Pete Greenway never intended playing with The Fall for any more than a couple of festival gigs. As it turned out, he ended up as guitarist with the late Mark E Smith’s ever changing garage-band incendiarists for almost twelve years. During that time, Greenway put up with Smith’s trademark disruptions, from disappearing offstage mid-set, to messing up the sound levels or passing the microphone out to the audience. The effect of this was sometimes shambolic, sometimes thrilling. With Smith remaining imperious even when in obvious poor health, however, it was never ever dull. This was the case when The Fall played what turned out to be the group’s final live show at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow, when Smith appeared in a wheelchair two months prior to his death in January 2018 aged 60.
Almost two years on, Greenway and his fellow survivors of The Fall’s final line-up, bassist Dave Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling, plus vocalist Sam Curran, have reinvented themselves as Imperial Wax. Named after the 2008 Fall album that marked the Greenway/Spurr/Melling line-up’s first appearance with the band, Imperial Wax released their debut album, Gastwerk Saboteurs, in May. With stand-alone single, Bromidic Thrills/ Bloom & Wither heralding a stack of even fresher material, the band have clearly inherited the work ethic of their old boss, as next week’s date at Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh should prove.
“We’ve a tough act to follow,” says Greenway, understating things somewhat. “We could so easily have just tried to sound like The Fall, and the fact that a lot of Fall fans seem to have stayed with us has kept us buoyant, but let’s just say there’s more to us than old Fall songs.”
The trio’s first live appearance after Smith’s death was as backing group for a Manchester date by Damo Suzuki, former vocalist with legendary kosmische band, Can. Suzuki now wanders the world playing solo, with different ‘sound carriers’ as he styles it, joining him for each show. Given Smith’s early love of Can expressed in his song, I Am Damo Suzuki, which appeared on The Fall’s 1985 album, This Nation’s Saving Grace, the connection was particularly fitting.
“We didn’t really have any intention of carrying on,” says Greenway. “We got a few offers to do sets of Fall songs with different vocalists on each song, but I think that would’ve been the end of us. Then we got asked to play with Damo Suzuki, and we felt that was an appropriate thing to do. Mark was such a fan of Can’s stuff, and it was great fun. We didn’t really meet Damo before we did it, and we started jamming at the soundcheck, and halfway through he came through the door, ran up and started singing. Then he gave us our instructions, which was to do anti-music, and that was it. Long repetitive riffs aren’t strange for us.”
Curran came on board after Melling had initially met him at a beer festival when Curran was fronting a band called Black Pudding.
“We liked his voice and style of singing,” says Greenway, “and thought we’d give him a go. We had one practice, and got him to sing a Captain Beefheart song to see how he’d cope, and asked him to join. He initially declined, and we had to tell him that we didn’t want him as a replacement for Mark, but wanted a new band.”
Imperial Wax’s ascent comes at something of a boom time for ex Fall members. The last couple of years has seen guitarist and Smith’s former spouse Brix Smith Start (1983-89, 1994-96) return to music fronting Brix and the Extricated. Referencing The Fall’s Extricate album, this has seen her successfully team up with bass player Steve Hanley (1979-1998), his drummer brother Paul Hanley (1980-84 and 1986) and guitarist Steve Trafford (2004-2006) to play both Fall songs and new material.
Smith Start’s memoir, The Rise, The Fall and The Rise, in part charts her time with Smith and the group. Steve Hanley’s book, The Big Midweek, details his time in the band, while Have a Bleedin Guess is Paul Hanley’s forensic study of The Fall’s 1982 masterpiece, Hex Enduction Hour. This follows Leave the Capital, a history of Manchester music.
“We’ve had offers to do a book,” says Greenway, “but that’s not what we want to do at the moment. It’s a bit like talking about your friend behind their back, and we’re not going to spill any beans in that way.”
After so long in the Fall frontline, Smith’s death came as a shock to Greenway and his band-mates.
“We knew he was seriously ill for about a year,” Greenway says of Smith, “but it was almost like having to think the unthinkable. We thought he was bullet-proof, and were hoping he’d get over it. We’d get updates, and things would seem to improve, but it was quite heart-breaking seeing him in a wheelchair and knowing some of the things that had happened to him. He was such an explosive character, and you didn’t want to restrain him in any way. He was making plans for doing a new album right to the end.”
Greenway has been playing in bands since he was 15, and first came into contact with The Fall after one, the unfortunately named Pubic Fringe, supported them.
“We went to the pub and hit it off,” says Greenway, “and I helped out when someone wasn’t available. I was just doing them a favour, but I didn’t expect to be on such a high afterwards. I was so nervous before I went on, and had sea legs, but it felt brilliant.”
One of the last occasions The Fall appeared in Edinburgh was at The Picture House, where, following Smith’ premature departure, an audience member managed to get through almost a full number before being led off.
“It was always great when that happened,’ says Greenway. “When we play now we do put in the odd Fall song that we wrote, with the idea being that maybe someone will come up and grab the mic. It hasn’t happened yet, but if anyone fancies it…”
Imperial Wax play Sneaky Pete’s Edinburgh, with Snide Rhythms on November 28, 7pm.
The Herald, November 21st 2019