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The fall... still sneering after all these years

With the new Premiership season kicking off today, those tuning in to the results sequence on BBC1 will hear the voice of Charlotte Green replacing the unforgettable tones of the recently retired James Alexander Gordon. However, there are many of us who thought we were hallucinating one Saturday back in November 2005 when, instead of JAG's reassuring burr, the cackling Manc sneer of Mark E Smith came over the airwaves.

For the lead singer of The Fall to have been given access to such an institution was such a daft notion it qualified as a brilliant example of concept art.

Smith, whose voice was once – correctly – described as sounding like a cross between Johnny Rotten and Eddie Waring, formed The Fall in 1976 and through early singles such as Bingo Master's Breakout, Totally Wired, It's the New Thing and debut album Live at the Witch Trials, quickly established a reputation as the uncompromising face of post-punk.

Smith himself was certainly uncompromising when it came to band members following his orders. At least 100 musicians have been in the band, inspiring Dave Simpson to write The Fallen – Searching for the Missing Members of The Fall in 2008, and in his dealings with the media Smith never gave any quarter. In fact, when The Fall's output became ever more extreme for most of the Nineties, Smith's interviews were way more entertaining than his music.

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Astonishingly, The Fall even flirted with chart success courtesy of covers of R Dean Taylor's There's a Ghost in My House and Victoria by the Kinks, but the leader's curmudgeonly personality – and hardly pin-up looks – meant that a true commercial breakthrough was never really on the cards and they retreated back to the margins.

Earlier this year, The Fall released Re-Mit, their 30th studio album, a feat which must have seemed beyond impossible back in 1976. As the late John Peel said in praise of The Fall: "Always different, always the same." And he was right.

The Fall play the Button Factory tonight

> George Byrne


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