Review:'Fall, The' 'Live At St. Helens Technical College, '81'
- Label: 'Castle Face Records'
- Genre: 'Punk/New Wave'
- Release Date: '19th February 2021'
So what’s your favourite era of The Fall? Everyone has one, and while a fair few would say that the later years were perhaps patchy but produced some criminally underrated additions to the canon, few would dispute output of the early years as being pretty special.
Between 1978 and 1983, the band produced a body of work that is unlike any other, not only in terms of its remarkable volume, but the pace of progress, taking that scratchy lo-fi shambolism to the next level of art, expanding the lineup to incorporate two drummers while Mark E Smith’s lyrical work evolved exponentially, as he became a master of the semi-abstract, quasi cut-up that would ultimately become his trademark.
Despite their sound being raw and ragged, The Fall were always big on live albums from the start, with ‘Totale’s Turns’ appearing in May 1980 after the release of only two studio albums, and the absolutely killer ‘A Part of America Therein, 1981’ released -the following year and paired with the CD release of the classic ‘Slates’ EP. This particular recording was exhumed by marc Riley, who recognised it as a classic recording of the era, and so in turn passed it to John Dwyer, singer of Osees and head of the Castle Face label.
‘Live At St. Helens Technical College, ‘81’ is contemporaneous to ‘A Part of America’, but whereas ‘A Part of America’ selects the best cuts from a selection of shows and sequences them for home listening, this is a closer representation of a full set, and with the ‘Slates’ EP having been released in the spring of ’81, it’s prominent in the set list, with five of the six tracks featured here.
The set opens with a suitably jagged, squawking ‘An Older Lover’. The rendition of ‘Slates, Slags, etc,’ is storming, and is The Fall at their repetitious, motoric best, as they batter away relentlessly for over six and a half minutes, although ‘Middle Mass’ ain’t bad either, and is played as well as you’ll find it anywhere.
‘City Hobgoblins’, released as the flipside to 1980 7” ‘How I Wrote Elastic man’ is second, and of course it’s classic fall to play the B-side over the A-side – although since with this release, both sides are just as good as once another, it’s hard to feel short-changed.
The seven-and-a-half-minute ‘The NWRA’, one of two tracks lifted from the seminal ‘Grotesque’ is dense and finds the band at their wonky, ramshackle best as they plug into a repetitive riff and plug away at it forever. Counterpart ‘Fit and Working Again’ is a scratchy, frenetic scratchy riot, and followed immediately by a thumping rendition of ‘Muzoweri’s Daughter’ – which is a far crisper recording than the one on ‘Totale’s Turns’ – we get a snapshot of the span of The Fall at that time.
‘Rowche Rumble’ is another standout – and it’s not only furious but tight, revealing just how strong The Fall could be when they nailed that throbbing repetitive three-chord groove. Smith is at his save, sneering best, as he is throughout the set, and while there have been many, many official, semi-official and bootleg releases of the band (the strong of turn-of the millennium Ciog Sinister and Live From the Vaults releases being noteworthy for documenting the band’s early, raw sound).
If the incentive of the document itself isn’t enough, half of the proceeds from the new album are set to go to Centrepoint, a charity supporting homeless and vulnerably housed young people in London, Manchester and beyond. As if you need an incentive to dig in for some classic early Fall.