Saturday, May 21, 1983

Smith must score

The highpoint of the week: I had a really good day, watching the Cup Final on TV and then I went up to London to see The Fall in the evening.

Cup Final excitement has been growing for weeks now and Guy’s smile has been growing broader by the day because he’d managed to get tickets. So on Friday he headed up to Wembley. Barry and I were in the Rousseau television room from eleven onwards, watching all the pre-match build up — interviews with the players, goal of the season competitions, etc. We lapped it up. As the hours wore on people began to descend on the TV room and by the time K.O. approached Biko’s had opened and it was packed out.

Because they’re big underdogs, everyone (except Barry) was rooting for Brighton. We were alive with anticipation as ‘Abide With Me’ was sung and the National Anthem played and the teams came to a roar from the packed terraces. I was firmly on the side of Brighton even though they’re Southern. I don’t like Man. Utd — they’re too rich and buy their way to success. But Man. U. applied all the early pressure and pegged Brighton back into their own half until, impossibly, there was a cross sailing into the net off the head of a Brighton player and the room exploded, everyone on their feet bellowing and cheering. After this, Brighton streamed forward, launching themselves at the Man U. goal and Bailey tipped a shot over as the room groaned. It was exciting end-to-end stuff, goalmouth scrambles galore, the entire Brighton team in their own box flailing at and falling over the ball. HT 1-0.

After half-time United had a Norman Whiteside goal disallowed for hand-ball and nine minutes into the second-half, Whiteside cut down Brighton’s full-back and the match turned. A minute later Frank Stapleton scored and Brighton fell apart; Wilkins scored again quarter of an hour later with a brilliant goal, curled into the net past the ‘keeper’s right arm – 2-1. Brighton began to look tired and hopeless and we thought they were sunk.

Ten minutes to go, then five, and then with just three minutes left, Brighton scored again. We couldn’t believe it: there was near universal acclaim from the packed room, just Barry swearing and defiant at the front as we jeered him. So, extra time in yet another Final.

Another Whiteside goal was disallowed for hand ball and both sides now looked very tired. Ten seconds of extra time left and suddenly the Blues were breaking toward the Manchester end . . . people on the edges of their seats, screaming for a goal, urging them on . . . a square pass in front of the Manchester goal . . . he had to score, surely! . . . but he shot it wearily straight at the sprawling goal-keeper. We sank back into our seats in disbelief and it was Barry’s turn to be jubilant. Ron Atkinson said today in the ‘papers that he’d “died a thousand deaths” as that final shot was teed up. If only!

Intense discussions of the match afterwards and we all felt fairly drunk.

Stu, Pete and I set off for London at six o’clock and arrived in Waterloo about half-past seven. London was alive with blue and white as Brighton fans made their quiet way home and I wondered whether they were happy or sad. There were more Seagulls supporters outside Waterloo and sat outside drinking at a pub’ opposite. We paused for a Big Mac and Pete insisted we go see his old school.

We arrived in Camden at half-eight. There was already a long queue of people outside the dilapidated poster-spattered Electric Ballroom, lots of them the expected spike-hairs but also fairly average looking Grant-types in shapeless clothing and grease-lank hair, even a dark figure wandering among the crowd in a beret, goatee, and red carnation in his button hole.

We had to hang about waiting for Mo but Stu and I left Pete outside and went in. It was crowded inside, a plush carpeted entrance-hall, then steps and a room opening out into a dim-lit bar with a low ceiling that was seething with people. To the left was a bigger, darker room separated from the first by pillars. This latter was, I presume, the old Ballroom. It looked like a converted cinema, its stark dark walls crossed by bare wires, the stage itself piled high and black with amps, enormous speakers, drums and mike stands, etc.

The Smiths came on and launched into their set: they were a four-piece (drums, bass, guitar and vocals), the singer’s lilting voice full of implied emotion and tragedy. He reminded me of Mark Almond. Most of their numbers sounded fairly similar, but there were a few notable exceptions, their last in particular a drum-driven surge about “lies” or something or other.

Pete and Mo turned up after The Smiths had begun, and when their set was done we worked our way to the front and into the middle, near the stage. The club was packed and we had a long wait for The Fall to appear. I watched their equipment being set up and I could feel the anticipation welling inside.

At last out came the band and, dramatically, to a cheer and applause, Mark E. Smith himself wandering out in a thin pale brown windcheater, lifeless blue V-neck jumper and black shapeless trousers. He looked thinner and more wizened, creased and pallid than I remembered from Easterby, and he had a cold and unforgiving expression on his face. I didn’t see him smile once. His hair was flicked to one side and flat with grease, tangled in lank strands about his collar.

The band started up, a big machine ploughing through a few things I’ve never heard before and don’t know the names of, but also, to my satisfaction, “Look, Know,” “The Classical” and “Hard Life in the Country” and also a few tracks I remembered from John Peel’s session in April – “Garden,” “Eat Yourself Fitter” and “Hexen School.” The two synchronised drummers, Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, simultaneously slashed out riffs which cracked and drove on, Karl Burns acting as second guitar. I could see P. Hanley smiling at times as he worked away at the drums, smashing both sticks down and down in clattering arcs.

MES stood quietly at the front, one hand thrust into a trouser pocket, occasionally wandering over to tentatively key odd notes on an electric piano with one hand. He was undemonstrative save for that pallor, that starved look to his skin and frame, and his movements radiated a humourless contempt. When we cheered to greet the beginning of a familiar song he laugh-grimaced in parody in a snarl of derision.

The audience down at the front went mad at each new song, pogo-ing frantically around, flailing and throwing themselves high into the air, their faces wet with sweat, rising and gaping like demented fish caught in the brightly coloured lights. Sometimes their reckless jostling sent the rest of us careening off one another, the whole mass of us swaying like reeds so that we had to constantly fight for footing. At the back the dark heads were stiller and I wished I was able to concentrate more fully on the music instead of being constantly preoccupied by the violent rippling of the crowd.

My focus on the music was interrupted when someone on the PA asked for me by name to go up to the disco unit. A shadow of presentiment stole across my mind and I reached for my coat, realising with resignation that my wallet was gone; for several moments The Fall vanished from my mind. Mo found my wallet empty and picked up a few dog-eared pieces of paper, one of which was my NUS /ISIC card. At the end of the encore I heard my name being announced again and so I went up to the bar to discover that my railcard and Cashpoint card had been handed in. I hadn’t lost much and we wandered around the litter-strewn dance-floor rescuing forlorn fragments of paper, most of which were mine.

I thoroughly enjoyed the gig and The Fall’s status in my mind is now enhanced; their new stuff was pretty good, full of powerful and heavy percussion, but perhaps overstating the point a bit much. Perhaps they should now split so they don’t end up another ‘restatements around a theme’ band. The John Peel session stuff seemed on first hearing to simply be extended rehashes of the old format. Do they have anything new? I’ll have to wait and hear the new stuff on record.

We took the tube to Edgware Road station, found a Chinese open and carried the food to Mo’s sisters flat: two tiny rooms and a miniature kitchen in the upstairs of a large house. Mo’s sister Maggie was in bed when we got there: a virtually identical replica of Mo smiled up at us with short red hair instead of Mo’s blonde tangle. A small black and white portable TV flickered fuzzily from the sideboard. We ate our Chinese and talked before retiring to our makeshift beds in the backroom.

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