Pete Greenway, Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr
Interview by Jason Gross
To help tie up our Fall coverage over the past year, we wanted to hear from 'the dudes' (as the band was known) who made up the final line-up of the band, alongside keyboard player/singer (and MES wife) Elena Poulou and the one main constant of the group, Mark E. Smith. In the maelstrom that enveloped the band at the turn of the millennium with even higher than usual line-up changes, stage fights and such, some calm and stability came in the form of guitarist Pete Greenway, drummer Keiron Melling and bassist Dave Spurr, all of whom got drawn into the band in 2006 and stayed with it for over a decade, which was remarkable for the band and certainly a record for it.
The last set of 'dudes' were kind enough to do email correspondence to talk about their pre-Fall lives, joining the band, how the group stayed the together, how songs came together and how MES dealt with his illness at the end. You'll also be pleased to know that the three dudes are still working together, playing as Imperial Wax.
PSF: Could you talk about your background before the Fall?
KM: I've had a kit since I was 5 years old and have played in many bands. My first school band was called Pigeon Smith and I also played in my dad's band The Outsiders, touring Holland at 16. I joined a great rockabilly band called Walter Mitty's Head, then I was lucky enough to get a chance to do a string of shows with Aziz Ibrahim (Stone Roses, Ian Brown) when I was 16.
I went to college and met Dave Spurr. We started a band called Motherjohn that we struck with for 8 years until we joined the Fall. We've been a rhythm section for 19 years now!
PG: I live within the Black Country in the West Midlands, a place full of humility, especially regarding music. I grew up surrounded by stunning bands, who for some reason didn't think they were good enough to be ambitious and say, release a record. I go to places such as Manchester, and every other person I meet has played on or released an album or two.
I grew up listening to rock'n'roll and doo-wop. I had older brothers and a sister who would play me more 'adult' music like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young etc.. I Loved Lou Reed and the Velvets. I discovered the John Peel radio show which opened my mind towards more obscure music and a whole host of 'indie' bands. Became obsessed with a band called Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Hearing the Birthday Party album Junkyard influenced how I wanted to play the guitar.
I started playing in bands from the age of 16, switched to bass guitar in my 20's in a band called The Unspeakable Turks, who were influenced by the Palace brothers, Smog and all that song-writer, alternative country scene of the '90's. I switched back to guitar and formed a swampy garage-type band with friends called The Pubic Fringe. We soon started landing support slots with the Damned and The Fall and became friendly with the later. We split at the same time The Fall were looking for a guitarist.
DS: I was born in Bury which is about 8 miles outside of Manchester. I grew up in a small market town called Ramsbottom. A great little place, famous for the annual 'World Black Pudding Throwing Championships.'
I was always attracted to guitar-based music very early on and noticed quickly that the sound of drums, bass and guitars made me feel a lot different than anything else that would be on the radio or TV. I first picked up a guitar when I was 11 and all I wanted to do was get in a band and start playing music. I was big into the Seattle Grunge thing as a kid and me and mates played Nirvana and Pearl Jam songs in various cover bands, as well as the rock standards like Hendrix and Deep Purple etc..
It wasn't until I was around 17 that I started playing in original bands and I tried to play as often as I could with as many different people as I could. This was helped by being in the house band 'En-Tito' at a local Jam Night which I did for a few years and in a music college course, which is where I met Keiron Melling.
Keiron and I clicked straight away and when we weren't in the pub, we were jamming with each other for hours on end in loads of different bands, in and out of college. We even swapped roles in one band, Hobo Chang, where I played drums and Keiron was on bass.
The last band I was in before I joined The Fall was a noisy Led Zep-esque three piece, with Keiron on drums, called Motherjohn. I did that for about 8 years and then Mark and The Fall came along. The rest is history!
PSF: What did you think of the Fall when you first heard them?
KM: The funny thing is, I hadn't actually heard of the Fall before joining. The first I heard was when I had to learn the set for my first gig with the band in 2006. I was 23 at the time. I've been in the band for 11 years, so you can probably guess that I liked it.
PSF: How did you first get to work with the Fall?
KM: I got a call from Dave (in 2006) asking if I wanted to play a gig in Dublin, standing in for Orpheo (McCord). He gave me a CD with 12 songs to learn in 3 days. I met Mark for the first time at the airport. It was a good show from what I remember. Maybe that was just the relief of getting through the gig though!
PG: I was initially asked to help out, rather than join The Fall. The then-current line-up had been assembled at very short notice, therefore it meant that some of the members couldn't make upcoming gigs or events due to commitments at home (the US).
I was brought in, along with Dave Spurr, to cover that year's Reading and Leeds festivals (August 2006). I had no intention of joining the group full time, I was fully aware of Mark's reputation and had felt the atmosphere around previous line ups and concluded that this was something I wanted to experience, but only briefly.
My expectations were shattered after playing these festival dates. This was exciting, thrilling, nerve racking, flying by the seat of your pants etc. and The Fall were lovely friendly people and Mark was the the funniest, wittiest person I had ever met.
I later was asked to fill in for the odd gig after that and I jumped at the chance, but I was aware that this was a temporary arrangement and I was fine with that (I had a job and a mortgage to pay).
PSF: Was Imperial Wax Solvent the first Fall album you worked on with the band?
KM: Yes, I had played a couple of shows in 2006 and was present at the recording of Reformation Post TLC for a day, but had nothing to do with that album.
PSF: Were you worried about the fact that the band had been through so many line-up's that you wouldn't last there long?
KM: Probably in the first 6 months I'd say, it was in the back of my mind, but soon I got to know Mark and stopped thinking about it to be honest.
PG: I remember having a conversation with Keiron and Dave, once the LP (Imperial Wax Solvent) had been recorded and the realisation had kicked in that we were now the new Fall line up, about how we were going to make this situation work for the best. In it, we talked about allowing Mark to do what he wanted on stage without any resistance from the band.
PSF: Why do you think you lasted so long in the Fall?
KM: I treated it like a job, like working in a factory. I guess that's why we're the longest serving lineup. We knew or role and Mark was the boss. Simple! Like I said before, we all became great friends and sort of a gang. we would still be doing it now if Mark was still here. I miss him every day and I'm thankful for the great memories.
PG: Mark liked to mix things up by turning amplifiers up or down, moving cymbals around, pointing vocal mics at your amp etc.. I'd seen previous line ups resist Mark's meddling to the point of the shows becoming a little bit like a pantomime. We made a conscious decision to go with what Mark was doing and embrace the unpredictable nature of a live Fall gig, It certainly made it more interesting, and over time, more enjoyable, but I also think it turned us from a random group of musicians into a functional working unit.
DS: I think the longevity of the lineup was mainly because we all got on so well together. Mark very rarely spoke about past members of The Fall. He was always about looking forward, so we never really thought about the 'revolving door' of band members bollocks. We just concentrated on the job in hand and did it to the best of our abilities.
PSF: Are there any Fall tracks in the vault that you expect or hope to come out later?
KM: There's probably about 2 albums worth of songs that never made the cut floating around somewhere but Mark left them off the albums for a reason. Best to leave things the way Mark wanted them in my opinion.
PG: We recorded numerous music tracks that weren't used on fall LP's, New Facts Emerge was the only LP that had no unused music, usually at least a third of the tracks get scrapped, sometimes more. There was a bunch of songs that we recorded just previous to recording Ersatz GB. Mark sent myself, Keiron and Dave to Berlin to check out this beautiful old studio, wooden paneled up to its tall ceiling. The type of place they would record entire orchestras. We recorded 10 tracks in 2 days and they all sounded magnificent to our ears. Sadly, very little of that was used. Mark told us later that he only wanted us to report back about how good the studio was, maybe use it at some point. He wasn't interested in the recordings and never listened to them, no matter how great we told him they were.
Mark was very efficient when it came to recording his vocals. I don't recall many unused completed tracks.
PSF: Overall, what were your favorite Fall songs you recorded and favorite ones you know from before you joined?
KM: The favourite I recorded would probably be "50 Year Old Man," "Mexico Wax Solvent," "Bury," "Cowboy George," "Hittite Man," "Dedication Not Medication," "All Leave Cancelled," "Brillo de Facto," "Couples vs. Jobless Mid 30s."
As for songs before I joined, I can only think of the ones I've played live. "Blindness," "Rebellious Jukebox," "Sparta FC," "Wings," "Psykick Dancehall," "Container Driver."
PG: My favourite songs from my tenure in the band are from the albums Your Future, Our Clutter, and the last LP New Facts Emerge, namely "Hot Cake" and "Chino" with its woozy bass line. "Get a Summer Song Goin'," which we all thought would be a summer hit but was relegated to the vinyl only version of the release (Your Future, Our Clutter). "Brillo Defacto" (from New Facts Emerge) was a song that effortlessly came together from Dave's bass line, a totally unrelated guitar line that I had knocking about and loads of input from Keiron and Mark. At that stage we could work just by instinct.
I was a bit of a Fall fan when I was a teenager and, as is often the case with bands I like, the first music I heard from them has remained my favourite stuff. Songs like "New Face In Hell," "Who Makes The Nazis," (which we nearly put in our live set) "Wings" (which we did put in the set) and "Kicker Conspiracy" all come to mind. They scared the life out of me when I first heard them, I thought they were the dirtiest sounding band I'd ever heard. They were.
DS: I was never into The Fall before joining and when I did join, it was clear that Mark wanted fresh new ideas and for his music to evolve and not hark back to the past. I made the decision that I would try and steer away from listening to past Fall albums in case my songwriting was influenced from what I heard. I've obviously listened to some old Fall songs, because we played them within our live sets, but most of the time, the first listen was on Pete's mobile phone half an hour before we were due to go on stage!
My favourite kind of Fall songs to record were the really creepy, weird sounding ones like "Alton Towers," "Chino" and "Couples vs Jobless." Mark would give us lots of freedom on songs like that to add all sorts of weird overdubs with whatever we could find that would make a sound. The more horrendous, the better!
PSF: Since the Fall line-up with Greenway/Spurr/Melling lasted so long, do you think that any dynamics in the band changed over time? MES was obviously the leader but otherwise, did you feel the band was a bit different from IWS through the last few albums for any reason?
DS: The Fall was an ever-changing force and that was the beauty of being in the group. You just had to keep up with what was happening around you. Keep things fresh and full of energy.
PSF: Towards the end, were you concerned that Mark was over-working himelf in his condition? Did you speak to him about this?
KM: Yeah, we were concerned. I believed he would get through it and make a full recovery, so it was more important to me that Mark got rest. We spoke with him about it and tried to postpone shows, but this was not in Mark's nature. This was something he had to do and we would back him up all the way.
DS: We did feel that Mark was working too hard, especially with the final shows that we did. His mind was constantly working and he was always thinking about the next record or where was best for us to play. We did try to get him to take time off and not to worry about things, but The Fall was his life and he fought to it to keep going until the very end.
PG: Mark always had a strong work ethic, and towards the end, after his diagnosis, it was the prospect of playing the next shows, creating the next LP that kept his spirits high and really what kept him going. We did everything we could to support him during this time. It was heart breaking to see him physically deteriorate the way he did, but his spirit never waned, not once.
PSF: Future plans are...?
KM: Dave, Pete and I have a new band called Imperial Wax. It was our first album all together so (it) feels right to move forward under a name where it all began.
Also see Greenway, Melling and Spurr talk about the making of Imperial Wax Solvent
Also see our Fall tribute
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