“Rock & roll isn’t even music really. It’s a mistreating of instruments to get feelings over.”—Mark E. Smith.
Mark E. Smith, the difficult, complicated and uncompromising frontman of post-punk group The Fall, was a rock icon like no other.
Smith, who formed the band after attending a Sex Pistols gig in Manchester in 1976, remained its leader for 42 years in which demonstrated his uncompromising nature by hiring and firing over 60 band members as well as being an integral part of 30 albums. “When I was 18, the vision was to make music that didn’t exist, because everything else was so unsatisfactory,: he once said.
Smith, the snarling leader of the Manchester group, was a marauding presence on the music scene for over 40 years before he sadly passed away in late January 2018. Not only did he achieve his goal of creating music that didn’t exist, but he also ripped up the alternative music scene in his own destructive way without a care in the world.
“The thing with me. I can’t stick musicians,” he once said, offering a glimpse into the life of The Fall. “I’ve thought about this. I can’t stand them, and being stuck in a studio with them I think that’s my strength I can hear what they can’t.”
He added: “Being in The Fall isn’t like being in another group. It isn’t a holiday. A lot of musicians are really hard to deal with. They aren’t as smart as me.”
“I keep going on about it, but musicians are a unique sort. The stage is everything to them – there’s nothing outside of it. It’s as if they’re still performing in a school play and their mam’s out in the audience and they’re busting a gut to upstage every other fucker around them. I’ve got to keep an eye on this all the time.”
Smith was an unrelenting figure of The Fall. Not only did he lead them through numerous different line-ups and albums, but he continued to take the band out on tour with prolific efficiency. While questions around his drinking habits were always referenced in interviews along with his no-holds-barred approach to organisation, Smith loved the live stage. He was addicted to it.
Aged 60, after a long illness with lung and kidney cancer, Smith continued to take The Fall out on the road. Despite advice from those around him to rest up, the Fall frontman was not going to be anywhere except on the tour bus. Just 12 weeks prior to Smith’s death, and with him in a precariously delicate state, he lead out The Fall at Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Union in November.
What ensued was as as magical and brilliantly apt given Smith’s desire to always put on a show for his faithful following. Armed with a cordless mic, the 60-year-old was raised to the stage in a wheelchair as the crowd erupted.
See the fan footage, here: