Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Push The Boat Out

Push The Boat Out is a group show curated by
 James F. Johnston and Harry Pye with guidance from Amelie Lindsey
The exhibition takes place in the last week of July at The Art Academy Newington.
The 8 artists in the show are; James F Johnston, Gordon Beswick, Morrissey Hancock, Kate Murdoch, Cedar Lewisohn, Corin Johnson, Nicola Hicks, and Harry Pye

Please Note: The images you are about to see probably wont be in the exhibition they are just here as a very rough guide / introduction

ARTIST # 1  James F. Johnston
Image above: Mad Sky Over London by James F. Johnston 2018
Image above: Red Bird by James F. Johnston 2018
Image above: Age of Cruelty by James F. Johnston 2018
Image above: The Moon by James F. Johnston
James has exhibited prints based on his paintings in two recent shows at Gallery 64a in Whitstable.
In Jan 2015 he was part of PJ Harvey's Artangel project that took place in Somerset House.
To read James Johnston's profile on Wikipeda click on here


ARTIST # 2 Gordon Beswick
Image Above: Magic Mountain by Gordon Beswick 2017
Image Above: (Left to right: Gordon Beswick, Jonas Ranson, Harry Pye holding screen print of Elephant & Castle by Gordon Beswick and Harry Pye)
Image Above: Horizon by Gordon Beswick 2017
Gordon Beswick was educated at Newcastle Under Lyme and Brighton College of Art. Gordon Beswick's films have been shown at Tate Britain, The South London Gallery and The Institute of Contemporary Art. . Collaborative paintings by Gordon and Harry Pye have appeared in celebrated shows at Sartorial Contemporary Art in Kings Cross and Galeria Thomas Cohn in Sao Paulo. In May 2010 Beswick & Pye were invited to take part in Tate Modern's Souls For Sale extravaganza and had their work exhibited in the Turbine Hall. In December 2010 Gordon and Harry's painting “Stacie of Preston” was sold at a charity auction held at The Victoria & Albert Museum. Money raised went to the Breakthrough cancer charity. In April 2012 Team Beswick & Pye took part in "Secret 7" at the Idea Generation gallery in Shoreditch. Their design for a seven Inch single by The Cure was sold in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. In the same month a compilation of their films were screened at Tate Britain's Manton Studios as part of Late at the Tate. In October 2012 Team Beswick & Pye's painting of Martin Luther King was featured in part of Art Below's Peace Project. The painting was exhibited at Gallery Different and a poster of it was displayed in Regent's Park Tube Station. In November 2012 Beswick & Pye were featured in The Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Gallery. 
 In 2013 Team Beswick and Pye painting The Beatles on a gigantic egg that was sold at an auction at The ICA for over £4,000. The money went to The Action For Children Charity. In the same year Team Beswick & Pye’s painting of Lady Thatcher appeared in both The London Evening Standard and on the BBC news. In 2015 their paintings of Elephants and tigers were included in the “Let’s Make A Better World” show at The Cello Factory in Waterloo. 
In 2016 Team Beswick and Pye made a portrait of Chris Packham (“A Starry Starry Night in Southampton”) which was turned into a 225cm wide billboard poster by Southampton School of Art.


ARTIST # 3 Morrissey Hancock
Image Above: Chromatic version 1 by Morissey Hancock 2016
Image Above: Chromatic version 2 by Morissey & Hancock 2016
Find out more about Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock's collaborations by visiting here


ARTIST # 4 Kate Murdoch
Image Above: 10 times 10 by Kate Murdoch

Image above: 30 Pieces of Silver by Kate Murdoch
Kate Murdoch is an artist whose work reflects a fascination with the passage of time, the permanence of objects and the fragility of existence. It is human nature to surround ourselves with objects; they provide us with a sense of self and reveal our connections to the wider world. Often loaded with meaning, objects reflect both our internal emotional world and the external image we present to others. From the mundane to the meaningful, they are steeped in social and political history and part of our identity.

Murdoch works with found objects, images or materials taken from the everyday and mostly dating from the last century. These elements are modified, transformed or placed together so that they retain a sense of their original function, but also assume new meaning. Murdoch’s work employs an economy of means, a process of reduction that results in a restrained, formal aesthetic. Implied narratives are never fixed and allow for audience (re)interpretation. Often interactive in its display, Kate's work invites viewers to form their own associative memories, attachments and responses to her assemblages and installations, in some cases encouraging the handling of some of the actual objects presented.

Kate Murdoch lives and works in South London. She has exhibited as part of the Whitstable Biennale, Deptford X, Frieze Art Fair, and at galleries including Transition, Firstsite, WW and APT.
For more info/C.V. click here

ARTIST #  4 Cedar Lewisohn

Above image by Cedar Lewisohn

Above image by Cedar Lewisohn

Cedar Lewisohn is an artist, writer and curator. His interested in various forms of exhibition platform, as well as experimental forms of writing. For more info visit here


ARTIST # 6 Corin Johnson

Image above marble sculpture by Corin Johnson

Corin trained as a stone carver before completing his BA in fine art at City in Guilds. He regularly executes monuments for churches and stately homes as well as sculpting marble for contemporary artists in Cararra, Italy. His ‘own work’, not that he doesn’t commit himself to his craft, is given freer reign and a lighter subject – more often than not it is polychrome wood carving." - Marcus Harvey
For more info on Corin visit:


ARTIST # 7 Nicola Hicks
Image above: drawing by Nicola Hicks

Image above: print by Nicola Hicks

Image above: life study by Nicola Hicks

Nicola Hicks was born in London in 1960 and studied at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1995 Hicks was awarded an MBE for her contribution to the visual arts.
For more info on Nicola visit: here

ARTIST # 8 Harry Pye
Image Above: Life Drawing by Harry Pye 1992
Image Above: Tin Tin in Deptford by Harry Pye 

Image Above: Portrait of Kenneth Williams by Harry Pye 2018

Image Above: Weird Nightmare by Harry Pye in collaboration with Rowland Smith 2017
Harry Pye has curated shows for both Elefest and Deptford X. He was recently part of the team that organised the "Inside Job" exhibition at Tate Modern
For more info click here

Monday, 26 March 2018

Phone Talking by Paul Walsh

In this café a young woman is talking. Talking to a person I can’t see. The breathless, bitty chatter of a virtual conversation. The way she sits, strokes her phone, and the way she responds when she’s finally connected to the person at the other end of the line makes me realise her primary reason for coming here is to relax by having  conversation in this café by phone. Her call is neither an interruption of something else, nor a surprise, but an intentional public act. Phone talking replaces people talking. Devices moderate connection, instead of the human ear, voice, or heart. We pare down public talk to a private blur.


Public talking still exists, or course. You know the thing.Slavoj Zizek is here - come stroke his aura, watch him perform! But who enjoys such intellectual beauty contests? They solidify the depressive state you’re in. They increase isolation rather than diminish it. Sterile events in sterile rooms. No drinks. Nothing to look at, you spend a whole evening enduring a pet project kept warm in an academic hothouse. Forced to sit still and admire the knowledge-fronds towering above you (the long nouns and longer sentences extending up and beyond the jungle canopy) after a time you wish the universe would finish this meal, swallow you up and burp loudly. Captured like fish in a net, these cognitive contests gather people but there’s no idea what to do next. We huddle around an intellectual commodity, and then disperse.
Yet I’m just as guilty, because I’m drawn to these events too. Drawn to the promise of new ideas, new thinking—and perhaps change. And so I’m walking through the wind and rain into the curvaceous exoskeleton of Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Weltfor something called Rethinking Class and Class Politics Today. And the main attraction drawing us in, like bats to a cave, is the radical ultrasound of Italian post-Marxist Antonio Negri.
Rethinking Class and Class Politics Today is one session in a three-day symposium named Dangerous Conjunctures – Resituating Balibar/ Wallerstein’s Race, Nation, Class, the whole thing marking the thirty-year anniversary of Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein’s book Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. I discover this information from the handout provided, a document which I’m learning to decipher with no codebook to hand. I collect a magic headphone machine from the cavernous foyer, for the simultaneous translation of the event into German, Italian and English. I’m fully informed and ready for battle and so head for the auditorium. But there’s an usher at the entrance. A sentry at the intellectual gate.
‘Can I go in?’ I ask.
‘Yes, but there’s nothing happening in there yet,’ he says.
‘Good.’ I walk in.
The hall is almost empty, strangely peaceful, just the quiet hum of projectors in the background. More a church than a cave. Some of the chairs are marked RESERVED. A few minutes pass and then the panel members walk in, in pairs or small groups clutching bags, pens and papers. They greet one another, ask about the sound, timing, and drinking water. I watch the soundmen rig everyone up with radio mics. Cameramen check their angles.
There’s a framed black-and-white photo of a man on the large white table around which the panellists will sit. He’s smiling. It’s a proud picture, the kind of picture you see on a mantelpiece or in a family album. It looks odd sitting there with the unopened bottles of water, computer leads and plugs because it’s the only old object and the only human object. The bright white table toward which we all point is where the INPUTS will take place, the handout informs me—the concept of class lying unconscious, ready to be examined like a patient on an operating table—and after INPUTS there will be DISCUSSIONS.
A bell rings. People stream in just like at the opera. I want opera glasses to look more closely at everyone’s hair. Antonio Negri’s hair is magnificent.


                                                                      Kelly Gillespie

The event starts with some personal experiences of class. Kelly Gillespie, an anthropology lecturer from South Africa, shows us some slides. The first shows a Cecil Rhodes statue outside the University of Capetown. In March 2015, political activist Chumani Maxwele collected shit, real shit from black townships, and threw it at the statue, lighting the fuse for the Rhodes Must Fall movement that spread across the world, with calls for similar statues to be removed.
Kelly tells the story of her grandfather, the man in the framed photograph resting on the table in front of her. How he was a Cornish tin miner who came to South Africa to make a better life for himself. How he took part in a strike in the twenties for better conditions and wages, but how this strike was in support of white miners rather than all miners (black miners were confined to the low-paid, unskilled jobs). How her grandfather was able, over time, to buy property and acquire wealth, and how this acquisition of property—at the same time pushing black families out to the periphery of town—laid the foundations for her own upbringing, her university education, and successful academic career. In her life story, race and class are intimately intertwined.

Antonio Negri and Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar

Antonio Negri speaks next. In the sixties he was a young militant active in a movement which combined political work with real struggles in the factories, struggles which led to new insights outside of classical marxism. Through his experiences he realised that the concept of class didn’t work as it was meant to. The way the mainstream Left parties conceptualised class—through the outdated subject of the universal, male, proletarian factory worker—meant that their concept of classblocked change rather than facilitated it.
The struggles of Italian workers went beyond what Left parties could understand, and far beyond ‘factory-ism’. Negri explains that the intervention of women caused the concept of work itself to become plural. The Wages for Housework Campaign, with women demanding payment for the work involved in reproducing (male) labour power, started not from abstract universals but from the particular conditions of women in the home, and the importance of these conditions to Capital.
Two big struggles opened up at that time. A demand for universal wage equality – 5000 lira for workers [not that much money at the time] – with all workers getting the same wage. Then Turin’s massive Fiat Mirafiori car plant went on strike in the ‘hot autumn’ of 1969, with 50,000 workers downing tools, a key intensification of the struggle. [The strike was famous for its militant student-worker alliance and the slogan Che cosa vogliamo? Tutto! - What do we want? Everything!
Unions reacted, as did Capital. The trade unions refused demands for universal wage equality outright. Large factories started to lay workers off, and the distribution of work changed as parts of the production process were moved to different locations. The rising hegemony of a new working class, powered by the mass migration of workers from Italy’s poor south, was attacked and ultimately defeated in a long and bloody struggle. Negri says of his work during these years: ‘It was all research.’
Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar speaks next. Born in Mexico in the 1960s, she grew up with revolutions and civil wars all across the continent, and her generation of militants asked how can we engage in this process?
She speaks of the friction she found between groups. The friction between the way indigenous people—with a lived experience of colonialism—approached politics and the way leftists approached politics. This friction, and the tensions, coalitions and confrontations between indigenous people and Marxists formed a large part of her political development.
She speaks of Bolivarian miners. After the collapse of the state mining company COMIBOL in 1985 and the opening of the mining sector to foreign investment, tens of thousands of miners lose their livelihoods. These miners move to the cities to look for work and she sees the strategies they use to survive in times of economic shock. People fall back on 'fertile, productive' relationships; what she calls ‘communitarian weavings’ more than anything else.


The next part of the event was an attempt to rethink ‘difference’ and class—to overcome the idea of class as a homogenous thing, and reinstate it as a usable thing for political struggle.
Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar spoke first about her problems with the ‘multitude,’ which Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have put forward as a conceptual alternative to the universal proletarian subject. She says that when struggles are open and flourishingand the multitude is in action, then everything is fine, the multitude can sustain itself. But in everyday life things are not so simple. Life has to be sustained. And so, can the concept of the multitude really fight against nation, family, and property? Antonio responds with the idea of the commons, saying that the concept of the public needs ‘to open to the commons,’ because the commons is today the terrain where new political capacities can be built.
Kelly Gillespie replies that this is all far too ‘romantic’. The political subjectivities that are produced by neoliberalism are often violent. Neighbours don’t trust each other, for example. In South Africa the idea of a commons is unrealistic. With mass migration to the cities from the Bantustans, there are ghettoes with high levels of unemployment and criminalisation. Here there’s too much mistrust and poverty for any ‘commons’ to emerge.


Break. We’re invited to go outside because activists have installed something outside the building, outside the shell where we sit. Walking outside the entrance to the building I see a torso on the ground in a pool of blood. Just legs blown clean off. Beside the sculpture is a sign asking us to remember the attacks in Afrin, Syria, by the Turkish army.
So we look. We consume. We go back, back in our shell. The moderator mentions the ongoing struggle of the YPG (People's Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) in the Kurdish autonomous regions. A woman from the audience shouts out
What about Syria? The Syrian revolution started seven years ago and the West is letting everyone down!
The moderator, Sandro Mezzadra, thanks the audience member for the intervention. We move on. The other moderator, Verónica Gago, says that in view of previous sessions in the symposium, and the increasing violence people are experiencing, we should be talking, and thinking about self-defence.


The floor is open—and the audience blow all the energy out of the room. The questions and comments are for no one. Over-intellectual to the point of absurdity, what people say has little connection to what the panellists have said—we’re subjected a long round of intellectual air-blowing that sweeps high above the auditorium’s chairs, tables and bottles. We endure:
·         a long question based around the Buddhist concept of displacement
·         a meandering seven-minute mini-lecture ending with the rise of human capital by Étienne Balibar
·         a trenchant defence of traditional marxism which no one had even mentioned, let alone attacked
Everything that could be ignored was ignored. We went from personal experiences of class to delicate slices of idea-cuisine. How did we go from an intellectual wake—with at least the potential of some movement, and perhaps dancing—to a funeral?
The question I wanted to ask was this: If the Right is solving the problems thrown up by a generation of neoliberalism—problems the Right frames in terms of national identity, class, and race (the very themes of this event)—then how the hell should the Left respond?
But I didn’t ask this, because the potential space for dialogue-thought-action was soon filled by the ballooning knowledge-displays of an intellectual officer class, who make anybody who isn’t academically-minded feel like one of Edward Galeano’s “nobodies”. I left feeling like an intellectual rag-picker.
What’s dangerous about this? I’m thinking as I walk out into the cold air and see snow flakes being blown around in small circles. Why is it that so many are talking to an interlocutor that others aren’t allowed to see—connections moderated by axioms, concepts and theories rather than the urgent beating of the social, the personal, and the necessary? Theory-talk is just more phone talk; connections of ones and twos; the endless exploration of propositions; the making of abstract sand-castles while a new tide rushes, roars and rises around feet.
This has little to do with changing things but more to do with hiding and obscuring; the eclipse of the real by the intellectual; the triumph of academic faith over a politics of change, and ideas.
Phone talking. Not real talking.
But you’re just anti-theory. I’m not. I simply ask for theoretical borders to be expanded; and for theoretical border police to stand down. For the intellectual miscreants, migrants and refugees to be let in. For more voices to be heard. More stories to be told. And perhaps, a little more friction.
Because the dangerous conjuncture is right there.

                Text and images by Paul Walsh March 2018

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Piccadilly Bongo reviewed by Humphrey Fordham

Praised by Pete Doherty as ‘a legend’, veteran writer Jeremy Reed’s collection of character-driven poems vividly depict the trademark sleaze of modern-day Soho and its immediate environs - now fast disappearing in a torrid chainstore al fresco haze.

The poems, which complement each other, function like Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ insofar that they portray a cross-section of London society from the penniless to the extravagantly well-heeled.

Using a notorious mid-70s public information film, ‘Johnny Go Home’ as a benchmark, they have a fluttering but lucid quality.

We sympathise with but do not empathise with the drug-starved teenage rent boy in ‘Polari’. ‘Dorian Gray’ reveals the deflated egotism of an ageing sugar-daddy with “blond streaks mussed into his eyes”. Shakespeare is imagined as a 21st Century Bon viveur but also a diminutive deviant in ‘Billy Shakespeare In Soho’, with “one eye on rising house-prices, the other on a gay poetry anthology”.

Reed also effectively uses less glamorous London locations to depict his characters’ fall from grace, as with the addict in ‘Born To Lose’: 

"Saw him once under the river in the Blackwall foot tunnel handcuffed to a carrier of needles at Centre Point as a hygiene freebie

Such imagery epitomises the timeless masochistic tendencies of London’s seedy underbelly, as alluded to in Folk Singer Al Stewart’s portentous 1967 song ‘Pretty Golden Hair’ where glittering promise predictably concludes in wanton self-destructiveness.

This theme is prevalent in the other treats of the collection. Reed’s innate obsession with rock ‘n’ roll lineage is shown in ‘Tearjerker’ where the respective recordings of Billy Fury and Billie Holiday simultaneously duet in a rundown hotel room. Both from different eras, but who died at a similar young age. Poignant to the core. 

A whole part of the collection, ‘A Bigger Bang’ is wryly devoted to depicting The Rolling Stones’ money-spinning mid-00s tour. The Stones, fast approaching senior-citizen status, are now caricatures in size 30 jeans and fuelled by Evian-endorsed wholesomeness in contrast to their days of yore. This brings everything full-circle, as like the Soho characters, The Stones are vainly struggling to grow old disgracefully but with their past credentials intact. They have the money. ‘Nuff said.

Also included with the collection is a CD containing a selection of ‘Torch Songs’ by ex-Soft Cell singer Marc Almond. They embody a bittersweet relationship with Soho, stemming from Almond’s late 70s youth. 

The collection begins with the acappella ‘Eros And Eye’ hinting that that the Piccadilly statue is a signpost to total hedonism. The rest of the songs are played to minimal backing, chiefly acoustic guitar. 

The chilling ‘Fun City’ is all about the loss of provincial innocence - a theme continued in ‘Seedy Films’ and ‘Sleaze’. Such unsubtle themes are seeped with subtle instrumentation reminiscent of Donovan’s ‘Young Girl Blues’. The urgent wail of a train-like blues harmonica giving a sense of regretful imprisonment.

The vintage and the violent rock.

Text by Humphrey Fordham 2018

Monday, 12 March 2018

Sukie Smith live at The Extricate Print Fair in Whitstable

On Thursday the 8th of March (International Woman's Day) a crowd of art lovers filled Oxford Street's Gallery 64a to experience The First Extricate Print Fair.

Work by more than 20 artists were featured in the show including; Emma Coleman, Tinsel EdwardsCedar LewisohnGuy AllotFrank Auerbach, Vanessa WinchJasper JoffeRaksha Patel, John Moore's Prize Winner Jock McFadyen (RA), Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing, and Saddie Hennessy. As well as musician turned artist Horace Panter (who designed the legendary 2-Tone logo and is bass player with The Specials), Peter Harris & Lee "Scratch" Perry, and James Johnston (ex Gallon Drunk and Bad Seed who currently tours with P.J. Harvey).

Ambitious art world outsider / desperado Jo Mama gave her framed prints free of charge to the first 20 people through the doors. Visitors also got to enjoy a free bar and a 5 song set from the amazing Sukie Smith of the band Madam

Smith's sang "No Ghost", "Rules of love", "Back to the Sea", "You Lead I Follow" and "Night Watch" all of the crowd loved the performance. Sukie's album Back to the Sea is available from Watch the official video for "Rules of Love" by MADAM here
The Extricate Print Fair is on till the end of March. To book an appointment e-mail:

Photos by Rob Mumby

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Variations on Disturbance: Mark E Smith the Past/Future Roman Totale by Olly Beck

1. The Outsider

‘I wanted to write out of the song. I wanted to explore, to put a twist on the normal. People think of themselves too much as one person – they don’t know what to do with the other people that enter their heads’

 Mark E. Smith, 2008

‘Someone's always on my tracks
 In a dark room you’d see more than you think
 I'm out of my place, got to get back
 I sweated a lot, you could feel the violence

 I've got shears pointed straight at my chest
 And time moves slow when you count it
 I'm better than them, and I think I'm the best
 But I'll appear at midnight when the films close’

 Frightened, Live at the Witch Trials, Smith/Bramah, 1979

The Fall are one of those rarefied bands I’ve always turned to whenever I start to feel complacent or indifferent or even seduced by the mainstream establishment-led value system or the ‘English Scheme’ as Marc E Smith once wrote it. A working class autodidact, part of Smith’s legacy will be his masterly toying with identity politics and the middle class paradigm which fuels this ‘set up’. In its current guise in these times of austerity, caused by people obsessed by too much wealth, we are invited to gawp in disgust or fear at poverty ridden, drug addled ‘chavs’ in television programmes commissioned by successful TV executives who often themselves appear to have risen to the heights of middle-classness from humble beginnings. That Smith riles against (but at the same revels in) this type of stereotyping is nothing new, it was part of the Punk ethic from which The Fall erupted. But whereas most of those Punk originators were tamed and subsumed into the system, The Fall as orchestrated and organised by Smith, resisted.                    

Smith’s dogged sense of self, refused to be flattened by the media saturated world he operated in. He was on its case to the point of pedantic annoyance. Fully aware of the pits and falls of the cultural system, he chose an ethic of hard unforgiving experimental graft to bring us more than forty years of music that now that he’s gone off to other complicated universes brings yet another reminder that our culture is rescinding itself in the name of some non-alignment global pact about obsessions and addictions to the rise and fall of the dollar, yen, sterling, bitcoin and all the rest of the capitalist led orientations of this neoliberal era. That Smith wasn’t interested in more than just enough money was very clear given his deliberately chosen trajectory into musical success which he filtered in terms of his beliefs rather than sell out his vision.

I doubt he would have agreed with what I’ve just written about him. But that was always the problem with Smith; he was difficult to pin down, forever the contrarian with an acute sense of cutting through the bullshit.     

2. In Your Area

‘You've got comics in full bloom
 McCarthy reincarnates soon
 See the bones on the two-way faces
 The me generation
 See the traces of
 The madness in my area’

 In My Area, Totale’s Turns, Scanlan/Riley/Smith/Pawlett, 1980

I crossed paths with him once in the late 1990’s. He was walking down West End Lane towards Maida Vale probably on his way to another intense Peel recording session. He had this grimace that was simultaneously hilarious. He hated London, which he saw as full of mercenary eyes. Prophetic or not, he was right to be cynical about the capital. What should have been, and once was a bohemian and affordable place to live was fast becoming overpriced and gentrified. A new breed of property speculators and the rise of the rentier class were moving in on all over us like a disease, leading us to the frankly criminal state of affairs which is the London I live in today. Not that this gentrification is confined to the south, it has spread even to Smith’s hometown of Prestwich: ‘Gentrification happens so quick, it happens here. This pub used to be a bit of a rough house, and you get these middle class fellas coming in with baby’s round their neck. And that’s their idea of austerity, coming in here!’[i]

Back in 1985, I picked up my first Fall album ‘The Wonderful and Frightening World of…’ The opening track Lay of the Land, with its part-gothic, part-psychobilly sonic sensibility across which are lain seemingly potty lyrics vocalised by a sardonic northerner had me transfixed. Later, at art college, when given a visual diary project to be put to music I took my 35mm camera loaded with slide film and documented my first semi-conscious drift/dérive around the liminal bad land spaces of my suburban hometown on the outer edges of North London and used Lay of the Land as the soundtrack. These were spaces that attracted a multitude of turpitudes from the lighter side of illicit sex, teenage parties, drug taking and gang fighting to the sites of much darker misdemeanours which were all too often places which bisected the former zones of innocence deflowered. 

I didn’t think much of the results of my work, but it was cathartic given my own disturbed familial beginnings in life and the random unsituated violence which regularly haunted my neighbourhood. I certainly didn’t know anything about the likes of Guy Debord, Ivan Chtcheglov and the Situationist International at that stage.

Instead The Fall had given me access to a sense of evocation via Smith’s sense of an urban psychedelic exorcism drawn from his fascination with esoteric/visionary writers such as Arthur Machen, Malcom Lowry, H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K Dick. It was apparently from Machen that Smith drew his alter-ego Roman Totale XVII, a rebellious figure drawn  to the outside mysterium of the Welsh Mountains from an urban fiery within: ‘Machen’s style of writing horror and the supernatural into everyday occurrences, especially urban metropolitan settings, is echoed in The Fall’s urban gothic. The horror is located under the surface of things.’[ii]

Roman Totale surfaces prominently in the opus  ‘The N.W.R.A’ (The North Will Rise Again) wearing an ostrich headdress, covered in tentacles, his face a mess and dwelling underground, screwed over by a dubious local businessman called Tony. In Mark Fisher’s brilliantly perceived essay exploring the influence of pulp modernism on Smith’s writing Fisher observes: ‘Lovecraft is the exemplar here: his tales and novellas could in the end no longer be apprehended as discrete texts but as part-objects forming a mythos-space which other writers could explore and extend. The form of ‘The N.W.R.A’ is as alien to organic wholeness as Totale’s abominable tentacular body. It is a grotesque concoction, a collage of pieces that do not belong together.’[iii] Fisher’s reading (a reading he readily admits to being  just that, rather than some definitive understanding of Smith’s trademark lyrical jouissance) sees Totale’s failed redemption as standing for a North unable to re-establish its former glory whether Victorian or ancient, suppressed by its own nouveau riche aspirations: ‘More than a matter of regional railing against the capital, in Smith’s vision the North comes to stand for everything supressed by urbane good taste: the esoteric, the anomalous, the vulgar sublime, that is the Weird and Grotesque itself.’[iv]

Smith’s lyrics and his deliverance of them have a schizophrenic quality echoing another key influence in William S. Burroughs cut-up technique. Here Smith is attracted to the daily pulp of magazines and newspapers: ‘I like crap, me. The local advertiser and all that. The rubbish that’s written in there is quite fascinating. Free newspapers, the Metro and all that shit.’[v] This mixing up of the literary arcane with the throwaway mundane, the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ interjected  with Smith’s tetchy often humorous social realism is what makes repeated listening to The Fall so absorbing and challenging.                      

3. Futures/Pasts

‘I was in a sleeping dream
 When a policeman brought my mother home
 By the window I didn't scream
 I was too old for that
 I was in a drunken dream
 The pubs were closed
 It was three o'clock
 At the bottom of the street it seemed
 There was a policeman lost in the fog’

 Futures and Pasts, Live at the Witch Trials, Smith/Bramah, 1979

But with all the fascination about Smith’s cantankerous personality as the grouchy double-talking outsider as well as the Dadaist approach to meaning and performativity it’s his poetic ability that is left wanting. The song Futures and Pasts is an exquisitely paired down encapsulation of suburban dysfunction using a dream state saturated with fog and booze overseen by an inadequate authority figure where memory slips uneasily between the present, past and an implied future. Bill is Dead from Extricate is a celebratory love song like no other, while The Reckoning from Middle Class Revolt is one of the most reassuring and upliftingly defiant songs about unrequited love I’ve ever heard. The opening track Alton Towers on Imperial Wax Solvent finds Smith crooning like a deranged stalker against what could be a seedy Tom Waits style jazz meander – although it has been speculated that it was actually inspired by Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. Before the lyrics descend into chaotic clipped asides comes:

 In excelcis
 And the waves
 Through the slits
 In San Rocco
 Look very different
 And are no longer any way sublime’

 Alton Towers, Imperial Wax Solvent, Smith/Spurr, 2008

4. Dictaphone Man/Lost in Music

In a long overdue but already old essay on musical experimentation as a tactical anti-establishment component employed by The Fall, Robert Walker points us towards what he calls ‘dictaphonics’.[vi] The use of lo-fi recording equipment such as dictation and home tape recorders (in the studio or out in the ‘field’) as well as Smith’s penchant for projecting his voice through guitar amps, megaphones and anything else which conveys a sense of dissemblance, is designed to disrupt ‘the acoustic, spatial, and temporal complacency of the established rock formula.’

It is also used more uniquely as a key compositional device. The haunting, oppressive sounding Spectre vs. Rector from the 1979 album Dragnet opens with the band recorded as though we are listening to them muffled and drifting up from some hellish basement: ‘The intentional muddiness of the ghost band that Smith sings over in the first part of Spectre vs. Rector is then wrenched away by the real band, an opportunity to use the claustrophobic squall of replayed sound to act like a character lurking in the space of the record. The fact that the two versions sit over each other uncomfortably adds to the songs dank atmosphere. The unflattering acoustic helps convey a sense of otherness because its tonal quality is outside of our own expectations of a piece of music.’[vii] 

Walker counts at least fifty songs from The Fall’s output which use dictaphonic insertions with varying degrees of prominence, approach and affect. The most recognisable being Smith’s use of the Dictaphone to create multiple voices emanating from the same person (himself) as a way of exploring his fascination with multiple identities and splintered personalities. And perhaps it is in this bi-polar way that John Peel’s much loved proclamation that The Fall are ‘always different, always the same’ might be understood.  

[i] Mark E Smith,, July 2017
[ii] Mark Goodall, Salford Drift: A Psychogeography of The Fall, Mark E Smith and The Fall: Art, Music and Politics, Ed. Michael Goddard and Benjamin Halligan, Routledge, 2016, p48
[iii] Mark Fisher, Memorex for the Krakens: The Fall’s Pulp Modernism, Ibid, p105
[iv] Ibid, p105
[v] Mark E Smith,, November 2011
[vi] Robert Walker, ‘Dictaphonics’: Acoustics and Primitive Recording in the Music of The Fall, Mark E Smith and The Fall: Art, Music and Politics, Ed. Michael Goddard and Benjamin Halligan, Routledge, 2016
[vii] Ibid, p80 :Walker sites the influence of musique concrete here (John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer et al) but also fellow mavericks like Brion Gysin, Burroughs and Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.

Text by Olly Beck 2018