Belgrave Music Hall, in Leeds, was packed with excited The Fall fans eager to catch a glimpse of their idols after the original gig was rearranged due to Mark E. Smith being ill. Smith and his cohorts returned to fulfill their commitment in what turned out to be one of the strangest gigs I have ever attended.
No The Fall fan would ever arrive at one of their gigs expecting a flawless performance, the unpredictable and sometimes shambolic nature of Smith’s performances are part of their charm and adds to the electric atmosphere, but on this occasion their erratic display reached new levels of chaos.
The night got off to a bad start as the support act didn’t show up and the crowd were left waiting with no entertainment. After a while of hanging around the initial disappointment was instantly forgotten as cult heroes The Fall arrived on stage. The excitement in the room was palpable as one of the greatest bands Britain has ever produced began their set.
From start to finish the band were phenomenal, almost telepathically in sync, bags of energy and charisma, a faultless display. Unfortunately, and it really pains me to say this, the same could not be said for lead singer, songwriter and general genius, Mark E. Smith. I suspect that he still hadn’t fully recovered from the illness, which had caused them to pull out of the original gig, his face was swollen on one side and he looked generally pale and unwell. Even by his recent standards this has to be his most shambolic and erratic display to date. His vocals were unintelligible throughout, and using two microphones at once didn’t help the matter. He seemed to be adlibbing the lyrics to every track, to the point where it was difficult to decipher which song they were playing and that was only down to the efforts of the rest of the band. He spent a fair amount of time during the early stages consulting a document, which was far too extensive to be just a set list. This lead me to wonder if he has now reached a stage where he is so bewildered that he needs to be reminded of his own lyrics, lyrics that he wrote. Despite visibly seeming uncomfortable and weary Smith manfully battled through the early part of the set, but then he seemed to reach a point of no return. Repeatedly wondering off stage, taking the microphone with him and performing his vocals away from the glare of his adoring fans. This happened on several occasions until he then departed in the middle of a track, but this time he left his microphone on stage. As the song concluded, and he was nowhere to be seen, the band, starting with bassist David Spurr, incrementally set their instruments down and ran off in search of him. A few minutes passed before they came back onto the stage having finally managed to persuade Smith to return. Smith again tried his best to continue but it wasn’t long until he was back into the cycle of disappearing at regular intervals.
I am fully aware that this is an incredibly negative review, but I want you to know that it is written with love and a genuine concern for the well being and long-term health of one of my heroes. Despite the obvious downfalls in the set the majority of the audience seemed to be having a great time. It was heart breaking at times to witness this great man in such state but it was still an honour to even be in the same room as these icons.
*(Main photograph from Beacons Festival in 2014)