Not just because it’s my home town, The Fall in Wakefield has always been special. I saw them here for the first time back in 1983 (For the record: First time Brix played with the band). It was the start of a mild obsession that has lasted to this day, and despite seeing them oh so many times, in oh so many places, my favourite gig (to date) was also in Wakefield, at the Balne Lane WMC back in 2010 – proper Northern club, 700 people packed into a 500 capacity venue, flocked wallpaper, cheap but decent beer and two old dears on the bar – And tonight, for whatever reason, will probably be one of the most memorable.
Most fans and followers of Mark E Smith & The Fall were acutely aware that he had, to say the least, been quite poorly. A cancelled US Tour and a cancelled spoken word proceeded tonight’s events, and there was even some amongst us that cast doubt upon him actually making an appearance. But if you’d been paying attention to the bands social media you’d have seen that, albeit slow and gradual, Mark was getting better, he is receiving great care and support from those around him and he would not only be playing Wakey tonight, but he’s also heading to Newcastle a few days later.
The evenings support came from The Piskie Sits. They filled the stage with an entourage of 7 band members, which drew the odd comparison to Arcade Fire. The Fall crowd is not always an easy one to please, but the local favourites were received well by both them and Mr Smith who is reputed to have said something along the lines of “These lot are alright. They can keep on playing as long as they like.”
As is par for the course these days, the band takes the stage first and the opening bars of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ fill the venue as a wheelchair bound MES is escorted to the stage, by girlfriend Pamela. It is a bit shocking to see Mark in his current state of health. Sat in a chair, arm in a sling and his appearance showing the outward effects of the steroids he’s taking to combat his illness. There is an ever so slight pregnant pause as people take it in – those more than a few rows back couldn’t see the chair and ramp and some did wonder how he appeared to float to the stage – followed by a rapture of applause. He always gets a fitting welcome, but I think tonight there was a bit extra as people recognised the resilience. “Go on Mark!!!”
The prowling, fiddling and posturing are missing, but the snarling, unique vocal approach is unmistakable. Never one to confirm to style, The Fall has never been to about appearances – a clean shirt and some smart trousers usually do the job – and despite everything, the man’s on song. The sets a good mix of the relatively old – ‘Over Over’, ‘Fallsound’ and ‘Blindness’ have become regular entries on the setlist, and work well in building it, while new additions ‘Fol De Rol’, and ‘Brillo De Facto’ sustain the repetition.
It’s a valiant effort, but after 40 minutes or so on stage, Kieron leaves the drum stool and helps Mark from the stage. For the rest of the gig Mark delivers the vocals from backstage.
Unfettered and unhindered by their boss, for once (just this once though) it is nice to see the band let rip without been made to sing, shouldered to the side or have their instruments tweaked and teased. Obviously taking instructions from the off-stage General, Pamela makes fleeting visits to the stage to pass messages to the band. “Auto Chip” is delivered in this manner, and despite Mark been out of site, it’s the highlight of the set for me.
For the finale of tonight’s show, we see Pamela take to the stage and add vocals and her own presence to ‘Bury’. She gives it a good go as she alternates between the stage and the pit offering the mic to the punters in the front row. It’s a nice touch and adds yet another dimension to the evolution, and progression of The Fall.
All in it was one of those nights. Maybe not the best Fall gig, not even the best Fall gig in Wakefield, but certainly one of the most memorable and hopefully not the last time we’ll see Mark grace one of the Merry City’s stages – some people will have struggled to come to terms with seeing MES perform in his current state of health, others will see it as a triumph over adversity, others as just another page turning chapter in the Wonderful & Frightening World. Personally I think its testament to the man that is Mark E Smith that he took to the stage. No one made him do it, so he must have wanted to do it, and he’s always had a great reception when playing Wakefield, so why not? As John Peel said “Always different, always the same.” I’d add to that by saying, always The Fall. MES – legend.
The Fall release ‘The Fall – Singles 1978-2016 Box Set’ Collection,in two formats (both a 3CD Clamshell and a 7CD Book Set) on November 24th via Cherry Red Records.
Pics copyright SHOTbystAn