April 1981, I'm thirteen years old and I'm on an exasperatingly long bus journey through the outskirts of East Birmingham. I am devouring the current issue of the ever colourful Smash Hits and, having read through the features on the chart hugging acts, I turn to the 'Independent' (not yet the snappy 'Indie'), page to see a black and white photograph of five discontented looking men in a poorly lit room.
Only the belligerent-looking one on the far left-hand side of the lineup looks like he's aware that he's having his picture taken. His name is Mark E Smith and his band is called The Fall. I'm already fascinated...
It is made clear fairly early on in the feature that Smith is the band's leader, that he is the one in charge. This, and so many of the facts and legends that we have come to take for granted about The Fall are mentioned: a band whose line up has already been through a number of changes, an outsider's unwillingness to be easily categorised, an antagonism towards wanting to be pigeonholed or sound 'produced' and a few theories from Smith that are hilariously unfathomable. It's all here.
At one point in the interview, Smith is keen to point out that the band's cacophonous sound could actually appeal to the millions who don't read the music papers or watch TV, although when pressed he admits that he doesn't know how he'll engage with the untouchable masses...
It's that odd, madcap theory that stayed with me, particularly when I heard the next album that The Fall would unleash. I imagined the look of horror that I would be greeted with if I gave an unsuspecting member of the public one of those new-fangled Sony Walkman's and pressed 'Play' ...
That album, 'Hex Enduction Hour' (1982) opens with the fidgety attack of 'The Classical', with Smith ranting about Nazis, the oft impersonated 'Hey there fuckface' and as the band sounding gnarly, angry, possessed.
I imagine the uninitiated listener swiftly handing back their headphones, probably with an expression of indignation. I'd also expect a similar response to the eight-minute-long 'Hip Priest' with its jazz-like meanderings, incoherent rambles and 'He is not appreciated...' mantra. It may come as no surprise that it appears on the soundtrack of 'The Silence of the Lambs'. And as for the megaphone-wielding repetition of 'Who Make's The Nazis?', well, I think you get the can get the picture.
Released forty years ago this week 'Hex Enduction Hour' remains one of The Fall's most enduring albums (frequently placed next to 'This Nation's Saving Grace' (1985) as their finest work). It is a record born out of defiance, Smith at his most snarly and antagonistic. It is the first to be made since leaving Rough Trade because Smith didn't want The Fall to be 'just another Rough Trade band.'
Like a surreal team-building exercise, Smith decided that part of 'Hex' be recorded in an abandoned cinema in Hitchin, whilst the rest in Reyjkavik, Iceland, apparently in a cave formed out of lava, I'm not certain what that would have done for group morale. It may come as little consolation to the rest of the band that the location inspired the most intoxicating track on the album - the largely improvised 'Iceland', a quiet and reflective moment, the penultimate track before all hell breaks loose ...
It is worth noting at this stage that 'Hex' is the first Fall album to feature two drummers. Something that is apparent in the brutal ten-minute finale 'And This Day.' It is an unrelenting and diabolical sound. The viciously pummeled drums fighting for prominence with Smith's repetitive cries. It is a startling, if disquieting, climax.
When asked later about the approach to making 'Hex' Smith noted that he wanted to create something that was in defiance of '...bland bastards like Elvis Costello and Spandau Ballet ...and all that shit'.
It's that line that rewinds you to the band's appearance in the glossy pop magazine and then fast-forwarding on to the line from that year's 'I'm into C.B':
Listens to all this muzak shit/
Reads Smash Hits while she's eating her tea'
Whatever it was that appalled Smith in the music that was around him, whatever he feared for the future of 'indie' and Rough Trade bands, whatever made him turn his bile into a masterpiece, thank you!
Smash Hits, thank you!
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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