Saturday 27 January 2018

Dead at the witch trials

In fifty-eight years of life one is bound to have seen a lot of rock ‘n’ roll deaths. Of the many musicians who have passed, three stick out in my memory: Elvis, Lennon, Cobain.

In 1977 I was in my Cranley Road bedsit when I saw the news item on my TV about Elvis Presley. I was living in a Palmeira Avenue bedsit when John Lennon was murdered. By the time of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I was living in Suffolk Avenue.

Of those three, it was the Nirvana front man’s which affected me most. It was not just the ugly nature of his early demise, but I was a big fan with a ticket for their Brixton Academy gig, an event that clearly would never happen.

Mark E. Smith has departed, fallen at the age of sixty. I was an early fan of The Fall, I was hooked from the first hearing of ‘Repetition’ very soon after its release. I still prefer their early work (I usually do with most artistes) although The Fall’s output is always interesting and often brilliant far beyond those early days.

The word genius is overused, and I am not sure that Mark E. Smith deserves this appellation, but he was very good. As a musical icon he will be missed, and his legacy is a tremendous back catalogue and many bands influenced by him. I played in bands who numbered The Fall as a key influence. Many of us, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were influenced; Mark E. Smith and his band showed us another way and we eagerly followed.

The Fall’s music was often a long way from accessible. Mark E. Smith’s behaviour was often irascible. What marked them out, particularly in those heady days of punk, was their originality. They captured the DIY ethos of punk, and married this to clever lyrics, and music that was as catchy as it often was simple.

If those who die are made immortal by those who keep their memory alive, then Mark E. Smith has a long future after his death this week. I will be forever grateful for the man, the band, the music, and the intelligent and original attitude. Rest in peace. MES.

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition