Just what is it about the Fall? Incendiary interviews the Polaroids

The Polaroids sit down with us and talk about The Fall. You'll like it.


Talking to bands about their own albums and tours gets a little boring after a while. So, every now and then, we corner a band and get them to talk about something that they want to talk about. This month we cornered the Polaroids. Who? The Polaroids are a band currently going down a storm over in London and, trust us, they'll be big. We love them, you'll love them soon. They love the Fall, which is great, because every person of sound body and mind loves the Fall too. Honest. After a while we couldn't stop them talking. If you don't love the Fall after reading this, then we don't want to know you.


INCENDIARY: Ok, so you're big Fall fans, yeah? How, shall we say, have you developed a personal relationship with them? As fans.


Richard Slinger (guitarist): I think my relationship with them goes back to being a teenager. I was appalled that by the time I was introduced to them they'd released so many albums (through a tape made by the then-girlfriend of a friend of mine, Jonny who is our sometime Polaroids bass-meister). It felt like I could have been enjoying them for years beforehand if only I'd known. I think it was 'This Nation's Saving Grace' and 'The Wonderful and Frightening World' that I heard first, plus other wonderful extras like 'Bournemouth Runner'.

Mark Headley (singer) : The Fall at their peak ('78-'88?) are probably my favourite band ever. I'm not that bothered by any of their stuff from the nineties onwards, though I've bought a lot of it and always hope it's gonna hit those heights of their earlier days.


INCENDIARY: Is this ascribable to any stuff in your upbringing or is it a matter of pure aesthetics? (Answer that!)


RS: For growing up in East Lancashire in the mid 80's I can't think of a better soundtrack.


All my usual teenage feelings of alienation and ennui had been well catered for up till then by Morrissey, but by the time I was 16 he was growing very tiresome. Coming across a band that many people considered terrible and unlistenable was just perfect. Of course, there were loads of truly terrible and unlistenable bands around, but when I heard the Fall I thought they made beautiful music...just maybe not everyone's idea of beautiful.


MH: I thought you said "genetics" there for a second.  "A Love of The Fall: Nature or Nurture?!"


RS: Also, the majority of peers at the time were be-decked in Farahs and pastel 'sports jumpers' and were listening to soft rock, so it was also great to find another non-fashion band to go alongside the Smiths, the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, etc. If anyone of them dared to suggest that they'd decided to like a band you did, you could always play them something like 'Dr Faustus' and they'd run away holding their ears.


IN:  So what was it, exactly or indeed is it, about them?


MH: An amazing sustained period of songwriting creativity unparalled in Pop Music for my money. I'd be grasping towards artists in other media as better comparisons for what Mark E Smith achieved rather than other bands (JG Ballard? Not "pop" enough). If I ever need to remind myself of the possibilities of what pop music can do, I would head back to The Fall at that time.


RS: To me, the best music works on a number of levels, or has a number of layers. On the surface, you could see the Fall as just another guitar band, although one that's hard to classify – Punk? Rock? Rockabilly? I don't know. Because they cover a myriad of styles within each album. Then there's the lyrics which can be both literary and  hilarious at the same time. The music can give you the impression hastily thrown together chaos, but it's all finely crafted chaos.


MH: To be a bit more specific, I love a million different songs by a million artists for their different abilities to do all sorts of things (eg a song might be beautiful, emotionally cathartic, musically interesting, etc etc) but my absolute favourite songs tend to be ones that stimulate my imagination and open up new worlds for me.  The classic mainstream song for me is Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever"

One of the many unusual things about Mark E Smith's writing is the combination of quick witted linguistic creativity with conceptual and structural invention. Imagine the plot for Blade Runner being spouted in Clockwork Orange-type dialogue by a 70's northern british punk version of Mike Skinner from The Streets! But good!


RS: Centrally you then have MES himself who to me is some kind of shamanic figure, spouting wisdom but it sounds random and unclear where it all comes from.


MH: Smith also had a visionary ability to see and extend the imaginative possibilities in  both the everyday and the outlandishly surreal with an almost frightening clarity. His skills combined to successfully evoke the deranged world of the ex-pat paranoid traitor propagandist "Marquis Cha-Cha" holed up in Argentina during the Falklands War, or the bungling time travelling hero of "Wings" or even the local hobgoblins down the corner shop buying up supplies of cheap chocolate in "Slang King". 


One of the amazing things about The Fall is they managed to produce music which was ultra ambitious artistically while taking great pains to remain totally unpretentious. The sheer physical bravery of playing confrontational unconventional material to working man's clubs audiences in the North of England cannot be underestimated. To me the classic example of this is the version of "Spectre vs. Rector" on the live album "Totale's Turns". The song is an atonal multi part screech-a-long about a magical battle between a Van Helsing character and his quarry in the manner of an ancient northern European epic poem.  The audience were looking for music to snog and slowdance to on a Saturday evening. You can guess the crowd response! Weirdly, a couple of years ago I saw the same recording being danced to by Michael Clark's ballet company at Sadler's Wells. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see material recorded in such humble circumstances being accepted and appreciated in "high art" circles.


IN: We are all aware of the Machiavellian "staff turnaround" of band members... Is it a fair question to ask what your favourite line up is?


RS: MES, Brix, Karl Burns, Simon Wolstenholme, Craig Scanlon. Unlike other legendary bands who have attempted to carry on without their lead singer for various reasons (e.g. Bunnymen, Doors) I just couldn't see it happening with the Fall if Mark popped his clogs.


MH: MES, Brix, Craig Scanlon, Stephen Hanley, Paul Hanley, Karl Burns, Una Baines.

The classic twin drum axis from "Hex Enduction Hour"-era, the inevitable low slung bass groove of Steve Hanley, the original punk guitar texturalist Craig Scanlon [a huge influence on the original NYC No Wave scene, young hipsters!], a bit of sparkle on lead guitar from Brix and 60's sci-fi b-movie organ from the ever present mystery girl on keyboards.


IN: Being a Fall fan used to lead to certain "situations" in real life; parental antagonism, baffled contemporaries, quiet public rebellions. I'm sure you have stories to tell.


RS: I had tickets to see them with my brother on the Kurious Orange tour, but he couldn't come so I took a mate who had never heard them. He was very confused – 'But it's just some bloke shouting!' One of my favourite stories involves my friend Jonny who once asked a girl to dance to the next song at a club, only to find out that it was 'Australians in Europe' which lasts about 7 minutes and is not for the faint-hearted. Suffice to say she is not now currently his wife.


MH: They still go on! I seem to remember a particularly awkward yet joyous encounter only about three weeks ago.  I was with the esteemed editor of a certain flaming organ of the Dutch music scene in the Hoxton clothes shop now owned by Brix, ex-Fall lead guitarist. Brix happened to notice the obscure early Factory Records t-shirt being sported, purely coincidentally you understand, by said mystery editor. She said "I was in a band that played at the Factory". We replied "Really?" and managed to avoid any mention of our love for or even knowledge of The Fall during a stumbling subsequent conversation during which Brix recalled being electrocuted onstage at the Paradiso.


RS: They also give you ready ammunition to shout at people when you're walking home from the pub - 'You look like a victim of a pogrom!' etc.


IN: Ok, so favourite LP, fave record please.


RS: I guess it has to be my first Fall LP 'This Nation's Saving Grace' which is totally flawless...well apart from 'Vixen' which is rubbish.

MH: "Hex Enduction Hour". Almost more for the artistic possibilities it opens up rather than the album itself.  Rock'n'roll as literature, literature as rock'n'roll. I think they frightened themselves by what they achieved here, choosing to follow it up with the deliberately underachieving "Room to Live".


RS: I also love 'Cruiser's Creek' from the same era because of the all-time-greatness of its guitar hook. 'Palace of Swords Reversed' also holds a special place in my heart, coz of the true greatness of 'The Man Whose Head Expanded', and the memory of hearing that for the first time whilst getting leathered on vicious home-brew when 18...and then only being able to talk in lyrics from that song until daybreak.


MH: "Totally Wired," best version is the live one in NYC off "A Part of America Therein". The classic punk vorticist blast.


IN: And, seems as we're heading in this direction, your fave MES costume.


RS: It has to be a patterned tank top. Coupled with a tight leather jacket of the sort only worn by your dad's fat mate when attached to the bar of his local pub.


MH: Terrible pink nylon shirt worn on video for "Tempo House." A highpoint of some sort.


IN:  Did you ever try to dress like the Fall? A Grant Showbizz haircut, for example, or a Una Baines skirt?


MH: Just remembered that I did in fact have a grey diagonally zipped jacket inspired by jackets worn in the photo of band on inner sleeve of "Wonderful and Frightening World of".


IN:  Do you get pissed off with people like me trying to eulogise them? After all what we're doing here is smugly bracketing them as "Important". We're pacifying them are we not? Their shock tactic was that they were extraordinary and yet ordinary; warts n all.


MH: No not at all, they are a difficult band for a lot of people to appreciate so it's a good thing when people try and make them more accessible to a new audience. I think there appears to be more interest right now in The Fall on the back of the success of big Fall fans like Franz Ferdinand.


RS: Everyone should own several Fall albums, and MES should be a multi-millionaire.


MH: I think the point is that someone might discover The Fall as a result of them being written about by people like you and get inspired to create something original themselves. I presume this isn't intended to be a Consumer's Guide to Which Fall Albums You Must Own To Impress Any Record Collection Investigators In Your Neighbourhood.


IN: In total contrast to the last question, I shall ask you, (trivially of course), to share with us your fave Fall lyric.


RS: He was sent to a labour camp somewhere north of Dresden, and was never seen again.(I've probably got that wrong)


IN: Well actually, you have got them wrong. He patriotically volunteered for a Labour Intensification course somewhere North of Dresden.


MH: "Well I didn't eat the weekend/But I put the weight back on again...It just goes to show, the Lie Dream of the Casino Soul (scene)" (Lie Dream of A Casino Soul). Always comes into my mind in unexpected situations.


IN: So what's happening in Polaroid land? You've triumphantly played Holland in May; you were on expat radio in June... When is the next gig?


RS: I'll let Mark answer that one.


MH: Probably another underground event, this time in London in October.


IN: Birds tell me you're working on an lp...


MH: Yeah the new songs are a really exciting collection, even if I say it myself. For the first time, we are working with a Top Producer in London, so expect unnecessary string sections, girl backing singers and wall of sound production everywhere.


RS: Yes, that's right – we're currently using a flock of highly-trained starlings to spread the Polaroids' word around the Low Countries. They are very effective in covering a large amount of territory, but make an obscene amount of mess, and go through more sunflower seeds than an equivalent flock of highly-trained vegans. However, using flying vegans for your PR is much more trouble than it's worth, what with all the ethnic clothing to buy and flying lessons of course.

IN: Cheers chaps and keep us posted eh?

RS: We'll send along a woodpecker to Incendiary Towers soon to let you know of developments. Or maybe a tree-creeper if you're lucky. 

The Polaroids

Interview : Richard Foster