That Wasn’t Right, Mark: When Fat White Family Met The Fall

In an extract from the book Ten Thousand Apologies, Fat White Family's Lias Saoudi tells Adelle Stripe about the time he met Mark E. Smith

The Landlord had been assuring me for some weeks that the solution to my Glastonbury 2015 dilemma – we had two slots on the Sunday, one at 4 a.m. or the Hell Stage, another at 4 p.m. – lay at the

other end of a meth pipe. The second show meant a great deal to me; we were on an hour before the Fall. The Landlord had sent a festival stash down to the site with an old friend two weeks prior to its opening to the general public; his mate was building sets down there, so was given the parcel to avoid any run-in with security. When we arrived on the Saturday afternoon, neither of us having slept for two days, we made our way straight up to his tent round the back of the Park Stage.

The Landlord’s pal, a reassuringly well-spoken deviant, was more than happy to show me the ropes.

‘You trace the flame test/y back and forth across the bulb. No, no, like this, let me show you…’ he gently exhaled, his sallow yet thoughtful eyes pinned to the procedure. ‘That’s it, that’s it,

now just suck it all down, that’s it.’

A seam of laughter buried deep within the Landlord came unstuck. A miraculous clarity washed through my being. I found myself in possession of a clean slate, a new beginning. I’d been reborn.

‘How long will this last?’ I instantly demanded, eager to work out the math.

‘You’ll be good until tonight, beamed the Landlord, the corners of his mouth pulled back in pseudo-parental glee.

‘Look, whatever happens over the remainder of this weekend, we might get separated, our phones will die … I need you to be here, on this spot right here, between these tents, the red one and the blue one, the one with tassels and the flagpole … with that pipe, every eight hours, on the dot, come hell or high water. Will you promise me that? I need you to promise me … my career depends on it … ’

‘Is that Vivienne Westwood?’ queried my mother in astonishment at the Park Stage bar. She and her husband were both sporting bright red Fat Whites T-shirts, sipping mojitos. They’d never been to the festival before and they were on a high, despite finding out that our set the next day clashed with Lionel Richie’s.

‘I think so, yeah, I replied, achingly proud that my mum was getting a chance to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

‘Bloody Nora …’ she cooed under her breath, steadying herself with another sip of her drink.

You could see the little girl in her eyes, the sweetly bewildered child. She was glowing. ‘The innocence of this moment will haunt me soon, I thought to myself. ‘I will gaze back upon this moment of maternal tenderness through a glaze of tears from the wreck of my sinister over-indulgences. Mother will have drifted away from me by then. I will have betrayed her and this body she bore and raised. Those eyes will become two thunderbolts of guilt. The love in them will soon lacerate. ’

I was glad I invited her. She looked like she was having a ball. But I was also wishing that I hadn’t. The rest of the afternoon was an absolute blur.

This was a period in my life when people that I’d previously only ever seen on the telly were suddenly swaggering into my reality on a semi-regular basis. Amidst the multitude marching through

Shangri-La on their way down to the Hell Stage that night, my brother and I were accosted by ‘uber-producer’ Mark Ronson. Mark’s aura and his fame didn’t correlate. His voice sounded unfinished, like it was stumbling over its shoelaces on the way out of his mouth. I couldn’t work out whether he was American or British. His partner, a demure and painfully involved French aristocrat, seemed to be hanging off the wrong arm. Or at least that’s what I thought.

I began formulating designs on her instantly. This man may be hugely wealthy and successful, but just wait until she catches a glimpse of my kebab-wheel torso turning in the fresh morning light!

Mark and his partner invited me back to their nearby hotel after the gig. They were residing at Babington House for the duration of the festival, an offshore fantasy of effortless comfort and gourmet everything. I told them I was in. My next meth appointment wasn’t until sometime just after lunch; I had time to burn.

Mark was exactly the kind of music industry insider I’d gone out of my way to ridicule up until quite recently at that point. The problem is, with that kind of carry-on, it’s very difficult to

stick to your guns once they show you the slightest bit of attention; it goes too well with the cocaine you’re forever sniffing. It’s even harder when they turn out to be quite pleasant human beings, on the surface at least. Suddenly you find yourself with two sets of friends, one half of which renders you a turncoat with the other, less fortunate half. The part of you that started the antagonistic punk outfit is tired. He deserves a break, you think. You’ve done your bit. You might as well indulge, be indulged in turn. Nobody’s watching, after all. Why shouldn’t you and Mark

become bosom buddies for a bit? It’s not as if you’re in Sleaford Mods …

We spent what was left of the wee hours quaffing Grey Goose and champagne, elaborating on our superiority over all things living. I kept playing tracks from our forthcoming LP on the stereo,

every now and then demanding silence in order to draw the pair’s full attention to the lyrical dexterity occurring before their very ears, with a heart full of furious self-love I would mouth out each syllable, lost in a reverie of gormless early morning joy.

I’d re-piped before making my way to the show the next day. I felt fresh as a newly hatched dove. A picture of confidence. Then began the inevitable search for Saul. A search that, through the years, took on the form of a permanent and fairly stable panic attack. He’d been at the festival since Wednesday, squeezing every penny out of his new-found fame. When all was said and done the

Guardian would go on to proclaim him the festival’s ‘best-dressed man’. Disgusting. We were ambling onto the stage a man down as he made his heroic late appearance, a manoeuvre that always left you self-loathingly grateful.

I had the distinct feeling that my life was hurtling towards some kind of crescendo. Ten years had gone past since getting involved with music. For the most part those years had fallen on top of

each other like layers of snow, in silence. Nobody paid any notice. But suddenly there we were, sat at a table with the Hip Priest himself.

We ambled backstage post-performance, and the Fall’s frontman was casually sat at the end of a bench wearing a white shirt and black leather jacket, hunched over a bottle. This was a moment akin

to seeing a famous landmark or monument for the first time at the end of a lengthy expedition. Bathed in the same weary afternoon light as everything else, it seemed almost indecent in its

unreality; he was like a weathered clipping from a magazine, like a barely animated postcard.

Then he took a sip Of his drink.

Then a drag of his fag.

It actually was Mark E. Smith.

How much time had I spent with that man’s voice rattling through my skull? I had to abandon his music at the start of my recording career because I couldn’t help but imitate the guy whenever I

finally got behind a microphone. Now he was near enough to spit on.

I took a seat with the rest of the crew from south London and my mum. I tried to explain to her the stature of the haggard little guy with the grey skin and the eyes like sunken battleships on the

table opposite. She hadn’t a clue. We were all muttering under our breath like schoolchildren at the back of class.

‘For fuck $ Sdke, at least one of you lot has got to get off your arse and say something…’ the Landlord insisted, excited at the prospect of a little north-south cross-pollination.

‘What are you supposed to say to Mark E. Smith? “Uh, uh, hey man, love your band, especially that tune about ‘bringing out the obligatory niggers”,’ I scoffed back.

The last thing I was going to do was introduce myself. Starstruck doesn’t seem the right expression somehow. ‘Goblin-struck’ would be more appropriate. He looked terrible. His band were all wearing

the same pub -rock 101 black leather jackets: they looked heavy, despite sipping champagne out of ridiculous little cardboard cups.

Nathan, a Marvin Gaye man through and through who didn’t really give a shit about the Fall, back then at least, saw an opening. Puffed up after playing the biggest show of his life he bounced

across to their table and nodded at Mark.

’Alright Mark, how’s it going? My name’s Nathan, from Fat Whites, mind if I have a little cup of your champagne? Sharing is caring, bro…’

Mark invited him to sit down.

‘Sure thing, kid,’ he drawled, pouring out a measure.

I felt a mild pang of jealousy. Nathan was bonding with him. ‘It’s alright, I told myself. ‘I’ll just wait until he’s broken the ice and then ingratiate myself.’ God bless Nathan, fearless as he was. A true trailblazer.

Mark then proceeded to hurl the contents of the cup he’d just poured straight into his face.

The cowardice at the core of my being burned more fiercely than ever. He’d needlessly humiliated my little brother in front of everybody, and I just stood there dazed, wrapped in silence. Nathan

stood up, began pacing, wiping the wine out of his eyes. He kept saying: ‘That wasn’t right, Mark. You shouldn’t have done that, Mark, as he marched up and down in a barely contained rage.

‘You rotten bastard, what have you done that for?’ I heard my mum exclaim through a fog of astonishment.

The rest of the Fall were having a good chuckle about it. Mark could see that he’d been out of order. He re-engaged Nathan. ‘Sit down, I’m sorry pal, sit down. Here, d’you want a glass of cider?

We’ve got plenty of cider.’

With some trepidation Nathan entered into peace talks with the garrulous Salfordian.

‘If I sit back down there, are you just gonna toss that in my face again? I’m not fucking having it, man, we’re all just trying to get on here,’ he warned him.

‘No, no, sit down, sit down kid, you’re alright, I’m sorry, here you go, have a drink, come on, just messing, just messing like…’

Mark’s lips were still wearing a wry little smirk.

Nathan got hold of the freshly poured vintage and without a second thought dashed its contents straight into Mark’s face and down his trousers. Mark doubled over melodramatically and let out a

scrawny yelp as the whole of his group took to their feet in violent protest. Nathan was the one wearing the smirk now, and suddenly it was Brixton that was pissing itself while Salford spat venom. A slanging match ensued between the two parties. Threats

and abuse of all kinds were fired back and forth. My mum was really letting Mark have it by this point. He began looking quietly pleased with the mess he’d inspired. A few of the guys from the Fall looked like they were going to strangle Nathan.

We were on the cusp of a full-blown brawl when the Landlord’s voice broke out above the din. ‘Oi! Calm down you miserable fuckers, the lot of you just calm fucking down! He threw that first and he

got what was coming to him, fair enough, but these boys fucking worship you lot so shut the fuck up and have a drink for fuck’s sake!’

His extensive experience dealing with exactly this kind of scenario proved fruitful. Apologies began seeping out, animosity began thawing into a kind of camaraderie, Mark obviously found it all quite amusing. Before too long my stepdad was sat with him enquiring about maybe doing his accounting. Mum maintained a little frostiness, she kept lecturing him on his crappy manners, but

we all sat down together for a drink.

‘You’re not very nice, you, are you Mark?’ she kept saying.

‘Have any of you lot got any speed?’ he asked.

‘No, but we’ve got crystal meth, you’ll have to trek up the hill for a hit though, it’s frowned upon down here,’ replied the Landlord.

Mark passed on that one.

I was perfectly, supremely wired at this point. I was perched atop one of those moments in life that calls into question the validity of everything. At moments such as these it becomes hard not

to collapse into total faithlessness. All is just a computer-generated solipsism. These things don’t actually happen. The sun was beating down hard.

Mark, who was sat right next to me, began quizzing me about the group. ‘Was that you up there just now? All that screaming like, that was top that, sounded like the Seeds or something…’

He made no mention of the fact that we’d just performed a song called ’I Am Mark E. Smith’, although I later found out from the Landlord that he’d stood and watched the whole thing, arms folded, the beginnings of a grin on his face.

‘Just one thing man, just one reservation…’

He was staring into my eyes, munching his own speed-ravaged fea- tures, making an awful gummy sound as he did so.

’What’s that then?’ I said, expecting some pearl of ethereal wisdom from on high, some nugget of total truth only available to those that reach the source.

‘Lose the Jap on bass,’ he replied.

We shuffled from the communal area into our respective backstage wig-warns. Saul, who had disappeared briefly straight after our show and had missed the drama, appeared back on the scene.

We were excitedly filling him in when some kind of heinous commotion could be heard unfolding in the adjacent tent, Mark E. Smith’s tent. He was being told in no uncertain terms by his

girlfriend, who also played synth for the group at the time, that he didn’t have another pair of trousers to change into. That he’d have to march up on stage with what looked distinctly like a

streak of piss running down his thigh brought him much chagrin. You could hear him growling profanities in a semi-drunken stupor: a dribbling, hectoring totem, a cabaret washout gone to seed and taking it all out on this poor woman.

By this point my hopes weren’t particularly high for their set. I’d seen them murder an audience before, and I’d also seen them when they were awful enough to walk out on after three tunes. We

marched out to the arena and were proven dismally wrong on this count the second they started playing. The Fall were in charge.

Worlds were reimagined where restraint and chaos merge, where the literary and idiotic are force-fed one another. The weird and frightening realm of the Fall at its best: something elusive

and beyond categorisation; you are granted only temporary access. You glimpse something beyond the pale, a kingdom of strange, self-multiplying, libidinally outraged doubt. There is nothing total.

Nothing you can break down into convenient pieces and carry off elsewhere. A glorious indictment of the banality you swallow everywhere else, it is arguably the least patronising guitar music ever made.

A loathsome autocrat he may be, but a genius a1so.

Of course, this didn’t stop someone from the BBC reporting that he’d taken to the stage after having pissed himself.

Ten Thousand Apologies by Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi is published by White Rabbit Books

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