Review written by Rob Jones
Steve Hanley suffered the long term wrath of working alongside the Mark E. Smith bombast. After 19 years hard labour Steve can sport an ‘I survived the Lucifer over Lancashire chainsaw massacre’ badge with credit!
The experiences of Steve Hanley along with the help of Olivia Piekarski produce the lustrous literature of The Big Midweek: Life inside The Fall. Hanley primarily played bass with The Fall but it becomes quite evident that he was to become the solvent that tried to keep the various components of Mark E. Smith in some sort of semblance for as long as was humanly possible.
This earnest and humbling tale is not so much your usual ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ braggadocio but the struggle of a guy who just wants to be in The Fall. “Why should I pack it all in just because of him?” utters Hanley when it is obvious that the erratic alcohol and amphetamine soaked awkwardness of Smith becomes unbearable and unmanageable.
However, after a long shift on the ‘HMS Mental’ Steve could not take any more and in 1998 he escaped from the frightening world of The Fall for the last time. However, between his 1979 entry in to the maelstrom of Mark E. Smith and onwards to his final swan song Hanley gave everything and more to the cause when at the same time he was trying to raise a young family with his supportive wife, Heather. This period also included helping run a pie shop under his dad because financial ends had to be met.
The glories of the music circuit may be gory not glory as seemingly infinite crammed bus rides can escort Hanley and his compatriots to sometimes squalid squats to set up ephemeral camp for a gig at another seedy venue in one more faceless conurbation.
Hanley gets on with the tasks at hand as do many of his compatriots (although the come and go antics of Karl Burns are another area for concern). Meanwhile, everyone present second guesses the moods and methods of Smith because this may lead to a torrent of verbal abuse and/or physical assault!
What is apparent is that this Molotov cocktail of components may not always make for a happy working environment but the end product is the reason why The Fall are incomparable-and, their legacy is one which provides their public with a vault of vehement and vibrant product. Although, if the music was sterile this publication would still be fertile!
The near 400 pages retain the interest of the reader as The Fall try to maintain the momentum of a mantra that largely stands outside of the commercial zone. As we stand The Fall are approaching forty and their playing membership can double that figure! Whether it is Smith and ‘his granny on the bongos’ or whoever else are filling the gaps everything is dedicated to the future!
The period assessed here has a revolving door of musicians and support staff, but it all makes for a compelling story where Hanley has a central role. This book brings to life adventures that can be the real life embodiment of a post punk Spinal Tap. Hanley is never scratching around for filler because there is plenty of meat on this text and with the Smith stance of ‘if it doesn’t need fixing…break it’ the reader is always on the edge of their seat awaiting the next enthralling episode.
Despite the pressure cooker environment of The Fall and the unnecessary trauma that Hanley endured this guy can still turn around and offer ‘thanks to Mark E. Smith for the opportunity and unique life lessons.’ This is a job well done by Hanley and Piekarski-and, aural aficionados need to observe the pages present!
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