The untimely death of Mark E Smith, lead singer and impresario of influential post-punk band The Fall, may not have quite the impact that the passing of David Bowie did but for 50,000 Fall fans, things will never be quite the same again.
Mark was known and loved for his music and his sprawling, confounding lyrics but also for his belligerent wit and left-field take on the world, which made him notoriously difficult to interview, but often incredibly rewarding for it.
TV appearances were few and far between but here are four awkward gems, and one live performance, to remember him by…
“Who are you listening to at the moment?” “Myself”
Back in 2007, Lauren Laverne attempted to interview Mark on Channel 4 music show Transmission. After a series of characteristically monosyllabic responses, she even got him talking a bit, resulting in lines like “Don’t get funny with me, now”, when she suggested the possibility of him sacking his wife from The Fall, and “Myself”, when she asked what music he was currently listening to.
She even had Mark musing on his effect on often short-lived band members and producers: “People seem to go a bit crackers when they’re around me. I’m a nice fella as you can see…”
On hearing the news of Mark’s death, Lauren recalled the “nightmare” interview fondly, and called him “one of my biggest heroes… sharp, clever and untouchably cool”.
Oh man. Mark E Smith. One of my biggest heroes. Had a nightmare interviewing him (of course) but then he put me in a song. So sharp, clever and untouchably cool. Thanks for the music, MES.
“This is the Culture Show? But you’re a comedian aren’t you?”
Also in 2007, massive Fall fan Frank Skinner tried to get to the bottom of the MES phenomenon in an extended interview with his idol for the BBC’s Culture Show. In a pub, of course.
“Mark, how you doing?” asked Frank as he sat down. “Fine Stewart, how’s your day been?” replied Mark with a twinkle in his eye.
After the news of Mark’s death, Frank posted a heartfelt tribute, calling The Fall’s concerts “the most exciting music gigs I ever saw or will ever see” and saying of Mark “I loved him. He was quite simply better than all the rest. I thought he’d live forever. He seemed too belligerent to die.”
It’s still hard to believe that a Fall track was ever the music for a mainstream TV show, but for a couple of years the band’s vaguely football-themed single The Theme from Sparta FC played over the titles of the BBC’s Final Score programme – and in 2007 (a big year for Mark on TV) they had him on to read the classified football scores.
All went smoothly, but in the interview afterwards Mark started quizzing host Ray Stubbs: “I want to ask you Ray, why have you got a number one haircut? You look like you’ve escaped from Strangeways…”
“Am I allowed to speak now?”
You have to feel for Newsnight host Gavin Esler having to negotiate a live remote chat – about the death of The Fall’s biggest champion John Peel – with two guests, one of whom was Mark E Smith.
Mark chews and gurns his way through the interview as Esler tries to get fluffy memories of Peel out of him. Good luck: “Me and John had an agreement. We never were friends or anything like that.”
“Hit the North”
And now for some music. Here’s Mark with one of The Fall’s numerous line-ups – including his then wife Brix on guitar – appearing on short-lived ITV music show Roxy, doing what they did best, and sadly will never do again…
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