The Fall - Live At The Witch Trials - Review
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critics' view

Live At The Witch Trials? Whut? Pffft, it’s not even live. Who are these chancers? At the time of their debut full-length in March ’79, the near three-year-old group consisted of only two founding members – Mark E. Smith (22, vocals) and Martin Bramah (20, guitar and backing vocals). Now a quintet, the latest line-up was completed with Marc Riley (17, bass guitar); Karl Burns (~19, drums) and Yvonne Pawlett (19, keyboards). They had two 45s behind them already, but this was the big one, the step which could either cement or break their growing reputation.

The songs – essentially Mark E. Smith’s poems set to music – had largely been perfected in the live environment, and it seems like it was a bit of a breeze to lay them down in just a couple of days, although a flu-ridden MES had to be doped up to get through the sessions. Frankly, you would never know that had been the case, for he’s bristling with purpose, gloriously nonchalant, with attitude and energy in abundance. The frontman seems to have a vision, with many of these messages laying down a manifesto of sorts. Mark E. Smith’s better than “them”, he thinks he’s the best. His group are northern white crap that talks back; they dig repetition and they’re never gonna lose it.

Im In A Trance” he spits on “Frightened”, the first Fall LP track to be broadcast to the World, unerringly focused with a game-plan from the off. Music-wise, “Rebellious Jukebox” shows what a great young Garage group they are. Everyone’s playing a part – the discordant keyboardist, the determined bassist, the switchblade guitarist and the stuttering drummer are all lining up to back the snarling gang leader, who seems like he’s ready to rumble. “No Xmas For John Quays” is another revelling in vital rhythms, with the repetition-repetition-repetition ethic clear for all to hear. Here, with his wildly wonky impression of Frankie Lymon, the boy Smith demonstrates that he knows his rock n roll, but that he will operate uniquely on his own terms, thank you very much.

Industrial Estate” is as defined a Punk statement as you could ever wish to hear. With the nonchalance meter set to the max, the “yeah yeah industrial estate, yeah yeah industrial estate” chorus invoked apoplexy amongst conventional types. Give it up for Ind. Est! Clearly The Fall do not seek your approval – the very attitude which I suspect has continued to win new fans and nurture loyalty for the decades since. “Two Steps Back” has a mention for Julian Cope – a pusher apparently – well, I never! Clearly, there is no such thing as bad publicity – JC would soon rise as a Top-of-the-Pops star. The title-track – the album’s only average moment – finds MES with rudimentary guitar, eking out one of those little “artsy” sketches. Luckily, this only lasts for 50-odd seconds. “Music Scene” could perhaps be viewed as the first Fall “epic”. Hilariously, the studio engineers are heard at various intervals, trying to get them to wrap it up… “Six minutes! … Six forty! … Ok studio, that's plenty” That probably added an obstinate 120 seconds IMO. Do not mess with The Fall.

Roadie Steve Hanley later revealed that the group were on a massive high when they all got together for their own “listening party” in Mark’s flat. Martin shouted: “It’s the second best album of all-time!” … “What’s the best?” comes a reply. “The next one!” Cocky bastards. I like that.

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