specifically wanted to single out these words, albeit quoted from memory, because they give you a rough idea of the fucked-up mindset of someone institutionalised in The Fall. 

Steve Hanley joined The Fall as a young man back when Mark E. Smith was still singing "Repetition". For a Manchester lad with the grim prospect of a life in a parents' bakery... I mean, what more could you possibly wish? Then came the rest. The rest unfolds here like some fucking thriller.

Mark E. Smith's dysfunctional brilliance is not in doubt, and don't pretend you knew nothing about the bullying and the backstabbing. However, My Big Midweek is unique in the sense that it describes The Fall institution from the inside. Hanley is right. You don't need to be a fan to love this book. You don't even need to like music (though in that case you would miss a million priceless references with varying degrees of snide and affection).

For once, it's beautifully written. With true, unfading passion - but then with love, too, so that your eyebrows are barely raised when Hanley thanks Smith in the acknowledgements. 'For the opportunity and unique life lessons'.

It was 19 years, too.

Hanley has a lot to get off his chest. He has every right to feel embittered, being one of the greatest bass guitarists of his generation and the single most crucial member of The Fall whose name is not Mark E. Smith. What follows is a perfect snapshot of the band during one of their last tours together: 'a feral rogue and his rival, whose soul he's sucking dry, a reluctant guitarist who hasn't faced the audience for five years, a deconstructed dance-head whose bouncy edges are still being sanded-down, a claustrophobic snug-dwelling diva and me, a big, bald, grudgeful idiot from Ireland'. Beat that.

You know by the end of this book (which will leave you battered, though not as much as an average member of The Fall) that, against all common sense, Steve Hanley would never have chosen a different life. Because he fucking cared.

But equally there's a perverted sense of joy in the way he finishes the book: 

'I'm not going to play bass with The Fall again'.