ALBUM REVIEW: The Fall - Live at St. Helens Technical College, ’81

9/10

ALBUM REVIEW: The Fall - Live at St. Helens Technical College, ’81

Marking 40 years since a gig in St. Helen’s technical college, this newly discovered bootleg of the performance screams through your ears as proof that The Fall are more relevant than ever. Discovered by chance by former guitarist Marc Riley, it’s a prodigious windfall full of Mark E. Smith’s idiosyncratic shrieks, screeches and howls. The articulate dissonance between Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon’s guitars experienced live by less than 100 audience members is scorching, bludgeoning the surrounding air as evidence of their unmatchable uniqueness.

Mark E. Smith mock croons to the crowd on their opener, “Blob 59”. He misses each note by half a semi-tone or more but never misses the point, a constant feature of his poetic lyricism. “Prole art-threat” follows, resembling something similar to ice-water shock. The metallic drums grind against Paul Hanley’s impatient drums, jumbled music, and post-punk anger brought together by Mark's deliberate delivery. The Fall showcases their musicianship on “Middle Mass”, wrestling with their instruments' limits before toiling gently with a warped melody that tumbles around itself.

Mark E. Smith is as caustic as ever throughout, “This one’s on page 31 if you can just turn to your programmes now,” he quips before “Rowche Rumble”, a bruising mix of dynamics and chaotic dissidence. Paul Hanley’s drumming, expertly solid throughout, is rangier here. Switching from active to sparse beats when he deems appropriate alongside the relentless guitars. “An older lover” is possibly the pick of the set as Mark E. Smith spits his lyrics on a bed of hissing feedback which endures throughout the gig. He launches into screamed iterations of the lyrics in a song where guitars jangle industrially in the pendulum-like melody. “City Hobgoblins” picks up the tempo after MES exclaims, “Spiders know these things,” and screams the opening.

Mark E. Smith tries to scream the mic into submission on “Leave the Capitol” and almost succeeds. The mic’s interpretation of his unique sounds creates some intriguing feedback. The guitars play “The NWRA” with so much distortion that it’s difficult to comprehend where the sound originated. In contrast, Steve Hanley’s bass is smooth and undercuts the scraping guitars that alternate between playing together and against each other.

“Right, this is something you town boys won’t know anything about,” He half raps to introduce “Gramme Friday”, a performance where we get to see Mark E. Smith’s brilliant mind playing out. “This is my “Gramme Friday” with a blocked up nose, what a paradox,” he says after a sniffle. “On Fit and Working again”, we hear The Fall interchange between a conventional band’s unity and their own unique sparse arrangements. “Muzorewi’s Daughter” opens with a series of grunts that have crawled from the underworld, into Mark E. Smith's body and through the speakers. The performance reaches several crescendos in intensity, emotion and angst.

“Slags, Slates & etc.” is the closer. Mark E. Smith slurs over his slags and slates as the backing vocalist lisps through the lyrics. He dedicates this one to “technical college rejects” before a now exhausted Fall abruptly ends the performance on their own terms.

This fortuitous unearthing of a live performance by The Fall further cements their legacy as a band bereft of aesthetic and the need for approval whilst remaining an image of iconic individualism for their devoted fans. This live performance is worth it to hear an animated version of The Fall at the peak of their powers. It’s also a reminder of how badly we may need an act with similar ideals to The Fall to form again, as unlikely as that may be.

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