Mark E Smith: Manchester's maverick cult hero

Mark E. Smith The Fall 2008

Mark E Smith, frontman of Manchester post-punk outfit The Fall, has died at the age of 60.

The music maverick, who has been hailed as an inspiration to many, had been ill for some time.

Smith formed The Fall in 1976, after the former shipping clerk watched a now-legendary Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.

Writing in his 2008 autobiography Renegade, Smith said: “When I first saw The Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in ’76, I thought, my lot are not as bad as that. We’re better.”

The band’s debut album, ‘Live At The Witch Trials’, was released in March 1979. Smith paid for the band’s rehearsal space by playing pool and doing tarot readings.

The Fall’s line-up changed frequently, often as a result of the Salfordian’s tempestuous nature.  In the time the band had been active, Smith had hired and fired more than 60 bandmates, including: Mark Riley, Brix Smith, Simon Wolstencroft, Steve Hanley and many others.

Smith compared his involvement in The Fall’s line-up changes to being like managing a football team.  He said: “Every so often you have to get rid of the centre-forward."

In 1983, Smith went on to marry Fall member Brix Smith, before the pair got divorced in 1989. He then married the band’s fan club manager, Saffron Prior, before wedding his current wife in 2001, Eleni Poulou – who was a member of the band between 2002 and 2016.

Although musical trends ebb and flow, The Fall remained cemented in the cultural make-up of Manchester. ‘Hit The North’, released in 1988, illustrated the band’s civic pride and became an anthem for Northerners, and was played at the Hip Priest’s beloved Manchester City.

Championed by John Peel, The Fall went on to release thirty one studio albums, driven by abrasive guitar and Smith’s cryptic lyrics. The band’s last album, ‘New Facts Emerge’, was released last year.

Although turbulent, Smith was unshakeably committed to his beloved band The Fall. In 1979, he wished “to keep it going as long as I can”, performing until the very end, even when visibly ill in a wheelchair.

Tributes to The Fall’s influential eccentric have come from across the music and entertainment landscape.

Smith’s former wife and bandmate, Brix Smith Start, put out a statement on Twitter.

“Mark defied convention and definition – he was a true artist. When I arrived in Manchester – a young American – he introduced me to pickled onions, pubs and punk. He was my music mentor, my cultural anchor, and my first love. I feel deeply saddened by his passing, but I feel greater joy for having shared his journey.”

6 Music DJ Marc Riley heard of his former bandmate’s passing whilst on air. He said: “Mark taught me a lot about life and he taught me a lot about music... The Fall were my favourite band when I joined and they were still my favourite band when I got kicked out.”

Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam said: “The death of Mark E Smith is news I’d been dreading. One of my heroes, and a man I was proud to call a friend.” 

Music has lost a truly unique individual and cult rock hero.