Steve gave his first interview for The Big Midweek to Conway Paton of The Fall Online, an unofficial Fall website that’s being going as long as the internet and is host to the remarkable Fall Online Forum.
Steve answered some of Conway’s questions about the book and his twenty years in The Fall.
Conway: So, what made you decide to write this book? And now, after all this time? Was it prompted by Dave Simpson’s book, The Fallen? I hope you saved all the best stories for your own book!
Steve: For “The Fallen” book, I was interviewed for less than an hour. As far as I knew, it was going to end up as half a page in the Guardian. Had I known it was then going to be a book, I might have had more to say. But it’s been the same whenever I’ve been asked for an interview. I only have a short conversation, so it’s never really going to go beyond a few anecdotes.
I’ve been wanting to write this story for some time. For a number of years after I left, the material was too raw to be objective about. The repercussions of having left The Fall were still haunting me on a daily basis. Adjusting to a different existence was taking enough effort and I was frustrated at seeing something I had been a big part of all my adult life carrying on regardless. That’s not the best state of mind to be writing a memoir.
The more practical problem was finding someone to write it with me. One well-known journalist laughed in my face, probably having an idea of how much would be involved in encapsulating the swamp-matrix of my twenty-year stint.
How was it that Olivia came to co-write the book with you? Was that suggested by the publisher?
We were writing together for two years before even looking for a publisher and finding the right one. Someone who appreciated the value of the human aspect of the story and didn’t just want another rock n roll cliché. As for finding the right writer; let’s just say it was a very timely chance meeting. Olivia has achieved the impossible: getting the quiet, miserable-looking bloke at the back who never said a word to spout off 140,000 four times over.
How long have you been working on writing your book?
When Olivia started writing this with me we were told by a reliable source in the publishing world that to do it properly would take five years, a proposition we royally scorned. In the end we only just managed to shave a year off that damning prediction. Four drafts and four years later, we’re done.
It’s not normal to have to remember everything in the minute kind of detail the creative approach demands. And so much went on in The Fall it became a question of what to leave out. It’s impossible to write everything. The skill is in being to pick out the aspects that tell the story as a whole, and Olivia has been very good at that. But it takes time to get it right, and it isn’t easy when characterising people who are real. There’s a fine line to tread between upsetting someone and mis-representing them through all the best intentions. It’s even more the case when those people still make a living under the scrutinous public eye. It was a great relief when major characters in the book read it and felt we had captured them well.
It’s interesting that The Fallen book seems to have given some ex-Fall members a bit of a new lease on life. For example, Mike Leigh, who’s back drumming and gigging again. That’s gotta be a good thing, don’t you think?
Dave’s book did help to re-unite some ex-members. Mike Leigh told me that he wanted to start playing again once he’d come to a Factory Star gig. Clearly if us old duffers can get away with it, why shouldn’t he?
And talking about Dave Simpson’s book, how’s Karl Burns these days? Been to visit him lately?
No. But if he’s reading this or if anyone can send him a smoke signal please let him know he is invited to the launch. He’s a major character in The Fall story who’s been misrepresented until now.
I trust there was a bit more effort gone into this book than Mark E Smith’s autobiography, which reads like someone just put a microphone on him while he was down the pub rambling on all afternoon?! Have you read Mark’s book? Any comment?
It’s a shame Mark is so quick to devalue the legacy of his own genius.
What about the Mick Middles and other Fall books?
Anyone else who’s written about The Fall has been a fan; they’ve not had the benefit of living it on the inside.
Do you have a collection of basses/guitars? Is there an old ’57 Stratocaster stashed away somewhere in Steve Hanley’s attic?
No. It’s hanging in the window of the local Cash Generator. Waiting for you lot to buy advance copies instead of buying into the cut-price rip-off deal on Amazon in September. By the way, it’s a Fender Precision. [Conway notes: I know Steve plays a Fender Precision, but as a collectible I thought he might have a ’57 Strat, which would be worth a bucketload of money.]
Steve Hanley vs. Peter Hook – who would win: (a) bass play off; (b) drinking competition; (c) bullshitting competition; (d) fistfight?
a) Me b) Me c) Him d) Him
To many fans, 1998 was the end of The Fall. For a while things looked pretty grim and yet, in the end, MES pulled things around. Were you surprised?
God, yeah. And it’s amazing that Mark’s kept it going to this day. Every credit to him for that.
If Mark had phoned you, say a year later, and said come on back, let’s have another crack at this, would you have done so? If he phoned you now, what would you say?
About a year-and-a-half after I left, Mark’s sister approached me at an Ark gig and gave me a piece of paper with his phone number on. She said, ‘Ring him. He’s waiting to hear from you. I’ve been watching you and I still think you two are meant to be together. He has been through a hard time himself, y’know.’ To which I replied, ‘I bet he’s not getting up at half past six in the morning though!’ But seriously, I wasn’t tempted, even though Ark was sinking like a submarine.
Ark – what were you thinking? The bass playing was fine, must have been the singer’s fault then?
At first, the three of us were in denial, especially me. Convinced we could just get a new singer and carry on, we were back out on tour within six weeks of being back from New York. Not the best plan, in retrospect. The idea was to get as far away from sounding like The Fall as possible, so why we used the backlog of music leftover from Fall song-writing sessions is another good question. They weren’t second rate rejects. Usually everyone would bring two or three ideas, and there’s only so much room on an album so it was only the one you felt most comfortable pushing forward that would make it.
Fall fans didn’t like Ark and neither did anyone else, but nobody could bring themselves to be honest, except for John Peel. When I asked him if he’d like to hear a demo tape, he said that there was nothing he’d rather have a listen to. That was until he got the tape. But y’know, our support slot for The Shirehorses went down so well we even got an encore, so we can’t have been that much of a joke band, can we?
Obviously you didn’t leave The Fall as a multimillionaire. Hope you’ve received your share of the songwriting royalties off all the CD reissues, etc? Being a school grounds keeper must have been a nice change? Were you the coolest grown up at the school in the kids eyes?
In defence of school caretakers everywhere, I’d like to say that we are responsible for the day-to-day health, safety and well-being of hundreds of children, teachers and parents. No mean feat in these litigating times. It was mostly a lot easier standing up straight and playing that thing with the four strings for an hour and a half a day. You couldn’t get sued for that, though psychological fines were commonplace, especially if you tried to play too many notes.
Have you continued to follow The Fall since you left? Would you care to venture an opinion on the latest material or live performances you’ve seen?
I haven’t listened to any of the new stuff, nor have I been to a live show. It’s taken years and the writing of this book just to revisit the albums I was part of, which was surprisingly pleasant.
Can you give us your three favourite Fall basslines?
Not really. It’s not something I think about. You look at the song as a whole rather than dissect the bass.
Best Fall album?
My favourite, as in the ones I like working on the most, are Dragnet, Hex, This Nation’s Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, Extricate and Infotainment Scan.
Thanks for the questions, Conway. You’ll find extensive answers to these other ones in the book.
The late 1970s and early 1980s must’ve been some incredible times, yeah? Hard to top? Must’ve been some darker sides though?
Bringing your brother in to play drums for the Fall – good or bad move? Does he still hold a deep resentment against you for this? LOL
When Marc Riley had a punch-up with Smith in Australia in 1982, I’m guessing that you were the guy who stood between them and pulled them apart. Much the same way as you did with Karl Burns at Brownies in 1998 (I presume you’ve seen the Brownies video?). True?
You’ve always been seen as the quiet, hard-working type who stays in the background and just gets on with the job. Is that a true portrayal?
How did things work in your time with the recording process? You co-wrote most of the songs. Was it usually a collaborative effort, including MES, or did the music and lyrics happen separately?
Baghdad, Space Cog, Analyst – what the hell was that all about? Did you ever quiz Smith on his lyrics or did you not pay that much interest?
When Mark got married to Brix that must’ve completely changed things. It was no longer a bunch of young blokes having a laugh and making music. How did that affect the band dynamics? Did it effectively split the band into two camps, MES/Brix and the lads?
Around the same time as Brix arriving was the switch to Beggars Banquet and John Leckie coming onboard as producer. The music became considerably more mainstream. Do you think the band was naturally heading in that direction or was it a conscious decision? How big a part did Brix play in that?
When do you think it changed from being The Fall to being Mark E Smith and his backing band, The Fall? Or did that only happen after you left?
When Craig Scanlon was pushed out, did you consider packing it in? Do you think that could have spelled the end of The Fall?
Brix returned in the mid ’90s. Were things getting a bit desperate for that to happen? How did she fit back in?
Worthing 1996 – the worst Fall gig ever?
Was the 1998 tour of America ever a good idea? How do you feel about it now?