Albums are now commonly accepted as a bona fide art form, but make no mistake, some are more bona fide than others. When Brian Wilson started presenting Pet Sounds in full as a live show back in 2002, it felt appropriate and fitting, but before you knew it everyone followed suit and swiftly we ended up with bleedin’ Ned’s Atomic Dustbin ‘presenting’ their first album in venues around the country.
There was never a cat in hell’s chance of The Fall getting involved in that kind of caper, much as many would have loved them to tour their much-revered 1982 album Hex Enduction Hour in its entirety. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but over the years Hex has assumed the mantle of a classic album, arguably The Fall’s very best.
As its subtitle suggests, Route Publishing‘s new book Have a Bleedin Guess is ‘the story of Hex Enduction Hour‘. Again, the nation’s bookshops are littered with tomes devoted to canonical ‘great albums’, your Revolvers, Neverminds and Ziggy Stardusts, but again, with The Fall, things tend to be done differently. Have A Bleedin Guess stands or falls on the fact that it’s written by Paul Hanley, a member of the group that made the album (and a proven fine writer in his own right, with 2017’s marvellous Leave the Capital under his belt). It’s this that makes the book special, and suitably unusual. Hanley writes with wit and vim, and two books in, he’s already proved his mastery of the sarky footnote. It has involved research beyond Hanley‘s own memories and experience, but always wears its erudition lightly, skipping nimbly between forensic observations and pleasingly daft self-deprecating anecdotes.
As far as the making of the album is concerned, Hanley was right there, as part of The Fall’s then two-drummer line-up, and this degree of first-hand insight lifts the book immeasurably. The reader gets the on-site gossip as well as the facts, and that helps to demystify what can be an off-puttingly dense and oblique piece of work. The book’s tone is sometimes irreverent, but it never goes as far as being flippant and it’s certainly never remotely slapdash. Hanley’s unique viewpoint also means that certain lingeringly inaccuracies about Hex are laid to rest definitively.
It gives credit where it’s due, giving lie to the idea that The Fall was simply Mark E Smith plus, well, whoever, as the Hex-era line-up was a stars-aligned gathering of idiosyncratic players. That said, it always plays fair by MES, taking the opportunity neither to praise him to the skies nor give him a kicking. You’re always on a hiding to nothing if you seek to ‘decipher’ Smith’s lyrics. As Hanley spells out, they were as likely to be informed by the BBC‘s door numbering system or what happened to be on the telly that night as they were by Norse mythology or Vorticism. Here they’re pulled apart and discussed to a degree, but ultimately only to highlight just how random and baffling they can be.
At points Hanley seems to nail not just Hex Enduction Hour but the whole Fall business, such as when he notes that ‘the group didn’t really know what they were doing, and it’s a lot easier to be authentic when you’re playing in the only style you can master’. That, or his observation that a contemporary article pinpointed ‘the band’s utter determination to realise Mark’s vision, and how often this required us to steadfastly ignore the fact that he didn’t think we were up to it’.
Have A Bleedin Guess conveys a hell of a lot of detailed information and vividly opens a door onto the experience of being a member of The Fall in 1982. Why, it’s almost like you’re there in The Foresters Arms on a Friday afternoon as the wage packets are doled out. As advertised, then, it can genuinely lay claim to being the story of Hex Enduction Hour, in all its strange, striking complexity. Wry, smart and eminently readable, it’s probably the most illuminating book ever written about the group (or at least it’s fit to duke it out with The Big Midweek by Paul’s brother Steve Hanley). Basically, if you’re a Fall fan, here is the obligatory reading.
Main image by Jonathan Ganley.
Have a Bleedin Guess: The Story of Hex Enduction Hour is available now as a limited hardback exclusively from Route Publishing. A paperback edition will follow in 2020.