‘It’s a homage to what Mark E Smith taught us’: ex-Fall members House of All deny exploiting band’s legacy
Last week, it was announced that five former members of revered Manchester post-punk group the Fall would be releasing an album under the name House of All – without the original band’s late frontman and only constant member Mark E Smith, who died in January 2018 aged 60. Almost immediately, they incurred the wrath of the famously irascible singer’s family, who strongly disavowed the project.
“The family and estate of Mark E Smith in no way endorse or wish to be associated with House of All,” they wrote in a statement. “Furthermore, we do not like or permit the use of Mark E Smith’s name, images and/or band name to be used in any kind of exploiting way. Not only do we find this extremely offensive and very misleading to the wider audience of Mark E Smith and the Fall, but it also causes us much distress and discomfort.”
House of All features founding Fall guitarist Martin Bramah (guitar and vocals), bassist Stephen Hanley (whose 20 years in the Fall between 1978 and 1998 make him that band’s longest-serving member after Smith), and his drummer brother Paul. Simon Wolstencroft, from the band’s 80s/90s incarnation, completes a two-drummer lineup, along with guitarist Pete Greenway, who spent a decade in the Fall. Between them, the quintet have played on such classic Fall albums as Live at the Witch Trials, Dragnet, Hex Enduction Hour, This Nation’s Saving Grace, Extricate and The Infotainment Scan.
Bramah told the Guardian he was saddened by the Smith family’s disavowal of House of All. “We didn’t set out to cause any offence,” he said. “We only have the best memories of Mark and this has been done very much as a homage to what he taught us. His presence was in the studio – we were working the way we would have if Mark was there telling us, ‘This is crap. This is good.’”
Bramah says the new band will not use Smith’s image and will only perform new, self-penned material. House of All’s description of themselves as “a Fall family continuum”, he says, reflected a belief that all former members were part of an “extended dysfunctional family” and that “potentially, any ex-members could be involved” in future lineups.
When contacted by phone, a spokesperson for Smith’s family told the Guardian that the estate had been irked by the use of the term “Fall family” because “it implied they are a continuation of the Fall, which they can never be” and by a cropped image of Mark E Smith on Twitter which has since been deleted. However, they reiterated the original statement’s best wishes for their future careers, adding: “It’s not about stopping anyone doing anything. Just don’t push it.”
Bramah founded the Fall with Smith and Una Baines in Prestwich, Greater Manchester in 1976, and was with the band for two stints from 1976-79 and 1989-90. He also played in Blue Orchids with Baines, and Factory Star with the Hanley brothers, who in turn recently played in Brix & the Extricated with Smith’s ex-wife and Fall guitarist, Brix Smith.
Bramah moved back to Manchester last year, and had the idea of working with “some former members and old friends” on a new project. He initially contacted former Fall guitarists Marc Riley – now a BBC Radio 6 Music DJ – and Craig Scanlon, to no avail. Then he bumped into Wolstencroft in a bar, and the lineup started to come together.
Wanting to recreate the “pressure” of being in the Fall, Bramah booked a studio for three days without any songs or rehearsals. “I wanted to capture the spontaneity of being put on the spot and having to think on your feet,” he says. “The sort of thing you developed in the Fall.”
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House of All have already recorded two albums’ worth of material and so far, one song, titled Harlequin Duke, has been released. It contains various Fall trademarks such as Hanley’s elastic basslines and a pounding, motorik drum beat. Bramah’s narrative singing style is not dissimilar to Smith’s, though their voices are markedly different. Bramah says the line “Maybe our bingo master has returned” could be a reference to the Fall’s 1978 debut, Bingo-Master’s Breakout. So far, the response from Fall fans on social media has been overwhelmingly positive.
On 13 May, the band will release their self-titled debut: an eclectic collection ranging from the hypnotic, partly chanted Dominus Ruinea – a song about “Westminster and the Royals, but obliquely” – to Magic Sound, which nods to vintage Fall tunefulness, and which Bramah said reflected the joy of “finding that sound again”.
Bramah says he remembered Smith’s three sisters affectionately and would be contacting them to try to smooth the waters. “We’re trying to honour what Mark taught us. He brought us together in the first place and it’s being done out of respect and for the right reasons,” he says. “We’re the students of Mark E Smith.”