Farewell, Fiery Jack

Our cover photo this week was shot in January rain in Highgate. Some of you will recognise the inscription from the foot of Marx's gravestone, but we think it suits for mourning all who made a difference, whatever the oeuvre.

It was only last month that we celebrated the sheer amazingness of the Fall’s 1976-2016 seven-CD singles compilation, one that came not too long after their 31st or (32nd?) studio album, “New Facts Emerge”. Sad as it is that there will now be no 32nd or (33rd) Fall LP, it seems fitting that the singles collection will now document forever the entirety of their singles life, a tribute to Salford's own Mark E. Smith, who may have been Britain's leading curmudgeon and irascible pub-snug bon viveur but who was also a poet, a modern-day soothsayer, a workaholic, a barometer of taste and a caustic if often astute social commentator. More than that, he was a man who - belying his reputation - brought many friends together: I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve enjoyed Fall gigs with over the thirty years since I first watched them fire up their guitars, and on hearing this sad news (via the BBC News at Ten, no less) many of those people were quick to get in touch, and so in death M.E.S. has brought many an old pal closer again.

Much has made in the past twenty-four hours of the 66 stalwarts who had featured with him in the Fall over the decades, but the acid test of Smith as a frontman and bandleader is that few of those 66 had been heard of before they joined the Fall, and none managed to go on to achieve anything as magical in music since they left. But each of them kept the band fresh and tight and I loved the fact the Fall never deferred to the vogue for nostalgia, but lived firmly in the present, each calendar year focused on a brand new record, each gig devoted almost entirely to their newest songs.

And every time you thought that the spark had gone, it fired back into life (we were blown away by how strong the Fall were at shows in Brixton and Chelsea well into the 2010s, just as we were wowed whenever a brand new album tore them out of previous ruts).

And it also remains the case – and I’d only been explaining this to a bemused workmate the day before – that Smith’s “Renegade” counts as the best rock autobiography I’ve ever read, even better than Ice-T’s “The Ice Opinion”, although the two great men certainly share the trait of not suffering fools gladly.

And the Fall remain responsible for “Totale’s Turns”, which is probably the best live album of all time.

The grim tidings reminded us of a somewhat excitable, inchoate summary we’d been drafting of the Fall’s spring 2016 residency in London N7, but which fell by the wayside and never got published. We’ve put it up now though, because even if it’s unfinished and a bit anoraky and rough around the edges it was an attempt – at a time when we never knew those would be our last Fall gigs, *sigh* – to catalogue for how long we’d been entranced by the strange spell that Smith cast. And was intended to capture some of the spirit of the fact that seeing the Fall in the flesh wasn’t merely about going to watch a band: it was about the shared experience and the camaraderie and and everything that went with going out with your mates to catch up on a long-shared musical love. The post also links to yet more Fall reminiscences on our past pages so if, like us, you’re rather missing the old grump now, we hope they might help rekindle your own memories of nights out spent marvelling at the Fall’s raw power, unpredictability and uncompromising (but very real) musicality...

All in all, we mustn't be too sad. In complete honesty, we think that M.E.S. had achieved, in spades, all the good, good stuff that he was put on this earth to do. He left a musical legacy to be celebrated, and that can't be done justice in cold black type. We're off to listen to some of those records right now.

Thanks Mark. Fantastic Life, R.I.P.