Mark E. Smith, Rabble-rousing Frontman for Post-Punk U.K. Group The Fall, Passes at 60

Mark. E Smith
Kevin Cummins / Getty Images
– Mark. E Smith

Mark E. Smith, the pugnacious, outspoken lead singer and frontman for groundbreaking Manchester post-punk band The Fall, has passed away at the age of 60, according to the band’s manager and Smith’s partner Pam Vander.

Smith, who was something of anti-hero, was known for his hair trigger temper when it came to his band and according to reports there have been 66 members over the years. The Fall released its 32nd studio album, New Facts Emerge, just last year, but Smith’s declining health prevented them from touring more extensively.

Just last October, he performed in a wheelchair and last summer, the band was forced to cancel shows in New York and Louisville, Kentucky after Smith was hospitalized for issues related to his respiratory system.  They were to be the band’s first U.S. dates in almost 10 years.

 In 2004, he toured the U.S. with The Fall, performing in a wheelchair after breaking his hip.

Smith formed the Fall in 1976 when he was still a teenager with friends Martin Bramah and Tony Friel, naming the band after the Albert Camus novel, inspired by seeing a legendary gig by the Pistols in his hometown of Manchester.  The band’s critically acclaimed debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, came out in 1979, characterized by Smith snarling, slurring heavily accented singing style.  Smith always claimed the press took the band too seriously. “They overlooked the humor of it all,” he said. “That’s the story of my life.”

The Fall underwent any number of stylistic and personnel changes, from its abrasive, strident post-punk beginnings to what critic Simon Reynolds described as “a kind of Northern English magic realism that mixed industrial grime with the unearthly and uncanny, voiced through a unique one-note delivery somewhere between amphetamine-spiked rant and alcohol-addled yam.”  BBC’s famed DJ John Peel was another admirer, calling them “the band against which all others are judged.”

The Fall’s 1988 single, “Hit the North,” became the anthem for Smith’s beloved Manchester City football club. “Hip Priest” (with its chilling Smith drawl, “He-ee-ee’s not appreciated”) can be heard in Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs.

Smith described his own influences as American bands, including Captain Beefheart, The Seeds and the Velvet Underground, and British rockers The Move and The Groundhogs.

The band turned out to be more popular in the U.K., where they saw 11 of their releases hit the Top 40, while 27 singles entered the Top 100, but still had a strong cult following in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Among the groups acknowledging influence by the Fall are Arctic Monkeys, Happy Mondays, Guided by Voices, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem and Faith No More, among others. Sonic Youth covered three Fall songs during an appearance on a 1988 Peel Session, released in 1990 as an EP.  Pavement recorded a version of “The Classical”, while Suede frontman Brett Anderson described Smith as a “huge, huge influence.”

Smith made a cameo appearance in Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 movie about the Manchester rave scene, 24 Hour Party People, and was the subject of the 2005 BBC Four documentary, The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith. He published his autobiography, Renegade: The Gospel According to Mark E. Smith, in 2008. Smith contributed a guest vocal to the 2010 Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, for the song “Glitter Freeze.”

On his death, the BBC wrote of the irascible, often autocratic band leader, who shuffled through members as some would tissues, “There has never been anyone quite like Mark E. Smith in British music, and there never will be again.”

He is survived by his third wife. Eleni Poulou, a member of The Fall from 2002 until July 2016. He was previously married to The Fall’s American guitarist Brix Smith and then the band’s fan club employee Saffron Prior.