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So Long Mark E. Smith, Gone But Never Forgotten

Image screenshot: YouTube / Channel 4 News

Music fans were united in their grief as news broke that Mark E. Smith, the singular and much-admired singer and only constant member of The Fall, had passed away. Smith died aged 60 on Wednesday 24th January 2018 at his home which was confirmed by his manager Pam Vanders who tweeted, “It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mark E. Smith.” 

With that fans of Smith (and The Fall)—which includes many musicians and celebrities—started to share their favourite songs and memories of the larger-than-life figure. And there were plenty to choose from, in both categories.

Because over a career that spanned 40 years plus, the post-punk band produced 32 studio albums, many compilations and live recordings, and untold legendary anecdotes. Theirs is a back catalog of songs and stories that is numerous and vast.

The Fall at Band on the Wall © Jill Furmanovsky

Smith, from Salford, formed The Fall in 1976 after he went to a Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall. A venue with fittingly proto-punk credentials, because it was the same venue where Bob Dylan was infamously heckled by a fan as “Judas!” for going electric. Dylan retorted by turning to his band and telling them to, “Play it f*cking loud.” Something that Smith could no doubt relate to.

Before forming The Fall Smith worked as a docker and dock clerk on Salford docks. He also went to college to study literature, but was taken aback when he found out they weren’t studying Hunter S. Thompson, a kindred hellraiser who Smith no doubt was influenced by. But the studies must have had some effect, because Smith eponymously named the band after the novel of the same name by French absurdist philosopher Albert Camus.

Mark E Smith © Jill Furmanovsky

As for The Fall’s musical influences, they were varied and manifold, coming from many different genres: reggae, punk, rockabilly, garage rock, German avant-garde, all kinds of styles. And they went on to become a huge influence themselves, inspiring everyone from Suede to The Pixies, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Happy Mondays and many more. Their ever-changing line up caused John Peel, a huge fan, to say, “They are always different, they are always the same.”

Along with his music, what was also special about Smith was he was one of the true characters of rock music. It seems everyone has a story about him that showcases his raucous and unpredictable behaviour and unique appeal. He was the cynical poet who revelled in satire and misanthropy.

Sonic Youth © Matt Anker

With that in mind, here’s a few stories that were floating about on Twitter after news of his death broke, stories that reflect his inimitable style while also fondly remembering him.

Radio 6 DJ Lauren Laverne‏ said, “Oh man. Mark E Smith. One of my biggest heroes. Had a nightmare interviewing him (of course) but then he put me in a song. So sharp, clever and untouchably cool. Thanks for the music, MES.”

A cameraman for cult lo-fi 1990s comedy show The Adam and Joe Show, which starred Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, tweeted, “Once filmed Mark E Smith for Adam & Joe Show. Hilarious, lovely & completely fucking nuts at the same time! He then kicked us out of @AdamBuxton house & wouldn't let us back in til we posted him £400 cash & 4 beers through the letter box.”

To which Adam Buxton replied, “I think it was £200 actually. A bargain. I ran all the way to the cashpoint and back. I was very nervous but he didn't disappoint and even came to our series wrap party, but that's another story. Cheers Mark!”

Image screenshot: BBC.co.uk

Mat Osman, bassist for band Suede, chipped in with the following, “I have a Mark E Smith story actually. Back in the day Suede got asked to support The Fall on a couple of dates. To a man we were massive fans and VERY excited to be asked. Everyone told us he could be rough on support bands but he was great. Lots of time to soundcheck. He was friendly, helpful, told us to come straight to him with any problem. The shows were great, his crowd were great, The Fall were great. On our way home in the van we were listening to Richard Skinner and he had an interview with Mark. We listened in intently. Especially when Skinner asked, ‘Do you like any of the new bands who are calling you an influence.’ Mark said ‘Like who?’ Skinner asked ‘Well, like Suede.’ There was a perfectly timed beat. ‘Never heard of them.’”

Image screenshot: ClashMusic.com

Twitter user, @GreatJoaks, stated this as the best Mark E. Smith tale, “My favourite MES story involves Badly Drawn Boy. BDB stops his car when he sees Mark E Smith leaving some building. MES waves him down, presuming it's a taxi, gets in the backseat and orders BDB to take him home. Which he does, without question.”

There’s also this classic from writer John Niven, “Of the many reasons to love Mark E Smith the fact that back in the day he would relentlessly greet Morrissey with a cheery 'Hello Steven!' has to be right up there."

Image screenshot: Alternativenation.net

There’s also this, which is very rock and roll and comes from Dino Sofos who works for BBC Politics. “A producer who worked with #MarkESmith told me he’d seen him pour Guinness over his cornflakes and sprinkle cocaine on top.”

And, lastly, this one which is perhaps the most touching, if true. It comes from @swench. “Mark E. Smith is walking down a street. He sees a little girl crying. He asks her what’s wrong. She says she’s lost her teddy bear. ‘Don’t worry. He’s gone touring with a rock band.’ Every now and then Mark sends a postcard from 'Mark E. Bear'. He kept this up until she was 28.’”

RIP, Mark E. Smith.

Rockarchive is delighted to offer many iconic images as limited edition photographic prints from the punk era that inspired Mark E. Smith and The Fall, like the Sex PistolsThe RamonesIggy Pop, The Slits, The Buzzcocks, The Clash and The Cramps.

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