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Music: On The Beat: Robert Nichols.

IF you've read this column more than once before, you are probably aware of my devotion to a non-cuddly group that have barely so much as sniffed at the showbiz charts in more than 30 years as music makers and shakers.

THE FALL, vehicle of the magical, mercurial Mark E Smith, has had more than a few overhauls to its engine parts of the years.

Andrew Pain and myself were less than inspired by the latest incarnation of the Manchester group in Newcastle earlier this year. It seemed almost like music by numbers at times.

Had the old spark been snuffed out, was the new Fall just playing it safe?

Then they released Imperial Wax Solvent - the 27th studio album, I think.

It was shockingly good.

Vibrant and very current - nothing safe nor sad about it. How could I have written off this tour de force so soon?

I had mixed feelings about a trip to York to see them last week.

Exactly which Fall would be there at the other end of the A19?

The gig at relatively new venue the Duchess, an old snooker hall in a '70s shopping complex a stone's throw from the medieval Shambles and sitting cheek by jowl with a famous venue Fibbers.

In fact, many of the old Fibbers people have stepped sideways to this bigger 500 capacity space ... and it looks like a good decision as well.

They packed it out for the Guillemots a couple of nights before and it was packed again for The Fall, astonishing when you consider the door charge of pounds 20!

There were people there from all over Yorkshire and Lancashire all wondering, like me, just what to expect.

First came THE CALVIN PARTY, a six-piece from Manchester who were once (like The Fall) favourites of the late, great John Peel.

They sounded not a million miles away from The Fall either. Intense, noisy, a big personality vocalist with his big persona specs. Plenty of sparkle and fire in those guitar workouts.

About an hour after The Calvin Party, the lights dimmed and it was the moment of truth.

Cheers for the band and then mid-song out slouched Smith himself in a mightily cuffed and buttoned shirt, "We are The Fall."

Loud applause, screams even and we were away into a carnival not a sideshow.

A brilliant set that only dipped in its intensity when MES turned down the guitar and forgot to turn it up again.

For about four songs in a row, the blistering "Fallsound" rocked from the rafters.

A rare airing for a former cult favourite Wings and another blast from the past Carry Bag Man, while the finale was fabulous - a nu-rave Reformation that seemed to go on for hours.

The Fall and Mark E Smith are back at the peak of their powers.

How could I ever have doubted them?

As MES shouts in the chorus to their spectacular encore, "Blind man have mercy on me."

The Fall thirty years on and counting ... still wonderful and bewitching.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2008
Words:506
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