March 1990 – Late Road Lunatics, Senseless Things and The Fall.

Next up on the list is a gig I don’t have much recollection of. It was on March 17th at the Powerhouse in Islington and consisted of three groups, Dr Millar, Late Road Lunatics and This is Glass Radio. I think, if my memory serves me right, that a friend of a friend was in one of these groups, which one I’m really not sure.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to track down some information on them but the only one I’ve found much information about are Late Road Lunatics. According to their website they formed in 1974 and released singles themselves, never signing to a label. They were played by John Peel and played Reading and Glastonbury. Oddly the website states that they split up in 1987 but reformed in 2014. What they were doing playing in Islington in 1990 is anyone’s guess. Here’s one of theirs from 1984.

Since being introduced to The Fall in 1986 I had delved into their back catalogue. Going backwards was an interesting way of discovering them. With each album they became slightly less accessible, still highly enjoyable but some albums took a bit more effort than others to get to grips with. It’s difficult writing about The Fall as the group (never ‘the band’) had quite distinct identities dependant on which era you listen to. I’m very much a mid-period fan, the ‘glory years’ as Simon Wolstencroft recalls MES describing them as during this interview.

The late eighties / early nineties was a great period for Fall albums. Following Bend Sinister came ‘The Frenz Experiment’ and then possibly my favourite Fall LP, ‘I am Kurious Oranj’.

Both were released in 1988, there was then bit of a wait before the release of 1990’s ‘Extricate’. By this point in the group’s history Mark and Brix had parted company. I think it’s fair to say that Brix has brought a certain pop sensibility to The Fall’s music, certainly with her input the albums became slightly less abrasive and they even had some hit singles.

‘Extricate’ was well worth the wait. I’d be the first to admit that some albums have the odd weak track, those that you’d listen to as part of the album but wouldn’t necessarily pick out to put on a playlist or listen on their own. However, this album was full of strong songs, a group on top of their game.

The album had been preceded by two singles. The first ‘Telephone Thing’ which to this day I think is one of the best things they’ve done. It was originally a Coldcut song, MES disliked the vocals and some other parts but thought the basics of the song were worth reworking so he gave it to the group to come up with their version. It’s a showcase for the rhythm section and contains some great lyrics centring around Mark’s concern that his phone was tapped. Strangely it also mentions Eastenders actor Gretchen Franklin though Mark maintained that he didn’t do it intentionally.

The next single was ‘Popcorn Double Feature’. I’m convinced that at the time I wasn’t aware that it was a cover of a song by The Searchers from 1967. The manner in which The Fall stamp their own identity on songs is one of the many reasons I love them.

They announced a tour to promote the album, playing two nights at the Kilburn National. I purchased my first ever Fall ticket.

I got there in time to see the support band and was very pleased that I did. Support that night was from Senseless Things, a name I’d seen in the music press but whose material I hadn’t heard. They were a revelation, short, sharp, sweet songs played at a frenetic speed. Punk but with a pop edge, they reminded me a bit of the Buzzcocks. They had a lot of energy on stage, particularly the bass player Morgan Nicholls, it was hard to keep your eyes off him. The set flew by, not surprisingly as at this stage of their career most of their songs were well under two minutes long.

Having made a mental note to track down their stuff I grabbed a drink and waited for the main act to arrive. I was really excited. I’d been intrigued by the group and specifically Mark E Smith since my introduction to them four years previously.

On they came, looking very serious and businesslike. Mark as expected held centre stage.

The group were on top form, really tight which allowed Mark to do his own thing lyrically. It was clear that a Fall song played live took on a life of it’s own. Mark added new bits of lyrics as well as playing around with microphone positions and amplifier settings. They sounded incredible and looking at the set-list you can see why I was impressed.

Theme from Error Orriri
The Littlest Rebel
Sing! Harpy
I’m Frank
Telephone Thing
Hit the North
Chicago Now
Black Monk Theme
Popcorn Double Feature
Deadbeat Descendent
British People in Hot Weather
Bremen Nacht
U.S 80’s-90’s
Mr Pharmacist
Carry Bag Man

(thanks to )

Looking back, having seen The Fall numerous times, I think this is my favourite set-list. When they were on top form there wasn’t a group that could beat them. Mark was a great front man, there was always an air of ‘what’s going to happen next?’ as he roamed the stage. This combined with the concentration of the group determined to keep going despite Mark’s interference made for an incredible experience. Unfortunately not every gig was like that but that’s one of the things that made them so fascinating. No two gigs would ever be the same and you couldn’t be sure what sort of performance you’d get.

I’m currently rereading the Mark E Smith memoir “Renegade’. There really was no-one quite like him, with his talent with words, his sense of humour and unique take on the world.

I really miss him.

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