One lunchtime in early 2006 I called on Magic Sam and he said to me, “We had the manager of The Fall in earlier.” Really?
Sam worked in Beanos (the sign above the door proclaimed – ‘The largest second-hand record shop anywhere’) and for many years this was the place to hang out. If you knew someone who worked there you could generally get a better than average price on any vinyl you brought in or vinyl you bought. As the years passed I got to know many of the staff there – Moody Ray, Tim From Cloake’s, OK Keith, both the Davids, Mr. Christian, Red Sarah, Claire with the hair, Rachel from Comet Gain, James ‘Dead’ Hitler and, of course, my dear friend, Magic Sam. In fact, I knew Magic Sam when he was just Sam, so that gives you some idea of how far back we go.
“Yeah, they’re going to be playing at the Cartoon and he asked me if there were any local bands I’d recommend as a support. So I put your name forward.” Really?
I’d been playing as cassettes since 2004, initially as an acoustic solo thing supplemented with tape loops and a crappy drum machine, but by this point it had become a four piece electric outfit. It’s quite funny because between ’04 and ’14 it became something of a joke that everyone in Croydon had played in cassettes at one time or another. This isn’t quite true, but isn’t false either. In 2006 though the line up consisted of Brother Joe on bass, Dr. Strange on guitar, The Stallion on drums and myself.
The Fall had played in Croydon before, at the short-lived, but legendary, Underground club (1984-6) and we had seen them many times since then, but the Cartoon seemed an unusual venue as it was a blues bar in west Croydon with something of a reputation for being the watering hole of the Road Rats, a local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Actually, I’ve seen The Fall play in a scout hut in Brighton before, so maybe it wasn’t so odd.
By the time the gig came around in March all the tickets had been long sold (500 would certainly see the place packed to capacity) and three extra nights had been added. We arrived late afternoon to soundcheck and there was already a considerable number of both familiar and unfamiliar faces milling about outside. As I learnt over the years The Fall had a very loyal hardcore fanbase and it wasn’t strange to bump into the same people at any given venue throughout the country.
We watched the group soundcheck (minus Mark E Smith and Eleni) and then we got to have a fair soundcheck, too. When MES and his wife turned up they had two requests: did we know anyone who could lend them a keyboard and did we know a good pub where they wouldn’t be bothered by TV screens or hipsters – “A proper pub.” Dr. Strange worked at X-Electrical, the second-hand instrument shop on Church Street (“Sure. What is it you’re after?” “Oh, anything,” says Eleni. “Well, what? I can probably get you whatever you want.”).
The Gypsy Tavern (or The Tipsy Gavin as it was known) seemed to be the obvious choice for the second request: a dark and dingy dive tucked away on Station Road. It is generally frequented by a small clientele of alcoholic gamblers, Irish travellers, soul boys from the 1970s, ancient rastafarians and coffin dodgers. It seemed to suit fine. So, there we sat in one of the snugs, the back wall painted in emulsioned broad strokes, resembling (if you squinted) a stable or paddock, complete with hideous nag faces and horseshoes and four leaf clovers, the 1970 Eurovision Contest winner, Dana, on repeat (“All Kinds of Everything”), drinking and smoking with Mark Smith and The Fall. A more perfect teaser to a wonderful and frightening evening ahead I could not imagine.
Mark E Smith: Legend
5 March 1957 – 24 January 2018