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  • Writer's pictureThe Rail Holiday Maker

Extended Play - Manchester in the Footsteps of Mark E Smith & The Fall

For the uninitiated, I unwittingly became the curator of a walking tour dedicated to my favourite band, The Fall. If you aren't sure what The Fall is, well, what are you doing here?! I've always worked in the travel industry and, climbing the walls during the pandemic, my entire industry and livelihood in tatters, I vowed that me and my best pal (also called Rob) would celebrate the reopening of the pubs with a few jars in Mark E Smith's old haunts in Prestwich. I devised a tour just for him, we got merry on Holts Mild and nostalgia and I blogged about it here

The next thing I knew I had Prestwich Arts Festival on the blower, asking me how much I'd charge to do a guided tour for them. 'Erm, nothing,' I answered. Meeting fellow Fall fans for a few pints, some chat and with Rob in tow - after many months cooped up sending my beleaguered wife and daughters nuts with random lines from Fall songs - was payment enough!

You can picture the idyllic lockdown domestic scene. One daughter is studying History, a module on Nazi Germany no less, and needs some help with her homework. 'Who makes the Nazis? I'll tell you who makes the Nazis....intellectual half-wits....they are long horn breed...' Not to mention Benny's cobweb eyes. Mrs C, on the other hand, is looking for her specs or a hair bobble or summat and is advised to 'look under...the window sill!' in falsetto voice crackling through a pretend megaphone that's actually just my clenched hand. Pitiful, I know, but I bet you do this too!

We've received some mild criticism for turning The Fall into a tourist attraction, but......woooah hang on a minute....friggin tourist attraction? Are you kidding? This isn't mass tourism, no money is changing hands, The Fall will be largely ignored by the professional Manchester music tours doing the rounds, it's a couple of beery jaunts a year, everyone has a good day out and there's usually new stuff being added each time to keep things interesting. It's just a bunch of mates from all over the world walking round Prestwich and pointing at stuff. Like the basement where The Fall recorded early videos shown on Tony Wilson's late-70s late night tv programme.

The Woodthorpe

And so it goes! Where did we leave you in Prestwich? Oh yeah, the last Fall site in Prestwich was The Woodthorpe. Back in the day it was the setting for the video to 'There's a Ghost in my House' and was also the scene of Mark's wake ('Bottles were thrown - he would've loved it.'). It's now a bit of a snooty dining pub and they get a bit hot under the collar when a bunch of Fall heads invade their restaurant room to play at being Mark and Brix whilst normal folk are tucking into Joseph Holt's Beer Battered Fish and Chips.

Stanley Street

Rather than taking the tram, get on the 135 bus instead. It costs two quid from right outside The Woodthorpe and takes London visitors through Cheetham Hill towards Strangeways and town. Get off at Derby Street and make your way to Stanley Street for the cityscape photographed by Michael Pollard for the gatefold cover of 'This Nations Saving Grace'.

52 King Street

We are virtually in Manchester now, so would you like to see some other Fall-related stuff? Take the steps down to Red Bank, pass the curiously named street called 'Scotland' and go under the railway arches. You'll emerge around Victoria station on Corporation Street. Just carry on along Corporation Street past Victoria and the National Football Museum, then the Arndale. It then becomes Cross Street. Carry on. Eventually you'll come to the pedestrianised King Street on your right hand side. Enter King Street. You'll see a El Gato Negro on your left. Why am I bringing you to a tapas restaurant on a swanky central Manchester street. Well, in the late 70s and early 80s no part of Manchester (or indeed any northern city) was swanky. In this beautiful building at 52 King Street the North West Arts Association was set up in the basement. With their involvement in the leftist Manchester Music Collective, it was here that The Fall played their first gig on 23 May 1977.

Friends Meeting House

Go back along King Street to Cross Street, turn right onto Cross Street itself, work your way round Albert Square to Mount Street. Opposite Manchester Central Library you’ll eventually find the Friends Meeting House. Placards still flank the entrance to this Quaker meeting hall and it was against one of these that Kevin Cummins took photos of the Live at the Witch Trials era Fall in March 1978. The photographer is quite rightly very protective of his work, so you'll have to put up with a photo of me instead. Google it, folks.

This part of Manchester isn't just significant in the history of The Fall; it's integral to people's history, workers' rights, the battle for suffrage and the birth of the trade union movement. On 16 August 1819 it is reputed that 60,000 people gathered at St Peter's Field to protest peacefully for parliamentary representation and to listen to speakers. This was the biggest gathering yet of working people demanding a voice and a fair vote. The yeomanry was summoned and the resulting cavalry charge killed 18 peaceful protestors and injured hundreds more. This became known as the Peterloo Massacre and protestors were crushed against a wall by the cavalry round the corner on Bootle Street. Brutal Street, more like.

Free Trade Hall

Make your way now onto Peter Street and you'll see the very posh Radisson Edwardian hotel across the road. This was the Free Trade Hall. Speaking of Peterloo, there is a red plaque here commemorating the bloodbath that took place, one of the few nods to such a significant event in social history. People's history should be taught in schools. Anyway, the Free Trade Hall was the scene of the infamous ‘Judas’ taunt from the crowd in 1966 when Bob Dylan’s set switched from acoustic to electric. But it’s not the big venue I’m interested in. When I was contracting hotels for a tour operator I admit I made an appointment to be shown round this hotel, far too swish and expensive for my employer's budget, just to see where the Lesser Free Trade Hall had been. It was here that the Sex Pistols played two infamous gigs - on 4 June and 20 July 1976 - that changed the Manchester music scene forever. In the audience were people who went on to form The Fall, Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, The Smiths (erm, and Simply Red). After looking round a cursory few rooms I asked the hotel's Sales Manager where the Lesser Free Trade Hall would have been. I really wish she had snarled, "There's no point in asking, you'll get no reply." It's now a conference break-out room.

Outside Manchester Central

It is reckoned that Stephen Hanley and Marc Riley went out to get chips during the July Sex Pistols set. I'm not sure where we'd procure chips now, but it won't be long before we get our next liquid refreshment, I promise! Walk down Southmill Street and you come to the Manchester Central Conference Centre, formerly the GMEX, before that Manchester Central railway station. We are back to Kevin Cummins photo shoot of the Live at the Witch Trials era Fall. Mark E Smith is wearing the ultimate anti-fashion statement argyle jumper bought from Bury Market and is surrounded by the band that recorded Live at the Witch Trails, The Fall’s first album.

On the left, drummer Karl Burns was to come and go from the line-up several times until the band imploded in a live on stage fight in New York with the drunken lead singer in 1998. Next is Marc Riley, who played multiple instruments for the band and became such a threat to Smith that he was fired. That’s my take on it anyway. There are lots of stories…fired for dancing to The Clash….fired for punching Mark after Smith had slapped each band member for playing a mediocre gig. Riley would have seen this coming though. Smith clearly penned the derogatory tale ‘Middle Mass’ about Riley. Imagine having to go to work and play along to a song filled with snide digs about you. Riley went on to form The Creepers, releasing the single ‘Jumper Clown’ (have a bleedin’ guess who that was about!), and is now a successful and influential radio presenter. Not much is known of Yvonne Pawlett, The Fall’s short-lived keyboardist from Doncaster. On the right of the image, Martin Bramah left due to…you guessed it…tensions with the singer and went on to form The Blue Orchids with original Fall member Una Baines. Rejoining The Fall briefly in 1989 for the Extricate album, Bramah was never destined to work for long in such a dictatorial setting.

Just a few yards from where this shot was taken there is now a permanent memorial to the Peterloo Massacre, naming those that were slain on 16 August 1819. It's time for a pint, so why not retire to the Briton's Protection, a gloriously old fashioned pub with a startling selection of whiskies, cubby holes and also wall murals depicting Peterloo. Yes, Mark drank in here, but, then again, Mark drank in a lot of pubs!

Well, we're here now so we might as well have a look at where the Hacienda was, eh? Leave the pub, turn left onto Albion Street, walk straight ahead until an intersection where you can see the City Road Inn at 1 o'clock across the crossroads. Turn left onto Whitworth Street West and you'll see the Hacienda Apartments on the left hand side. Yep, not that much to see really - a bit of a plaque. You don't need me to tell you that the Hacienda was owned by Factory or that it was the heart of the Acid House scene in the late 80s/early 90s, the drug wars, the constant impending peril of closure. The Fall played here several times. I wasn't at any of those gigs, though I was at the last Hacienda gig before it closed - Spiritualized on 15 June 1997. The video for East Y'sel Fitter was also filmed here.

What's a computer? It's a fair walk to the next site at the very centre of town, so how do you fancy taking the scenic route to see the memorial to Alan Turing? I know we could detour all over the place to see non-Fall related stuff, but it's not really a detour and you get to see the city from a different perspective from the canal. Head along Whitworth Street away from the City Road Inn. You will soon come to The Ritz, another great venue (with a sprung dancefloor) played several times by The Fall. Turn left down a ginnel (that's an alleyway to non-northerners) and you'll soon be at the Rochdale Canal towpath. Turn right and walk along the towpath towards central Manchester. At the Canal Street Rochdale Canal bridge head onto the pedestrianised Canal Street, the heart of Manchester's thriving 'Gay Village' for decades. Walk from the New Union to Sackville Gardens. The tasteful, understated and poignant statue to Alan Turing, colossus of computer science and also important gay icon, is said to be positioned with his two worlds either side (the University of Manchester and the Canal Street bars). If you don't know Turing's tragic story and betrayal by our state and criminal justice system, I'd highly recommend that you delve deeper.

Tap, tap, tap.....

Back on Canal Street, carry on until you get to Chorlton Street, turn left. At Portland Street turn right and you'll soon see Piccadilly Gardens across the road. We all know that Queen Victoria is a large black slug in Piccadilly, Manchestaaaaaaaaah.....

Whilst we're in this part of town, we may as well walk onto Oldham Street, beating hub of what has become known as the Northern Quarter, but for generations the place to go out in Manchester. Back in the mid-90s I came down from Accrington (I came down from Hovis-land) for a day of sanity in the city. The other Rob was there (of course) and my visiting Oasis-loving mate from Germany, Olaf. I was showing Olaf some musical sites (maybe this isn't a recent thing?) and we were enjoying a pint in Factory Records' Dry Bar on Oldham Street (long since closed and currently boarded-up). Bez from the Happy Mondays and a bunch of threatening-looking mates were being thrown out of Dry. 'You can't come in here; you're barred!' Barred from your own bar?!! Sort of. Anyway, across the road down some steps under Afflecks was the Isobar. We went there next. Suddenly the Bez gang reappeared. 'The pills are on me,' shouted the ringleader and a handful of assorted medication scattered through the air. Olaf was loving the edgy entertainment until one of the gang came and sat next to me. 'Are you City or are you United?' came the threat. There would never be a right answer to this question, would there? Well, I thought I had the perfect disarming response.

'There's only one United, mate. Rotherham United.'

I expected my potential assailant to fall on the floor laughing, a bit of banter and that's that, but instead I got....

'Fuckin Rotherham? I hate Rotherham! They cost me a fuckin tenner on the pools last week!'

Drink up lads, it's time to go. As we climbed the steps back out into daylight there was the sound of smashing glass behind us.

So there you have it, Olaf, real life edgy Mancunian music entertainment and free of charge! This tour ends on a more respectful note though, a homage to Mark Edward Smith. Let's finish off at Short Street, round the back of Afflecks, and the Mark E Smith murals. You can self-guide this tour quite easily, folks, and I hope you enjoy it. Alternatively, meet me at a future Mighty Fall gathering and we'll go for a few jars. Cheers.

Short Street, behind Afflecks

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May 07

Rob, re The Hacienda, after you've passed the apartments there is an alleyway that leads to the canal. Go down there and head left and there atr plaques on the Wall commemorating events at the Hacienda. Sadly not The Fall.


Charlie Messing
Charlie Messing
May 06

Super! Rob, you are quite a gifted writer, tour guide, and music fan. Thanks for this great piece.

Saw this tour, often from 20 meters back (old feet) and with luck I didn't miss too many salient facts spoken out of my hearing. Many times I caught up, and many times I found myself back in the rear. Great tour though - wonderful...the claugh? Wow. Never thought I'd see the location of "Jawbone"!

[I am slow...hope you get to 77 yourself! I would love to have lived in Manchester decades ago, but I knew Nothing, and now that I know a bit, I'm...old. Breaking my foot last week didn't help, but that'll mend in two months.]

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