The Fall are an English post-punk band, formed in Prestwich, Greater Manchester in 1976. The group has existed in some form ever since, and is essentially built around its founder and only constant member, Mark E. Smith. First associated with the punk movement of the late 1970s, the band's music has gone through numerous stylistic changes, often concurrently with changes in the group's membership. However, The Fall's music is often characterised by repetition, an abrasive guitar-driven sound, and is always underpinned by Smith's vocals and often cryptic lyrics, described by critic Steve Huey as "abstract poetry filled with complicated wordplay, bone-dry wit, cutting social observations, and general misanthropy."
The group's output is prolific—as of July 2010 they have released 28 studio albums, and more than triple that counting live albums and other releases. They have never achieved widespread public success beyond a handful of minor hit singles in the late 1980s, but have maintained a strong cult following. The band were long associated with BBC disc jockey John Peel, who championed them from early on in their career and cited The Fall as his favourite band, famously explaining, "They are always different, they are always the same."
The Fall was formed in Prestwich, Greater Manchester in 1976 by Mark E. Smith, Martin Bramah, Una Baines, and Tony Friel. Friel came up with the name "The Fall", after a 1956 novel by Albert Camus. The original lineup featured Smith on guitar, Bramah on vocals, Baines on drums, and Friel on bass guitar, but Smith and Bramah soon switched roles, and Baines switched to keyboards. The band's unidentified first drummer, whose first name has been given as "Dave" and "Steve" by various sources, was quickly replaced by Karl Burns. From the beginning, the group produced a sound quite unlike anything else being played in the run-down dancehalls of northern England's New Wave scene.
The original members of The Fall used to meet and read their writings to each other and take drugs. Their musical influences included Can, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, and garage rock. The members were devoted readers, with Smith citing H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, and Malcolm Lowry among his favourite writers. The Fall's music was intentionally raw and repetitive. The song "Repetition", declaring that "we've repetition in the music, and we're never going to lose it", served as a manifesto for The Fall's musical philosophy.
The group played its first concert on 23 May 1977. They recorded material for their debut EP in November 1977. The session was funded by Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon, who planned to release the EP on his New Hormones label. After discovering that he could not afford to release the EP, Boon gave the tapes back to the band. Two tracks, "Stepping Out" and "Last Orders", were released on the compilation Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus in June 1978 on Virgin Records, a compilation album recorded at the Manchester venue The Electric Circus in October 1977.
The Fall's lineup underwent several changes in 1977-78. Smith's girlfriend Kay Carroll became the group's manager and occasional backing vocalist. Founding members Tony Friel (who went on to form The Passage) and Una Baines left in December 1977 and March 1978, respectively. Jonnie Brown and Eric McGann had brief stints as The Fall's bass guitarist, the latter quitting in disgust of The Fall's van driver wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Marc Riley (bass) and Yvonne Pawlett (keyboards) were eventually recruited to the group. Martin Bramah blamed the dissolution of the original lineup on Smith's style of leadership: "The break-up wasn't so much about the music, though; it was more how we were being treated as people on a daily basis."
The Fall were filmed on 13 February 1978, for the Granada TV show So It Goes hosted by Tony Wilson, performing "Psycho Mafia", "Industrial Estate" and "Dresden Dolls". The debut EP, "Bingo-Master's Break-Out!", was finally released in August 1978 on Step Forward Records. The single "It's the New Thing" followed in November 1978. By this point, influential radio DJ John Peel had begun championing The Fall. The first of their 24 Peel Sessions, collected on The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 in 2005, took place in May 1978.
Their debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, was recorded in one day and released in January 1979. Karl Burns quit the group shortly after the album was recorded, and was replaced by Mike Leigh. In April 1979, Burns was followed by Martin Bramah, co-writer of most of the songs on Live at the Witch Trials and, according to Fall historian Daryl Eslea, "possibly the last true equal to Smith in the group", who went on to form Blue Orchids with Una Baines. Marc Riley switched from bass to guitar, and Craig Scanlon (guitar) and Steve Hanley (bass), former bandmates of Riley and members of Fall support act Staff 9, joined to the group. Hanley's melodic basslines became a vital part of the Fall's music for almost two decades. Smith praised his playing in Melody Maker: "The most original aspect of The Fall is Steve ... I've never heard a bass player like him ... I don't have to tell him what to play, he just knows. He is The Fall sound." Yvonne Pawlett left the group in August 1979 to look after her dog. She later appeared in a band called Shy Tots.
On 30 July 1979, "Rowche Rumble", The Fall's third single, was released featuring the new line up of Smith, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Steve Hanley, Yvonne Pawlett and Mike Leigh.
Dragnet, The Fall's second album, was recorded on 2–4 August 1979 at Cargo Studios, Rochdale and was released on 26 October 1979. Featuring the stripped-down line-up of Smith, Scanlon, Riley, Hanley and Leigh. Dragnet signaled a sparser, more jagged feel, which on subsequent albums filled out into a more grinding, industrial sound.