Every story must have a start...,
This review is from: Live At The Witch Trials (Audio CD)
Not only is this where it started for The Fall, it's where my love of The Fall began, having brought this album in December 2005. It all instantly made sense, you either get why a chorus of "yeah yeah industrial estate" is amazing, or you don't. And I did.
Often overlooked Live At The Witch Trials is a fantastic album and a unique one, mainly for the role that MES plays in the band.
Here Mark resembles a bilious observational stand up comedian. Guitarist Martin Bramah has described it as "Coronation Street on acid" and it's easy to see why. On this debut album, Mark actually wants you to hear the lyrics: they are clear in the mix and well enunciated. Later on Mark would be obscure in his lyrics and fudged at the mixing desk, but here, he has things to say and he wants you to hear them. Apparently at one early gig he went into the crowd and poked his finger up the noise of Magazine frontman Howard Devoto. On Live At The Witch Trials he is poking his finger up all our noses.
Many of the topics that appear here would become mainstays of his writing. Working class routines are explored on "Industrial Estate". Drugs are discussed on "Like To Blow" and "No Xmas For John Quays".
There are unique themes here though. The chief one is control: both of society and of the individual. Control via prescription drugs on "Underground Medicine" (a topic later to resurface on "Rowche Rumble", via machinery on "Psycho Mafia" from the stories Una Baines told him from working in Prestwich Mental Hospital, via automated drip fed entertainment on "Bingo Master's Break Out". MES paints a picture of a suppressed populace numbed by government control, often without resistance, like cattle trotting happily into the slaughter house.
Right from day one Mark is casting his critical eye over society and scorning what he sees.
Perhaps the most interesting song here is "Frightened". We are all used to Mark E Smith, the perennial grumpy old man who releases an album every year but on Live At The Witch Trials what we have is Mark Smith, teenage singer in a band with his mates. It's a different Mark, before he became the leader, the hirer and firer. You hear enthusiasm and excitement that you don't quite get on subsequent releases. The thrill of the novelty of releasing an album perhaps, before it became his day job for the rest of his life. And maybe "Frightened" is a rare sign of insecurity. Being around 20 when I first heard the song "Frightened" struck a chord ", leaving behind being a teenager, not quite knowing what to do with life in that strange hinterland. "Frightened" is a song about not knowing where to place yourself in life or where life will place you. "I got shears pointed straight at my chest... I don't wanna dance I wanna go home... I spend hours looking sideways to the time when I was 16".
That's the words discussed. What about the music? This initial line up is terrific, and much underrated. Martin Bramah is a great guitarist and his angular scrapings are the perfect backdrop. Marc Riley rock solid bass holds the album together. Karl Burn's drumming is ramshackle and wild, and again, perfect for the music. And the keyboards? The keyboards are fantastic! Yvonne Pawlett is another unsung Fall member, playing the cheapest keyboards on the market add a Sooty Show parping that 10 years later still makes me smile.
The music switches from slow to fast like a manic depressive, making for an unpredictable ride. The use of repetition is evident from the start of course.
There is a real sense of fun on Live AT The Witch Trials. The shouted singalong chorus', Bramah joining in on backing vocals, the adorable keyboards and Mark's machine gun delivery are all constantly thrilling. The asides are very funny too: "what's this song about?" "er, nothing" on "Mother Sister" and studio instructions on "Music Scene" asking the band to stop playing.
And the release? The two disc is phenomenal, you'er not really buying the debut album but an anthology of the early days of The Fall with singles, EPs, a Peel Session and a gig from Liverpool that has appalling sound quality but find the band in form.
So there we go: this is The Fall as a band of mates, things would never be the same again...