The Fall, A Certain Ratio: Free Trade Hall, Manchester


THIS FESTIVAL Of The Millions was more like the All Stars vs Inmates football match from the Porridge film than a party for Manchester’s unemployed.

Like at most benefits, the performances were punctuated and hindered by a succession of activist speakers and crap hippy singers. Hence the appearance of a ‘compere’ — a stupid, ageing, styleless twat in ad man glasses, a cloth cap, a ponytail and a fixed liberal grin. No charisma at all. Unlike Carl, a gawky, squawking chicken-headed bug, whose gait was as blunt as a snog-in with a staple gun, and whose message was stripped down rather dynamically to “get Thatcher!”. This would have been ridiculously funny if it hadn’t been desperation that was fuelling his rant.

A Certain Ratio slid into the Free Trade Hall as smoothly as SS-20s leaving their silos. Their grrooove was low, so low people were stepping in and out of it like chickens around seed. ACR are sharp in the old style jazz interpretation of the word. Wearing Adidas and tracksuit bottoms, they reflect the look and sound of High Street Britain without being that slow-arsed style cripple that is High Street Britain.

If Ratio have restricted their own progression onto our daytime radio then they have done so from the vocal upwards. Jezz Kerr’s monotone drone is simply too dreary a mouthpiece for such a danceable funk sound.

The Fall are one song past PA trouble when a calculated Flying V of plastic glasses and Holsten cans attack in formation. Brix ducks and weaves like a tube of cool toothpaste, Mark E simply snaps harder into the song, and Stephen Hanley threatens to hack off the heads of the throwies with the blade of his long necked bass. End of assault.

The fact that The Fall can still provoke such a reaction is as stimulating as the set itself. A whipped but cunning rendition of ‘Fiery Jack’, an acne stab version of ‘City Hob Goblins’, a guitar-gobbling encore of ‘Cruiser’s Creek’ and the paranoid pop pleasantries of ‘Hey! Luciani’, are but four of the highlights.

Tonight, The Fall showed that there is still more action in just one of their songs — say the churning ‘Cropped It’ or pedantic ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire’ — than most bands manage in a whole three years of live shows. They have, over the years, developed a quarry full of songs so impressive that they can shine a green light on almost any part of their history and pull out a song that their contemporaries would be hard-pushed to better.

© James BrownSounds, 10 January 1987

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