Curiosities of The Fall - No 13 of 15(ish) - Touch Sensitive…Bootleg Box Set
Of all The Fall’s live releases, this is the most bewildering. Straight away, it’s a worry not just because the set is cynically named after what was, at the time, their most popular song in years but also because the notion of “bootleg” was always going to give one pause, given the quality of some of the recordings issued without such a qualifying subscript. That said, it looks good - a tidy little box with simple but effective artwork, presumably designed to look like a slightly rumpled paste-on and with a cheeky appropriation of the “Trademark Of Quality” logo, well known to bootleg traders. It was priced reasonably enough, less that 2 separate CDs. I scored mine second-hand for £9 - even now, it strikes me as an improbable used-rack find. Anyway…
All 5 gigs are from 2001, not generally regarded as a vintage year. The group are ostensibly touring “The Unutterable” but have already lost almost all of the line-up that made it; Neville Wilding, Adam Helal and Tom Head/Murphy are all gone, replaced by Ben Pritchard, Jim Watts and Spencer Birtwistle. Only Julia Nagle had held on and she would leave midway through the year. The gigs are not given in chronological order - the earliest gig is on disc 3, followed by 4, 5, 2 and 1. If one listens chronologically, it’s clear why Disc 3 (Haarlem, The Netherlands, 6th April) isn’t Disc 1 as it has the most amateur recording quality of the whole set. If the box had opened with this, there really would have been a surplus of second-hand copies. That said, it is one of the better performances - the overly pumping cassette-tape compression might actually help a bit but this is a blast. Kicking off with a terrific “Sons Of Temperance”, the group are lively, quick and sound like they’re enjoying themselves. It’s clear there were a few problems; 4 of the tracks on this disc are taped inserts but they make strong work of “Two Librans”, “F-Oldin’ Money” and, surprisingly, a spirited (if slightly simplified) “Paintwork”. We’re deep in the audience for the second disc, recorded the following night at the Melkweg in Amsterdam; the sound is a bit better but the performance doesn’t quite hit the same level. Nagle is virtually inaudible on both of these (I checked the gigography and there’s nothing to suggest she didn’t play) but she is heard very clearly on Disc 5, recorded in Brighton a week or two later. This is easily the worst disc of the set; the performance is sloppy, a guitar is already out of tune on opener “The Joke” and there are weird echo effects on the drums every so often - this may be partly down to microphone fuckery by MES, mind you. Anyway, the group appears to have forgotten the structure of “Mr Pharmacist” already and the version of ”Paintwork” is terrible, a messy, mainly instrumental botch with random tapes from “Midwatch 1953” and “Birthday Song” blaring across it. Pritchard’s faux-rawk guitar stylings are at their excruciating worst, the mostly awful keyboards are too loud, the group don’t know “I Am Damo Suzuki” very well (MES‘s mic failing won’t have helped them) and Birtwistle appears never to have even heard “And Therein”, let alone played it. Bah.
Returning to the beginning of the set, we flash forward to November and things are much better. Nagle is gone and The Fall are a tight, straight-down the line 4 piece rock ‘n’ roll band, touring an album they actually made - “Are You Are Missing Winner“. That said, “RUR“ weighs lightly on the set with just 4 songs making it to each gig - oddly, “Ibis Afro Man“ is dropped as soon as it hits vinyl. They‘ve learned “And Therein“ and the medley of “Kick The Can” and “F’oldin’ Money” works a treat, a gesture that connects this stripped back edition of the group to The Fall’s roots - r ‘n‘ r as primal spirit. They take “Sons Of Temperance” far too fast, sacrificing the burbling thwack of the original for pure speedthrill but overall, there is an improvement in atmosphere and energy as well as recording quality. A couple of these takes made it to “2G+2” and one wonders why the other gigs recorded for that CD weren’t included, given the generally ropey feel of the April recordings.
Inevitably, the set suffers from longeuers caused by excessive repetition (yeah, I know, I know…) - every disc features “Two Librans”, “F’Oldin’ Money”, “Mr Pharmacist” (all five takes of which are rotten), “Way Round” (which, by contrast, comes out of the whole thing brilliantly), “Cyber Insekt” and “Touch Sensitive” with “Sons Of Temperance” missing only from Disc 5. But the core calculation is actually pretty clever. If you’re keen enough to own one live album from this period, you’re likely to want another and popping 5 into a value-for-money box was pretty astute both economically and in terms of creating a “nice item“ which is inherently more attractive than yet-another-live-CD in a jewel case with crap artwork. Well played, Sanctuary. Ultimately, this is a spell of The Fall’s existence which is actually best served by the studio albums and few will pull this off the shelf with any regularity.
The opening animation for Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1986) is one of my favorite two minutes of animation at the moment. And according to ANN its by Koji Morimoto, who founded Studio 4°C and has worked on some of my other favorite animated films!
The Fall’s Albums In No Order At All; No. 22 of 29(ish) - Slates
It’s difficult to find something new to say about “Slates”, long and rightly considered one of The Fall’s very best releases. For many years I had to piece as much of it as I could together from compilations as it was unavailable as a complete set so it wasn’t until the 2-4-1 with ” A Part Of America Therein 1981” was issued in the mid 90’s that I finally got to hear the original 6 track sequence as intended (nb - that CD is not pictured as I passed it on to another fan when the Sanctuary reissue sequence appeared from 2004 onwards).
What is often left out is what a massive leap forward “Slates” was for the group. The songs are all wildly original, owing virtually nothing to conventional song structures whilst remaining not only totally listenable, but utterly compelling. “Middle Mass” zigzags on a queasy semi-tonal organ riff and an equally sea-sick rise-and-fall bassline but Scanlon’s choppy guitars hold it all together while MES delivers a scabrous, yellow-eyed rant which was, for years, rumoured to be a veiled attack on Marc Riley. The late diversion into the gently creeping end section is as inspired as it is effective. “An Older Lover etc.” remains one of their absolute best, a crepuscular, slightly sleazy piece which fades gently in on some beautifully understated tip-tapping drums from Paul Hanley and some equally alluring low-key instrumentation, regularly deviating into a deeply sinister almost-chorus. Topping this off is a genuienly dramatic performance from MES and a tape experiment that truly disorientates, heightening a sense of dread that goes even beyond that of “Spectre Vs Rector”. Side one finishes with the full tilt organised chaos of “Prole Art Threat”, the clanging, unruly guitars only just held down by the Hanleys while MES is almost onomatopeic on one of the most impressive 2 minutes they had yet produced.
Side two jumps straight in with the almost jaunty “Fit And Working Again”. Riley later claimed the song was virtually improvised, something only really betrayed at the very end when the group don’t quite seem to know how to finish - this, however, works in its favour, giving what could otherwise have been, in the company, a comparative lightweight, the same knife-edge quality as the rest of the album. “Slates, Slags, etc.” is an absolute joy, a thrilling 2 chord demolition with one of Smith’s funniest lyrics - for instance, “Male slags knock over your drink, pay for correct amount spilt”. Like “City Hobgoblins” the previous year, “SS etc” roasts an entire social group in a few choice phrases, something that really, only MES could do - his wit and alacrity is in full force on this record and he was at one of his peaks in terms of word choice and sheer articulacy around this time. This is evident no better than on closing track “Leave The Capitol”, which was voted the best Fall track ever at the unofficially official forum. It’s easy to see why - Smith hisses his way through a takedown of ol’ Londinium (“this 10 times town”) which is fundamentally, a great piece of creative journalism, as recognisable and amusing as it is joyfully illuminating. A line like “hotel maids smile in unison” could only have come from MES and he makes it sound truly unsettling. He also finds room for a little of the vernacular, slipping in “I will leave this fucking dump” underneath the main vocal line while no-one is looking.
Neither album nor single, it has been almost forced into the albums canon by sheer fan affection. A tremendous way to spend 25 minutes of your life, “Slates” is The Fall being themselves, outside of everything and delighting in that status. Its reputation is entirely justified and it is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in the UK independent/underground scene of the late 70’s and early 80’s. C-Mac Rating - 10/10
House Of Mystery #85, April 1959, cover by Jack Kirby
Coney Island Cyclone (Taken with instagram)
Fuck U (Taken with instagram)
Oilseed (Taken with instagram)
Henry Darger (Taken with instagram)
Alice at the bowling alley. (Taken with instagram)
Maggie. (Taken with instagram)
By Andrew Wheeler
Chip Kidd is one of the best-known book designers in the business. He’s designed covers for works by James Ellroy, David Sedaris, Haruki Murakami, John Updike and hundreds of others, though comic fans may know him better as the designer on Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha series, Pantheon Books’ Bat-Manga and Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. Kidd is also a hardcore comic fan. He has an extensive collection of Batman memorabilia, and he once told USA Today that the first cover he ever noticed was probably a Batman comic. “The colors, the forms, the design. Batman himself is such a brilliant design solution.” Now, Kidd shares some of his insights into his cover design process in a recent presentation recorded by the nonprofit Technology, Entertainment, Design, a.k.a. TED.