The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall



The Pequod Review:

There have been a lot of books written about The Fall but none that captures the band's chaotic energy the way Steve Hanley's The Big Midweek does. Hanley spent nineteen years in the band (from 1979 to 1998) as its bassist, and his book is an honest and revealing account of what life was really like under the thumb of its founder, Mark E. Smith. 

The Fall were a truly unique and original post-punk band, in a genre that frankly did not have many of them. This was apparent to Hanley the first time he saw them play: 

It’s pretty sparse near the front as the various members of The Fall walk on stage with attitude but no apparent image. There’s no posing or posturing either; these people are clearly here to get on with the serious business of music. The guitarist; dark, minimal, almost mechanical, is providing the rhythm which the melodic bass really cuts through, providing the tune. And, as for the drummer, forget bum-tap bum-tap dugga dugga dugga; here’s an octopus. His radical, lawless backbeat is interspersed with unsystematic keyboards from the stage-side. The combined effect is mesmerising. The first song, which may well be called ‘Stepping Out’ since that’s what the singer keeps repeating with increasing severity, has a harsh edge to it. I’m not too sure about his gaudy acrylic golfing tank top… isn’t he taking anti-fashion a step too far? But his gaunt, intense anger rips through every lyric. I can’t help getting drawn into it. This is half an hour of something distinctive. Everyone’s doing the opposite of what you’d expect, yet it works. We don’t leave until we’ve found out where they’re playing next, which is a headline spot at Band on the Wall in a couple of weeks. Marc rips the sleeves off an old T-shirt for the occasion and spray-paints The Fall across the front. The lead singer spots it, chats to Marc after the set and hints that they might be needing a roadie soon. There’s nothing aloof-pop-star about this lot.

Later, Hanley captures some of the uniqueness of Smith's vocals:

Mark Smith’s voice rolls on top of the music like barbed wire, fencing you into a place you never thought could exist.

But Hanley is also candid about the downsides of life on the road — early morning wake-up calls, crappy hotel rooms, unsatisfying hook-ups, and an overall exhaustion as they bounce from city to city — as well as the mercurial nature of Smith, whose erratic management style becomes increasingly authoritarian over time. From start to finish, Hanley's descriptions are credible and realistic — a lesser memoir could have easily become hagiographic, salacious or bitter — and as a result The Big Midweek is probably the best behind-the-scenes profile yet of The Fall.