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Hit The North: The Fall & Factory Star

The Fall - Academy 1, Manchester 18/07/09

The Fall are my favourite group of all time, and one I’ve followed since I was 14. I thought I’d make that clear in case you think that there is going to be a really sycophantic, gushing review. You’ll be surprised.

Anyway, 17 years after I first decided they were the best thing ever I attended what was my 50th Fall gig. I’ve seen sublimely amazing shows along the way, and I’ve seen utterly awful ones (Hacienda in 1996 springs to mind, when Mark E. Smith spent half the set hiding behind a speaker, and drummer Karl Burns was allowed lead vocals on ‘Old White Train’. It still gives me nightmares).

The latest line up of the group has been together for over two years, with Pete Greenway on guitar, Dave ‘The Eagle’ Spurr on Bass, Kieren Melling on Drums and Smith’s wife, Elena on keyboards. It could be that I’ve grown too fond of previous line-ups, and as much as I’m used to personnel changing within the band I just don’t feel as fond of this line-up as I have of other ones. Prime cause of my discontent is the drumming. It seemed that tonight Melling was only going to employ the one style. And that style is HIT THE DRUMS AS HARD AS POSSIBLE. It didn’t matter whether the song was supposed to be slow or fast, Kieran was going to wallop the drums as hard as he could over and over and over and over and over and over…

Where’s the light and shade? I love repetition as much as the next Fall fan, but this gave even me a bit of a headache. Bass player Dave Spurr does his job adequately, but one of the things that attracted me to The Fall as a youngster were the hard, driving bass lines, and with a couple of exceptions they’re missing tonight. Maybe after 17 years of following the band I need a break. I know lots of Fall fans go through sabbaticals of months or a year before returning to listen to them again. It could just be my time.

It wasn’t all bad though, Smith’s lyrics still remain enigmatically brilliant despite the cacophony around him, especially the ad-libs he sneaked in like “it’s better than being 40 Year Old Comedian Stewart Lee” into a particularly jagged rendition of ‘50 Year Old Man’ and references to the bizarre backdrop behind the band emblazoned with a picture of Tommy Cooper, Smith declared at one point “the song has nothing to do with Tommy Cooper!” before trying to rip down the offending image.

‘Wolf Kidult Man’ from the most recent album ‘Imperial Wax Solvent’ and ‘My Door’ from the previous one, ‘Reformation Post TLC’, sounded energetic and bright, the more up-tempo songs obviously suiting this set of musicians better, but muddy sound and those relentlessly thumping drums all too often made a mess of a too many songs, including eagerly awaited new tracks ‘Funnel of Love’ and ‘Bury’.

A surprise return to the setlist, and a highlight of the gig was a version of ‘Psykick Dancehall’. This spiky tale of witchcraft, monsters on roofs and psychic mediums was originally from The Fall’s second album Dragnet, released in 1979. Which links sort-of nicely to events just over a week before, in front significantly smaller crowd than would greet The Fall at the Academy 1…

Factory Star - The Studio, Manchester 09/07/2009

The Studio on Peter Street (a road best avoided at the weekends unless you’re someone from Wigan intent on visiting some of the worst bars in Manchester and glassing people senselessly) is the venue for a gig by Factory Star, a band featuring no less then three ex-members of The Fall - drummer Paul Hanley, bass player Steve Hanley (who notched up 19 years in The Fall and surely qualifies for some kind of medal) and Martin Bramah, formerly of the Blue Orchids and a founder member with Mark E. Smith of The Fall. A recent book about Ex-Fall members, Dave Simpson’s excellent The Fallen has brought them together, and on tonight’s evidence it’s a real shame it’s taken so long for that to happen as they were phenomenal, a heady mix of The Fall, Velvet Underground and Television.

The Studio used to be called the Late Room, and although it’s been closed for ages for refurbishment, I can’t see any evidence. It still has the same dubious stains on the walls that were there last time I saw a band here (4 years ago!). And it still has the smelliest toilets of any music venue, anywhere. And the crowd’s the same strange lot I’ve come to expect - sad old Fall fans like me, a smattering of people who look like they have come to the wrong gig and some men who look like they’d murder your dog and keep it’s body in a suitcase with their hardcore Scandinavian porn stash, only to bring it out to joylessly masturbate over it’s rotting carcass.

But I digress.

The set kicked off with ‘Here Comes the Flood’, and took a journey which included other Blue Orchids tracks (‘Black Peg’s Son’, ‘Bad Education’), Martin Bramah’s solo work (‘The Fall of Great Britain’) and Fall tracks written during Bramah’s time in the band like ‘Hilary’ & ‘Rebellious Jukebox’, and plenty more in between.

They ended with ‘Psycho Mafia’ ,the b-side to The Fall’s first single. It was great. People were dancing. OK, that was slightly weird. Especially when one of them was the Falls original keyboard player, Una Baines.

Back at the Academy, The Fall finally got it together in time for the 2nd encore – a blisteringly good version of ‘Reformation’, finally a song driven along by Dave Spurr’s thundering bass. In typical fashion, even this started as a bit of a debacle – the gap between the band leaving the stage and coming back had been so long that the house lights had already gone up and the audience was streaming out onto Oxford Road. Cue chaos as half the crowd rushed back to watch something magnificent in the fully lit hall. It almost made me forgive what came before. Almost. I’ll be back watching them soon no doubt, and it’ll probably be great. But this time round it’s definitely one nil to Factory Star.

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