October 2004. John Peel, dead at 65 of a heart attack. In 2005, The Fall is still going. John Peel and The Fall had a long and dedicated relationship of 26 years. The Fall were as close as anyone could get to being Peel's "house band". Appearing in BBC London's Maida Vale Studio 24 times. Fall fans worldwide awaited a day when ALL these sessions would be available for public consumption. The day is upon us. No more trading of tapes and MP3s. Clearing all legal harangues and finishing years of work, the dream lives. Now and forever, the importance of these sessions on The Fall's sound, the musical world and history are available for general pleasures. This a monumental and encyclopedic achievement in music. This is beyond The Beatles demos, outtakes and "alt" versions. It is beyond Brian Wilson's Smile, reinvigorating old classics. Zeppelin? The Dead? Please! The Fall are the most indignantly creative and independent band, EVER! Mark E. Smith is the working class hero of punk art rock, to this day!
This simple cardboard box of six CDs is a tome. This is a daunting and plainly delivered epic trek clocking in at 7.5 hours. Where does one begin in talking about what this paper and plastic brick hurls at your head? Like Krazy Kat, each hit in the head only confirms the love. Each CD is individually contained in an ultra-thin and stripped down case with graphics cataloging each session by numerated, dated appearance and performed tracks. A 48-page booklet accompanies the CDs giving the listener details of each session: dates, musicians, songs and background stories provided by Daryl Easlea (writer of the Slates rerelease liner notes). Photographs show cameos of the band but it is more of a casual look into the studio where all the magic happened. It touches on the scene from American Graffitti where Richard Dreyfus comes face-to-face with his idol, Wolfman Jack. The veneer is now stripped away and you see the reality of what this hallowed place really is. Basic, humbleÐ the flash is in the tracks. The tale is in the tape.
One can only talk about highlights when reviewing this block of music. I have listened and listened, my travels blurring like a whirlwind bus tour of punk history landmarks, remembering individual moments, major highlights fogging the beauty with more beauty, on top of more beauty. Here are the snapshots of my journey, each phase in its own volume.
CD1-Futures And Pasts and Mother-Sister, the openers, a raw, superb look into the true origin of the Fall sound (Sess. 1- 6/15/78). Put Away (Sess. 2- 12/6/78) is not the best track on CD 1 but my heart skips at the first sound of the guitar. I hear the possible origins of The Smith's Johnny Marr now infamous How Soon Is Now? riff. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps, not. Container Driver (Sess. 3- 9/24/80) hints at Couldn't Get Ahead and a sound revisited in Nation's Saving Grace. Brilliant. Jawbone And The Air Rifle (Sess. 3- 9/24/80) is performed fantastically and the lyrics were never more casually delivered and understandable while the music is firm. It is more upbeat then the future Hex release. New Face In Hell (Sess. 3- 9/24/80) is loose and memorable. What a great rendition. You get a stellar performance of Middlemass (Sess. 4- 3/31/81). Then, it is the first public performance of Hip Priest, (Sess. 4- 3/31/81). An all-time favorite of mine, all I can say.
CD2- The second track Look, Know (Sess. 5- 9/15/81) is a great performance. There is a live feeling while remaining taut, romping and lively. What a moment! And on that note, third track, Winter (Sess. 5- 9/15/81) is a outstanding rendition. It invokes a feeling that you are there, close your eyes and imagine it. The Peel version of Who Makes The Nazis (Sess. 4- 9/15/81) is available on the Slates rerelease. It is a notable version. More weird and loose it adds insanity where the record version is sinister and angry. Smile (Sess. 6- 3/23/83) is a long, well presented version that is seemingly exact to the Perverted By Language recording, but is not. It is better. Not a highlight, Eat Y'self Fitter (Sess. 6- 3/23/83) is mixed in a way where you, sadly, can't hear the title line! An excellent version of Words of Expectation is the next to last track and a badly produced version of C.R.E.E.P (Sess. 7- 1/3/84) seems unecessary but this is ALL the Peel performances. Many people remark that the Brix era of The Fall is the worst period. This is that period of Fall history and is a detraction from the great start of the Hex era performances of CD2.
CD3- Cruiser's Creek (Sess. 8- 6/23/85) rocks in the fisrt slot. A great version that is true to the original. This is perhaps the most accessible period of the Fall's sound. Couldn't Get Ahead (Sess. 8- 6/23/85) is solid. Loose and silly then settling in, the Peel version of Gut Of The Quantifier is a standout of the box set. Not as raucous and sneering as the Nation's Saving Grace version, it is a great twist on one of my favorite Fall songs. R.O.D. (Sess. 10- 7/9/86) is a stand out track on CD 3 which suffers from performances that seem less dedicated and attuned than the first two CDs. R.O.D. has a tightness and acid tongue with a hypnotic drum rolling playing off great guitar work. Gross Chapel-GB Grenadiers (Sess. 10- 9/7/86) is a slow, jamming and enticing track. The version of U.S. 80's-90's (Sess. 10- 9/7/86) is not as technically savvy as the original but a great version, none-the-less. It retains an older feel than the newer technological feel. Guest Informant (Sess. 11- 5/19/87) is a good end to a CD that is showing that the sound of The Fall is changing, stretching and growing. Good renditions are burned in here but lack the artistic heart of CDs one and two, leaving me disappointed.
CD4- Cab It Up (Sess. 12- 10/31/88), from I Am Kurious Oranj, is less produced and slick then the version that a late Fall listener maybe used to, or enjoy. The toy xylophone and primitive early Fall approach berates the slicker "popular" version. Still retaining the fun, it is live and true. The same can be said for Kurious Oranj. This version is more guitar-driven and grittier. Mark E's delivery is great on this track and the music is more grit than the safer album version. Black Monk Theme (Sess. 13- 1/1/90) is a cover of I Hate You by The Monks, with Smith altering the lyrics and inflections to make it a Fall track. The introduction of an insane violin sound touches on Roxy Music. It is a romping performance and is, again, much more raw than the sanitized production of the Extricate album's cut. Whizz Bang (Sess. 13- 1/1/90) is a previously un-broadcasted track but is included in the total Peel collection. The Mixer (Sess. 14- 3/23/91) has the new violin sound and adds old style Smith megaphone treated vocals. It is a great amalgam of the old Fall sensibility and the newer sounds Smith began experimenting with in the 90's. Kimble (Sess. 15- 2/15/92) is low-fi with a reggae feeling. The sounds of bottles on the floor, I can't tell if it is sampled or real. It is one of the more appealing tracks on a CD finding a way to make their sound evolve and move into the future. Immortality (Sess. 14- 2/15/92) is an excellent example of that. Old style guitar works with a newer approach to bass and drums is more successful than most tracks on CD 4.
CD5-Ladybird (Green Grass) (Sess. 16- 3/13/93) starts this CD with a big drum sound never before heard in a Fall track. The new Fall sound is evolving while retaining the roots with new highlights. The vocals are classic Mark E. Smith. An oddly approached cover of The Sonics, Strychnine (Sess. 16- 3/13/93) starts with electronic keyboard noodling and real piano. It is unrecognizable as a cover till the jam settles in with guitar and vocals. I don't think that I have heard The Fall "rock" like this and Smith's lackadaisical whistling is priceless. Service (Sess. 16- 3/13/93) also incorporates the piano and keyboard playing off each other. This makes for an odd combination while being melodic even though its roots are based in the sour organ and keyboards utilized in original Fall material. I like the more melodic composition and structure of this performance. Behind The Counter (Sess. 17- 2/5/94) is a rocking number with Mark E. giving his swaggering vocal style. It is odd since most tracks on this CD, from this era, are more electronic and this track has little technological treatment outside of some electic keyboard juvenile bursts. This is, again, an update of the old sound. Hey! Student (Sess. 17- 2/5/94) also rocks in a more straightforward way than early Fall works but retains Smith's style, old is new, new is old. There are two X-Mas tunes that The Fall tries their treatment on, Jingle Bell Rock and Hark The Herald Angels Sing (Sess. 18- 12/17/93). It is hard to hear them and take them seriously. The sarcasm is rife and the tongue is almost jutting out of the cheek. Jingle Bell says, "Let's get through this". Not just the song but the whole holiday mess. Hark The Angels is and interesting attempt bordering on Klaus Nomi and the Fall's wit. I doubt these will make it onto many x-mas catalogs. He Pep and Oleano (Sess. 19- 12/22/95) are again mining the old and the new sounds. The dense yet sparse mix makes a intriguing hybrid. The band line up is now equal parts male and female. The City Never Sleeps (Sess. 19- 12/22/95), a Nancy Sinatra cover, is the only song I know of with female vocal and absolutely no Smith vocals. DIY Meat (Sess. 20- 8/18/96) is a quick countrified, tight, quick, fun romp. A great end to CD 5 comes from the cover of Captain Beefheart's Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones. Old style Fall treatment, solid playing, Smith singing in his classic style while retaining the Beefheart sound. It is easy to see the Beef influence on the Fall and the mocking of The Beatles and Stones fits The Fall mentality. Brix, she is now gone and not to be heard from.
CD6- Session 21(3/3/98) is the last incarnation of the old, later Fall. Pre-dating the NYC collapse of the band. I experienced this concert. Smith was arrested the prior evening on assault charges (by the band), showing up late, sporting a massive shiner, drunk while poking and baiting the band. The performances of this session are not very good. It is a messy spill that needs some mopping. Seession 22 (11/4/98) suffers the same problems. The band has reformed and Julia Nagle is the only remaining senior Fall representative. The sound is still in a transition. There are interesting moments from 22, covers of Audio Arts' Bound Soul One and The Saints' This Perfect Day and a less then rousing version of Antidotes has an experimental appeal of sloppy boredom. Just over 1 and-a-half minutes, Shake-Off tightens up and punches with snarling guitar and a drunk-ish Smith delivery with an abrupt end. Session 22 is the shortest of all Peel performances at 13 minutes. Some tracks from earlier sessions are extended to be beyond the 22 total time. Session 23 (3/13/93) finds The Fall back after their longest break from Peel's studio. Cohesive and taut, the sound is back and refreshed. Theme From Sparta F.C. rocks! Dead on. The vocals and music show a band that is working as a unit. The commitment to the future is direct and the approach is confident. Groovin' with Mr. Bloe-Green Eyed Loco Man is the new sound that Smith was looking for. This is solid and fresh with true Fall underpinnings. Resurrecting Mere Psuedo Mag. Ed. is a edgy revisiting of the past. Smith, typically, shuns looking back. This is a show of confidence in the new sound and abilities of his new line-up. Clasp Hands (Sess. 24- 8/12/04) has a Stooges feel. You can hear snippets of I Want To Be Your Dog and country Fall in this outstanding performance. Blindness (Sess. 24- 8/12/04) comes in strong with funking rock bass and drums and an incredible guitar sound. This is a strong band and a commanding sound, nearly 30 years old. This is a standout track of the whole box. The first three cuts of Session 24 are worthy of album release beyond the Peel arena. Wrong Place, Right Time slips into a cover of The Move's I Can Hear The Grass Grow. In 1967, The Move was the first band to play on Tony Blackburn's Radio One breakfast show. Blackburn was Peel's nemesis. A sarcastic jab at the hand that fed this band to a public that needed to devour these songs. Job Search is a bonus track dedicated to John Peel and was aired on Peel's 65th birthday, August 31, 2004, coming just months before Peel's demise.
Our journey, like Peel's, has come to an end. The travels through this collection show the band at their creative peak, valley and rebirth. The Fall's closest moments and the band falling apart. The Fall used the BBC studio to flesh out sounds, test material and bare struggles and many incarnations. Oddly, The Fall was never really friendly with Peel. For all the work done in his studio and being the guests with the most appearances, Smith did not even go to Peel's funeral. The reason quoted, "...because I never knew him. Of course, I'd see him when we went down to record sessions, say hello, but I never went round his house for tea, unlike f*cking PJ Harvey and all of them". He actually met Peel only three times and "now he is gone".
It seems apt for Smith to reject the emotions and then regret his slighting of feelings. Peel loved The Fall and he brought them to a public in the true tradition of his radio broadcast. He presented the performances of bands that the public may not have wanted to hear but needed to hear.
Nothing will ever equal the gift that Peel gave, or The Fall continues to give, in rock history. He was in the right place at the right time with a dedication to the necessity of highlighting the brilliant new talents that graced his air space. As much a tribute to Peel as The Fall, listen and you get a thorough view into the importance of both Peel and Smith and their impact on rock history. Peel said that his only imaginable regret of dying would be missing the next Fall album. The Fall continues on.