Friday 13 December 2019

Mark E Smith: Ranting rebel and extraordinary lyricist

The founding member of The Fall has died.

Mark E Smith has died (Yui Mok/PA)
Mark E Smith has died (Yui Mok/PA)

By Joe Nerssessian, Press Association

Mark E Smith, the “hip priest” and founding member of The Fall, has died aged 60.

But Smith was more than just a founding member, and The Fall were more than a band.

He was their driving force, the aggressive general, a ranting rebellious boss who embraced chaos and often felt the desire to poke his tongue out – most notably when discussing the death of John Peel live on Newsnight in 2004.

The Fall were not a band, but a cult, it was often said. Except not quite a cult because most cults don’t want you to leave, but with Smith, you often did.

For four decades the man hired and fired dozens of musicians at will, and it was not just those on stage who had to fear for their jobs – he once reportedly fired a sound technician for ordering a salad.

Inspired more by literary giants than musicians, he was an extraordinary lyricist with an aggressive bite.

Smith has cited dozens of writers and poets as influential, including Thomas Hardy, Philip K Dick, Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft, whose short story The Colour Out Of Space he read for the BBC Collective website in 2007.

His writing style often changed. Sometimes intricate stories laced with sci-fi madness, other times wacky one-liners which pierced through the chaos.

Born into a working-class family in Broughton, Salford, on March 5 1957, Smith grew up in Prestwich.

He first found work in a meat factory and then as a shipping clerk on the Manchester docks where on his lunch breaks he would write music.

In 1976 he quit the docks for The Fall after attending a Sex Pistols Gig.

He was, in his own words, inspired because “whatever I did would have to be better than most of the so-called punk shite I was hearing at the time”.

He launched the band alongside friends Martin Bramah, Tony Friel and Una Baines – who missed their first gig as she could not afford a keyboard.

Their first two albums, Live At The Witch Trials and Dragnet, arrived in 1979.

The former came as a whirlwind punk record while the latter lost the aggression of Bramah’s guitar as he became an early member of The Fallen club (although he returned in 1989).

It was an important reshuffle as former bassist Marc Riley’s foreboding sound is largely present in their continuing sound.

Despite years of shows, Smith revealed in a recent interview that the nerves never left him.

“I get it bad for hours before,” he said. “All these cities I go to, I never see them. They may be the most beautiful places in the world but I’ll just usually go to the nearest bar. I need a couple of hours by myself.”

Often referred to as prolific, the band unveiled their 31st studio album in 2017.

That year also brought Smith’s 60th birthday – a day that made headlines after the musician’s death was accidentally reported.

Smith later said of the error: “It was stopped in minutes by Fall fans. I was still ill around that time but was starting to feel better and somebody comes in and says: ‘By the way, you’re dead.'”

Married three times, he first tied the knot in July 1983 with Brix Smith who instantly became a band member.

After their divorce he was briefly married to Safron Pryor – who had run the band’s fan club – during the Nineties before meeting Elena Poulou in Berlin in December 2000. She joined The Fall as keyboardist in 2002.

His partner at the time of his death was Pam Vander, the band’s manager.

PA Media

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