Friday 16 March 2012

The Fallen in Hellbomb

Dave Simpson - "The Fallen"

out of 10 Hellbombs

The detective story that unfolds in Dave Simpson’s The Fallen is worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle. I can easily imagined the rock journalist’s search for 43 ex-Fall members repenned as one featuring cocaine addicted Sherlock Holmes: call it The Case of The Fall Heads Roll. Simpson - unable to locate former drummer Karl Burns who may or may not be dead … who may or may not be married and running a B&B … who may or may not be a motorcycle riding hermit living in the Rosendale hillside - turns to Holmes and Doctor Watson for their aid.

But wait. If you are American, “Who are The Fall?” you’re probably asking.

“The one thing Britain has that America can never have” as ex-Fall bassist Eric McGann (aka Rick Goldstraw aka Eric Echo aka Eric the Ferret: I told you, this is the stuff of detective stories) says, hitting the mark.

Pun intended because The Fall are a British rock band run like a sports club by vocalist/psychologist/coach/genius/cock Mark E. Smith for over 30 years. He did not found The Fall but has been running it ever since axing original bassist and founder Tony Friel in December 1977, the second Fall head to roll.

The honor of being the first head to roll goes to original drummer Steve aka Dave, who apparently threw himself under a locomotive. He’s apparently also the only ex-Fall member to have since died … except maybe Karl Burns who may or may not be dead, which is astounding to me because so many of the Fall heads that rolled were so drug addled that you’d think a few of them overdosed after being unceremoniously sacked, but – no – they usually picked themselves up (or found an airline ticket home (Smith is notorious for firing musicians miles away from home in another country like Greece or the USA) and went on with their lives remembering their time in The Fall as a dream state or akin to a stint in the military. To most it was the high point of their lives or something that shaped them tremendously. Many remained musicians but others became mothers (the son of Yvonne Pawlett (who played keys in The Fall’s first album Live At The Witch Trials (which is not a live recording) is shocked to discover his mum played in the legendary Fall (in Britain The Fall are an institution: their songs used for advertisements and theme songs for television shows) or medical professionals or – in seems like cruel irony to me – civil servants. Almost all would drop everything to play again with The Fall.

Still, there’s this case of the missing drummer. I saw Karl Burns at least twice – opening for The Buzzcocks in December 1979 and The Clash in June 1981 – but he was with The Fall and that’s long before he went missing, so I can’t help Dave Simpson out. He was an incredible drummer. Who knew he was a little off his rocker and liked to travel with a huge suitcase containing only one pair of underpants?

It’s these facts that make The Fallen such an interesting read. You gain insights to Mark E. Smith and learn a bit about the people behind names you saw fleetingly on liner notes of Fall albums and CDs (which usually contained little info other than who played what and song credits (that were often intentionally incorrect it turns out).

The Fallen is also very funny. For example, drummer Dave Milner recalls this “… one instance when The Fall were due to fly home but Smith made such a fuss about not being able to take a keyboard on the plane that airport staff refused to let him board the flight. The keyboard then made the journey – in the seat that had been reserved for Smith.” That’s funny! And there’s dozens of moments like that throughout Simpson’s journey into The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall.

This is the best rock book written since Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions in 1988. To paraphrase a famous comment made by deceased DJ John Peel about The Fall: "The Fallen is the book by against which all other rock books are henceforth judged!" I’d give it 11 Hellbombs if I could. I recommend it to all readers. Dave Simpson sacrificed his sanity (at times) and his marriage locating those 43 ex-Fall members. The least you can do is read his book.

Reviewed by Gary Bombardier
Gary Bombardier is co-founder and Chief Executive Editor of Hellbomb. He’s also written a coming of age romance entitled (Young Man) In Bonds International Casino that’s about a punk rocker and set against a backdrop of Clash concerts in New York City in May-June 1981. The Fall also appear in the book. He’s looking for a literary agent so if you’re interested in providing representation, please contact him at

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Revealed after 34 years: the identity and full, sad story of "the unknown drummer"

Readers of The Fallen will be aware that one of the Fall’s enduring legends is the mysterious fate of their first drummer. No, not Karl Burns, but the “unknown sticksman” who history has christened Dave - or sometimes Steve - and of whom little is known apart from the fact that he was an insurance salesman and once wrote a song called Landslide Victory, praising Margaret Thatcher. Duing the search for the 50-odd ex-members of the Fall, I shed one or two chinks of light on this mystery, but nothing more. Founding bassist Tony Friel - who remembered him as Steve - suggested that he’d he’d been “ a nice guy, but pretty naff” and “simply had to go” after expressing support for then then Opposition leader.

Another musician, mid-1990s keyboardist Dave Bush - also remembered the unknown drummer as Steve and said he’d known him on the Manchester party circuit in the early Nineties. Although one of the founding members of one of Britain’s most legendary groups, he’d apparently shrugged off enquiries about whether he’d been in the Fall by saying “Yeah, but so was everybody in Manchester.” Sadly, the only other details Bush could provide was that the reluctant drummer had been “a bit weird” - possibly schizophrenic - and had thrown himself underneath a train.

I was shocked and troubled by this. Not just by the unexpectedly dark news and awful nature of “Steve”’s demise.... but the fact that he’d died without recognition. Like the famous Unknown Soldier, he was a legend of the Fall, and posterity didn’t even know his surname.

Then, last week, I received an email out of the blue from Paul Heaton in Manchester. Not - as I thought at first - Paul Heaton of the Beautiful South who has actually been playing with Fallen bassist Steve Trafford until fairly recently. This Paul Heaton was also a musician living in Manchester - he told me he performs as Johnny Angelsnake. Most intriguingly, he claimed to have been a friend of Steve, the unknown drummer, and even provided his surname: Ormrod. Within hours, Paul sent more email, telling me the story, which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce here:-

“I've been reading Mark E. Smith's Renegade book and noticed that he mentioned that The Fall's original drummer was ‘a little bald-headed guy from Stockport’. Now my mate Steve Ormrod used to tell me that he'd been the drummer in The Fall but I never knew whether to believe him or not.

He was schizophrenic, you see, and off his head a lot.

Then I read your [original Guardian] article tracking down the missing members of the Fall, which identifies him as Steve and that he killed himself under a train... it obviously was true.

“He used to live in Heaton Moor with his parents but around 1990/1 he stabbed a guy with a penknife in Stockport Labour Club (he claimed the guy was stealing his baked potato)

and was subsequently sectioned. He spent about 18 months in the Edenfield Secure Unit at Prestwich Hospital.

I used to visit him there about once a month. When he came out he couldn't settle anywhere and ended up taking speed again which was a bad thing and hastened his demise. He got married early and his wife left him within a year so that probably contributed too.”

“Steve Ormrod lay on the train tracks in Longsight on Saturday August 20th 1994. It was a sunny morning and he lay his jacket neatly by the track before he did the deed. There was no trace of drink or drugs in his body. He was around 40 when he killed himself.”

Paul aka Johnny Angelsnake also sent a photo of his tragic friend (taken in the doorway of the Old Nag’s Head pub in Edale in the mid-Eighties) - and had another revelation: that he knew Ormrod as a singer-songwriter, not a drummer. Through it all, the writer of Landslide Victory had carried on writing songs and Paul has a tape of his recordings.

RIP Steve Ormrod, first Fall drummer, 1976. Unidentified and “Unknown” no more.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

The Fallen named Number 4 in 'Top 10 books about music'

Really delighted with this - and in good company. Thank you Neon Filler website

Dave Simpson's The Fallen - The Fall fan and journalist Simpson's attempt to track down all 50 plus members and ex members of the band almost ends up destroying his life. It's a tough job, which he miraculously pretty much achieves. What emerges is a bizarre picture of life working for and with Fall frontman Mark E Smith, which at times, according to Simpson's book, is like working in a Victorian factory, with Smith as the mill-owner. Simpson even gets to interview the man himself, but it is the memories of the more recent members plus the infamous fight on stage in New York where Smith ended up sacking the entire band that are among the true highlights.

Monday 5 October 2009

Maxine Peake plugs The Fallen

Criminal Justice actor Maxine Peake is a fan of The Fallen. 

Thank you, Maxine.

Monday 15 December 2008

The Fallen in Observer rock reads of the year

Something of a triumvarite: following similar accolades in the Times and Sunday Times, The Fallen is now also an Observer book of the year courtesy of Caspar Llewellyn-Smith. This Mr Smith prefers The Fallen to the other Mr. Smith's Renegade, although naturally I couldn't possibly comment in case I found myself being blindfolded and turfed out of a Transit van. In Peru.. 

Sunday 7 December 2008

The Fallen in Sunday Times books of 2008

After last weekend's honour in the daily paper, the Sunday Times has followed suit in including The Fallen among their Books Of 2008. Reviewer Robert Sandall describes the book as "a hoot."


Saturday 29 November 2008

The Fallen in Times music books of 2008

I'm really chuffed with this... one of the music books of 2008/recommendations for Christmas. The writer, Bob Stanley, is of course in the very wonderful Saint Etienne, a band I often retreat to after listening to too much Fall.

There's a really good review in Time Out this week as well - they're still coming in, two months after publication. And there's an absolutely incredible review by Everett True ("A brilliant book: better than two thirds of the Fall's output, pst-1983 at least") in this month's Plan B. Meanwhile, I'm preparing to see The Fall this evening. I fancied a change :)