Mark E. Smith

Mark E. Smith dies, aged 60

Mark E. Smith, leader of indie legends The Fall for over forty years, has died at the age of 60, his manager announced today.

The simple statement from manager Pam Van Damned reads: “It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mark E. Smith. He passed this morning at home. A more detailed statement will follow in the next few days. In the meantime, Pam & Mark’s family request privacy at this sad time.”

Smith was known to have been in failing health for some time; a number of Fall concerts had been cancelled at short notice since last summer, including two in the US in August and several in the UK last November. Shows which did go ahead in the latter part of 2017 often featured Smith onstage in a wheelchair, or performing his vocals from the wings or backstage. No cause of death has yet been announced, but a statement from the band last summer blamed the cancellation of the US gigs on problems “connected to his throat, mouth/dental & respiratory system.”

The Fall came in to being in 1976 after Smith and three friends were among the dozens of Manchester concert goes inspired to form a band after seeing the Sex Pistols’ legendary Free Trade Hall show. By the time they recorded their début album Live at the Witch Trials in 1978 Smith was the only original member remaining; his belligerent leadership style would become the stuff of legend, with well over sixty musicians passing through the Fall ranks over the next four decades. The band continued to build a cult following with albums Dragnet (1979) and Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980) and numerous sessions for John Peel’s late night Radio 1 show – Peel would famously declare The Fall to be his favourite band of all time, describing them as “Always the same, always different.”

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Although they would flirt with mainstream chart success at various periods in their career, especially the late 1980s and early ’90s, and scored an unexpected top thirty hit in New Zealand with Totally Wired in 1981, it was The Fall’s fourth album, 1982’s Hex Enduction Hour which saw them enter the UK album chart for the first time, reaching number 71 and sharing chart space with Barbra Streisand, Julio Iglesias and Diana Ross. Indeed, legend has it that The Fall almost became labelmates with Ms Ross, having attracted the interest of a Motown executive, but the label passed on the band after hearing the opening track of Hex Enduction Hour which contains, in modern parlance, somewhat problematic language which failed to endear them to the label.

Between 1984 and 1986 The Fall scored six hit singles, all of which peaked between numbers 90 and 99, although they fared better on the album chart with The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (1984, #62), This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985, #54) and Bend Sinister (1986, #36). 1986 also saw the band crack the top 75 singles chart for the first time when Mr Pharmacist spent a week at number 75. They would go on to score two top forty hits in 1987 and ’88 with covers of R. Dean Taylor’s There’s a Ghost in my House and The Kinks’ Victoria, but between those came perhaps the band’s fondest remembered single Hit the North, later the theme to a BBC Radio 5 show which first paired host Mark Radcliffe with former Fall guitarist turned broadcaster Marc “Lard” Riley – Mark and Lard would go on to the dizzy heights of the Radio 1 breakfast show for a few months in 1997 before settling back into a mid-afternoon slot for several years.

The Fall’s commercial success peaked in the early 1990s when they scored their only self-penned top forty single Free Range (1992, #40) and, incredibly, a top ten album The Infotainment Scan (1993, #9); Smith even appeared on Top of the Pops in 1994 as a guest of Inspiral Carpets on their top twenty hit I Want You. Subsequent releases appeared to show Smith back-peddling from such success, culminating in 1997’s Levitate which toyed with drum & bass and failed to chart. The following spring The Fall almost ceased to exist after an onstage bust-up saw Smith unplugging his bandmates’ amps and lashing out at them, leading to almost the entire band either leaving or being sacked, depending on whose side of the story one believes. Nevertheless, the band continued with various sacked members being reinstated and the release of a career-spanning compilation 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong – 39 Golden Greats in 2004. Four months after the compilation’s release, the band’s long time patron John Peel passed away; the twenty-four sessions the band recorded for his show were compiled into a 6CD box set the following year. Soon afterwards the band’s Theme from Sparta FC was chosen as the theme for BBC TV’s football results show Final Score, a situation which lead to the bizarre spectacle of Smith reading out the results on the show.

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In its final decade the band kept up a hectic live schedule and continued to release albums on a regular basis; although their chart positions varied wildly, they reached the top forty album charts with Imperial Wax Solvent (2008, #35), Your Future Our Clutter (2010, #38), Re-Mit (2013, #40) and their thirty-second and final studio album New Facts Emerge (2017, #35). Smith’s passing robs British music of one of its last true eccentrics; it may be a cliché, but we genuinely won’t see his like again.