The Greatest Fall Interview Ever
From Loaded magazine, circa 1997. People wish they could write plays and dialogue the way this went down. I feel like it’s deceptively meaningful and revealing about Smith, the philosophy of The Fall, and the ‘right’ attitude to musicmaking, too:
When Mark E Smith of The Fall starts an interview by trying to stub a fag out in your face, trouble can only follow. Here’s what happened when Loaded went for a ‘chat’.
Enter Mark E. Smith. He looks like a melted muppet in Man At C&A. He’s about half the size you’d imagine, twice as old and shockingly wizened. The Fall frontman and original grumpy old bastard of rock immediately begins to tell an anecdote about employing a Cheetham Hill drug-gang hit man to run The Fall fan club. Apparently, he used to write back to people who wanted to buy Fall T-shirts saying, “You don’t want to bother with the Fall, they’re shit.” He seems in a good mood. If a little confused.
Exterior: In the street, waiting for a taxi. Mark E Smith sees two businessmen get into a car. There is an almost audible click and his apparent good mood suddenly disappears.
MES: Fucking hard cunts in cheap suits. Wankers. (Mark starts staring at Loaded writer).
Loaded: (Thinking he’s admiring his 99p McDonald’s sunglasses) What are you looking at, Mark?
MES: You, ‘cos you’re a cunt. (Mark starts shuffling towards writer). You’re from Macclesfield are you? A fuckin’ Macc Lad? Think you’re fuckin’ hard do yer? (Attempts to stub lit cigarette out in writer’s face. Writer grabs his weedy arm).
Loaded: (Firmly) Fuck off.
Taxi arrives. Inside, MES starts berating the driver for listening to Melody FM, despite the fact that MES thinks it’s “quite nice”.
MES: Fuckin’ better than Radio One though, I tell yer! Fuckin’ John Peel, he’s the fuckin’ worst, he’s worse than Tony Blackburn ever was (John Peel is The Fall’s biggest-ever fan, having tirelessly supported them for 20 years). Bastard.
We arrive at the pub. Mark is suddenly apologetic.
MES: Y’alright John? Y’alright?
Loaded: I’m fine, don’t worry about it.
MES: You’re a fuckin’ cunt, aren’t you?
Mark is momentarily distracted by the nearby Bavarian Sausage stall.
MES: That is fuckin’ great, that place. German sausage centre.
Inside pub. Mark orders two bottles of Pils in a pintglass. Has big row with barmaid because they don’t keep their glasses in the freezer.
Loaded: Aren’t you a beer drinker?
MES: What d’you mean?
Loaded: You’re drinking Pils instead of bitter.
MES: You get too many germs off London glasses. They don’t wash down here.
Loaded: Anyway, on to the interview.
MES: - Aye.
Loaded: The new album marks 20 years of The Fall.
Ignoring writer completely, Mark picks up a newspaper and begins to read.
Loaded: Do you feel you’ve developed in that time?
MES: (suddenly) Loaded?
Loaded: Um, yes?
MES: Never read it.
Loaded: Have you no idea of what it’s about?
MES: Flicked through it. Fantasy life. Bungee jumping, paratrooping. Birds in hotel rooms.
Loaded: But about this…
Mark goes back to his paper. Starts mumbling as he reads the TV section.
Loaded: Do you watch TV much?
MES: I never watch TV. Never. Only gardening programmes. I don’t like ‘em, but it keeps me peaceful. War videos. Last one I saw was about Culloden. Last battle on English soil. Prince Charlie.
Loaded: And what do you get out of war videos?
MES: Nothing. I watch ‘em with the sound down. Or I turn ‘em up, then go out. (suddenly perks up) Macclesfield? Full of people who pretend to be in Manchester groups.
Loaded: Does that piss you off?
No response. Mark stares out of window.
MES: (suddenly) You’re a good lookin’ lad. You should do alright.
Loaded: Cheers. Why don’t you tell me about this ‘Inch’ single?
(The ‘Inch’ single was recorded in the first week of the sessions for The Fall’s new ‘Levitate’ LP. At this point, Mark inexplicably ‘fell out’ with the producers and fired them. Allegedly the producers sent tapes of’Inch’ to record companies with a covering letter purporting to be from Mark E Smith, asking them to put it out.)
MES: (after long silence) We came to a compromise.
Loaded: What was that?
MES: I’m not sayin’.
Loaded: (trying different tack) Do you like London?
MES: It’s alright.
Loaded: What do you like about it?
MES: Very tolerant, Londoners.
Loaded: More so than Manchester?
MES: I can’t stick Manchester either.
Loaded: But you live there.
MES: I live in Salford.
Loaded: So something must keep you there.
MES: You can go all over the world and nothing’s ever any good, is it?
Loaded: I travel all over the world and I see things I really like.
MES: Like where?
Loaded: I like New York.
MES: That’s a Macc lad who’s moved to London talking now. You’ve gotta stick to your fuckin’ roots. You don’t desert the fuckin’ barracks, alright?
Loaded: As an artist, though, surely you could get inspiration from…
MES: (interrupting) But YOU’RE not a fuckin’ artist are you? And what’s there to write about down here? Some nice clothes shops and some nice freaky people walking around. So fuckin’ what?
Loaded: So do you get inspiration from…
MES: It’s all work! I never stop! It’s a common fallacy that work is some kind of hindrance and you should live the rest of your life in pleasure. False peace and false fuckin’ leisure. That’s the problem with this country: retiring early, having a good time. The only pleasure in life is work.
Loaded: But surely…
MES: See? You don’t fucking get it, do you? You’re from Macclesfield, you’re fuckin’ cretins. You just wanna sit on your arse and fuckin’ eat all day.
Loaded: But if you’re doing something you enjoy, that doesn’t necessarily make it work.
MES: (no response, stares at door.)
Loaded: You don’t necessarily have to work at it.
MES: (no response, blows smoke at ceiling.)
Loaded: Do you have a rigid work structure to your life?
MES: (mutters inaudibly)
Loaded: Do you go into the studio at a certain time?
MES: (suddenly) Are you courting?
MES: (ranting) Yeah, fuckin’ look at you, you don’t wanna do any work, you’re not interested in anything! See, you’re just like every fuckin’ fat-arsed middle-management cunt in Britain, aren’t you? You just come out to work to get away from the wife. You’re not interested in creating anything, and that’s why the country’s on it’s back, PALLY!
Loaded: OK, but you and I enjoy our jobs, a lot of people have to do work they hate.
MES: (sarcastic) Oh, and I should be grateful shouldn’t I? With the new Labour government, I should be very, very grateful for anything. Look at you, you haven’t got your interview together, have you? Admit it. Face up to yourself, pal. I meet people like you every fucking day in the bank, in insurance offices, in record companies. There’s gonna come a time when you’re gonna have to face being a cunt.
Loaded: And you’re different?
MES: No. I’m just telling you what I think.
Loaded: Well tell me what you think about this: even though The Fall have been hugely influential, many other Manchester bands have had much more success. Is that frustrating?
Loaded: But wouldn’t you rather have had more chart success?
Loaded: Why not, surely that’s the normal way musicians get appreciation of their art, by people buying their records?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: Are you happy just being influential?
MES: (picks at Pils bottle label.)
Loaded: Pavement, for example, have cited The Fall as being a massive influence. Do you see that?
MES: (looks out of window.)
Loaded: Do you rate Pavement?
MES: (smokes fag, exhales loudly.)
Loaded: So what do you want to talk about, Mark?
MES: I thought we were here to talk about the LP.
Loaded: OK we will, but Loaded’s not just about music, it’s about life, I’d just like to get your opinions on a few things. You’re known for being a man with opinions. We can talk about whatever you like.
MES: (aggressive) Stop fucking about then, haven’t you got it fucking worked out? You’re just some fucking scruffy-haired pop star! Ask me some fucking questions!
Loaded: I have been doing.
MES: All I’ve got from you is that you’ve got the flu and that you’re a big fucking pop star! It’s very endemic in this society. You’re not fucking interested in what I’ve got to say.
Loaded: (losing it) I am interested in what you’ve got to say! But you’re not saying anything!
MES: Well, fucking work at it then!
Loaded: (tight-lipped) OK, well you brought it up: tell me about the new Labour government.
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: Is it going to make any difference to your life?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: Did you vote for them?
MES: (viciously) Did I fuck! I didn’t vote for anything.
Loaded: Do you never vote?
MES: I vote all the time.
Loaded: So is it going to make a difference?
MES: It’s not gonna make a difference at all, it’s gonna turn us into a fuckin’ Czechoslovakian state. We’ll be like we’re stuck behind the Iron Curtain if you ask me…
Loaded: How so?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: (insisting) How is Labour going to turn us into a communist country?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: Come on, Mark, give us an opinion.
MES: (sudden mood swing; becomes instantly conversational) What did you think about the Princess Di thing? Were you upset?
Loaded: Not really. Shocked, surprised. But I didn’t cry. How about you?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: Are you pro-monarchy?
Loaded: So why do you think so many people have got so upset?
MES: They’ve got nothing better to fucking think about.
Loaded: Hasn’t it got to be more than that?
MES: (Long, long, long, LONG silence.)
Loaded: Are you alright, Mark? Are you just not in the mood?
MES: (no response.)
Loaded: (concerned) Is there something I’ve said to upset you?
MES: No. It’s alright. (another long, uncomfortable silence.)
Loaded: Is it me? Do you just not want to talk to me specifically?
MES: I can’t see the point. I’ve got work to do. I’m in a fucking band.
Loaded: Aren’t interviews part of being in a band?
MES: I don’t particularly like your magazine, I don’t fucking really wanna talk to you, I’m not interested. I don’t see what it’s got to do with my band. People who buy my records don’t read Loaded.
Loaded: But maybe Loaded readers would buy your records after reading this interview.
MES: (raising voice) People who read Loaded are just frustrated perverts like yourself! I’m not interested in talking to anyone who can’t have a drink like a fucking man!
Loaded: (irritated) What’s that supposed to mean?
MES: (yelling) What it fucking means is that you’re a fucking dead-leg cunt and I’m not talking to you. (childishly) You smell! (gets up and buggers off.)
Enter Julia Nagle, Mark’s girlfriend and keyboard/guitar player in The Fall.
JN: Don’t take it personally. He gets like this.
As we chat, Mark is round the corner ranting and shadow-boxing the wall.When he smashes his fist against the wood work, a scuffle ensues with the barstaff. Only prudent interception by Mark’s PR prevents him being ejected. Suddenly he reappears and gestures at Julia’s half-full glass.
MES: Are you not getting the woman another fucking drink? You fucking SLOB!
Julia and the PR separate us. Minutes later, top pop combo Ash enter and say hello. Mark reappears ranting about how Ash owe their entire career to him.
MES: You give them their start in life and do you get any thanks? Do you FUCK! Without me, you’d be fucking NOTHING, you useless cunts!
Tim Wheeler, Ash singer: How exactly did you start our career?
MES: (approaching Ash’s table) Look at you, with your pop star haircuts. (starts flicking at Tim’s fringe.)
TW: (menacing Northern Irish accent) Fuck off!
MES: (wandering off into street, laughing like some washed-up meths drinker) They all fucking owe me a fucking living, all of ‘em.
Fade on Loaded writer, steadying nerves with stiff drink.
(The lineup for The Fall at the time of this interview became increasingly acrimonious until a disastrous US tour to promote Levitate ended in April 1998 with a violent onstage row in NYC and the departure of all other members of the band. The following day, Smith was arrested in his hotel room and charged with assaulting Nagle. He’s doing a wee bit better now.)
Bonus: Mark E. Smith guest-stars as Jesus on BBC3 sitcom ‘Ideal’: