Artist News

Mark E Smith dies

By | Published on Thursday 25 January 2018

The Fall

Frontman of The Fall, Mark E Smith, has died after a lengthy period of illness. He was 60.

In a statement, the band’s manager and Smith’s partner Pam Vander said last night: “It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mark E Smith. He passed this morning at home. A more detailed statement will follow in the next few days”.

Smith’s continuing ill health led to the cancellation of various The Fall shows in the UK, Europe and the US last year. In August, while announcing the cancellation of the American dates, Vander explained: “Mark’s current problems are connected to his throat, mouth/dental and respiratory system … it’s high time Mark put his health first and that’s what we are gonna do”.

Born in 1957 in Salford, Smith formed The Fall aged nineteen in 1976 with three friends: Martin Bramah, Una Baines and Tony Friel. He quickly quit his job in order to focus full time on the band, which he did with keen focus for the next four decades.

Smith’s authoritarian approach to band leadership led to many changes in the outfit’s line-up over the years, either through people being fired or quitting. A total of 66 different members passed through the group during their 40 year history. By 1979, the other three original members were all gone, leaving Smith to take full charge of the band’s future.

A then sixteen year old Marc Riley replaced Tony Friel on bass in 1978. In an interview with Adam Buxton in 2016, he said: “The second best thing that ever happened to me professionally was being asked the join The Fall. The best thing was being kicked out”.

His firing came in 1983, after he and Smith fell out during an Australian tour. Smith subsequently wrote a song about him called ‘Hey! Marc Riley’, which contained the lyrics, “We’ve always known him as a bit of a dancer. And we all know him as a pillock”. Riley responded with his own song, ‘Jumper Clown’.

Smith’s ability to throw around nasty, often funny, insults – both in his lyrics and in interviews – certainly helped to maintain an interest in him and his work. However, it was the uniqueness of The Fall’s music, built around Smith’s personality (necessarily, thanks to the high turnover of band members) and his flair for lyrical wit and insight, which maintained their popularity for so many years.

The band released 32 studio albums, most recently last year’s ‘New Facts Emerge’. There were an equal number of live albums, plus numerous other releases. Smith also found time for two solo albums, and various collaborations, including with Gorillaz and Coldcut.

Last March, the BBC accidentally announced Smith’s death prematurely on Twitter, when it was actually his 60th birthday. He later told The Guardian: “Obviously it was the BBC, the idiots. It was stopped in minutes by Fall fans. I was still ill around that time but was starting to feel better and somebody comes in and says, ‘by the way, you’re dead'”.

Smith was married three times. First to former Fall lead guitarist Brix Smith from 1983 to 1989, and then to Fall fanclub employee Saffron Prior from 1991 to 1995. He and Fall keyboard player Elena Poulou married in 2001, before splitting in 2016.