‘Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall’

❉ Read y’self fitter with this immersion in the world of The Fall.

“This is the story of what the Fall can teach us, and the story of the people who bought the records; how the Fall inspired people in myriad, innumerable, often opaque ways; and how they subtly taught us how to be us.” (Tessa Norton and Bob Stanley)

Released last week Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall is a book brimming full of ideas. Detailing the world of the Fall comprehensively and from all angles the book consists of essays written by Fall fans who are distinguished cultural commentators along with fascinating and often very personal ephemera. Not exclusively but mainly about Mark E Smith himself (there is a bizarre fanzine interview solely with early Fall drummer Mike Leigh (not THAT Mike Leigh) “who has now left the Fall to join a cabaret group” for example) the book is as Tessa and Bob say in the introduction an immersion in the whole world of the Fall.

The Fall’s album covers are printed (both front and back cover) complete in chronological order from Live at the Witch Trials to New Facts Emerge, the last album. It’s fascinating to just look at the covers again, particularly the early ones – Hex Enduction Hour with the scribbled annotations, the grotesque images on Perverted by Language and, well, the grotesque images on Grotesque. A chronological diary of events in the career of the Fall is also included. The number of artefacts collected is breath-taking. Typed and handwritten song lyrics (which never appeared printed on the albums) letters, flyers and posters and even Christmas cards that Smith sent to friends! The book also fully explores Smith’s literary interests-  HP Lovecraft, M R James, Wyndham Lewis and Arthur Machen which seem to have stuck with Smith after reading them in an amphetamine rush during adolescence… The letters that Smith writes to Rita Tait at the Arthur Machen Society printed here are fascinating.

The essays deal with the concept of the Fall from different angles. Architecture expert  Elain Harwood deals with the changing history and architecture of Manchester and particularly Prestwich where Smith grew up. Paul Wilson details how the Working Men’s Club environment and “movement” (founded by the Reverend Henry Solly) also influenced the Fall and was even an influence on the typography on their albums. Adelle Stripe comes at it from another angle by talking about the 2015 art exhibition Luxury Complex: Remembering Satan (created by four artists and Fall fans Dean Kenning, Andy Sharp, Marc Hulson and Lisa Cradduck.) The exhibition presented “a bricolage of strange associations and enigmas that show a direct lineage to the work of Smith.”

Tessa Norton in her own essay talks about anti-establishment education such as the Anti-University of London and Joseph Beuys Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research. She describes Mark E Smith as part of this tradition. “He became a transmitter…. The web of knowledge that cohered around the Fall was the entire point. Smith’s knowledge was characterised by his relentless curiosity and pursuit of intellectual and creative freedom.”

Bob Stanley (@rocking_bob) | Twitter.

Bob Stanley’s essay in the book deals with amateurism in relation to the Fall as well as suggesting that Kenny Everett’s compilation The World’s Worst Record Show (K-Tel NE 1023, 1978) was a serious influence on Smith. It also has the hilarious fact that “Shakin’ Stevens’s career arc is quite possibly the one that Smith feared the most..”

Designer Scott King in The Goole Times/Rabbit Hunters comes at the Fall from a totally different angle in a piece that is basically a short story about the doomed capers of a local drunk in Goole.

Then at the midpoint of the book is the famous essay by the late cultural writer Mark Fisher – Memorex for the Kraken – which was originally printed as part of his K Punk work, and which quotes fellow writer Mark Sinker. Mark Sinker then has his own essay which responds to it! That’s another beauty of the book – seeing the links!

It’s fascinating to see handwritten extracts from the play Hey! Luciani for which Smith even handwrote stage directions for Stephen Hanley! A play about the death of Pope John Paul I, the programme for the Riverside production has the immortal headline “Hideous Noise Group Write ‘St’ Biog.”

Another thing to say about the contributors is that many of them have a favourite period of the Fall, as co-editor Bob Stanley mentioned to We Are Cult in conversation about this book last month. For Fisher and also for former NME writer Ian Penman (who interviewed Smith in 1978 and 1980 himself) it seemed to be the early Dragnet/Grotesque period. For Siân Pattenden, in her brilliant piece about how records were sold in Woolworths, it seems to be Brix-era Fall.

There’s so much more in this great book than I can describe here and if you read it from cover to cover you really will immerse yourself in this wonderful, frightening world.


‘Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall’ is edited by Tessa Norton and Bob Stanley; published by Faber and Faber, 1 April 2021, in hardback, ebook and audio.

James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.

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