It was the sort of thing I’d dreamt of as a kid – the drummer being passed over the crowd’s shoulders
I’ve started to wonder if any other employer in modern British business operates like The Fall. Searching around for comparisons only throws up the extremes of casual labour – strawberry pickers and the like – who can be recruited at an instant and don’t require an interview or audition. You’re just put out straight to work and probably last only a few days. But that kind of work is barely comparable to being around the ‘Rorschach Test’ of Mark E Smith.
In many ways, The Fall operate just like the mills in Victorian England. Smith hates being called a ‘mill owner’ but in 2003 he told the Observer how his grandfather owned a mill and would stand outside the local prison waiting for recruits. ‘That’s kind of how I recruit musicians,’ he said. ‘It’s like, “You’re on bass, so get cracking”.’
But another historical comparison is creeping into my Fall-addled consciousness. Impressment was a notorious form of recruitment used by the Royal Navy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although as early as 1664 it was legally sanctioned by Edward I. The practice gave birth to the sinister term ‘press gangs’ – whereby groups of soldiers would scour the streets for employees in a not dissimilar way to Smith’s psychic radar scanning the streets around Prestwich. To qualify for impressment into the navy, men had to be between 18 and 55, with little or no seafaring experience required. They would then be ‘moulded’ into sailors in the same way Smith ‘brainwashes’ The Fall. Although many press-ganged victims appealed to the Admiralty, they were usually unsuccessful. Tales persist of hapless men dragged off to sea without any warning. Similarly, if you think about it, to how people end up in The Fall.
I’m back in Malmaison’s bar. This time, I’ve reverted to rock reviewing mode to cast a critical opinion over James Dean Bradfield, the Manic Street Preachers’ frontman who is about to play his first solo gig in Roadhouse over the road. It’s a side project he’d never be allowed in The Fall. The assembled gentlemen, ladies and illiterate scumbags of the press have assembled for a pre-gig meal and schmooze – the sort of thing rock journalists frown upon morally but otherwise lap up as it’s one of the few occasions where we’re guaranteed a decent meal. Bradfield’s PR girl is running through the list of his musicians, when she suddenly announces, ‘Drums, Nick Dewey.’
I know that name. I tell her as much, and she asks, ‘You know him as manager of The Chemical Brothers?’
No, I tell her. For me, the name Nick Dewey can only mean Nick Dewey Who Spent An Afternoon In The Fall.