Only 596 more to find…..

Current records indicate that the group The Fall played 1,702 gigs during its collective life span. There are probably more than this, but the extant figure is the best guess after five years of intensive work, research and mind numbing cross checking of lists, sites and other records. 1.106 of those gigs are available either as official live releases (111 at the last count but probably more while this article was being written), or fan acquired recordings. The quality of the recordings ranges from excellent video, soundboard, and, television/radio broadcasts, through to audience captures of differing fidelity from very good to “it sounds like it was recorded in another building a mile away”. There is a website that logs all of this information and more called “The Track Record”.

So why develop a site like this? There is of course a comprehensive gigography on The Fall Online (TFO) site which is a good source of information. However, people kept asking questions like “How many times did they play in Spain?” and “When was the last time ‘Totally Wired’ was played?” , and many more queries of that ilk. There was a need for an on-line database which could provide more detailed information about possibly one the greatest groups of the late 20th/early 21st century.

There’s a lot of myth and a lot of opinion about The Fall, and sometimes some clearly wrong facts are spun out, based on rumour, misremembering, the folly of youth, or, sheer bloody-mindedness. It struck me, and a number of world weary souls that getting to the core of facts with evidence and research would at least leave a clear historical record. It was also helpful that given where I am located and through my radio activities and latterly record label work I have become acquainted with a good selection of ex-group members, associates, and people who “were really there”.

The Reformation website, started some 12 or so years ago, was a reasonable attempt to create a database and after several false starts began to take shape but was never properly finished, as if you could ever finish anything about this group. The platform it was on was less than user-friendly and was closing down, so the decision was taken to move the whole database to WordPress, and slowly a more robust and research oriented site was created. The decision to really start to make progress on the site was taken just after Mark Smith’s death, there was at last, and sadly, a finite number of Fall gigs to log and check. Not until 2019 when Covid descended upon us though was there the spare time and lack of distraction to make some progress on getting things done.

A friend compared the process to similar hagiographies (and I use that word advisedly due to the quasi-religious fervour of these processes) applied to the Grateful Dead. Fortunately The Fall never reached that bands eye-watering 2,350 shows (an approximation) , and the likes of Springsteen and Dylan must be well in advance of that figure. It is a reasonable assertion to make that this is a hagiography, the careful logging what happened and when, is vital and requires concentrated effort. Painstaking checking has quashed a number of opinions that had been baked into the history of the group. Simple typographical errors from the early days of logging the group had developed a life of their own. Practical jokes about the group had developed into solid facts.

Clitheroe 1985

As of now every known gig is logged. Where there is a recording of the gig then there is at minimum the inclusion of a set-list, details of group members who played, and, where available, any posters, tickets, reviews and images of the event. There was also a slow realisation as the project emerged that some sort of psychogeographical record of the places that the group visited would be important. This seemed entirely in keeping with the spirit and indeed intent of some of Smith’s writing. Work has commenced on giving a back story and assessing the current status of the venues that the group played. Quite a few of them have been demolished or converted.

About 60% of the gigs have been properly logged and the time/length of each recorded. The work is ongoing as only yesterday a gig from 1983 emerged blinking into the daylight after being stored in someone’s collection after 38 years. Rumours of the release of the first ever gig at the North West Arts venue on King Street in Manchester are floating around also.

The “Fallen” list on the site aims to provide a list of everyone who has played in the group in a live setting – over time biographies will be added against each of those names. So how many line-ups of The Fall have there been? The numbers vary from commentator to commentator – and the perennial question is bound to be what do you mean by a line-up? Are we just talking about live performances, or do we include studio and session musicians, and what about one-off appearances? Almost impossible to list – so there’s a timeline of the known band members in the “Who Has Been In The Fall?” section. Elsewhere on the site interviews with ex-members conducted in the past as part of Dave Bromwich’s The Pseud Mag and the Reformation webzine are also included

There is a network of dedicated Fall fans who support and assist the development of the database by finding new information, and writing reviews of the gigs, and articles based on research from the site and other places. The intention remains, if this is ever possible, to have complete and accurate record of the live work of the group.

As for a discography, well that’s another story entirely, the rebirth of vinyl, and Smith’s decision to license his live work for release prior to his passing has lead to a veritable torrent of releases since 2017. The confusing array of people who have ownership rights to the groups catalogue, both studio and live does not make trying to establish a coherent discography easy. Just looking at the Discogs version is enough to put anyone off. A start has been made however.

It was put to me that the work that went into creating the database might form the basis of a book. However there are more than enough Fall books out there, many of them riddled with factual errors, and in any event any book of that nature would be out of date the moment it was printed given that new information and factual corrections emerge about the groups gigging activity on a weekly basis.

So it is what it is, work is ongoing, it is not perfect, and there 596 more gig recordings to track down. We know some of them are out there. The question is if they have them, are the owners willing to share them so the database can continue to expand and be more accurate?

Further enhancements to the site to allow more detailed searching on the geographical aspects of the history will emerge in due course.

So if you want to know how many times Brian Fanning played with the group, or when the track ‘Countdown’ debuted then hop over to the site and check it out – it will tell you, or attempt to, what you want to know.

The Track Record is indeed a “Work In Progress”.

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