We Only Have This Excerpt: Mark E Smith Of The Fall Interviewed

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We Only Have This Excerpt: Mark E Smith Of The Fall Interviewed

Mark E Smith has a drink with Kevin EG Perry and tells him about literary influences and Ersatz GB. Photograph by Valerio Berdini


He moves in a shuffling gait, and already seems older than his 54 years, but his wit and his work rate haven’t slowed. In the 35 years since he and a handful of mates formed The Fall in an apartment in Prestwich he has released 29 albums under that name. Although his bandmates have long since become the subject of regular rotation, over the years Smith has crafted for himself a complex, literate authorial voice which is as unmistakable as his own Salford anti-vocals. The new record, Ersatz G.B. , is out in time for the Christmas shoppers, at his own insistence.“It’s a shopper’s paradise, isn’t it?” says Mark E Smith as he surveys ‘Smoak’, the inexplicably Texan-themed bar in Manchester’s Malmaison hotel. It’s a Saturday afternoon a month or so before Christmas, and both the hotel bar and the adjacent lobby are crawling with families laden with expensive-looking carrier bags. We collect our beers, chosen at random from a long list of imports, and Smith spots a quiet corner on the other side of the lobby: “We’ll go over there.”
Is he happy with it? “Yeah!” he grins as we get settled on a sofa, “but I wouldn’t mind a copy! Have you got one?” He lets out a cackle. Over the course of the evening, Smith laughs long, and hard, and often. It’s an expressive laugh, and depending on the subject at hand it ranges from a chesty death rattle to whooping back in his seat. His tongue emerges regularly. It looks like a gila monster, and in his long career it seems to have gotten him in and out of trouble in roughly equal measure.


Where did the title Ersatz G.B. come from?
“Well, it’s one of them word things. I came up with the title before I started writing half the songs. That’s what they like, the record companies. They like the title first, because I was insisting on it being out by Christmas.”
What’s the thinking behind it?
“Well… what do you think the thinking is behind it?”
I tell him it sounds like a state of the nation address. That Great Britain isn’t what it seems to be, or perhaps what it used to be. Smith, however, has never been one for nostalgia.
“There’s always that rose-coloured glasses shit, but people forget how crap it was in the Seventies. All you’ve got to do is to look to your right to know what the title means. Ha ha ha ha” To our right, a woman with a toddler in a pushchair has taken a seat. The handles of the pushchair are heavy with shopping bags. “What surprised me was that a lot of people didn’t know what ‘ersatz’ was.”
That British people now read less and have smaller vocabularies would seem to validate the point.
“I think that’s probably right, yeah. I don’t think they appreciate what they’ve got, but you’ve got to be careful because you end up sounding like a grumpy old man. It was like this when I was fucking 12. I used to read all the fucking time, but I was the only one at the fucking school who did. I went to a grammar school but I was the only one who actually read anything. It’s not because of computers or anything. People have always been pig ignorant! Ha! There’s nowt you can do about it! Ha Ha Ha! Cheers!”
It’s Smith’s turn to ask the questions, so we talk for a while about The Quietus and about how much I’m getting paid to do this interview, and then about our shared love of Hunter S Thompson and conversely about the lad’s mag journalism he unsurprisingly abhors: “I’ve never been into cars or looking at birds. I don’t understand that. It’s funny because when my book came out, I went to this writing convention in Wales. It’s like where all these writers congregate. Very famous.”
The Hay festival?
“Yeah. So that fella was there. The Top Gear fella. Jeremy whodyamob. Jeremy whatisface from Top Gear.”
Oh, Clarkson.
“I dunno, I know nothing about cars at all. Even my dad was like that. My dad had a Lada. Ha ha ha. What happened was, I was doing this thing about my book, and there was about 500 people there. But for this geezer there was thousands. You couldn’t get out of the place. There was about a million cars on this camping site. It’s almost like you’re drowning in people who look like him!” Smith points at a balding, middle-aged man reading a newspaper on the other side of the lobby. “Fucking thousands of them! I had this fucking co-writer with me, the ghost-writer. The fucking idiot is shaking hands with the fuckers because he thinks they’ve all come to see me, or ‘im. So I fucking bottled him! Ha ha ha ha. I bottled him in the car park! He was shaking hands with fucking every fucker you’d see! I just wanted to get out, it was that frustrating. It was horrible.”
It’s a pretty damning indictment of people’s reading habits that Jeremy Clarkson is the most popular man at the Hay Festival.
“I know, yeah, but there weren’t like young girls there. It was people like him.” He points again. “It was quite frightening! Thousands and thousands of thousands of them, and they must be parents so you can’t really blame the kids who aren’t reading. A lot of fellas my age, they won’t fucking grow up.
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The great Mark E Smith/Loaded magazine interview:


Price excerpt: " Yeah, fuckin' look at you, you don't wanna do any work, you're not interested in anything! See, you're just like every fuckin'fat-arsed middle-management cunt in Britain, aren't you? You just come out to work to get away from the wife. You're not interested in creating anything, and that's why the country's on it's back, PALLY!"

As for Jeremy Clarkson....