The Marquee, Wardour Street, London 1984
Shoulders hunched against the bitter night, I stood waiting in a queue of scruffy, punkish punters lining Wardour Street, waiting for the doors to open. I stared at the arched brick facade and red lowercase lettering over the door. Practically everyone had played the Marquee, from Bowie to the Sex Pistols and knowing this gave me a little surge of excitement as I followed the others into its subterranean interior, got a drink and found a corner.
Sitting there in the dark watching the others gather, mix and flirt was fascinating. English boys had all the lines. I listened to them laugh and chat and take the piss out of each other, their speech peppered with slang that was exotic and unfamiliar. English girls were intimidating, ivory-skinned creatures who seemed difficult to impress. Perhaps they’d heard all these lines once too often.
A noisy band from Rochdale took the stage and I joined the warm, chaotic press of people up front. When The Fall came on an hour later, the crowd erupted with a violent push forward and I thought my heart might keep going right through my chest. It was the first time I’d seen The Fall live and watching them walk onstage was an electric moment. Brix in a leather cap and army shirt, hair shorn at the sides with a shock of blonde fringe and Mark E. Smith so small up there in a scruffy jumper of no particular colour.
Fixing himself to the mic stand, he stared through the crowd and launched into Totally Wired, singing like a man allergic to music. Over pneumatic drums and stabs of fractious guitar, he yipped and seethed, twitchy and fretful: I drank a jar of coffee, and then I took some of these. At one point he morphed into that embarrassing uncle we all somehow own, with a pissed-up wedding singalong: My heart and I agree … To say that Mark E. Smith sings like no-one on the planet would be something of an understatement.
There is nothing comfortable about The Fall. They are sharper than a poke in the eye and every bit as alarming. Their songs generally contain some degree of danger or risk or some sort of challenge, and this is to be celebrated as we continue to steep in deathless Top 40 dross. Even those who hate The Fall can agree that their sound is absolutely and unmistakably their own. Who else could have crafted the particular piece of over-caffeinated genius that is Totally Wired?
They were well into their set by now and the front rows pulsed and reached like a giant sea-creature with a hundred grappling arms. A scuffle broke out nearby and I looked around for an escape, though I knew this was impossible with everyone rammed in so tight. I could literally have lifted my feet and been carried like a leaf downstream. With a rising