A couple of hours later, I’m in Bradfield‘s dressing room sharing stories with a tall, gangly 30-something who has the most wonderfully startled grin. Which you would if you were him and had been involved in one of the most demented Fall entrances/exits of them all. Dewey was in The Fall for eight songs, the duration of their set on 27 August 1999 at the famous Reading Festival, which makes him the second shortest-serving Faller ever. After Stuart Estell. But Dewey’s story is even more bizarre.
As the grinning man tells it, he was at the festival with The Chemical Brothers. Everyone was hanging out backstage when this ‘drunken bloke’ came in who turned out to be Neville Wilding, the guitarist who Smith had told me was ‘at it with knuckle-dusters’ with him at that very festival.
According to Dewey, Wilding had been sent on a mission to find a drummer – not unlike a press ganger. The story Wilding was apparently putting about backstage was that The Fall were short of a sticksman after Tom Head had been abandoned at a motorway services station. Things were rather urgent, not least because they were due to play in front of a tent containing a thousand-odd people in an hour’s time. Dewey reports that Wilding asked all manner of people if they would drum for The Fall that day, including Justine Frischmann who was headlining with Britpop superstars Elastica. When all Wilding’s enquiries fell on deaf ears, he descended on Nick Dewey.
Fatefully, for Dewey, one of The Chemical Brothers remembered that many years before he’d been in a ‘shoegazing’ pop band called Revolver and played drums. Wilding’s eyes lit up. ‘Brilliant,’ he slurred. ‘Come and play drums in The Fall!’
The problem for Dewey wasn’t only that he didn’t know many Fall songs and really wasn’t prepared to play such a high-profile gig: ‘I said, “Look, I haven’t played drums for ten years.” To which Wilding apparently responded, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’re all pissed anyway.’
Wilding duly switched into press gang mode.
‘He wouldn’t take no for an answer,’ says Dewey. ‘He said he’d have a look around [for another drummer] but I saw him go into the bogs. Ten minutes later, he came back saying, “Nah, no one else can do it”.’
Far from feeling he’d been press ganged – which he had been, in effect – Dewey considered it the ‘sort of thing I’d dreamt of when I was a kid, the drummer being passed over someone’s shoulders’.
Moments later, Dewey found himself being led onto a tour bus with blacked-out windows . Mark E Smith was on one of the tour bus benches, shirt off, ‘passed out’.
‘They’d obviously had a skinful,’ roars Dewey, describing how Wilding tried to wake up Smith and couldnŐt rouse him, so punched him in the face. After two or three blows, Smith finally woke up to be informed by Wilding, ‘Mark, this is Nick. He’s going to be playing drums for us!’
Wilding describes how Smith put his face right up to his own and said, ‘Right, let’s have a look at you, cock!’ while Dewey tried his best not to look like a prisoner-of-war about to face a firing squad.
Things became even more unreal when Wilding started to show him the songs, and Smith tried to stop him. ‘They started fighting over the guitar,’ says Dewey. Eventually, Smith got Dewey drumming on a guitar case with the instruction, ‘No, don’t look at him [Wilding], that’s the only way you’ll learn.’
Shortly afterwards, Dewey found himself setting up an unfamiliar drum kit in front of the Reading crowd and waiting for The Fall, who appeared ‘at the very last second’ before they were due onstage.
‘They’d had another fight,’ remembers the reluctant drummer. ‘Mark E Smith’s nose was cut open with blood everywhere. I said, “Are we going on then?” and they ignored me. I grabbed the guitarist and said, “Tell me when the songs start and finish”.
‘He said, “Don’t worry, mate. I’ll be stood right next to you”.’ Dewey then recalls Wilding immediately disappearing to the other side of the stage. Unbeknown to Smith though, Dewey transgressed the usual requirements – he was a Fall fan. He had ‘tons’ of the records. Sadly, this proved irrelevant because, as ever with The Fall, virtually all the set was made up of new material.
‘I didn’t know a single song,’ he laughs. ‘It was a mental experience. I was the last to end every song because obviously no one told me!’ Smith spent much of the set fiddling with the keyboards and amplifiers, occasionally turning his attention to Dewey’s drum kit. But the gig was a success, in a way, even if those who were there remember an ‘excellent shambles’. The day-long Faller remembers it as ‘an amazing, amazing experience’ and something he relishes telling family and pals about to this day.
A year or so ago, a mate of Dewey’s bumped into Smith at a party, where the Fall leader had brushed it off saying, ‘Yeah, I remember him. Quiet bloke. Didn’t say much.’
Dewey is in hysterics. ‘He’s a genius!’ he raves of Smith, still not knowing how he managed to be ‘moulded’ into pulling that gig off but realising he had a unique encounter with ‘one of the great British characters’.
‘He reminds me of Bob Dylan,’ he says. ‘You know he’s in control, but his band members haven’t a clue what song’s coming next and are just waiting for that nod.’ Dewey didn’t get that nod again – Tom Head managed to get back for the festival’s second leg at Leeds and The Fall’s reluctant stickman returned to managing The Chemical Brothers, basking in the knowledge he would forever hold a special, if slightly unsteady, place among The Fallen. If Smith can take a musician in such circumstances and make him into a member of The Fall, surely he can do the trick with anyone? Maybe he could even do it with me.