‘Have A Bleedin Guess’: Paul Hanley – Interview

We chat with Hanley about his book on The Fall’s 1982 masterpiece, Hex Enduction Hour.

Sooner or later, somebody was bound to to write a book about The Fall’s widely-revered 1982 album Hex Enduction Hour. The good news is that Paul Hanley stepped up. Two years ago, Hanley made a mighty impression with his first book, Leave the Capital, charting the revolutionary history of music-making in Manchester. There’s also the small matter of Hanley having played drums for The Fall from 1980-5, meaning that he was part of the group that made the album in question.

The result is Have a Bleedin Guess, which holds Hex Enduction Hour up to the light and examines it from a range of different perspectives with plentiful wit, precision and insight. With the exclusive participation of many of those involved in its genesis, a glowing foreword by Stewart Lee and the liberal use of irreverent footnotes, the book has all the hallmarks of a classic of its kind. Here We Are Cult talks to Paul Hanley all about the project.

WAC: Congratulations on the book. It’s great, and it really manages to walk that fine line between being informal and informed.

Paul Hanley: Oh, thank you. Well, there were a couple of lines I had to walk, really. There was that one, informal but informed, which the footnotes really helped with. That’s something I was talking to Stewart Lee about, because he’s really good at footnotes. He’s got an ambition to write a book where there’s just one line on the first page and the rest of it is footnotes.

But the other line that I found even more difficult was ‘am I in there or am I just writing about it?’.That took a bit of getting my head around, because I was thinking, do I have to include quotes from myself? I mean, I’m talking about writing the songs and I’ve got a quote from Craig [Scanlon, Fall guitarist] and a quote from Steve [Hanley, Fall bassist and brother to Paul], so do I have a quote from Paul..? There was a bit of trial and error, but I got there in the end, I think.

What made you want to write the book in the first place?

They have a record club thing, the CAT Club, in Pontefract where my publishers, Route, are based. Me and my wife Julie went over there to see Mark Lewisohn [Beatles scholar and author of definitive research work Tune In]. I’m a massive fan of The Beatles and he was talking about With the Beatles. Halfway through I was talking to the people from Route and they said they were thinking about doing a book on Hex Enduction Hour. My overriding thought was ‘well, I’m not letting any other bugger write it’. That was it. I just thought ‘I could write the arse out of this and I don’t want anybody else to do it’. So I was asked to do it.

One thing I really didn’t want, though, was I didn’t want to be settling scores for the sake of it. There’s a couple of things about song-writing and so on, but I didn’t want to diminish anybody’s opinion of the album or of Mark E Smith or of the process or of The Fall. I wanted to enhance all of them, I didn’t want anybody to start thinking it was a load of shite. It wasn’t about settling scores or saying I had more to do with this than everybody thinks, because I don’t think I did really.

Once I’d started working on it I really enjoyed the process, because at the end of the day it’s a writing gig. I was conscious I didn’t want it to be a Wikipedia page, though, because there’s people who know much more about the minutiae of the Fall than I do.

It’s interesting that you mention The Beatles. In Fall terms, this book is a bit like Ringo writing Revolution in the Head.

That was another thing about how I approached it. Because of who The Fall are, there isn’t going to be a Revolution in the Head, there isn’t going to be an Anthology and there isn’t going to be a Tune In. So I though I’d like to try and get a bit of all of those in – and I’d like to hear Ringo’s take on recording Revolver. That’s a perfectly legitimate thing, I think.

Obviously I couldn’t attempt to do something like Tune In though, because – well,  I’m not sure anybody wants to know what Mark E Smith had for his breakfast on the 1st of April 1982.

I bet there’s Fall fans out there who would… You’ve mentioned using online Fall forums and resources as part of you research for the book. So how much of this material did you need to research and how much was off the top of your head?

There was slightly less on the top of my head than I thought they might have been. What was fascinating about talking to Craig and Marc [Riley, former Fall guitarist and keyboard player] and everybody was that you all remember these things differently. There was some stuff where I thought that the accepted facts of this were nonsense so I wanted to put them right. Then you talk to Craig and Steve and Marc and they see the facts differently anyway. We couldn’t even agree about the month the album was recorded.

Did writing it make you reflect on Mark E. Smith and your relationship with him?

It did actually, yeah. I mean, I knew it was a good album, but I came away from it with a lot more respect for Mark and for the album itself and his vision for it, which I wasn’t party too and I probably didn’t know about. Once I started piecing it together, the way it all fits together and the length of the album and the name and the way the lyrics sort of cross between songs, I thought ‘bloody hell!.. It was a privilege to be on. It was a privilege to be in The Fall anyway, but looking back I was amazed just how clever it was, really.

I always had respect for Mark, though. In terms of who you’d want to be the singer in your band, I’ve never been able to better him and I never will. My relationship with Mark was always pretty healthy. He was my boss and I worked for him and then everybody knows their place. It got a bit sticky sometimes with other people when he was being your mate one minute and your boss the next. But we never really had that.

I lost a bit of respect for him when he fell out with Steve but that was just one of those things. I don’t think anybody came out that ’98 tour looking particularly great. They were all a bit fried by then. But no, I’ve always respected Mark and I’ve always thought he was a genius, if you can say that about anybody who writes songs for a living, But if you can then he’s one of them.

Writing a book like this is going to require you to listen back to the album.

I did, I listened to the album more than I’ve ever listen to it, really.

You hadn’t listened to it much before that, then?

No. I mean, I wouldn’t turn it off if someone put it on, but even at the time when the album came out, half of it had gone from the set and we were already doing other stuff, so I would never have gone back and listened to it. And afterwards I didn’t really want to listen to The Fall.

Like I say, I don’t mind when I hear it. I’m always pleasantly surprised. I mean, And This Day, I can’t say I’ve ever listened to that since I first got the album as a piece of vinyl. No, It’s not on my Spotify playlist. But there’s definitely something there, isn’t there? And I wasn’t sure I appreciated at the time just how fucking intense it was. It’s not easy to capture that on an album. It was pretty clever the way it was done as well, the way it was edited, just sort of mashed together. And what it’s about, I have no idea. Did Mark know what it was about? I’m not so sure.

Mark’s lyrics are great – because they are lyrics, that’s the thing. It’s not prose or poetry. Mark wrote lyrics and for them to work, they needed a band and the right music. It’s not just about Mark and it never was, at any stage in The Fall.

Now you’ve written the book, can you imagine yourself sitting down one night in the future and just popping on Hex Enduction Hour?

I don’t know. It depends. If Julie’s gone out I might, otherwise I’d have no chance whatsoever. She’s not a big fan of The Fall.


❉ ‘Have a Bleedin Guess’ by Paul Hanley is available now in an exclusive hardback edition direct from Route Publishing, with a paperback edition to follow in 2020.

 Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for TelevisionHe’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.

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