The chance unearthing of a bootleg of this show, by Marc Riley has been well documented by now in the press. John Dwyer, leader of The Oh Sees eagerly stepped in to release this vinyl-only album on his Castle Face label, so now we have it. It’s exorbitant price results from 50% of its proceeds going to homeless charities in Manchester and elsewhere. It’s safe to say that but for a wife and a recent birthday I would not possess one. Why she remortgaged the cat will soon become clear, but for now for some background.
In the 60s and early 70s, St Helens hosted many a big name (Freddie Mercury and The Beatles amongst them), but by the early 80s, visiting groups were somewhere between rare and unheard of. Located between the twin giants of Liverpool and Manchester, the town was superfluous to most touring bands’ itinerary.
So when The Fall agreed to turn up it was serendipitous for many reasons. They were as close as you can get to a “classic” line-up, considering the revolving-door band-member policy that later evolved, effectively becoming a kind of indie National Service for a big chunk of Manchester musicians. Their seismic album, ‘Slates…’ was due for imminent release, and they were arguably at the peak of their provocative, twisted strangeness.
Much of the setlist captured here draws from Slates, which in itself sounds shambolic and improvised in places, but here we have flawless note-perfect renditions of tracks like ‘Prole Art Threat’ and ‘An Older Lover’, and a blistering ‘Leave the Capitol’. This is the sound of a band on top of their game with a fire in their belly only Alka-Seltzer could quell. Maybe provoked by the tawdry surroundings, a soulless lecture-theatre in a one-horse town, they felt could let rip without consequence and therefore soar.
The sound quality couldn’t be better, the performance speaks for itself, and the album comes with a 7″ 33 single to capture the remaining tracks (the encore) that didn’t fit on the two sides.
Mark E Smith took every opportunity to pour scorn on the sparse crowd, mostly made up of students and local musicians. In ‘Jawbone and the Air Rifle’, mentioning villagers, he says “That’s you”. In ‘Leave the Capitol’ he says “Leave this St Helens town, leave this fucking dump”. At the time this passed me by, (probably due to the acoustics, inebriation and youthful bonhomie) but as I am both from St Helens and was at this gig, now it’s a revelation to hear it and the insults are almost a badge of honour. I was there, it was our Pistols at the Free Trade Hall moment. Our only one. And now by the freakiest of chances it’s been pristinely resurrected and it’s yours to enjoy.