- Cabbage + Hookworms
- Eagulls + Goat Girl
- Strange Collective + Ohmns + Pink Kink
Two Bido Lito! writers give their opinions on the divisive maverick Mark E Smith. How would he fare on his latest visit to the city? Matt Hogarth and Del Pike are at the CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH. all-dayer, a mouthwatering prospect of a showcase presenting the best local and national talent currently doing the rounds.
In support of Mark E Smith. Catching THE FALL in their element is a source of pure joy. Like watching an asteroid shower, there is something truly beautiful about the flaming destruction happening before your very eyes. It doesn’t make a difference that most of the time their live sets are an utter shambles, because, with a line-up like tonight’s this, it’s a winner either way. If Mr E Smith shines through then it’s merely a bonus.
It’s barely gone five o’clock but Arts Club’s Loft is already packed out for PINK KINK. Despite having not released a single song, the Liverpool-based five-piece have gathered quite some hype. Armed with an array of neon cardboard delicacies, and outfits just as vibrant to match, Pink Kink are an explosion, a sensory overload that is overwhelmingly pleasing on the ear. Quite unlike anything else on the Liverpool scene, they flip rapidly from anger-fuelled feminist anthems to heartfelt ballads to fun-filled party anthems.
Having left the sweatbox upstairs we fly down to catch STRANGE COLLECTIVE. With their usual carefree attitude and trademark shambolic garage-psych fug, they tear the room in half. The scouse burr of lead singer Alex Wynne is the perfect complement to the pedal-fed fuzz provided by guitarist Ali Horn. Combining classic hometown melody with a whole load of distortion, delay and mind-altering wah-wah is what’s helped them gain their fanbase, and what will surely help them grow it further.
Shouldering through a crowd of cracked leather jackets reeking of nicotine, we travel back to the loft in search of OHMNS. Unyielding, vicious and unpredictable, they are West Derby’s answer to The Gories. “We are Cock Piss Cabbage,” sneers singer Quinlan, wasting no time for chat and slamming straight into a raucous rendition of Boil D Rice. The group combine a filthy East Coast garage vibe with a Northern humour – like Half Man Half Biscuit on speed – and bring a much-needed edge to proceedings.
After sampling the delights of EAGULLS and GOAT GIRL, the penultimate bands of the night couldn’t seem further apart. Rather than choose between CABBAGE or HOOKWORMS, I split down the middle and opt for catching half a set each. The Loft is packed full to the rafters for Cabbage, with what feels like people squeezing into every possible orifice the room has to offer. With humidity rising as much as anticipation, the Mossley crew arrive with a rockstar swagger brought on by sold-out shows across the country. Cabbage are a band who might split opinion, but one thing that can’t be argued with is their stage presence. They’re a group of Northern boys who’ve struck a chord with generation Y: it may be simplistic and raw, but you can’t argue with the frenzied smiles of young and old that fill the room.
Hookworms couldn’t be more different. Perfectionists by nature, it has taken a little longer for the Leeds collective to set up, so I’m surprised to wander in mid-set. However, I’m not surprised to be blown back by the multisensory tour de force which confronts us, a barrage of electronic noise accompanied by a hypnotic visual show. Unlike Cabbage’s cult of personality, the members of Hookworms are shrouded in darkness, letting the music take on its very own being. It’s a huge sound which holds the audience in its gaze.
No matter what Mark E Smith and co. are like, today has been a victory for underground music which encapsulates everything The Fall stand for.
In defence of Mark E Smith. Oh, lord above, where do you start? Not with this headline performance, that’s for sure. THE FALL topping off CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH’s all-day gigathon was supposed to be perfect, but after two (admittedly great) songs – Wolf Kidult Man and Cowboy George – it kind of all falls apart. A slew of unrecognisable tunes mix in with the odd gem like Dedication Not Medication, but the show is lost, a surefire letdown.
As a Fall fan of many a year and the proud owner of every studio album (30, count ‘em), this is my 10th Fall gig – and, I’m sad to say, it’s the first I have genuinely not enjoyed. I say enjoy: my usual state down at the front of a Fall gig is that of pure ecstasy, for no matter how grizzled and pissed our hero may be, he generally rises up and delivers. The band are always tight, tighter than most, and there is humour in the gnarly venom spat out by the goblinesque Smith.
So, do I forgive them for this one night of dirge? Of course I do. We can’t always get it right. Do you sack a teacher on the strength of one bad lesson? No. Smith has the right to drop the ball every now and then.
Look at his schedule: it appears that, somewhere in the world, Smith and his ever-changing line-up are playing a gig or a festival every month. They never stop. With pretty much an album released every year or two since 1979, prolific is their middle name. The line-up carousel has been unusually stable the last few years, with Peter Greenaway, David Spurr, Keiron Melling, and Smith’s wife Elena Poulo providing the driving force behind the shouting. In Poulo, Smith had a sparring partner, but with her now departed, The Fall are back to a four-piece, and it feels skinny.
Prowling the stage like a wounded bear, Mark E Smith seems like a lost soul, and it’s kind of heartbreaking. He looks older too. To be fair, he’s never really been a good looker has our Mark, but as the years have gone by the wrinkles have piled on, and for some time he’s looked a great deal older than his years (60 this March). Like an ancient tree, however, those indentations and scars hold wisdom. His lyrics continue to astound: check out Stout Man from 2015’s Sub-Lingual Tablet for proof. It’s just that they’re getting harder to decipher. And when he resorts to trilling like a budgie in favour of singing, like he does tonight, it’s even more confusing.
By defending Mark E Smith, it is difficult in some ways not to criticise. To the uninitiated, a Fall gig may look like a full-blown disaster, with Smith often scrabbling on his knees behind an amp, trying to find his lyric sheet, or tampering with the equipment to no noticeable effect – but it’s all part of the act.
Disappointed? Yes. Will I go again? Yes. Because, seriously, you never know what to expect with The Fall. In the words of The Osmonds, one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch. Now that would be a Fall cover to cherish.
Del Pike / @del_pike