Track by Track with 'Tim’s Listening Party': The Fall - Bend Sinister

On 10 November, as part of Abbey Road Amplify in celebration of our 90th anniversary, we had the pleasure of hosting an episode of 'Tim’s Listening Party' in Studio Three.

In this instalment, host Tim Burgess of The Charlatans sat down with Brix Smith, Stephen Hanley, Simon Wolstencroft and producer John Leckie, tweeting along to The Fall’s stand-out album Bend Sinister, part-recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1986.

In case you missed the live-tweeting action, we’ll take you through what we learned on the day:

Simon Wolstencroft, Tim Burgess, John Leckie, Brix Smith & Stephen Hanley

Track #1 - R.O.D. (Realm of Dusk):

Recorded live, straight to stereo tape in Studio Two on 30 June 1986. Producer John Leckie confirms there were no overdubs or mixing after-the-fact. Brix Smith says the riff was inspired by surf rock pioneers The Ventures, but reimagined as a “darker, post-punk surf anthem”. We also learned that lead singer Mark E. Smith hated the beach and the sun, hence the lyrics “The Northerns, look at the North ones, their brains are unhinged by the sun.”

Track #2 - Dktr. Faustus:

About selling your soul in exchange for power. Brix Smith remembers playing the track live for a play called ‘Hey Luciani’, written by Mark E. Smith. She played the devil and Stephen Hanley played the pope! Brix also notes that Mark asked her to shout “banana” on this track for some unknown reason. To this day people still come up to her and scream banana in her face. Simon Wolstencroft credits Stephen’s brother Paul for playing drums on this one, using a simple Motown beat. The mysterious lyric at the end of the song is actually “There’s a blood silhouette now, through the ceiling sky”.

Track #3 - Shoulder Pads 1#:

Producer John Leckie complements the superb drum sequencing on this track. Stephen Hanley says it’s the first time they ever used a sampler. Simon points to the sample of a whistling motif which is the main hook. “Mark loved to whistle motifs like this when he entered a room (if he was in a good mood.) Always a good sign.” Brix says the inspiration came from a shirt they bought Mark with shoulder pads. Favourite line: “You couldn't tell Lou Reed from Doug Yule", that says it all.

Track #4 - Mr. Pharmacist:

A cover of a tune originally written by Jeff Nolan. Done in two or three takes at the most. John Leckie says, “A real recording done in Abbey Road Studio Two on 1st July 1986 and put straight down to stereophonic two track tape! No overdubs and no mixing! What you hear is exactly what we heard on playback and in band’s headphones.” Simon W. remembers rehearsing Mr. Pharmacist in the morning when suddenly Duran Duran walked into Studio Two. Brix is on lead guitar and Mark E. Smith basically invents the ‘attitude’ vocal on this track.

Track #5 - Gross Chapel – British Grenadiers:

The band experienced the ghost of Studio Two while recording this one. Brix recounts the story, “Studio Two is energetically ‘active’. During the 5th take, a voice screamed in the headphones stop! We stopped and looked up to the control booth to John Leckie. ‘Why’d you stop us?’, Mark asked. John had no idea what we were on about.” Simon Wolstencroft can’t remember playing on this one. Stephen Hanley adds it was all done in one take with no overdubs and was born from a fruitful songwriting session at guitarist Craig Scanlon’s house. John Leckie nods to the late great Mark E. Smith’s vocals. “Great refrain at the end ‘Sing it! Ta Ra Ra Ra for The British Grenadiers.’”

Track #6 - Living Too Late:

“The commercial single” according to Stephen Hanley. Cut just before the arrival of Simon Wolstencroft as the new drummer. Brix Smith calls it “hypnotic and extremely surreal.” Her favourite line is, “I'm immune to things In my dreams”. Another amazing performance by Mark.

Track #7: US 80’s–90’s:

Probably the band’s favourite track to play live from the album. Brix says, “On tour in America, I developed a fear of flying. My mother gave me a jar of Valium (in her name). Mark carried it in his bag through Boston immigration. And got busted. That is what this song is about. For real.” Mark raps it through a megaphone. Everyone loves Stephen Hanley’s “deep grouchy grinding bass” on this one, John Leckie wishes he had mixed it higher.

Track #8: Terry Waite Sez:

One of Simon’s favourite drum parts to play, short and sweet. Spontaneously named after the envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Right after Bend Sinister was released, the very same Terry Waite was kidnapped in Beirut. His family contacted the band for a copy of the lyrics, “in case they held a psychic clue to where he was.”

Track #9: Bournemouth Runner:

Improvised at Abbey Road, recorded straight to stereo. John Leckie exclaims, “I’m riding the vocal level all the time. Pop music!” Brix Smith reveals the song is about a fan in Bournemouth who stole a 60kg backdrop from their stage show, never to be seen again. Simon adds, “We were all secretly dead chuffed the band wouldn’t have to cart it around for the rest of the tour!”

Track #10: Riddler!:

Mark and Brix Smith were massive Riddler fans - the one from the original Batman series played by Frank Gorshin. John Leckie notes the song was mastered from cassette tape. “Bit of hiss but strong tone and vibe! Wild guitars! Wild drums! Watch out!” Stephen Hanley dispels rumours that the whole album was mastered from cassette, “Just this song folks.” He also confirms that the strings on this track are actually guitar, played by Craig Scanlon.

Track #11: Shoulder Pads 2#:

Brix clarifies that it’s exactly the same track as ‘Shoulder Pads 1#’, just cut in half and faded in and out. John Leckie complements the running order of the album and says it was always done by Mark. Bend Sinister is dark and gloomy, sure, but it’s also masterfully written, produced and recorded. The band clearly had a lot of fun making it. We’re honoured for it to be part of the Abbey Road Studios story.

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