Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Completed Series: 'This S(c)eptic Isle': 'Flagging 1-10'

'Flagging 1', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

At the risk of excessive repetition, it seems worthwhile to compile all my paper-based 'Flagging' pieces in one post - now that the series is completed and definitively titled.  If nothing else - it's the digital equivalent of putting them all together on a wall and standing well back (something my relatively cramped working/living conditions make a bit difficult).  It also allows me to assess just how much variation and incremental progression occurred within the overall series.  I think the answer is probably, just enough.  I don't feel it necessary to add anything else really, beyond what might be read here, here, here, here, here, or here.

'Flagging 2', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 3', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 4', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 5', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 6', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel, French Polish & Packing Tape
On Paper, 45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 7', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 8', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2017

'Flagging 9'  Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2018

'Flagging 10', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2018

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Completed Paper-Based Piece: 'Flagging 10'

'Flagging 10', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Ink, Spray Enamel & French Polish On Paper,
45 cm X 60 cm, 2018

Ten it is, then.  Here’s the tenth - and last, of my series of paper-based, flag-derived pieces.  It has extended my scope for doing violence to the flag still further (even if some of that actually occurred beneath the top surface).  However, it definitely seems time to conclude the series here.  I can feel myself starting to default to the same, familiar solutions, with these, now – and that’s rarely a good thing (once you become aware of it consciously, at least).  Anyway, I think there’s just enough variation and progression there to let them stand as a self-contained series, so I’ll probably put them all together in a following post, to offer a final overview and let you judge for yourself.

For months now, I’ve been presenting these as ‘work in progress’. That indicates that I’ve always had a sense that these might mutate further – and for a long time I assumed this would involve the inclusion of text.  At another stage, I also had ambitions to start physically abrading, eroding and generally abusing them with power tools, washing machines, chemicals or flames.  Such extended periods of “What if…” reflection, are a perfectly healthy component of any creative process – but perhaps there was just a little too much  procrastination and indecisiveness last year too.

So, in the interests of breaking that cycle in 2018, and just bringing things to a more assertive conclusion - I’ve made some decisions regarding these particular pieces.  The versions I’ve already presented over the last few months, without text, are going to remain in that form - as physical, paper-based artifacts, at least.  Within the overall ‘This S(c)eptic Isle’ project, text will continue to be a vital component of much of the work, and so there’s definitely room for at least part of it to function on pure image alone.  I’m increasingly coming to an understanding that there’s no imperative for each individual piece to be trying to do everything at once.  It may be a reason for some of my output feeling a bit clogged or overworked, in the past.

For the same reason, the (admittedly seductive) notion of employing destructive physical processes, just feels like a step too far for images that are already dense with visual distress.  Were that idea to play out – I think it would make more sense to start with a much ‘straighter’ rendition of the flag, and let the physical attack do more of the heavy lifting – both in terms of process and implied meaning.

In fact, there is a clear intention to combine these images with text, but to do so by recycling them through a completely different medium.  I’ve alluded several times to my idea that my related ‘Below The Line / Beneath Contempt’ text piece might be presented in video form, and I’ve decided to definitely forge ahead with that plan this year.  Any further mutation of these flag images should occur in the digital realm, as a component of that.  As that particular piece of writing is quite deliberately constructed from found sources, it seems quite appropriate that I should continue the theme by recycling and translating my own material too.  It also squares with my growing interest in the repurposing of original content, and the wider issues of authorship and appropriation, over the last couple of years.  The intention to follow through on my oft-expressed desire to make more A.V. work does, of course, release a whole new tranche of unknowns (and new skills to be acquired), but I’m already in the process of taking the best photos I can of each piece, and recruiting some much-needed technical assistance, to that end.

There are a couple of final points to make, while we’re at it.  Firstly: These pieces are no longer untitled.  I’ve decided that the series as a whole is now called ‘Flagging’, and so - for want of a brighter idea, these works will be known as ‘Flagging 1 -10’.  Titling has already been a bit of a thorny problem within this overall project, and I've also learned (from bitter experience), that the whole 'Untitled' thing can cause real problems when cataloguing/exhibiting work - so it's good to get that nailed down.  And finally: yes – I’m well aware I’ve got a right cheek accusing Damien Hirst of plagiarism or ideas theft (in my last post), in the light of some of the above - and when I’ve already ‘flagged up’ my own debt to Jasper John’s in these pieces, more than once.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Damien: The Omen

Damien Hirst, 'Expanded From Small Red Wheel', Assembled Painted Wood, Found Materials & Objects,  1985-86

It’s very easy to be cynical about Damien Hirst.  Let’s face it – he gives us plenty of reason.  When the Y.B.A.s claimed their place in the cultural limelight, in the late 1980s and 1990s, it was facilitated, in no short measure, by Hirst’s marketing instincts and talent for P.R.  In the years since, he’s become synonymous with the kind of A-list, Art-celebrity that normally implies the production (by others) of increasingly bombastic Art statements.  It’s easy to assume that his main function is to fulfill the voracious demands of a global market, whilst yielding diminishing creative returns.

Hirst’s leveraging of the Art market has - I suppose, shone some kind of searchlight on the ludicrous obscenity of the whole situation.  But it’s not been without making himself fabulously wealthy in the process.  Let’s not forget that this is the guy who actually distorted the global diamond market whilst creating history's most expensive memento mori, and the ultimate luxury art-object, in 2007’s ‘For The Love Of God’.

Damien Hirst, 'For The Love Of God', Platinum, Diamonds & Human Teeth, 2007

There are definitely lessons (both positive and negative), to be learned from Hirst’s example.  He’s surely no more or less pernicious a figure than other huckster-showmen, like Warhol or Koons.  And it may actually be true that most of the big names from Art History were really just those most adept at putting themselves in the spotlight, following the money, and playing the angles.  I guess I’m just a bit too suspicious (or naively idealistic) to completely buy all that ironic detachment and bland amorality, from figures so blatantly benefitting from the status quo.  It is, of course – a reason why I’m sure I'll never be rich or famous myself.

Damien Hirst, 'Mother & Child Divided' (Detail),  Preserved Dead Calf (Sectioned) in Vitrine, 1993

That said, I do believe in giving credit where it’s due.  None of us are perfect.  A  holier-than-thou attitude can be its own kind of pose - and plenty of meaningful artistic statements were still authored by some pretty compromised individuals.  I would personally include the preserved results of Hirst’s early chainsaw-butchery activities in that category.  He’s not the first to have incorporated carnage into his process.  But of all his work, they perhaps feel the least like someone else’s re-packaged idea, and emit a genuine resonance beyond mere shock value [1.].

Damien Hirst, 'Lancet', Assembled, Wood, Found Materials & Objects,  1983 -85

Anyway, I was interested to read a recent Guardian article [2.], in which Hirst detailed the early creative breakthrough that set him on the path towards everything that followed.  Such insights into an Artist’s origins are generally of interest to me, and often prove revealing.  Amusingly, this one reinforces (quite literally) Hirst’s status as an opportunist thief.  However, it also demonstrates considerable empathy, and that the impulse that triggered his actions, and the resulting body of work - were essentially altruistic.  There may be a tinge of implied prurience about his account, but also no little self-awareness and reflection on ‘the human condition’.  The Robert Rauschenberg connection also interests me - as does Hirst’s recognition that he will always be more of a collagist than a painter (something I can definitely identify with).  Perhaps most importantly (and highly derivative of more than one other artist 's work - though it is) I really rather like the ‘found’ assemblage piece reproduced with the article [Top].

[1.]:  On encountering Hirst's 'Mother And Child Divided' (a piece which literally allows you to pass through the bodies of sectioned livestock) - my overriding reaction was, "this is an unique Art experience, unlike any other I've had".

[2.]:  Damien Hirst,  'Damien Hirst On His Greatest Career Move - Breaking Into His Neighbour's Home', The Guardian, Thursday 1 February 2018.  The article is itself an extract from a podcast, 'The Start', which can be heard here.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

R.I.P. Mark E. Smith, 1957 - 2018

Mark E. Smith

And so, we find ourselves coming to terms with the passing of Mark E Smith, leader of The Fall and, for some of us ‘of a certain age’ – a kind of misanthropic genius presiding over much of our music-listening lives.  It’s hardly the upbeat start to 2018 I was hoping for, but we probably shouldn’t be too surprised he only made it to 60 - given his resolutely self-damaging lifestyle.  By all accounts, physical frailty was catching up with him pretty rapidly during 2017’s stubborn, yet abortive attempts to perform live.

There’s already no shortage of journalistic tributes, and explanations of just what made Smith and his ‘Fall Group’ so significant, (‘The Quietus’  being as good a place as any to get up-to-speed).  So instead, I’ll just indulge in a memorial playlist here.  The media searchlight may well have moved on by the time I publish this, but it seemed only respectful to at least re-listen to the music, over a period of days - rather than to merely spout about it in an unconsidered manner.  In the event, one thing inevitably led to another.

...And again, with a recent iteration of The Fall

The theory goes that any Fall enthusiast feels most invested in the portions of their vast back catalogue that correspond with the moments they either first encountered the band, or just got what all the fuss was about.  In truth, the uninitiated might dip a toe into the water at numerous points in its history and gain some meaningful insight into its ‘Wonderful And Frightening World’.  What is certainly true though, is that particularly significant or transitional chapters of my own autobiography (good and bad) have often coincided with an understanding that a body of music so apparently flawed and antagonistic, can actually deliver properly life-affirming sensations.

Anyway, here are (a meagre) ten Fall moments that have meant the most to me.  They are presented with only a loose chrono-logic - but certainly in a sequence suggested by subjective (and selective) reminiscence:

...And again, definitely showing some hard miles.

‘No Xmas For John Quays’

If I’m honest, I originally surveyed the Fall’s primitive first album ‘Live From The Witch Trials’, with the same queasy fascination one might reserve for a really spectacular pavement dog turd.  As a Sixth Former in 1979, living in an obscure provincial cathedral city - I was already heavily invested in much of the lingering Prog Rock. of the mid 70s, and the established ‘classic’ canon of the period in general.  However, inescapably - Punk had also crawled up the A46, a year or three after the actual event.  Despite some initial resistance, even I could see it had provided an invigorating shot of adrenaline to a cultural situation that had become bloated and complacent.  If much of the edgier new music following in its wake felt willfully abrasive or even just irritating - there was also a palpable thrill to be gleaned from unfamiliar sounds, and a growing acceptance that provocation was a defining characteristic of ‘youth culture’, all along.

In retrospect, ‘LATWT’ sounds somewhat less radical than it did at the time.  The sheets of metallic guitar work tend to flesh over the bare bones of what would later become the distinctive Fall sound, as does the surfeit of rather standard, busy drum fills.  The album certainly reeked of the requisite D.I.Y. spirit, and creative resolve in the face of musical ineptitude, but now sounds too overburdened with familiar Post-Punk tropes to be truly ground breaking. Sonically, it also owes more than a little to that other great Manchester band, Magazine.  But hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, and, for all that - ‘No Xmas For John Quays’ might be the first real harbinger of what the band would become in their pomp.  I suppose it’s also the nearest thing to a Fall Christmas song.  Smith opens with a bald statement of terminological fact - before chuntering-on, in what would become his trademarked style, over an atonal, bare bones backing, for slightly too long.  There are stop-start interludes, an inserted parody of ‘Good King Wenceslas’, a shopping list, and various references to smoking.  Pretty much everything you might expect from a classic Fall song, in other words.

‘Fortress/Deer Park’

This is one of the more energetic tracks from ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ - an album generally regarded as the Fall’s first real masterpiece, by critics at least.  It’s a piece of music somewhat suggestive of being assailed by a wayward road roller (but in a good way).  As the title indicates, it’s actually two songs bolted together.  After the transition, the band just get their heads down and succumb to the hypnotic joys of the rudimentary, repetitious riff, while Smith rants over the top in grand style.  The ‘Deer Park’ portion also features skillful employment of the willfully untutored, two-fingered keyboard approach - as featured in so many of The Fall’s most memorable ‘arrangements’.  It’s one of my favourite sounds in all of popular music - I now realise.

I have a memory of marveling at ‘HEH’s’ deliberately scruffy and oblique artwork in the Bristol Virgin Megastore, in 1982, (long before I could actually afford a copy).  I was feeling a bit vulnerable and rudderless in a new town, and despite prior knowledge of the band - was mostly wondering just what such a confusing-looking record might actually sound like.  More recently, I played this track at the same time as a radio negligently left on in another room relayed the Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’.  In a way I expect Mark E Smith would hate (despite his own experimental tape collages), it mashed together with ‘Deerpark’ surprisingly well to, create something perversely marvelous.

The Fall, Live At Bristol University Student Union, Some Time In 1987.

Bristol University Student Union, Richmond Building, Clifton, Bristol, 'Back In The Day'.

I can’t put a specific date on this, and I’m not one of those archivists who ever kept souvenir gig tickets.  But, if ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ somehow signifies the faltering early stages of my life in Bristol, this performance drew something of a line under it - just a few weeks before I moved away in July 1987.  It was the first time I ever witnessed the spectacle of the Fall live - and understood just what a formidable (and tight) performing unit it could be, despite the pleasingly shonky aesthetic of the recorded output.  To this day, it stands as one of the best gigs I ever attended.

I remember my delight in walking just a few short yards from my front door to be so effectively ‘blown away’.  I recall how rapidly I was persuaded by the band’s demonstration that all you actually need for transcendence are the absolute basics of music, when deployed with verve and conviction.  I can still see Smith looming over the front rows of the audience in a typically ill-judged, lurid yellow shirt to declaim his typically well-judged lyrics.  I remember that - as befits that period in The Fall’s development, the set included numerous genuinely hooky moments of pop-tastic uplift within the customary onslaught.  I recall Smith’s wife, Brix playing her shiny Rickenbacker guitar with real authority, and the recognition that she was there on merit - to contribute exactly that to the music, and not just as eye candy or in fulfillment of the McCartney imperative.  And I still reminisce about the graphic impact of that lovely old ‘swirling vortex’ backdrop, and how, over subsequent return visits – it came to represent the promise of evenings well spent.

‘Bend Sinister’

Mark & Brix, some time in the mid 1980s

Much of the music played at that performance came from the 'Bend Sinister' album – and it still never fails to put a smile on my face.  It’s a slightly more polished and slickly produced effort than usual - and one that definitely feels like a unified package.  A distinct Gothic flavour also attaches to much of the album - with several tracks being more than a little reminiscent of Joy Division.

If that sounds a touch derivative - I can live with it.  Indeed, both bands had originally impressed themselves on my consciousness around the same time – and with the same horrified fascination.  Both hailed from Manchester, famously claimed to have been triggered by the famous Sex Pistols’ Lesser Free Trade Hall performance - and went on to loom over the landscape of 1980s Indie music like twin colossi.  Each also supplied a sanity-saving antidote to the bright, consumerist excesses of that blighted era’s musical mainstream.

‘Bend Sinister’ shows no diminution in Mark E Smith’s pithy songwriting, or the Band’s cutting edge, but also has Brix’s fingerprints, and winning way with a melodic hook, all over it.  There’s not a track I can’t embrace like an old friend, but particular highlights would include the increasingly immense and frantic ‘Dktr. Faustus’, the almost infuriatingly catchy ‘Shoulder Pads (1# & 2#)’, or the seeming anti-lifestyle manifesto that is ‘U.S. 80’s – 90’s’.  Actually, scratch that – the whole thing’s just great from start to finish.

‘Grotesque (After The Gramme)’

Sometimes pigeonholed as The Fall’s ‘Country & Northern’ album - ‘Grotesque’ also provides evidence of Smith’s Gene Vincent advocacy, and the band’s particular variety of bastard Rockabilly thrash.  It’s another one that definitely identifies in my mind as a unified whole – and from which I find it hard to extract a single highlight.  I actually came to it some time after its 1980 release, and will always associate it with the exciting early phases of one particular relationship.

Cuts like ‘Pay Your Rates’, ‘English Scheme’, ‘New Face In Hell’, and ‘The N.W.R.A.’, must surely reside in the top rank of Fall songs.  ‘C’n’C-s Mithering’ features one of Smith’s more humorous lyrics (delivered with a panache suggestive of his own self-amusement). ‘The Container Drivers’, is just a gleeful hoot.  Elsewhere, Smith plays kazoo, and sums up the more risible aspects of Rock & Roll life with the delightful line, “Five Wacky English Proletariats” (sic).  Overall, the album is one in which Smith’s vocals sit high and clear in the mix – allowing the listener to bask in the full off-beat glory of his writing.  It’s also all over far too soon - leaving one with an overriding sense of good, plain, barmy fun.  Speaking of which…


The Fall, From the 'This Nation's Saving Grace' photo shoot, 1995

1985’s ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ was the first Fall album I actually bought (with good dole money, at that) and sound-tracked a pretty solitary, bedsit-bound low-point of my post-college existence.  John Peel’s nightly broadcasts and unquenchable Fall enthusiasm were a valuable lifeline at that time, and no doubt stimulated my purchase of what is another acknowledged highlight in the Fall discography.

‘Barmy’ is also another piece possibly constructed from two separate songs (or two distinct aesthetics, at least).  In this case, its stop-start progress repeatedly switches between upbeat riff-driven verses, and deliberately dreary choruses - in an interesting reversal of standard practice.  Such a pleasing balance between sing-along celebration and doom-laden dirge, typifies ‘TNSG’ as a whole.  As already-mentioned, it was those constructive tensions within the sound, that made the Fall such an exciting prospect at the time.  'Barmy' itself also incorporates more of that delicious rudimentary keyboard work, and a bit of abstract noise-texturing too.

‘I Am Curious, Orange’, Performed By Michael Clark Dance Company & The Fall, Haymarket Theater, Leicester, Some Time In 1988

Mark E. Smith & Michael Clark, 1988

This is another live performance, from thirty-odd years ago, which made a memorable impression on me - despite my inability, once more, to now put an exact date on it.  I do remember attending Leicester’s excellent Haymarket Theatre repeatedly during my early years in Leicester - in an era when it was still possible to see consistently challenging, high-quality productions on a regular basis, even in this cautious town.  But even by those standards - The Fall accompanying Michael Clark’s Punk Ballet, on a piece themed around William of Orange’s accession to the British throne, was something a little out of the ordinary.

Placing their music at the service of Clark’s company, and playing live behind the dancers, felt like fairly left-field moves back then – but which nevertheless acquired their own bizarre logic.  As Smith himself remarked, it was unusual for the band to be quite so strictly regulated on stage, at least in terms of syncing each song with the choreography – and useful in underlining that they could really operate as a properly disciplined unit, when the situation (or he) demanded.  Certainly, I remember they exuded an air of intent, and strangely static concentration, that night.  That was in sharp contrast to the extreme cavorting, and ludicrous surrealist costumes, of the dancers before them.  Just how an ejaculating teapot related to the reign of King Billy – I’m still not exactly sure.  What I do know is, the whole thing was a ton of fun. 

As the accompanying album, ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’ demonstrates, the success of the whole venture was assisted by the strength of the original material written for the production.  The Smiths’ marriage may have been running into the sand by that stage, but they still proved capable of co-writing a suite of songs that stand up perfectly well in their own right.

‘Lost In Music’

By the early 90’s I was listening to at least as much electronic dance-oriented music as I was guitar Rock.  Indeed, my willing embrace of a new aesthetic and revised cultural priorities, occurred far more smoothly than had my grudging acceptance of Punk and the New-Wave in my late teens (some form of growing maturity, perhaps?).  And, it seems even Mark E. Smith was accepting an approach to music making toward which he’d initially been derisive.  His collaboration with the producers Coldcut, on 1993s ‘The Infotainment Scan’ album may not have yielded exactly cutting-edge results - even back then - but it did emphasise how the trance-inducing effects of repetitive beats, and a cut & paste approach to song construction, had been part of the Fall’s M.O. all along.  No one as in-thrall to Can (as Smith claimed to be) can be inured to the appeal of an extended, immersive groove - after all.

But this is also here to demonstrate The Fall’s delightful, wayward - even arbitrary, approach to cover versions.  Sister Sledge would surely feature nowhere near the top of a ‘likely candidates’ list, on any regular planet - but this just makes lots of perverse sense whenever I hear it.  I love Smith’s faltering attempts at French in the intro., his laconic but affectionately engaged delivery of the lyric, and, yes – the fact that you honestly can get lost in it.  ‘TIS’ is a possibly flawed gem that I happily pull from the shelf with surprising regularity - but it’s this track I’m reaching for really.

‘Dr. Buck’s Letter’

I’m firmly of the opinion that subjective responses are far more useful than consensus or reasoned debate, when judging the relative merits of Fall material.  Nevertheless, this is one of those critically acclaimed pieces that really do justify the hype.  2000’s ‘The Unutterable’ album, from which it derives, is itself an impressive body of work - amounting to yet another of The Fall’s cyclical ‘Returns To Form’.  In fact, it followed a period of almost terminal chaos, acrimony and far too many hirings and firings - fuelled in no small measure by Mark E. Smith’s ever-worsening alcohol and drug dependencies.  But it was seemingly in his DNA to thrive on such adversity, and ‘The Unutterable’ saw Smith equipped with strong material, and a well-rehearsed new line-up - all punching well above their cumulative weight.

Much of the album has both a digital crackle, and an intimidating intensity that prefigures the greater heaviosity of the Fall’s new millennium sound.  ‘Dr. Buck’s Letter’ itself, is the apotheosis of those two trends.  It surmounts a seriously crunching rhythm bed, with a persistent chiming riff – across both of which Smith snarls one of his more eloquent expressions of dissatisfaction.  As with all the best Fall songs, the lyric ranges tangentially through personal anecdote and street philosophy - taking in along the way, an inventory of gadgetry and materialist accoutrements befitting the 21st century man about town.

Somewhat anachronistically, it seems - I still consume much of my music on CD, when available.  I’m old enough to remain wedded to the idea of the physical copy, but disinclined to return to the days of distracting surface noise via the medium of pricy vinyl.  Also, the unfashionable medium just fits through the letterbox while I’m out at work.  In this case (for reasons relating to re-release schedules and the band’s labyrinthine label history - I guess) it proved difficult to obtain a new copy of ‘The Unutterable’ for ages.  Thus, the two-disc, ‘Deluxe Edition’ which eventually dropped onto my doormat (complete with unusually stylish artwork) – is cherished all the more.  It was an album worth waiting for in more than one respect.

‘What About Us?’

2005’s ‘Fall Heads Roll’ is the last Fall album I purchased – although I do own later releases.  It’s a perfectly enjoyable collection - which actually reminds me a little of ‘Bend Sinister’ in places, and some even rank it amongst their best work.  The title shows Smith content to embrace the band’s mythology with a kind of Post Modern self-reflexivity, so it’s ironic that the album also points towards the Fall’s last properly identifiable phase of development - in which the membership actually remained more stable than at any previous period.  The sad truth is probably that, ‘solid’ and ‘reliable’ were never really what old Fall hands were looking for.  The late material is certainly not without its merits, but it can sound a little phoned-in, and lack the individual brilliance which once distinguished one Fall record from another.  Bizarrely, their unevenness had come to feel like a strength - rather than the weakness it would have seemed in another band or artist.

Anyway, ‘FHR’ wasn’t quite there yet, and could be seen as one of the last instances of that earlier distinguishing vividness.  Certainly, in ‘What About Us?’ – it contains a song as colourfully contrary and counter-intuitive as any other in the Fall canon.  Only Mark E. Smith, had the gleeful misanthropy, oblique writing style, and willingness to go so far beyond the pale - as to cast notorious serial killer, Dr. Harold Shipman as a drug dealer deficient in the requisite customer-service.  The song is essentially a letter of complaint, upbraiding Shipman for bestowing his whole supply on the vulnerable old ladies he dispatched, whilst neglecting the needs of the remaining narcotics-hungry population.  It's also narrated from the point of view of an immigrant East German Rabbit, by the way.

It could all be dismissed as gratuitous provocation - I suppose.  But such persistent acts of creative transgression actually feel all the more invigorating and important in these self-censoring times.  Any song with a chanted "Ship-man" backing vocal (featuring Mrs. Smith No. 3, Eleni Poulou), must be worth cherishing - surely?


Ultimately, it feels like Mark E. Smith's role was always to subject the existential horrors of existence, and the more petulant irritations of our self-obsessed little lives, to equal scrutiny - and to provide a route back to mental equilibrium in the process.  In screening them through his relentless filter of cynicism and absurdist humour, he provided nothing less than a public service for over four decades - re-writing the rule book on working class popular culture as he went.  He was resolutely in that marvellous British tradition of the proletarian autodidact, and would, of course, despise all this cod-intellectualising.  He will be sorely missed.