Urban Nature - Blaney featuring Mark E. Smith (YERRR Records)
You may recall I reviewed Blaney's most recent album, "The Severance" (pay attention at the back, you) and I have no qualms about not changing my seven bottle verdict.
"Urban Nature" is Blaney's third LP featuring Mark E Smith; I don't have the other two, ("Smith And Blaney" and "The Train Part 3"), both on the (defunct?) Voiceprint label.
No, me neither. but on the strength of "Urban Nature" I've ordered both. One wonders aloud whether there's a definitive collection of Smith/Blaney in the works; if not, there should be. Why?
Well, at the risk of repetition... (ahem. sorry, that's an "in" joke), under the direction of Mark E. Smith, The Fall toured the world as often as possible, released 31 studio albums (including at least two further "lost" albums, and recorded the music to one more). Then there's the 13 EPs, innumerable singles (all of which bear many tracks not on the LPs) and the 40+ compilation LPs (including box sets) and 32 live LPs ... oh, and Smithy himself did two spoken work LPs, and collaborated with at least 12 other outfits and - wait, there's more - an LP with two other blokes called Von Sudenfed.
The thing that makes all this vast wodge of work so essential is that everything MES touched was unique; sometimes wonderful, sometimes frustrating - never really boring, always daubed with a hefty dollop of 'WTF'?! and always distinctive.
You can't just give The Fall - at any point in their somewhat extraordinary career - just one listen. They demand far more attention than that, which is why, when Mark finds his way into someone else's studio (no, not 'by mistake' you rude blighter) you need to pay attention.
Yes, true, some of you may not get it. I can't imagine the likes of I94bar scribes Ronald Brown digging much of The Fall. Nor, indeed, Bob Short (I believe his lengthy lists of LPs you must have is nearing 200 by now, and stuffed if I recall a single Fall LP). In fact, you may as well stop reading here and return to your oldies collection, wrinkled, scratched and smelling of cat whizz.
But you'd be a goose, because this LP is principally by Ed Blaney.
Who's Ed Blaney?
Well, the interwebs reckon he was guitar and vox in The Fall during 2000–2001 and 2003–2004, co-writing several songs and played guitar on 'Are You Missing Winner' and a few other releases. Which probably means not much to you.
However, before The Fall he was (among other things) in an outfit called Trigger Happy; he's also run the Salford Music Festival for several years and worked with Salford Records (aiming at unsigned talent from the north-west). Salford (it's a place! No, really! Look, they have a football club which pulls more punters than your local team, I'm telling you) runs red through Blaney's veins, as it did Smith's.
About t10 years ago Dave Simpson wrote a book called "The Fallen", a noble if misguided attempt to talk to every single person who'd been in The Fall (and he almost manages it, losing his girlfriend in the process. Hang on, I should explain that The Fall is mostly a chap thing, girls usually don't get it. That's right, The Fall are the musical equivalent of the shed at the bottom of the garden).
Blaney is tracked down toward the end of Simpson's book, and unlike many of the band members who are simply ... band members, Blaney was a mate of Smith's.
In the first place, Smith asked Blaney to manage Mark. Not The Fall, but Mark. Simpson quotes Blaney as describing Mark "as 'a spiritual man' who should receive a knighthood ... he says that managing someone like that requires you to be 'Jack of 94 trades', but his biggest task ... was stopping the musicians having fun."
Now, I'm going to leave that there for now, with all that that implies. Just ... think about that for a minute.
Oh, alright then, here's another Blaney quote; "I've had guitarists threatening to jump out of windows"...
As a guitarist, however, (Simpson quotes Blaney): "My job was to come on and create chaos. Sometimes, I'd just get shoved on during a song I hadn't written and [was] expected to come up with lyrics. Mark likes spontaneity."
Simpson later asks, "So, why did you part company with The Fall?"
Blaney's answer is brilliant: "Er, when?"
Yes, Simpson's book is a hoot of a read, and will make you extremely glad Smithy never approached you, pint in each hand, and ask you to join his band (whether or not you could play).
"The Fallen" is still in print; go here.
Of course, there's a lot more to Ed Blaney (apart from intimidating the fuck out of three bouncers and the promoter who decided he didn't want to pay the band), which dawns on you as "Urban Nature" unfolds.
Now, I'm emphasising the Smith/ Blaney thing because MES's name is on the front cover. It's a selling point, and Smith makes "ordinary" songs turn inside out, somewhat.
As an LP, however, and partly because of its eclectic nature, however much I love "Urban Nature" (and I do love "Urban Nature") it "only" rates five bottles.
This of course means that I bought it (as I did 'The Severance', and have the other two Blaney/ Smith CDs). Because 'Urban Nature' is a damn fine LP. Smith's contribution isn't dominant, and as the LP unravels you find yourself pushed in different directions. If you didn't know who Mark E. Smith was (and his name wasn't on the cover) you'd wonder who on earth that bloke was, occasionally sounding like he's gargling a packet of chips through his dentures, all whistles and crunches, other times having a conversation down the boozer ...
So what does Ed listen to when he's at home?
"I like all kinds of music, I'm easy. I think being in a band, doing it, music, takes guts no matter what."
If I'm guessing right, while MES is a feature on 'Urban Nature', it was a case of several friends working together on an LP ..?
"Yeah! Mark sings on 5 tracks ... Great vocals, too. Kinda like the missing ultimate Fall album you could say."
Were the songs already written?
"Yes, a bit of both, I chose those out of a bunch, but Mark was with us when we worked on them, the lyrics were co-written... Though he only wrote a few lines."
That's interesting. That's almost like he didn't want to impose himself?
"Yeah, it's funny, he preferred me to write, same with The Fall songs 'I Wake Up in the City' and 'Classmate's Kids', I wrote all the lyrics. He saw 'Urban Nature' as my album/baby."
That's damn fine. I mean, I know you're mates, but if the books are right he could be somewhat contrary at times. But it seems he knew he could dominate if he was given the opportunity, so kept a balance with you.
"Yeah, we had a great balance, he'd leave me to it and change the odd word."
What sort of effect were you aiming for for the whole LP? It's a very different feel to 'The Severance'.
"It was more a statement of 'have some of this; Ed'n'friends, Part 1'. Whereas 'The Severance' was a proper band album and a step up of intent..."
"And truth be known songs like 'Feel the Rain', 'High on You' [from 'The Severance'] and 'Thinking of You' [from 'Urban Nature'] were all written for my ex-wife. ...I've gotta keep working. I have 5 kids (all adults now) with her."
If you ever have the chance to see Ed Blaney play, don't squander it by staying in watching a fucking cooking show or some poxy voice competition. Surely you can do better for yourself? Start here.