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Mark E Smith exclusive

Elizabeth Alker finds out that Mark E Smith of The Fall isn’t all moods and bad manners

Published on June 8th 2007.

Mark E Smith exclusive

Mark E Smith is one of Manchester’s most enigmatic front men. He is the grumpy old man of British rock and roll, one of the Godfathers’ of punk poetry and a pioneer of the sort of music which gives attention to lyrics over music.

Smith has been as busy as ever in recent months. A new Fall album came out in March around the time of his 50th birthday and shortly before the band embarked on a tour of the UK. The activity doesn’t stop there. Last week saw the release of Vonsudenfed’s debut album which was the result of a collaboration between Mark E Smith and German electro outfit Mouse on Mars. In September Penguin books will release his autobiography and The Fall will also perform at the Manchester International Festival this summer at the launch of Perverted by Language, a series of short stories inspired by The Fall songs.

Manchester Confidential had given up on ever having the chance to meet the man himself until he called out of the blue to suggest doing an interview in a bar in the Northern Quarter and giving strict instructions ‘not to be late’. Having seen Smith’s unpredictable behaviour during The Fall gigs this writer wasn’t sure what to expect but after a pint or two of Stella he proved to be a charming and eloquent man.

But, at the grand old age of 50 and a skin that looks very ‘lived in’, how is he coping with this hectic schedule? “I try to write everyday,” he says. “I get up early believe it or not. It’s the best time to think and then in the afternoon I do the other stuff. You know, like bloody accounts and all that.”

It’s been over thirty years since The Fall formed but Smith's lyrics never fail to sound refreshing and topical so what’s his secret?

“Well I try not to give my secrets away,” he replies coyly. “I don’t know half of what I'm saying on the last album. I try not to think too much but you don't want to be like that all the time. It'd drive you nuts.”

It’s a wonder Smith doesn’t take his own advice, judging by his behaviour at Fall gigs and notorious inter-band tension between band members which has resulted in one of the most changeable line-ups in rock and roll history. Today however, he seems completely at ease and continues to explain how his songs come together. “I improvise a lot in the studio and on stage. I don't need inspiration. My problem is shutting down. I've always been like that, ever since The Fall started. I don't think anyone can write like me.”

Of course it is Mark E Smith's voice and lyrics which are The Fall’s defining characteristics and surely the reason he was asked by Mouse on Mars to work on their latest project.

Whilst Smith might not always find it easy working with musicians in his own band he seemed to enjoy collaborating with this German duo. “It was a pleasure actually,” he admits fondly. “Until they got a bit Deutsch on me.” He chuckles and adopts a German accent, “We must finish these next two tracks. We have to decorate the end of the studio. You will sit here and it is all there for you...” He continues laughing to himself and imitating his fellow artists like a man possessed. He eventually calms and before he leaves we begin to discuss a number of other modern artists whose work continues in that tradition of poetic, observational lyrics pioneered by Smith.

“I know where that Lily Allen is coming from because I used to know her dad, Keith. I think she's alright actually and the Monkeys. Sometimes it’s like they're working out of those books you can buy in America. You know, ‘how to write rhymes’. But, if you're teenager then it probably stands out from all the other s**t that’s around.”

As an artist whose music has generally remained underground does Smith think these new pop groups with their mainstream success will be able to survive in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. “No”, he says definitely and then adds with an almost father like tone, “The thing about Britain is, they don't like you if you're too clever. You have to dumb down a bit. But it’s not their fault. They’re young aren't they?”

The Fall perform at the Manchester International Festival on 1 July at the launch of Perverted by Language, a book inspired by The Fall songs. Smith refused to talk about the book and claims no responsibility for its content.

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AnonymousJune 8th 2007.

Thirty years in a filthy business and he still has his integrity intact. Hats off to the curmudgeonly one.

KATEJune 8th 2007.

EEK! that pesky smoking ban comes into effect on sunday. how on earth will mark e smith manage a whole gig without a fag, huh?? maybe he should be given a special dispensation to light up. on account of being a genius of course.

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