If there was one man who provides the antithesis of the season’s wishes of good tidings, cheer and warming love, then it might well be the late, incredible lead singer for The Fall, Mark E. Smith. Known for his cantankerous attitude and scything acid-tongue, Smith cultivated an image of pure bile-spitting bliss which garnered him a bountiful set of followers.
When you add it all up, there is perhaps no person worse suited to reading a Christmas story for the BBC than Smith. Yet, thankfully, the clever people at the BBC knew better and roped in the singer to read a Christmas ghost story from H.P. Lovecraft titled ‘The Colour out of Space’ which has us all reeling from the deadpan delivery of one of the greats. While we’re not sure it’s quite what you’d call festive, it has certainly brought us some cheer.
It may feel like an over-exaggeration to label Smith the antithesis of Christmas but, besides the fact that we’re almost certain he would have enjoyed the moniker, the singer largely revelled in his image as the angry side of post-punk. In Smith’s mind, there were far too many bands willing to play the fame game — answer questions with charm, smile for the camera and nod politely — he and The Fall were intent on being authentic, even if that did mean authentically grumpy too.
Decades passed, and Smith’s attitude remained largely the same. Invariably embittered by the presence of his interviewer or TV camera or indeed the audience who’d paid to see him perform, Smith became an icon for the disaffected and disenchanted. His determination to bring things down a peg or two, somehow made him one of the most sought after musical guests a show could have.
All of that is fine for a dedicated music show like The Tube or The Word but to actively seek out Smith to be a part of any TV show where he wasn’t allowed to sit in the corner and make scything remarks seemed like a risk that not many would take, let alone the BBC. Yet, take it they did, and when they required a reader for a Christmas show, Smith jumped at the chance and even selected his own book to read.
Around the time of filming in 2007, Smith spoke of his selection, “I’ve been a fan of HP Lovecraft since I was about 17. I chose to read this story because it’s very unusual for him; it’s not like his other tales. They are usually about people who live underground or threats to humanity – which I like as well – but The Colour Out Of Space is quite futuristic. He wrote it in 1927, which is weird.
“I’m writing my own book at the moment. It’s supposed to be my autobiography, but I’ve put a few short stories in it too. It’s out in April 2008. My stories are very much like Lovecraft’s actually. Everyone wants me to write about dark and doomy things, like my lyrics. But some of my stories are quite cheerful.”
While we let that idea of Smith being “cheerful” struggle to find a footing in your mind’s eye, below you can watch the very moment he gave a dramatic reading of HP Lovecraft.