Book review: ‘Renegade’ by Mark E. Smith

The lives and tales of Mark E. Smith.

Renegade

The best group in the history of British music was The Fall, and, as the late Mark E. Smith famously observed, “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.”

I put off reading this memoir, translated through ghost-writer Austin Collings, for twelve years. M.E.S. (as he was abbreviated) was famously irascible, opinionated, and inebriated. I love his music, and I love his lyrics (when I can make them out). I didn’t want to end up disliking the fellow by reading his random, irascible, opinionated, inebriated thoughts on pretty much every topic under the sun.

I’m so glad I finally seized the nettle. Renegade is a fantastically entertaining book. Smith is indeed irascible, and opinionated, and (it’s a fairly safe bet) inebriated throughout. But he is also extremely funny, and genuine, and surprisingly likeable.

Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t have got on. And I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work with him. In four decades of The Fall, Smith managed to work his way through 66 musicians, not including my granny. But, despite being impossible, Mark E. Smith was bloody hard-working, and had a consistent philosophy on life, at least in his own mind.

  • M.E.S. on singing technique: ‘When in doubt, shout.’
  • M.E.S. on instrument technique: ‘If you’re going to play it out of tune, then play it out of tune properly.’
  • M.E.S. on Rough Trade Records: ‘They reminded me of kids at school who suddenly get into things. I remember being into Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World when I was a kid; all the other lads at school were listening to fucking Pink Floyd. Bowie was off the radar for half of them. Six months later they’ve all got fox-coloured hair and they’re acting fay and spacey. Rough Trade were like that, but in a business way.’
  • M.E.S. on the legendary gig that spawned a hundred bands: ‘The Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in ‘76, I thought, my lot are not as bad as that.’
  • M.E.S. on literary genres: ‘Writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his inferno.’
  • M.E.S. on artistic integrity: ‘I always try to write a Eurovision every two years, but there’s no way it’s going to happen. Most records I bring out, I just think this is what it should be, so it’s irrelevant what other people think.’

Mark E Smith as the UK’s Eurovision Song Contest entry, accompanied by my granny on bongos: now there’s an alternative reality I’d love to visit. In its absence, I’ll just have to keep on listening to those many, many peerless albums from the wonderful and frightening would of The Fall.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

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