Excavate! Bob Stanley talks The Fall

❉ We Are Cult speaks to Bob about his new compendium on The Fall, and the world the book captures.

“The Fall are an education. You can take from them what you want. They enrich your life. The book explains that without saying it out loud. We had to leave things out. We didn’t want to cram everything in and we definitely wanted to give it space to breathe so it didn’t look like a scrapbook. Not all squashed down.”

Excavate!: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall is the fantastic new compendium described by Maxine Peake as a “treasure trove bursting at the hinges with strangeness and wonder” and by writer David Peace as “bonkers Book of Revelations, chock-stock-full of loving Acts by true Apostles”. Edited by Bob Stanley and Tessa Norton, the book is a collection of essays on the world of The Fall by cultural commentators and fans including Adelle Stripe, Michael Bracewell, Sian Pattenden, Michael Clark and Grant Showbiz (too many to mention all!), mixed with rare ephemera, handwritten material and previously unseen artwork.

The Fall were an inspiration to many, and  the design and format of the book looks impressive. I spoke to Bob about the concept of the book and the world the book captures.

“The idea was that we wanted to do something about the whole subject matter of the Fall…. Everyone likes The Fall in a slightly different way and the thing that unites people is they’ve learnt something from The Fall at some stage that they didn’t know about before…they’ve seen the world in a slightly different way. We didn’t really want to write a book about how many band members there’d been or what fags Mark E Smith smoked or whatever because there’s plenty of books on that already. Talking about M R James or H P Lovecraft [who were a big influence] though.. that’s kind of what we wanted.

“We thought what we’d do is ask some people who we’d like to read essays by about The Fall – we asked them if they’d write something. Happily, almost everyone said yes! Basically, we put together a book that both of us wanted to read and me and Tessa did pieces as well.”

I mentioned to Bob that there’s also an essay by late cultural commentator Mark Fisher in the book?

“Yeah, we included Memorex for the Krakens – The Fall’s Pulp Modernism (a piece previously printed in Fisher’s K Punk collection in which Fisher makes reference to Lovecraft in relation to the Spectre vs Rector track on Dragnet). That piece gets referenced a lot. Mark Sinker has written a piece that is kind of bouncing off that as well which is great.”

Fisher kind of gives up on the group after 1983?

“Well, The Fall become a different group and go through different phases. I think if (Fisher) had stuck with it it makes sense as a collective body of work. Even with the last few albums the line up is really settled. It’s got into a kind of groove which is the last thing you’d have ever expected.

“Everyone has a favourite period. The essays are loosely chronological and all the artwork and posters and everything are also loosely chronological. There’s also a timeline that runs through the album covers in there. There’s a logic to the order of the essays. The first essay for example is about Prestwich. The geography and architecture of Prestwich (where Mark E Smith was brought up) was pretty informative. It’s written by Elaine Harwood of Historic England. She’s done a massive book on Brutalism. She’s great. She’s seen The Fall more than anyone I know. She always saw them going back to the beginning.

“Ian Penman (influential music journalist) has some early handwritten stuff from when the album Dragnet came out which is great. One thing that comes across in the book is that Mark E Smith is not a one-dimensional character – not the caricature he quite often gets painted as. If he liked people, he’d give them things. He’d send them Christmas cards! There’s a few of them in there. He’d like it when people were straightforward and honest. Probably people in other bands he didn’t really like. He thought the band were getting ripped off left right and centre. You can look at it as being an influence or being ripped off which are two sides of the same coin I suppose. If you were in another guitar band you were decimated. But there’s a lot of warmth in the book. Obviously, everyone who’s written for it is a fan too.”

“The Fall are an education. You can take from them what you want. They enrich your life. The book explains that without saying it out loud. We had to leave things out. We didn’t want to cram everything in and we definitely wanted to give it space to breathe so it didn’t look like a scrapbook. Not all squashed down.”

I asked Bob if he’d ever met Mark E Smith either while working as a journalist or with Saint Etienne.

“Only briefly once in Glasgow. I caught him on a good night! It was really early on in the ’90s – a PA by Saint Etienne at the Sub Club. He was sat at the bar. ‘Hello Mark, I’m a big fan!” I said (probably not the best idea!).  ‘What did you think of us?’. He said, ‘Oh no I didn’t see your show. I just come here because it’s a late bar! What band are you in?’ ‘Saint Etienne.’ ‘Oh yeah let’s  jam sometime!’ ‘Erm …yeah that’d be fun!’. The good thing was I’d already bought him a drink!”

Finally, I asked if Bob and Tessa had upcoming projects lined up…

“Tessa will be working for FACT in Liverpool who are doing an exhibition. I’m finishing the prequel to YEAH, YEAH YEAH – the Story of Pop which is being finished in the next few weeks. There’s also a Saint Etienne album out at the end of the year. With the Excavate!…  book it’s weird it being a real thing going out into the world. It feels a bit weird having this book here and not having any bookshops open. There is hopefully an appetite for it. There was a piece about Post-punk in the Sunday Times only last week.”

❉ ‘Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall’, edited by Tessa Norton & Bob Stanley, will be published on the 1st April 2021 by Faber 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.

Images courtesy of Faber and Faber Ltd.

Liked it? Take a second to support James Collingwood on Patreon!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.