Steve Hanley served many long years in the iconic post-punk, post-rock, post-everything band The Fall and has written about it in a new autobiography. Joel McIver meets him.
Twenty years in the Fall and you’ve got to write a book before you get in a bass magazine!” chortles Steve Hanley in good humour. His autobiography, The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall, out now on Route Books, addresses the perils and pitfalls of playing bass with the mercurial bandleader Mark E Smith, but it’s far from a catalogue of complaints. Hanley’s book makes it clear that travelling the world in a major 80s band was also a hell of a lot of fun.
Despite Smith’s leadership, Hanley had a lot of leeway when it came to writing bass parts. The music allowed plenty of space for his lines to fill, as fans of the early Fall albums will know. Hanley agrees, saying: “The original line-up played a kind of weird reggae, where the bass player was playing the tune and the guitarist was playing the rhythm.”
Hanley’s rich tone was a feature of the band’s sound, although he doesn’t go into much detail about this in his book, for very good reason… “I don’t talk about the tone, because I don’t know how I got it,” he chuckles. “I’ve been asked a lot about it, so I’ve had to think about it, which I’ve never done before. I only picked up a bass a year and a half before I joined the Fall. I didn’t really know what a bass was, so to make up for my lack of musical knowledge I think I overcompensated. When we were recording, Mark would say ‘You don’t need all them notes’, but I just like to put a tune somewhere in the bass parts.”
The fact that Hanley enjoyed a distinctive bass tone is all the more remarkable, given his boss’s habit of tweaking his amp EQ in the middle of live performances. “He still does it!” laughs Hanley. I used to think, ‘What’s the point in me spending all afternoon soundchecking and trying to get it right if you’re just going to come up and fuck with it?’”
Mellow about this now that a few years have passed, Hanley muses: “I think he’d rather have a gig that was either great or terrible than one where the musicians are just going through the motions.”
After the Fall, Hanley continued to tour, but after a decade the thrill of lugging gear around began to fade, he says. “I was with [ex-Inspiral Carpets singer] Tom Hingley & The Lovers for 10 years. After years of carrying my bass up and down the fire escape at two in the morning at clubs in Hull and Doncaster, I sort of came to the end of it all. I was working my day job and the book at the same time.”
But there’s a new project ahead, he says, brought about by the publication of The Big Midweek. “We had the launch for the book in Manchester last year, and 12 ex-Fall members came, including [singer and guitarist] Brix Smith, so I’ve just started rehearsing with Brix. The new band is going to be called Brix & The Extricated. This wouldn’t have happened without the book – it’s been powerful.”
Gear wise, Hanley will be sticking mostly to tried-and-tested gear, although there’s an added modern twist. “I’ve got the old Ampeg SVT that I’ve been using for years,” he says “but I’ve added two Hartke 4×10 cabinets. I’ll use the old Fender Precision. I won’t take a backup – the old Fender never lets me down and I’m sure there’ll be another bass in the venue!” Spoken like a man who’s seen his fair share of on-stage problems – and survived the lot of them.